BurdaStyle Twisted Maxi Dress, with literal blood, sweat and tears

I sewed through my finger for the first time ever in the making of this dress.

Fortunately the blood washed out.
Fortunately the blood washed out.

Not intentionally–though I have been assured that this sewing-through-fingers business is a rite of passage–but I still think it could add a touch of gravitas: I bled for this dress. Stupidly.

You know how it is. This fabric is a super slippery, very slinky rayon jersey and it did not want to stay lined up properly, so I was using my fingers to hold edges together even though I’d used a ton of pins, and the machine was going really fast and my finger went up and over the presser foot and, yeah. Yelling. Blood. Half a roll of toilet paper to staunch the bleeding. Band-aid. And then, because I am hardcore, right back to the sewing machine to finish the dress.

The Back, with the tie.
The Back, with the tie.

(OK, it’s not that big a deal, but it’s the first time it’s ever happened to me. Any sewing injury stories to share, Dear Readers?)

The dress, by the way, is the Burdastyle Twisted Maxi-Dress 02/2013 #115.  It turns out pretty much exactly as it looks on the web page, it fits well, it’s very heavy due to all the fabric in the folds and twist, it’s incredibly low-cut in the front so beware of that (I ended up stitching the front pieces together an extra 2″ or so to provide bra coverage), and the front twists and folds are fiddly to put together. There was quite a bit of sitting on the floor with the fabric pieces and the instructions, and squinting back and forth from one to the other to figure out how it went together–but it did, and here it is, and look! Not bad, eh?

Front twists and folds.
Front twists and folds. I do look a bit maniacal in this one, don’t I? 

It would look really smashing with a border print, if you have a border-print jersey. If you don’t, it looks plenty nice in a regular jersey cut on the straight-grain, which is what I did, so long as it’s a four-way stretch. It took 3m of narrow fabric and I cut a size 40/44 mix with a bit of shoulder-broadening thrown in for good measure. The hem was just finished with the serger.

The fabric, by the way, was dirt cheap at $6/m, so altogether with the thread and pattern this is a $30 dress, sewn up in a fit of productivity/procrastination for the Dragon Ball. It’s also super-comfortable to wear, and you can’t even see the blood.

Most Boring Post Ever

dvsa hike-30-6

Look, everyone! I made more StyleArc Jasmine shorts! Fiddled with the pattern a smidge more (lengthening the crotch curve, mostly) and got it just perfect. Used leftover stretch pique from the sheath dress, which is super comfortable but stretches out quickly.

Went on a hike with my camera and thought, what the hell. So here you go.

The Back. Plus lots and lots of green.
The Back. Plus lots and lots of green.

This makes my fourth use of this pattern, so I’d say I got my money’s worth.

These pictures were taken in the Dundas Valley Conservation Area, which is enormous, and a five-minute walk from my front door. It still took me about an hour of hilly hiking before I got to the spot with the big mossy rocks, but it was worth it for this.

dvsa hike-18-4

dvsa hike-94-20

dvsa hike-78-17

I’m very lucky to live where I do.

The Dragon Mistress needs a dress

One cannot be the Dragon Mistress at the Dragon Ball without a dress to wear.

A headless Dragon Mistress. Her head was not lost to a dragon--no need for alarm. She just didn't want me to post anything recognizable.
A headless Dragon Mistress. Her head was not lost to a dragon–no need for alarm. She just didn’t want me to post anything recognizable.

Well. One can. We are all about the feminism and free choice in clothing options at Casa McDowell, and I can frequently be found pleading with Frances to just try on the boy’s jeans, or let me try a boy’s jeans pattern for her. “But you like them!” I say. “They’re baggy and loose and that’s just what you like! All of the girls’ jeans are skinnies! You HATE skinnies.”

“They’re boy pants, Mom,” she says, and that’s that.

So one can be the Dragon Mistress at the Dragon Ball while wearing bermuda shorts and a caftan, if that is what one wants to wear, but when one wants a dress, well then, the Dragon Mistress needs a dress.

Even when said Dragon Mistress decides she needs that dress a mere week before the Ball in question, and she happens to be spending that week at her  Dad’s house, and when her seamstress is in the midst of assembling a small army of dragon t-shirts.

