November 28, 2012

The Renfrew of Quiet Desperation (also possibly magic and unicorn hair)

Thanksgiving is done, and it'll be Christmas in like five minutes. Luckily for me, that means a slight uptick in business in my flagship shop* on Etsy, as people prepare for gifting. That's great news, obviously, but I find that as my to-do list gets longer, the more panicky I get, and the more I crave distraction in the form of something completely different from my obligations.

This time, yesterday afternoon was the tipping point. I just couldn't put my needle through another piece of Stand Mixer Cover. I had already vacuumed the house, laundry was washing, dinner could wait. I had no choice but to turn to my projects-in-waiting and find a quick fix.

Cowl Neck Renfrew

It came in the form of trusty Renfrew coupled with some decidedly crazy-ass "foil jersey" that I bought on a whim from the clearance section (as usual). Guys, this stuff is weird, and maybe a little gross. I'm not really sure what possessed me to buy it in the first place, but I guess I was blinded by the sparkles or something. It was strangely off-grain like it was kind of stretched out or twisted on the roll, and there were all kinds of warnings on the bolt about not washing or ironing or otherwise disturbing the magic woven into the threads. Also "fabric may crock". Super! Better make a shirt out of it!

Magic Renfrew

Cutting this stuff was a pain due to the aforementioned twisty-ness, and I'm not sure whether my rotary cutter blade was sharpened or dulled by the exercise. It slid through my machine like butter though, and was surprisingly easy to sew. I breezed through the construction of this top in about an hour, and I feel ready to return to my responsibilities again.

Do you do that? Sew (or do other things) for distraction or to soothe your anxiety? Last week(-ish?), Gillian at Crafting a Rainbow wrote about "sewing for sanity, stress relief, and sense of control" and I could totally relate. It's kind of funny, because I use sewing as an escape from my sewing, but it's different when you're always sewing for other people. I'm a total perfectionist, so the items I sew for my shop have to meet my self-imposed exacting standards AND be turned around quickly, packaged nicely, and shipped with care. It's exhausting! Sometimes I just need to sew something brainless from weird fabric and if it comes together in kind of a slapdash fashion, so be it! For this top, I couldn't even be bothered to change the threads in my serger from white to brown, but I didn't want the seams finished with white either. My solution was to PINK the seam allowances. Seriously, it kind of looks like a fifth grader made this top from the inside, but I don't care! No one will see it.


So- I'm now the proud owner of a cowl-neck Renfrew that is almost certainly imbued with some magical properties (or at the very least, might turn my skin green). But now if you'll excuse me, I have a long list of actual work to do.

*Sorry, I know that sounds kind of lame and pretentious or something, but with three distinct shops now to manage and keep straight in my addled brain, I've started thinking of twilltape as the flagship. It's what all the cool kids do.

November 18, 2012

New Look 6106 -or- Math is hard.

So you got a little peek at this skirt the other day when I showed you my Alma. It's New Look 6106, and I made it because I decided that my Alma really needed a dark denim skirt to come into her own as a fully functioning member of my wardrobe. I almost made another 6030, but I wanted to expand my horizons a little, and a great basic a-line denim skirt seemed like a good idea.

Alma & New Look 6106

The fabric is a dark slub denim (cotton/poly/spandex) with just a tiny bit of stretch. I like the dark wash and the little bit of white from the slubs. It's more interesting than just a basic denim, but not a Super Crazy Fashion Denim like some of the sparkly stuff that's out there. It's classic, but still fun.

I chose 6106 for the big pockets and simple A-line styling. I wanted a skirt with a waistband and pockets, and no fussy pleating or gathering since I was working with denim and didn't want to add a bunch of bulk to my waistline.

