Category: Sewing

Summer is for Shorts

While at International Quilt Market in Minneapolis last month, I fell in love with the Coachella Shorts sample hanging in the Checker Distributors booth. I knew they’d be perfect for Miss L and with summer coming up, I put them at the top of my “must sew” list.

The pattern is by Striped Swallow Designs and features a curved hem accented with trim. It’s sized for girls 6 months-12 years and uses just a small amount of fabric — like, 3/4 yard for size 8-12. Bonus!

My sweet girl had a massive growth spurt since this time last year, so I couldn’t wait to whip up a pair of these as soon as the patterns arrived at the shop. I opted for the size 8, based on her current measurements and the pattern sizing.

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They are super cute but clearly not the best fit. And she found them very uncomfortable. Back to the cutting table!

I trace all my patterns so I used washi tape to add an extra piece to the center crotch seam of both the front and back shorts pieces. I measured and extended the pieces about 1-1/2″ to give her the needed room.

While I could have just sized up the shorts, I opted to make the pattern modification because the rest of the fit seemed spot on. Sizing up would have made them larger all over.

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I skipped the trim on the second pair, just in case the fit was still off. They turned out much better! The trim really shows off the cute seam lines, so I’ll definitely be using it on future pairs. L says they feel so much better and she’s gotten quite the use out of them.

Summer Camp, Revisited

It’s been a couple of years since Miss L attended my Little Stitchers Camp at Intown Quilters. Half-day camp was ideal for her, although she was slightly disappointed that the camp focused on hand-sewing projects rather than using a sewing machine.

Ah, but time flies. And this year, my sweet girl was old enough to attend my full-day Fashionista Camp at IQ. I’m not going to lie: I was a little nervous about having her as a student. Teaching your own kid is usually tougher than teaching someone else’s kid. But we both had a blast and I was so proud of her for what she accomplished during the week.

Even though L has owned a sewing machine since she was five years old, I’ve never given her the same types of lessons that I do with my regular students. Instead, she’s mastered threading it on her own (including winding and installing the bobbin) and spent endless amounts of time sewing together scraps she’s collected from my sewing room.

With some guidance from her camp teacher, she cut out and sewed a pocket tissue cover, some pajama shorts and the cutest cat purse ever made.

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Simplicity 118 has the cutest animal face purses I’ve ever seen. The pattern calls for using vinyl but we substituted Kona cotton with foam interfacing for the exterior and heavyweight fusible interfacing on the lining. The bag is essentially flat lined with a zipper in the gusset plus a zipper pocket on the outside and patch pocket on the inside. I changed it up and swapped the zipper pocket for a second patch pocket because I’m not sure she was quite ready for the zipper. Plus, at only 10, I’m not sure she would have the patience to plug along on a two-day project.

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I helped her fuse down and stitch around the appliques for the cat face. She picked colors that reminded her of her brother’s cat, Max. She really took her time on the stitching and I looked over several times and saw her with a seam ripper in hand because she was unhappy with her stitching.

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After seeing her work, I think I could have let her do the zipper. She’s far more careful than I was at her age, and really took her time with sewing. I actually let her use my Janome HT2008 for the week instead of her Janome Hello Kitty because it has a computerized speed control, which I knew would come in handy.

IMG_7353She especially loved the mouse applique on the outside pocket. I think it’s her favorite detail! L is so happy with how her purse turned out and has worn it everywhere since she finished.

 

The Things We Love

I bought my primary sewing machine — a Janome HT2008 — at a sewing expo in March 2008. I’d been sewing on an inexpensive, no-frills Brother machine I’d purchased at a big discount store. The extent of my research into the HT2008 was scanning the reviews on PatternReview.com (thumbs up) and a quick Google search to see if the expo price was much of a bargain (it was).

Fast forward to 2015, where the research leading to the purchase of my new sewing machine took about three years.

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My new Juki TL2010-Q.

Why the difference?

I’m often asked for sewing machine recommendations because of my job. Teaching and working at a quilt shop, plus writing sewing books puts me in contact with a lot of people who want to sew or already sew. My discussion about what machine to buy nearly always starts with the question: “What do you want to sew?”

In 2008, I had an inkling that I wanted to write a book and I knew I wanted a sewing machine that would allow me to continue to make bags and clothes. What I did not realize at the time was that the type of sewing I do would change, as would the amount of time I spent sewing.

I came to realize I needed a sewing machine that could handle the volume of work that I do, but also had some key features that weren’t available on my little Janome. The two big features I really wanted were an auto thread cutter and more harp space.