Fortunately for me, I found this lovely cotton print at Fabricland for $4/m. And even more fortunately, Frances has recently decided that she is perhaps not completely opposed to all prints–that it may be acceptable, from time to time, to wear something not a solid.

So a $4/m print in one of her favourite colours was an easy decision.

The pattern came out of the Summer 2015 Ottobre magazine–the Daisy dress, so I’d already paid for it. I have about a metre of the print leftover. That makes the effective cost of this dress about $10.

The dress on the right.

Here she is, presiding over her dragonish domain, and looking pretty fabulous if I do say so myself.

dragon ball-190-2
MCing the Dragon Ball Talent Show, along with her Deputy

The dress was lined with white voile left over from the Math Skirt.

The dress pattern was easy-peasy. Three pleats, yoke and skirt pieces, lining, bam, done. The instructions were clear and followed a logical order. I used a combination of sewing and serging to put it together, and the hems were first serged (to make them even) and then stitched up once with a very narrow top-stitch.

If you hadn’t guessed already, you’ll be seeing more Ottobre projects here in the future.

Dragon Ball and a heap of dragon t-shirts

Once upon a time, a highschool friend, Frances and I made up something called the Dragon Tea Society. It was very simple: get dressed up; go to a fancy place that serves afternoon tea; bring a stuffed dragon; consume. The trickiest part was getting to the restaurant, which invariably was in downtown Toronto.

Guests of Honour
Guests of Honour

My Aunt Sue, when I was describing this to her a couple of years ago, thought this sounded like the best thing ever, except that it didn’t go nearly far enough. So last year, Frances and I headed down to Ottawa and, together with Aunt Sue and Uncle John and cousin Shauna and her children and Mary, a family friend, we had a Dragon Tea Society weekend. It involved stuffed dragons, tea and little sandwiches, of course, served at a historic mill by a river; it also involved dragon cupcakes and handmade dragon jewelery.

When my Aunt Sue was describing this to my Aunt Heather last year, Aunt Heather thought this sounded like the best thing ever, except that it didn’t go nearly far enough. So this year, Frances and I headed down to Aunt Heather’s cottage where–together with Aunt Heather, Uncle Brian, Aunt Sue, Uncle John, cousin Sarah and her family, cousin Shauna and her kids, and my brother Matthew and his family–we had a Dragon Ball, involving Dragon Egg hunts, dragon crafts, a talent show, contests and prizes, tents, feasts, a dance party, an unbelievable multi-person dragon costume (I wish I had a picture that did it justice), and my main contribution to this enterprise: a small stack of dragon scale t-shirts.

The Masked Mischief-Makers
The Masked Mischief-Makers


The dragon scale fabric was the main inspiration; once it had been seen, it could not be unseen, and it demanded to be made into something appropriate for young children loose in the woods on a dragon-themed weekend. It came from Glimmericks‘ shop on Spoonflower, and I bought it on the organic cotton jersey. A few fabric notes:

1. It is thick. A very beefy knit; just a layer of fuzz removed from sweatshirt jersey.
2. It has a decent but not overly generous amount of stretch.
3. It’s very soft.
4. I’m glad I ordered swatches. Some of the prints didn’t print as well and were quite pixel-y (the ones I ended up going with are tree dragon and sparkle blue ice metal dragon). All were run through the washing machine and the dryer to test for fade, and both of these passed nicely.

My serger absolutely hated this cotton. Don’t ask me why. I had to turn the tension dials all the way to 8 to prevent an unbelievable amount of grin-through; it was like every seam had teeth.

The head of the dragon costume, which should give you some idea. It lights up.
The head of the dragon costume, which should give you some idea. It lights up.

The original idea was to make Frances dragon-y pajamas, because this is a girl who adores dragons in every incarnation you can picture. She has a small mountain of stuffed dragons. She has every remotely child-appropriate dragon novel ever published. She has a small collection of dragon movies. She has a bazillion dragon figurines. She makes dragons out of polymer clay; we have about ten and the family is constantly growing. And so clearly she needed to have dragon-scale pajamas, so that she could be a dragon while sleeping or lounging around the house. Right?