New Look 6106 Skirt

I had a bit of an adventure getting this thing fitted, thanks to a number of factors. For some reason, the size range on this skirt is 10-22, whereas the 6030 is 4-16. The body measurements are the same, so maybe the 6030 is targeted toward more of the tween set, where the 6106 is for real women? I dunno. Anyway, you may recall that I first made the 6030 in a 10, which was quite large, and then in an 8, which fit beautifully. I thought then that the 10 would be a safe bet to start with, knowing I could always take it in if it was also too large.

Before I cut my fabric though, I decided it would be wise to do a flat pattern measurement to make sure, since the 6106 does fit at the natural waistline and not 2" below like 6030. I got out my tape measure, did some calculations (incorrectly) and decided that yup, the 10 should be just fine, possibly a bit tight in the waist, but with the 5/8" seam allowances, there's always room to manipulate that a bit. 

New Look 6106 skirt

As I was assembling the waistband, I realized that I had mistakenly thought that the front AND back waistbands were cut on the fold, and that the zipper was installed in the side seam of the skirt. The picture on the envelope shows a back zip, and my back pieces were cut in two parts, but I clearly wasn't paying attention to any of that. Once I realized that my back waistband should be in two pieces and not one, I dutifully cut it in half. It took me MUCH longer to realize that in doing so, I was creating another seam, with 1.25" of additional seam allowance, and as a result, my waistband was actually going to be MUCH too small.

By taking the waistband seam allowances down from 5/8" to 1/4", I was able to gain 1.5" back in width, enough to make it fit comfortably. The skirt portion already fit fine, but I did have to taper from the 5/8" seam to 1/4" at the waistline to make it line up properly with the waistband. To gain an extra little bit of ease I also opted to skip the lapped zipper installation, and applied an exposed zipper at the back instead.

New Look 6106 w/exposed zip

I pretty much did what Gertie does in this tutorial, but instead of starting with a 5/8" seam allowance and trimming it down beneath the zipper, I just used the 1/4" seam allowance that was all I really had to work with anyway. That made it a little bit tough to line everything up and catch all the right parts in the seams, but I just used a lot of hand basting and took my time. I think it ended up being a nice design feature in the end. Also, I can totally breathe! Woohoo! Crazy-big 5/8" seam allowances save the day!

Exposed Zip 6106

I do like the skirt paired with the Alma that inspired its existence, but I think I'm much more likely to wear it with other things that don't look quite so Country Girl. Below is how I wore it to the Quilt, Craft and Sewing Festival on Friday, and I was quite comfortable. Sadly, there isn't much for the non-quilting sewer at this particular show, so I left empty handed. It is fun to drool over the fancy sewing machines and make fun of the goofy ensembles on display though. And who knows, maybe someday I'll make my own beautiful fully quilted rainbow batik jacket featuring my favorite Disney characters in metallic embroidery. Just try and stop me!

6106 Denim Skirt

Seriously though, if I do that- it's intervention time. Thanks!

November 16, 2012

A little Alma tale

Oh, Alma! It's the darling new top pattern from Sewaholic that's been popping up all over the place the last few months. I wasn't really sure that I loved it, but when I saw this red plaid stretch cotton shirting in the clearance section a while back, the first thing that came to mind was that it would make a really cute Alma. Given that I am being responsible (and I knew that there was a sale coming up), I resisted. I decided that if the fabric was still there when I went back after the sale started, it was meant to be. And it was, so here she is!

Red plaid Alma

I was obviously influenced by Lladybird (again) and her adorable seersucker Alma from the pattern testing stage. Normally I have a hard time with blouses, because they always make me feel like I'm playing dress-up in my mom's clothes, but I'm working on that and have been trying to dress a little bit more grown up and put-together instead of defaulting to jeans and a t-shirt every day. A casual take on view A seemed like a good compromise between blouse and comfy top for my first attempt at Alma.


I cut and sewed a six based on my bust measurement and I was pretty happy with the fit. I basted it up and I was able to slip it on without the invisible side zip, but I decided to add it anyway to make getting dressed easier, and to get the practice with my invisible zip foot. I'm glad I did because it feels more polished that way, and it certainly does make it easier to get on and off.