The thread cutter is just one of those things that seems so trivial but playing around with the feature on my friends’ machines made me realize how useful it really could be, especially for someone who tends to forget to trim her threads. Ahem.

Harp space — the room from the right of the needle to the body of the sewing machine — really makes a big difference when you sew oversized things. While I do make the occasional quilt, I’m just as likely to sew a historical costume with yards and yards of fabric. Both of these types of project would benefit from a much larger harp than that of my HT2008.

Initially, I looked at machines — specifically Janome — that had all the features of my existing machine as well as the ones I decided were a priority. And I quickly found that the cost of those machines was really a bit more than I was certain I wanted to pay.

I absolutely believe in investing in the best tools for the job you do and this is no exception. But many of the machines I found were really more machine than I needed. I don’t need a built-in alphabet: I have an embroidery machine. I don’t need 1,000 stitch varieties: I need the three I regularly use (straight, zig-zag, buttonhole).

The more I researched, the more information I found that led me to a simple conclusion: I needed two machines.

That might sound a little crazy but there’s a method to my madness. In a commercial clothing manufacturing facility, each piece of equipment does exactly one thing. My late mother worked for the Arrow shirt company as a band creaser. Her job was to crease the neck band of men’s shirts. That’s all she did and that’s all her equipment did. I have already applied this philosophy to other tools in my sewing room: I have a serger and a separate coverstitch, rather than a combo machine, plus an embroidery-only machine, as well.

And thus the decision was made to invest in a straight-stitch only machine with a separate garment-sewing machine for my other needs. I quickly narrowed down my search to two machines: the Janome 1600P-QC and the Juki TL2010-Q. Reviews led me to realize that either would work well for what I needed, so it really just came down to price.

That’s how I found myself sitting in front of a 2010 at the most recent sewing expo, putting it through its paces with a stack of fabric samples I’d brought from home. Soft n Stable sandwiched between fabric.Timtex sandwiched between fabric. Red satin coutil. I chatted with Karen Pharr, Juki’s sewing educator (really, Juki ambassador) about what I do and what I was looking for.

I came, I sewed, I bought.

It might be a love connection.

Myla & Me

Myla & Me

The biggest downside of writing a book is that I’m left with pretty much zero time for sewing for myself. But it’s February and the obligation sewing is long finished, so when I had a day off from work, I was ready to whip up a little something for me.

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I prefer tracing off patterns so I can make modifications more easily.

I’ve had the Myla Tank pattern from Sew Liberated for a while now (just because I don’t have time to sew for myself doesn’t mean I don’t collect patterns and fabric for future use) and when I saw the gorgeous Speckled navy lawn by Rashida Coleman-Hale for the newest Cotton+Steel line, I knew I’d found my match. The fabric reminds me of malted milk Easter eggs, which I love. Also, navy with splashes of aqua — my two favorite colors. *swoon*

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Sew Liberated Myla Tank made with Speckled lawn from Cotton+Steel.

The pattern guides you through finishing all the seam allowances with French seams. Since I have a serger (purchased because I’m too lazy to do French seams), I finished my seam allowances with it instead. Even with the French seams, though, I’d say this is a pretty speedy pattern to sew — with the exception of binding the neck and arms.

Ah, teeny binding. Not my favorite, for sure. But I think a wider binding would be far too bulky in those spots. I’m half tempted to make another but add a seam allowance around the neck and arms and do at least a half lining. On the fence about that, though, because …

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Sew Liberated Myla Tank made with Speckled lawn from Cotton+Steel.

I like the top and I’m going to wear the heck out of it but I’m not sure it’s the best fit in the chest-al region or the most flattering style for me. There’s just enough gaping around the arms that I will have to wear a tank or other top underneath. I do like the length, especially because I wear skinny jeans or leggings fairly often and this would work well with both.

But first I’m picking up more of that gorgeous lawn (maybe in the purple colorway, too) so I can make more pretties with it.

 

Swap-a-Riffic

For the majority of my most recent book-writing adventure, I did little sewing that was not related to my book. So when that final manuscript deadline rolled around, I let a couple of friends talk me into signing up for some swaps.

Swaps are nothing new. I have actually taken part in a couple but it’s been years since I’ve done one. Still, I knew that my inclination would be to ignore my sewing machine for six months after going pedal to the metal for so long. A swap could be just what I needed to recharge my sewing mojo.

First up was a quick holiday hot pad swap organized by the delightful Mo Bedell. Small project with a Christmas theme? Heck to the yeah! Of course I’ve never made a hot pad and had not sewn binding on anything in months, so it was a little  more of an adventure than I expected. But I thought they turned out cute (yes, I made two):

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Holiday Hot Pad swap pieces (binding in progress).