And then dragon-scale pajamas for the Dragon Mistress became dragon-scale t-shirts for child attendees of the Dragon Ball, or at least, for those whose parents cooperated with my request for height and waist measurements. This totalled four.

Second cousins, being dragons.
Second cousins, being dragons.

I used three patterns, all from Ottobre magazine.

Ottobre is a quarterly magazine of patterns for children’s clothing, made in Denmark but published in several languages, including English. Their clothing styles are simple, modern, comfortable, and stylish. No dresses or pants loaded down with five pounds of ruffles, and no weird quilting cotton monstrosities. Just good basics, mostly out of knits. The magazines themselves are a good quality, with good photographs and good (if short) instructions on assembly. The sizes cover newborns to teens and there’s something in every issue for every size range. There is a fair amount of pattern tracing, but it’s totally worth it.

With the five issues of the magazine I have already, there were lots of t-shirt patterns in a variety of sizes to choose from. Two of them I’d already used to make Frances all of the (non-dragon) t-shirts she needed this summer, both with and without sleeves, and they needed only minor tweaks to the sleeves to get a good, comfortable fit (plus the standard fitting adjustments we make to every pattern).

– widened and lengthened the sleeves
– slightly enlarged the armhole on the sleeveless shirt (but not enough, per the recipient. Rats. Sorry, Dani!)

I added the seam binding, too, and embroidered each kid’s first initial onto it so that I could tell them apart when we got there.

The boys got black ribbed trimming at the neck, and black cotton jersey sleeves, for a bit of colour-block style and a touch of added toughness (not that dragon-scale really cries out for street cred–right?–or would that be cave cred?). And also to preserve the very expensive spoonflower fabric. (Shhh.)

The smallest recipient was shorter than the size range of the patterns I’d used before, so I experimented with a smaller drop-shoulder t-shirt pattern. It seemed to work.

A very frightening mini-dragon. Her secret weapon is glitter.
A very frightening mini-dragon. Her secret weapon is glitter.

I ended up grabbing measurements for the last two kids at the camp, so I’ve got two dragon t-shirts left to make.  And then most of a year to figure out what we’re going to do for next summer!

Southern Reach

[Spoiler warning to end all spoiler warnings. You will find out about just about everything that happens in these books.]

This photo was not taken in Area X, but we can pretend.
This photo was not taken in Area X, but we can pretend. We can also pretend that the Monarch population isn’t collapsing.

I have, as I’ve said before, a considerable taste for dystopian and apocalyptic fiction, moreso in recent years than previously; and according to actual published scientific research (!!!) it is not just me. Apparently, the future disappeared as a place people could fathom and predict about thirty years ago, and it has not come back. (But more about that when I review the book I read this in. I’ll have to finish it first, which is going to take a while, because I can only read it in thirty minute increments on the elliptical machine. Any more than that and I find myself clutching my head and wondering what my daughter’s life will be like.)

But when I hear the Southern Reach books described as horror, I can’t agree. The Southern Reach trilogy is only a horror series if you see Nature as other. If you like boundaries between Human and Nature, you will find these books horrifying, because they erase those boundaries. But nothing dies in these books–at least, nothing that people don’t kill. Any damage done by Area X to human beings is either to our artefacts (and big deal) or to the specific shapes of our bodies. Humans become Other in Area X: first utterly entranced by the cornucopia of wilderness on every side, then changed, then something else entirely. It’s hard for me to see becoming a bird, or a marmot, as a terrifying fate. Particularly when through this process the rest of nature is saved.


Southern Reach inspired the kind of detailed, nerdy, reference-saturated book reviews typically reserved for english theses, and for good reason: a reader could spend a good long time peeling back the layers without hitting the core. Widely agreed on is that they are densely atmospheric, eerie, concerned with our environmental plight, filled with alienated characters whose human identities are slowly stripped away, and not the least bit concerned with your personal need for closure. The books rate a bunch of 5-star ratings and a bunch of 2-star ratings on Goodreads: people either loved it, or complained bitterly about how odd it was and how they wanted it all tied up with a nice neat bow. (Hint: if you like your bows nice and neat, pass this series by and pick something more traditional up.)

This little fellow would be right at home in Area X ... but that's not where I took the picture.
This little fellow would be right at home in Area X … but that’s not where I took the picture.