Invisible Zip

Being so used to snug t-shirts, I still wasn't really comfortable with the blousey look that I was getting, so I started looking at other Almas to see what I could see.

Blousey wrinkleage

Lladybird is a pro at getting a great fit on her (enviably tiny) waist. Her top fits her curves perfectly. And Sew Busy Lizzy's gorgeous Alma is nice and fitted too, with none of the wrinkled blousing effect that I have going on under my belt. And Annabellebumps! Her fall Alma skims beautifully over her figure like it was made for her (imagine that!). I decided maybe I wasn't as happy as I thought, and made up my mind to go back in there and try to make some adjustments.

Alma belted
Post-surgery, slimmed from the waist down.

I could have easily have thrown this in a WIP pile and let it languish there for a long time, but I was determined to have my Alma vision fulfilled, so I picked up the seam ripper and pulled out the side seams from the waist notch down before I could think too much about it. I ended up redrawing the seamline pretty much vertically from the waist notch straight down to the hemline, ending up more than an inch narrower on both sides of both pattern pieces (so 4" total) at the hem, tapering up to the size six from the waist up.

Alma Belted

Now, I know that Sewaholic patterns are drafted purposefully in this way, to accomodate a large hip-to-waist ratio. We've already determined that I do not fit into this shape category, and yet I cannot stop myself from making the patterns up. I also can't seem to learn that I could perhaps take my own shape into account in the beginning, at the cutting stage, rather than making up an entire garment and, in essence, trying to fit my square peg body into these round hole designs. I'm learning! Slowly.

Alma post-surgery

And now, post-surgery, I can't decide if I even like it that much, or find it terribly flattering. I think before, the exaggerated hem flare did a little something to give the impression that I have a waist, whereas in this current rectangular shape, it just sort of emphasizes that I am so rectangular. But also when I look at the photos from before, I feel like the overall impression is loose and sloppy and makes me look extra chubby.

Oh, woe. What's a girl to do? Everyone's talking about sewing for your body and embracing your shape, and I appreciate that. Sewing has helped me come to terms with the way my body is built, and of course I have insecurities but this isn't so much about that as it is trying to understand how to dress myself to best suit my shape, and understand how to change the shape of a flat piece of cloth to fit our non-flat bodies. It's surprisingly technical and I don't have a great grasp on it yet.

So I don't know. I do love the Alma in theory. It's a super cute top and I can see it being very versatile. Maybe it just needs to be styled properly for me to appreciate it. I thought maybe a dark denim skirt would be just the ticket- what do you think?

Alma & New Look 6106

That's New Look 6106, and details are forthcoming. I think it helps to tuck the Alma in? I dunno. It's still kind of blousey, but I don't know if I can comfortably take off any more width. Would deeper darts help shape it further, or is this just not a great match for my figure? Help me, you wise seamsters!

The more clothing I make, I find that I don't have many technical problems with sewing- I feel quite competent constructing things- but fitting is a whole other challenge! It's hard! I have Fit for Real People, but any other suggestions you have for books or videos or whatever would be appreciated. I would love to learn more.

And be honest! Is the Alma working for me or not? Better before the surgery, or after? I have a hankering to try a mustard printed version, because everyone seems to think mustard is the and I'm nothing if not easily influenced by the populace, but maybe I should try another pattern?

November 8, 2012

chocolate raspberry cord skirt -or- New Look 6030, revisited

While it was all fresh in my mind (and the pattern pieces were still strewn about), I decided to take on New Look 6030 again. In my post about the Emergency Red Skirt, I mentioned that I had a piece of pink corduroy that I thought would make a cute view E, with those precious ruffly pockets. Well, after I pulled that piece of corduroy out I realized that it was really stretchy and probably better suited to something snug like perhaps a pair of Clovers. I also have the pink twill from my Thurlow shorts, plenty left to make this skirt up, but then it occurred to me that it IS November in Seattle, and mostly always freezingasscold, and perhaps I should try to make something a little more season and climate appropriate.