I have some weird addiction to buying cute Christmas fabric, so it was easy to “shop” my stash and pull together a few fabrics for the hot pads.

Next up was the Schnitzel and Boo Mini Quilt Swap over on the Instagram. I’ve really only made one mini quilt before (and it went to a dear friend), so I was a bit nervous about this one. My swap partner provided lots of likes and clues in her questionnaire but her IG profile was private so I ended up stalking her quilt board on Pinterest to get an idea of her style. She’d written that she liked Lecien’s Flower Sugar and her Pinterest had some scrappy star quilts on it, so I took a leap and came up with this:

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Schnitzel and Boo Mini Quilt Swap

The star is actually one of the blocks from our Block of the Month quilt. I changed up the setting so the star points would nest with each other, rather than keep the stars in evenly spaced rows. I really love how the setting creates this pretty pinwheel in the center! I was trying to use fabrics in my stash so the white squares are a mix of white-on-white fabrics I had on hand. It’s such a sweet little quilt and I plan to play with the design a bit to see if a larger quilt will work.

Thanks for the Fish

Another DragonCon is over and out! Four days of costumes, fandom and friends is really one of the highlights of my year.

This year was a little different in that I went solo Friday. My wonderful Honey had to work that day so we put Miss L on the bus Friday morning as usual, since he was working from home. It felt a little odd to head off without them and I was definitely glad it was just one day.

My professional commitments for the con were pretty minimal this year: two Costuming track panels, one Alternate History track panel, one fundraising event, a fashion show and judging a costume contest. Of course the hot summer weather that has been missing the majority of the season arrived just in time for DC. Yay?

Because I have been working on my next book, I majorly scaled back my costume plans. The only new costume I wore was the Snow Queen and my original plan was to wear my casual Wonder Woman on Friday, a geeky halter dress Sunday and the Snow Queen Saturday. (Most folks don’t costume Monday, me included.) Plans changed when I was invited to take part in the Vintage Vogue Fashion Show on Friday. I would have loved to include the Snow Queen in the show but it’s a major undertaking to put it on and I can’t do it without help. And it’s not exactly possible to drive while wearing it. I opted to reuse my aquanaut’s wife costume (updated with a new short-sleeve peasant top and my black wig) and managed to corral my son into lacing me up before he ran off to hang with his friends.

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Costuming is fun but costuming with your friends is even better! For me, the weekend really goes beyond that. Finding other people who love fabric and sewing as much as I do was so amazing and I feel so fortunate to have made friends who share that with me. Connecting with this crazy costuming bunch is like finding where I fit. I get to share this amazing career that I’m so passionate about where it intersects with these fandoms of so many things I love. I am constantly inspired and awed and able to help others achieve their goals, too. And this year I was able to spend even more time with some of my peeps, which made the weekend even more memorable (and maybe made for some unusually late nights, at least for me).

Saturday morning saw me hustling to get ready and into downtown far earlier than my body desired. It was painful but my sweet friend Meredith had connected me with her friend Pat so that I could get some nice pics in the Snow Queen. Worth it! (Photos by Pat Loika:)

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I lost track of how much time I spent on this costume. The basque, trained skirt ensemble, corset and bustle petticoat patterns I used are all from Truly Victorian. The Victorian Riding Hat is a pattern by Lynn McMasters. The coat is made with an aqua cotton no-wale corduroy from Joann with some Timeless Treasures Pearle on the faux vest. The skirt is a white cotton sateen (also from JA) with a gray apron. Faux fur accents on the collar and cuffs of the jacket and the hem of the skirt (15 feet of it!).

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My necklace is a one-of-a-kind piece by Andrea Wilkes of The Brass Button. I met Andi at last year’s Yellow Daisy Festival at Stone Mountain and was utterly captivated by her jewelry. I asked her at that time about possibly buying a necklace from her to wear with a costume. We emailed back and forth and I was overwhelmed with what she came up with. It’s stunning and just pulled together the look perfectly. (By the way, if you are local and planning to head out to Yellow Daisy Festival this weekend, she will be here, booth 78/79.)

Remember my comment about the weather? Yeah, it was 94 degrees on Saturday and the Con was packed. The Snow Queen all but melted. It was…uncomfortable. And also one of my longest days there: my last panel was not until 8:30. I love how it turned out and am so pleased with the ensemble but it was pretty miserable and I stripped down to my corset and petticoat for the walk back to the car. Yes, I walked through half of downtown Atlanta at nearly 10 p.m. on a Saturday night in my Victorian underwear. Keepin’ it classy.