So you may (almost certainly in absolutely no way whatsoever) be interested in the main themes of the novels, expressed as a collection of analogies and metaphors:

1. Decay. Things rot, fall apart, rust, are covered in lichen, are soggy, soft, falling down, skeletons are bleaching, floors ripped out by seedlings, and so on–a few times on every page.

2. Light. Specifically, from Area X. Area X is jam-packed full of light references. Stars. Sun. The moon, sometimes with a halo. Area X infections described as an internal brightness. Things glow that shouldn’t. From other geographies and locations, no light. Lots of darkness.

3. Birds. In a larger respect flying things in general, such as insects and bats, but mostly birds. Birds everywhere. Birds all over the damned place, including one small bird in the Southern Reach cafeteria who took up a fair bit of page space in volume 2.

4. Sea monsters. Sometimes just fish and other watery critters, but sea monsters mostly. The word “leviathan” comes up an awful lot.

5. Unhappy marriages. Spouses either die or get divorced. All of them. Or people stay single and are never married. There is no one in these books who has a happy marriage. Relationships in general are fraught. Some friendships are close, but the characters are in general people with few connections to the people around them. Parents are abusive or at least not affectionate or die or abandon children or are otherwise lost. Friends lie to each other and keep secrets. People fall in love with people who don’t love them back.

6. Alienation, particularly with the Biologist. I’ll come back to that.

7. Religion, but no faith. Preachers, sermons, gods, shrines, temples, etc., all over the place. No prayers. A very odd, central piece of religious writing apparently conceived by Area X, without any reference to any deity.

8. Nature vs. civilization. The human destruction of the environment is a constant drumbeat under the story. Pollution, toxic waste, illegal dumping, extinctions, and so on, are constantly discussed, and constantly contrasted with the “pristine wildnerness” of Area X: “The air was so clean, so fresh, while the world back beyond the border was what it had always been during the modern era: dirty, tired, imperfect, winding down, at war with itself. Back there I had always felt as if my work amounted to a futile attempt to save us from who we are.” (p. 30, book 1) (I hear you, B.)

Hello, little bee. Glad to see we haven't poisoned you yet.
Hello, little bee. Glad to see we haven’t poisoned you yet.

9. Transformation, succession and transition. Things are constantly changing from one thing into something else. Most notably (and I venture to guess for most people most frighteningly), people become something else: animals, monsters. A lighthouse doubles itself and becomes a tunnel (that the biologist insists on calling a tower, and which seems to have a lot of light in it for something underground).

First Digression: Succession ecology:

One of the things I loved about this series is that Vandermeer so clearly did his homework. The biologist is a succession ecologist, and it is a perfect fit for the themes of the books, so it’s worth exploring what that is a bit more.

Succession ecology is the discipline that studies the transformation of one kind of environment into another kind of environment. When a forest grows in an old meadow, for example. Different communities of plants and animals succeed each other in more or less predictable ways in a journey to what’s called a “climax ecosystem.”

How much do I love miniature frogs? Too much, possible. Too bad about the Amphibian Extinction Crisis.
How much do I love miniature frogs? Too much, possibly. Too bad about the Amphibian Extinction Crisis.


The first and most major caveat of succession ecology is that there are no value judgments.

Forests are not “better” than meadows. The various successional habitats that will grow and change on that landscape on the way to the forest are not “improvements” or “progress.” It’s just a description of what is, what it becomes, and why. As a professor of mine put it, a trucker drives by the same forest every few months and throws his cigarrette out the truck window. Sometimes it starts a fire. The first three times, the forest grows back. The fourth time, it becomes a blueberry patch. The forest is not better than the blueberry patch. The blueberry patch is not better than the forest.

But the progression of the burnt patch of ground (it could be caused by people; alternatively, by a natural process such as a storm or disease) towards something stable and long-term follows a fairly well-known progression. You start with the opportunists, the pioneering plants who like lots of space, sunlight and nutrients, all of which you get in the newly disturbed ecosystem. We like to call these plants weeds, and indeed weeds do love human habitats because human habitats are constantly disturbed. Lawns are little more than intentional high-maintenance disturbed habitats which, if left to their own devices, would become climax ecosystems. In my part of the world, if you leave your lawn alone for ten years, it becomes a young forest (probably maple/ash/beech). But we don’t leave them to their own devices; we interfere constantly with succession, and then complain when the opportunists love all the light, space and nutrients we so thoughtfully give them.