I turned to this spotty brown corduroy- something that I picked up on clearance (surprise!) months ago. You might recognize it from the Little Lisette collection by the supremely talented Liesl Gibson. I originally purchased it with the intention of making this adorable little shirred corduroy jumper for Juniper from an old issue of Ottobre, but it was so cheap I bought like three yards just in case I ever wanted to make myself a skirt to match. Good thing, too, 'cause it turns out I did.

New Look 6030 (again)

I paired it with the Simplicity 1808 top that I made a few months ago. I recently dyed this top a deeper raspberry shade because I got caught up in reading a bunch of articles about what colors I'm supposed to wear the best and decided that the pastel pink wasn't working for me. I'm still not entirely convinced I know what season I fall into (deep autumn?), but whatever. I think I'm happier with the more vibrant color.

New Look 6030 skirt

This time around I did in fact make view E. Except I added two inches in length because I'm an old lady/mom who crawls around on the floor and is fairly uninterested in flashing the world my undies. (Even though I have been working on a few pairs of the Rosy Ladyshorts *free pattern alert!* recently, and they're pretty cute.) Still, view E as drafted was a little bit too miniskirt for me. Adding two inches to the length brings it almost to the length of views A and B, but not quite. And there's no back vent in this view. So it's totally different (almost) but not really...

New Look 6030 back

I made a size 8 this time, with no alterations. I do like the fit much better, but I've also worn the (size 10) red skirt again and it's fine too. Not much to say about this one- it's cozy and nice for these crisp fall days layered with tights and boots. Oh, and hopefully my brown-on brown-on yet another brown isn't offending anyone's delicate sensibilities, but I have it on good authority that it's not important to match anymore. Welcome to 2012. Anything goes!


But seriously, let's all say hooray for pockets! These ones are nice and deep too. Plenty of room for the phone/keys/random baby crap that I need to keep handy. And I don't think the ruffle makes it read too toddler-ey, does it? I think the rest of the silhouette is sleek and basic enough that it all works out. Must make more pocketed skirts!

November 4, 2012

a wasted opportunity

A week or so ago, I was invited to a serger class at my local sewing and vacuum store. It was pitched to me on the phone as a "chance to try out the Baby Lock Evolution and provide feedback to the manufacturer" and I was told we would be making a simple project and all I had to do was show up. I don't ever get a chance to hang out with real live people who sew, so I was kind of excited to accept the invite.


The "class" was yesterday, and sadly, it was kind of a disappointment. I did leave with the promised finished project, the quilted zip bag above, but the format of the class left a bit to be desired. It was much less an opportunity for me to provide feedback than it was a blatant attempt to sell me a machine, but I had predicted that going in. Still, I thought it would still be a great way to test-drive the Cadillac of sergers for a while so I could see if I was really missing out on anything driving my trusty Pinto around. My Pinto that had coincidentally broken the afternoon before. If there was ever a better time to sell me on a fancy serger, this was it!

Instead, due to disorganization, lack of direction, and a shortage of simple tools (ONE screwdriver to change needles in all eight machines? IN A SEWING MACHINE STORE?!? Really?), I spent over two hours in the store and about ten minutes actually sewing on the Evolution. Needless to say, by the time it was over I was not convinced that I needed to take advantage of the fantastic opportunity to pick up the machine for the one-day-only bargain basement price of just $3500(!).

Upon entering the class, we were free to select a machine from about 12 that were set up and outfitted with supplies. There were a few color variations in fabric and thread, but nothing exciting. I picked a machine set up with pink thread and pink fabric. Our fabric was pre-marked with stitching lines to quilt, and the machines were all set to cover stitch and filled with variegated bobbin thread so we could create the decorative accent on the body of the bag. After a short sales pitch on the virtues of the Evolution and Baby Lock, we were free to stitch the lines on the bag.