My sweet girl did a little bit of costume wearing herself. On Sunday, she wore her Polly costume from the graphic novel, Polly & the Pirates by Ted Naifeh. It is one of her favorite reads and I knew the artist would be at the comic artist alley so we headed over first thing to see him and buy his newest comic, Princess Ugg.

photo 4 (1)He was so complimentary of her costume and happily signed the new comics we bought after he took a picture of her. And I was so happy he agreed to let me take a picture of the two of them. It made her day!

My wonderful publisher, C&T Publishing, has a cool product called kraft-tex that I thought would really inspire the folks who come to the Costuming track panels. I was able to get my hands on a few rolls, which I then passed on during one of my panels. I can’t wait to see what these folks come up with!

photo (12)One of the highlights of the weekend was seeing my young friend Caden on her first DragonCon panel. We met during DC last year, which was exciting for me because I had seen her winning entry in the Duck Tape Stuck at Prom contest and loved having the chance to tell her in person how awesome it was. I’m lucky to have gotten to know her over the past year and thought she did a fantastic job talking about working with duct tape (she’s second from left, flanked by thrifting costume babes Andrea Mast Kassel and Paige Gardner of CostumeArt).

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Top Ten Reasons to Write Another Book

10. My husband has completely forgotten how unavailable I was while writing my previous book.

9. Daughter’s nine hours of gymnastics each week equals prime writing time.

8. I finally cleaned my sewing room. Why should it stay that way?

7. The rest of my house needs to be cleaned.

6. My 30th high school reunion is creeping up and I need something to talk about.

5. Sleep is overrated.

4. Nothing motivates me quite like a deadline.

3. So. Many. Ideas!

2. Writing a book should make a dent in all this fabric, thus keeping me off Hoarders just a little bit longer.

And the No. 1 reason to write another book…

Stash Books/C&T Publishing accepted my proposal! Coming Fall 2015!

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(More details to come next year, like the title. And the subject. But yay! Another book!)

 

Dreams of Millinery

I have always been a researcher. As far back as I can remember, I would read and study in great detail any topic that struck me. Birds, mythology, web design. You name it, I’ve been obsessed with it.

It should come as no surprise, then, that my Snow Queen hat-making adventure comes after seven years of periods of intense research, acquiring appropriate supplies and working myself up to actually making a hat. “Obsessed” is probably the nicest word I can use to describe my approach.

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While there are a lot of resources for purchasing ready-made buckram hat forms, I opted to make my own. Drafting a pattern was definitely a consideration but I decide, instead, to use a Victorian Riding Hat pattern by Lynn McMasters. I liked the idea of having a solid starting point so I could focus more on the technique of making the hat rather than the trial-and-error exercise that drafting a pattern for an unfamiliar object can be.

The pattern was a bit of a leap of faith. I found really no reviews online. I had previously used another LM pattern to make a Regency-era bonnet, so I figured I would at least end up with a usable product. I was right but having plenty of sewing experience under my belt — plus all that research — really came in handy since some of the pattern instructions could have been a little more clear.

If you have ever been tempted to make a real, honest-to-goodness top hat, then you should know that 99 percent of the sewing is done by hand. Through buckram. I used a curved upholstery needle for most of it with a metal thimble and a pair of needle-nose pliers on standby. No joke. I only drew blood two or three times, which is less than the amount I bled on my first corset. (Hey, I’ll celebrate any victory!)

The crown and brim are edged in millinery wire and I wish I’d picked up some shrink tube plastic to finish the ends of the wires. I also wish I’d done a better job of snipping the ends. There’s one spot in particular that’s a little bulky because the wire overlaps. I don’t think it will be noticeable while I’m wearing it but I still know it’s there.

The biggest mistake I made was sewing the crown fabric to the fabric on the sides of the hat. You’re supposed to stitch by hand through all the fabric and the buckram just below the wire at the edge of the crown. I decided to cut corners and sew it on the machine, then slip it over the hat. In theory, it seemed like a good idea. The reality, however, is less pretty. The millinery wire really affects the shape  so it’s nearly impossible to get the seam to meet right on the edge of the crown. And oh my bulky seam allowances! If I’d had more fabric, I would have re-cut those pieces and done it the right way. I also think I should have used narrower binding.

I still have more embellishing to do and need to decide if I’m going to add some ribbons inside to use for anchoring the hat to my wig (a frothy blonde concoction that weirds out my husband), but that can wait.