I mean, come on. That's awesome. And not even endangered yet.
I mean, come on. That’s awesome. And not even endangered yet.

In a non-human environment, what happens is that the pioneers (weeds) start to crowd each other out: there is less light, fewer nutrients, and the plants start to cast shade on the ground, making it difficult for their own seeds to grow. A new community of plants and animals adapted to conditions of greater scarcity starts to take root. This process then repeats itself until a plant and animal community that is compatible with the conditions it creates–that can grow and flourish within the nutrient, sunlight and space it itself makes–establishes itself. These may oscillate over time (for instance, maple trees make conditions that are hard for maple seedlings but great for ash/beech seedlings; ash/beech trees make conditions that are hard for ash/beech seedlings but great for maple seedlings; so over time you see them shift back and forth along a continuum that is more or less stable overall). These tend to be diverse, complex, and dominated by species that conserve resources within their own biomass. Forests with big trees in them, for instance. Weeds no longer flourish there.

Succession ecology, both mentioned explicitly and implied as part of the Regular Planet-to-Area X transformation, is referenced constantly. What impresses me about this is Vandermeer’s ability to remain consistent with the value-neutrality of succession ecology when used to discuss what is happening in Area X. Part of Florida coastline becoming a segment of weird-ass alien ecology? Just part of the circle of life, friend.

Second Digression: Invasive Species:

The thing to remember about climax ecosystems is that they’re not permanent. They are very stable, more stable than the various stages that lead to them, but plants and animals are more or less mobile and they like to move around, expand their territory, and find new niches to exploit.

It is perfectly natural for living things to move about. Ecosystems are not museum displays. They change, constantly.

What happens when a species arrives in a new habitat can follow a number of different trajectories, broadly divided into failure, naturalization, and invasion.


A failed species is one that tried a new habitat and did not survive.

A naturalized species is one that tried a new habitat and found a good niche, something that it could use without negative impacts to existing plant and animal communities. It fits in. Queen Anne’s Lace here in Canada is an example. Most of the plants we in Ontario are familiar with are actually not native.

An invasive species is one that tries a new habitat and is able to successfully compete with the existing native species, to the point where it damages the local environment.

Invasive species come up a lot–as examples and as metaphors–in the Area X series.

Is Area X or its originating agent an invasive species, destructive of the environment it found? Or is it an opportunist, exploiting an ecological niche and creating a new climax ecosystem? Or is it a saviour of the existing environment, containing the true destructive agent (humanity) on behalf of the rest of creation? No answer to these questions is ever provided, but they are asked–more or less explicitly–all the time, in all three books.

End digressions

10. Thistles. These books are obsessed with thistles. I don’t blame Vandermeer–I love thistles too. I don’t love pulling them out of rose gardens (don’t ask), but as wildflowers, I can totally understood a good non-tactile love affair with thistles. But these three books talk about thistles to the exclusion of almost any other wildflower that may be present in Area X.


11. Control, and the lack thereof. One of the characters is named Control; he keeps trying to exert influence on the situation and is thwarted at absolutely every turn.  But it’s not just him. The Southern Reach agency–an offshoot of Central, which is only two letters off from Control–as a whole is trying to control Area X–contain it, understand it, influence it, and failing for decades. Ultimately every human attempt to understand and prevent what is happening in Area X is an utter failure; the only remotely successful human interaction with it takes place in a context of acceptance (also the title of the third book). As one of the incarnations of the Biologist says, “I’m not an answer. I’m a question.”

At the very end, Control (the character) manages to affect Area X is some unexplained way, but mostly by giving up control, or any attempt at it. He’s just going to throw himself into the mystery and see what happens.

Third Digression: The Biologist & Alienation:


What a great character.  But so odd (which, to be honest, is why I love her so much). She just hates everyone, doesn’t she? Even the man she married she seems kind of iffy about (at least until the end of the first book).