The next step was inserting the zipper, which meant a switch from the cover setting to the overlock setting, a needle change, rethreading, and foot change. All this clearly designed to show us how easy it is to change the machine up and create all the stitches we would ever need in our home sewing studio. I get that. Brilliant. My problem with this set up was that as I mentioned, there was ONE screwdriver in the place that all eight of us needed to use to move our needle position. I'm 150% sure that each one of those machines has a screwdriver in its toolkit, and I'm a perfectly competent individual who doesn't need another grown woman to change my sewing machine needle for me. Thankyouverymuch.

Anyway, we oohed and aahed at the ExtraordinAir threading, and once we were all (finally) set up we inserted the zipper. And then we waited again while the instructor changed out one of our threads for a thicker decorative thread so we could use the patented wave stitch* (close-up below) to sew up the sides of our bags. Unfortunately, the heavier thread gave quite a few of us trouble, and one poor woman had to restitch one side of her bag five or six times because her needle thread kept breaking part way through. It was not a pain-free, easy breezy experience, and I bet that even if she thought she might have wanted a serger before the class, she probably left convinced that it would just cause her tears and frustration at home. She also left with a very skinny bag!


Had there been a short set of instructions provided to me with each step outlined, I would have been more than happy to breeze through the construction of the bag and see for myself just how easy it really is to make that Baby Lock work for me. I could have spent the next hour and a half playing and I might have easily convinced myself that I really do need all those functions in my next serger instead of being frustrated and bored with my wasted time.

But I don't want to dwell on the negative. Have you used or seen the Evolution? It is really quite an amazing machine, combining 2/3/4 thread overlocking with up to a 3-needle cover stitch and chain stitch and of course that fancy wave stitch* all in one lovely package. And though I do long for a cover stitch, I just don't think I would ever buy a machine like this. For garment sewing it seems like it would be a huge pain in the ass to have to change the settings between steps, as easy as it might be to do. I think having a dedicated cover stitch machine makes a lot more sense for the way I like to work.

As it is, I currently have my old trusty Kenmore set up along with my serger and my regular machine as a dedicated twin-needle top stitching station. My Brother doesn't like to twin-needle and I get a much nicer result from my old mechanical machine, plus it means I don't have to stop and change things around mid-project. I just set all the machines up with the right color thread and I'm good to go. It's like my own little sweatshop, and I quite like it that way!

A peek behind the curtain. This is what it usually looks like in here.
Overflowing garbage can, clutter, and UFOs piled everywhere.
The tidy scene from this tour of yore did not last long. 

Of course, in my dream sweatshop I might have a dedicated cover stitch machine instead of my old Kenmore, a Pfaff instead of my Brother, and a Baby Lock instead of my current serger, but I don't think I would ever want to combine all the functions into one master machine, even if such a thing existed. Would you?

*Also, wtf is up with this wave stitch, anyway? What would YOU do with it? Am I missing something? The Evolution is the top-of-the-line, so of course it's included, but on the "less-expensive" machines, there are two that are the same except that one has the wave capability. That function makes that machine $300 more than its twin sister without it. I'm sorry, but why would I pay $300 for an ugly decorative stitch? Again, please enlighten me if I'm missing something here. WHY??

November 2, 2012

Emergency Red Skirt

The other day I was dressing in one of my favorite tees, a little knit Breton stripe number, and it occurred to me that my life would be greatly improved by the addition of a red skirt to my wardrobe. I'm pretty sure that thought can be directly traced to the influence of Zoe and her fantastic nautical style, but when I started thinking about it, I became convinced that everyone had a red skirt except me (Jane even has two! Here. And here!) and that needed to change ASAP.

I could see what I wanted in my head: a straight silhouette, pockets, and leaning toward casual- so probably denim or twill or corduroy. I went to my pattern stash and came up empty. Everything was too A-lined for what I was envisioning, or was just too straight and boringly pencil-shaped with no pockets. Then I remembered a great skirt that Nikki of Fancy That had made recently. Straight, casual, made from a vibrant yellow corduroy with adorable pockets. It was pretty much perfect.

Luckily, my emergency coincided with the 50% off bottom-weights sale at JoAnn, so I didn't feel too bad about breaking my resolution to only sew stash-busting projects for a while. I picked up a yard of basic red twill for $6 and a copy of New Look 6030, and I was set to go.

Incidentally, it's highly likely that I needed this skirt so urgently because the next project on my to-do list is a total bummer. I find that I can really invent a long list of things to do when I want to avoid a boring or unpleasant project. Do you do that? Or do you prefer to just get things over with and out of the way? I've always been a terrible procrastinator. I think every paper I wrote in college was started and finished the night before it was due. It's a bad habit, I suppose... Really should be working on that project now, in fact, but don't you need to see my skirt? Thought so.

New Look 6030

I decided to make View B, with the basic slanted hip pockets for this attempt. I love the curved, ruffly pockets on View E, and the cargo pockets on View C, but that wasn't what I had in mind for this skirt. And sorry these pictures are so blown out- the light in Seattle in fall is crappy and unpredictable!

Red Skirt Back

Although this is pretty much the skirt that I pictured when I decided that I needed one, I'm not really happy with the way this fits and will have to make some changes if I make up another view.

Emergency Red Skirt

The skirt is designed to fit 2" below the waistline, so obviously there was no waist measurement on the envelope or the pattern tissue to use to determine sizing. Everything needs to be based on the hip measurement, and there's (in my opinion) a lot of ease built into this pattern for a straight, slim skirt. Based on my hip measurement (37.5") and the way I thought I wanted the skirt to fit, I was planning to cut out a size 8, which has a hip measurement of 38.5". Then I thought I had better check Pattern Review first to see what others had to say about the fit, and then I saw that Andrea had made this skirt too. Nikki made a size 10, and Andrea originally cut a 14 but took it in a bunch and said next time she would mix the 10 and 12. Somehow, it logically followed in my brain that therefore I had better be safe and cut a 10 too, because obviously these women who I've never met or seen in real life but whose blogs I read must wear the same size skirt as me. Because obviously.

New Look 6030 Back

I could tell as I was stitching up the side seams that there would be too much curve built in for my cereal-box shaped lower half, but I pushed through and didn't even bother to slip it on and check the fit before I added the waistband. Because it was an emergency, and I needed to finish it up rightnowhurry!

Once I had it all assembled and the zipper in and the hem pressed up but not stitched yet, I decided I really had better do something about the hipline. I ended up shaving off a wedge of about 3/8"-1/2" from each side (tapering to zero) starting right below the waistband and ending a couple inches below the bottom of the pocket. There's still a lot of poofy fullness below the waistband, but it's not that noticeable when it's belted and I'm standing and the skirt is pulled down onto my hips.

Red Skirt

I really want to wear it a little higher on my waistline though, but in order to do that I have to do this:

New Look 6030

It looks fine from the front (the top picture was taken like this), but something tells me that from the back it's not so good! I recognize that this is my dumb fault, and a skirt that is drafted to be worn 2" below the waistline should, in fact, be worn 2" below the waistline to fit properly. Also I should have gone with my first instinct and made the size 8, knowing that I feel perfectly comfortable with just an inch of ease around my hips.

New Look 6030

So, now I have to decide if I'm going to wear this as it is belted low and move on, or if I should rip open the waistband and take it in to fit better higher up. I suspect that will cause more problems with the poufing that's happening below the waistband, and quite frankly, I have no idea what to do about that. More darts? Which means that probably I'll just have to leave it. I would like to make another version of this though, and I think I have some light pink corduroy that would make an adorable View E (with the ruffly pockets like Nikki's).

But first, I have another project that I really have to go do. No more fun projects until I've cleared my conscience.