The Biologist, in both incarnations, is a person who values nature over other people. She can’t keep a job; she doesn’t really have any friends; her marriage is on the rocks; she’s surly, argumentative, obstinate, prickly, and fiercely protective of non-human nature. SHE IS AWESOME.

She’d hate me–I’m human, after all–but I do adore her.

Random selection of quotes from/about the Biologist:

“when you see beauty in desolation it changes something inside you. Desolation tries to colonize you.”

“All three stared at me then, as if I were the strange cry at dusk.”

“I made no friends there, and I wasn’t sure that even long-standing neighbors were friends, either. … I wasn’t looking for much of anything from anyone.”

“I would not become that person the locals saw out on the rocks and still thought of as an outsider.” (but only because she left before they could.)

“At some point during our relationship, my husband began to call me the ghost bird, which was his way of teasing me for not being present enough in his life. … If we went to bars with his friends, one of his favorite things to do, I would volunteer only what a prisoner might during an interrogation. They weren’t my friends, not really…”

“But fun for me was sneaking off to peer into a tidal pool, to grasp the intricacies of the creatures that lived there.”

It is surely a mystery to all why I love the Biologist as much as I do.
It is surely a mystery to all why I love the Biologist as much as I do.

And at this point, Dear Readers, I have chosen only a handful of relevant quotes from just the first half of the first book.

It’s relentless. Reminders of the Biologist’s alienation from humanity and civilization and her preference for non-human nature aren’t just constant, they’re celebrated. She is the only character who really adapts well to Area X, who copes with it, and can establish herself there. Her alienation ultimately leads to her transformation, not into a fuzzy earth-mammal or -bird, but into an alien, capable of travelling  between worlds.

The biologist is not the only alienated character, but she is the only character who appears in all three books and never gets a name. Control has a name–John. The psychologist has two names–Cynthia and Gloria.

In one of the reviews I linked to up-page, the reviewer suggests that Vandermeer is claiming our identities are the source of our misery. Enh. I’m not sure about that. If so, the Biologist would surely be brimming over with joy, but she never is. Her lack of human-identity makes her uniquely suited to long-term adaptation within Area X, but it doesn’t ease her misery. Ultimately, if the books are about anything, I think they’re about our limitations: Area X utterly confounds us and we never are able to solve the mystery. It is alien, truly alien rather than big-bug-eyed-monsters.  In her own way, the Biologist is also alien, which may be why she gets along so well there–and why less alienated folks find Area X to be so very frightening.

A Renfrew with an experiment and an unintentionally funny fitting issue

Admiring my overgrown lawn and weeds. In a Renfrew.

So. Well.

Guess that FBA wasn't quite F enough
Guess that FBA wasn’t quite F enough



I guess I know what I need to fix for the next one. Plus a wedge taken out of the centre back.

Lines, lines, everywhere lines.
Lines, lines, everywhere lines.

Anyway. This post is less about the Renfrew, which poses obvious challenges to those of us not a pear-shape, than it is about what I used it to experiment with on my cover-stitch machine, which is: covering the back neck and shoulder seams!

neck binding-24-12


This all started years ago, when Frances would complain bitterly and endlessly that the seams on the knit shirts and pajamas I made her were itchy.

I top-stitched the serged seams down and they were still itchy. I replaced regular serger thread with woolly nylon and they were still itchy.

So I looked at her store-bought t-shirts. They all had fully enclosed neck-back and shoulder seams. And so did mine, when I went to look.

Inside of a casual shirt--straight stitch
Inside of a casual shirt–straight stitch
Outside of a casual shirt--chain stitch. This means that the outside of the shirt was facing down.
Outside of a casual shirt–chain stitch.

Casual t-shirts, dressy t-shirts, workout t-shirts, all those seams enclosed–usually with a strip of self-fabric.

Inside of a dressy t-shirt--two lines of straight stitching, incredibly parallel
Inside of a dressy t-shirt–two lines of straight stitching, incredibly parallel
Outside of the dressy t-shirt. Itty bitty wobblies, also straight stitches, not chains.
Outside of the dressy t-shirt. Itty bitty wobblies, also straight stitches, not chains.
Exercise shirt--straight stitch on the inside. Outside of this one is chain-stitched as well, but I'll spare you more photos.
Exercise shirt–straight stitch on the inside. Outside of this one is chain-stitched as well, but I’ll spare you more photos.

I spent a few months squinting at different kinds of bound seams.

Some had a double-row of chain-stitching. Some appeared to be sewn on with a regular straight stitch, or a narrow zig-zag. Some had only one visible row of stitching on the outside, indicating that they’d been sewn on in the ditch and then flipped over like a quilt binding. And some, where they were only sewn over the neck-back seam and not the shoulder seam, appeared to have been serged in when the neck binding was sewn on, and then flipped over the seam and stitched down afterwards.

Generally, the casual and workout t-shirts are the ones where the binding extends through the shoulder seams. Dressy, drapey shirts tend only to bind the back neck seam. The casual shirts are also more likely to use a chainstitch rather than (what looks like) a straight stitch.

Guess what, Dear Readers? Coverstitch machines can do chain stitches when you use only two needles.

A series of Frances-shirts with bound seams. The top one is inside-out so you can see it extending over the shoulders.
A series of Frances-shirts with bound seams. The top one is inside-out so you can see it extending over the shoulders. Yes, they are messy.

Anyway. I’ve now experimented on half a dozen t-shirts for myself, Frances, and Mysterious Others, and I’ve found the following very helpful:

1. Cut an on-grain strip of self-fabric about 1″ wide.

2. Pin it so that the bulk of the strip faces away from the seam allowance to be covered.

Here it is, lined up with the edge of the serged seam.

3. Using the chain stitch, stitch in the ditch on the inside. So make sure the looper thread matches the fabric, because it’ll show.

4. Trim if you want.

5. Fold the edge, then flip over to cover the serged (or other) seam. Pin excessively.

Showing the folded edge. Sort of. Squint, it's there.
Showing the folded edge. Sort of. Squint, it’s there.
Then flipped over the seam allowance and pinned in place
Then flipped over the seam allowance and pinned in place

6. Stitch as close to the edge as possible, trying to keep an even distance from the first seam.

Why did I take this one? Well, what the hell, Dear Readers. I'll bet you couldn't have figured this part out for yourselves.
Why did I take this one? Well, what the hell, Dear Readers. I’ll bet you couldn’t have figured this part out for yourselves.

It’s best if you do this right after attaching the neck binding and before attaching the sleeves, so you can bind the shoulder seams right up to the edge and neaten the ends up when the sleeves are sewn/serged on.

Holy cow that seam is wobbly. But from the outside it looks basically fine.
Holy cow that seam is wobbly. But from the outside it looks basically fine.

I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the factories have special machines that do double rows of these stitches at once so there’s less room for error. The store-bought ones are remarkably even, though they do occasionally wobble (I’ve squinted at a lot of these seams by now). But thanks to long hair and personal laziness, I’ve decided I’m ok with the odd more-than-wobble on my own neck and shoulder seams–it’s not that obvious. Best of all, Frances does not complain about itchy seams on these shirts.

And they do look nicer when you’re not wearing them, don’t you agree?

Renfrew outside from the back.
Renfrew outside from the back.

I know! It’s a tutorial, kind of! I’m appropriately ashamed. In my own defence, I did a bit of half-hearted googling and I couldn’t find this elsewhere, so may it be useful to you, and may you soon exceed my limited skills and be producing bound neck-back-and-shoulder seams of great evenness and beauty.

V8747: Encore

This is take two of a shirt I made last summer, with only minor changes:

I took the pictures for last year’s shirt in the same spot, too–go figure. And I apologize for the lack of eye contact in these photos. Every shot where I was looking at the camera was either badly out of focus or I looked like someone had been trying to poke my eyes out with a stick.

1. Made out of pink cotton voile, mostly to match and be worn with the border print skirt, but also wearable with other things.

2. Added 1/8″ on the seams width-wise to make it a bit less snug. Worked like a charm.

Sleeves! Blurry sleeves. My camera was determined to take pictures of the trees behind me instead of me. I’m trying not to take it personally.


3. Changed the sleeves. At first I thought maybe smocking, but with the gathers on the front, I thought it would be best to remain consistent and use gathers on the sleeves too. So I drafted a fairly snug cuff in the same dimensions as the front button band, cut and spread the sleeve to make gathers the same width and density as the front gathers, and added a smidge to the height of the sleeve cap to give it a nice bit of puff up top.

The Back.

The only thing I might change for next time is to take some of the length on the front out above the bust, instead of between the bust and the waist. It’s the right length but I think the gathers are just a bit too low for my taste, and I wonder if that would help the neckline stay put (it likes to drift wide). But it’s a pretty minor thing.

Review: The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World

The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World(The weirdest thing happened this summer, Dear Readers. I made some shorts and t-shirts for myself and Frances and Mysterious Others, and I thought — you know, I have enough summer clothes now. There’s really no need to sew another dress or skirt. Let’s do something else. You’ll probably be seeing bits and pieces of those Something Elses over the next little while, plus there are some unblogged clothes that I’m hoping to get to, but in the meantime, here is an unrelated book review on environmental philosophy.)
The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World by David Abram
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This book makes absolutely no sense.

Look, I understand that the alphabet is a phenomenal technology that has transformed human thought and consciousness, but if you are able to make your argument using that technology then obviously the technology is not mutually exclusive with that argument.

The thesis of the book–so far as it has one–is that closeness with and participation with the earth as a thing with value in its own right was, for many cultures, enacted within a spiritual system that saw breath, air and spirit as all-encompassing and synonymous; and that, as the alphabet codified breath, it must also be responsible for the separation of breath and spirit, and our divisions from each other and from the world around us. But if you are capable of making that argument with the alphabet then obviously the alphabet is not to blame. He makes outright nonsensical assertions such as: “It was not enough to preach the Christian faith: one had to induce the unlettered, tribal peoples to begin to use the technology [alphabet] upon which that faith depended.” To which I can only say: oh please. The vast majority of christian converts throughout history have been illiterate, and for a good chunk of that time the bible was only available in a language none of them could read or understand!

Oh but that’s ok, because, as he says later on, “It is a style of thinking, then, that associates truth not with static fact, but with a quality of relationship …. A human community that lives in a mutually beneficial relationship with the surrounding earth is a community, we might say, that lives in truth.”

How about not. How about you say that, and I throw rotten tomatoes at you for doing so.

First off: truth is a perfectly good word already with a good, valuable, and necessary meaning of its own. You want a word that means “living in a good relationship with the earth?” Come up with a new one.

Second: Who gets to define what “mutually beneficial relationship” is or looks like? And how is that determined without reference to “static fact,” or outside, objective reality? How would anyone ever arrive at this relationship from the place we currently inhabit WITHOUT reference to truth using its current meaning?

Third: Even once that relationship has been arrived at, we are going to need to be able to reference “truth” as we currently understand it to pursue other important goals, such as human equality. For centuries now women and people of colour have had to fight slowly and with incredible push-back against inequitable and incredibly unjust systems by referencing external facts such as “in fact no black people are not stupid or violent” and “woman are not motherbots.” And let’s be clear: it is entirely possible, and has been the case for much of human history, that it is very possible for a human civilization to treat its constituent members like disposable shit while still maintaining their local environments in a fairly serviceable condition, so figuring out the earth-relationship part is no guarantee that it will lead to a just, equitable, meaningful or fair way of life for the people who make up that society.

But the whole book is like this, and his attitude toward “truth” as a concept worth preserving in its current state may be why he plays so fast and loose with actual truth.

Like this one:

“Of course, not all stories are successful. There are good stories and mediocre stories and downright bad stories. How are they to be judged? If they do not aim at a static or ‘literal’ reality, how can we discern whether one telling of events is any better or more worthy than another? The answer is this: a story must be judged according to whether it makes sense. And ‘making sense’ must here be understood in its most direct meaning: to make sense is to enliven the senses.”

Yeah. Ok. Find your nearest MRA or Nazi sympathizer and ask them what stories “enliven their senses.”

So you may be asking yourself then why I gave the book even two stars.

There are parts of it that are written beautifully, and I do feel that I learned a fair bit about the cosmology and spiritual systems of a great number of societies worldwide, which was interesting, though I’m not sure I trust his representations and I’d want to double-check his references before assuming that the information is fair or accurate. After all, maybe they were just stories that properly enlivened his senses. He presents a way of thinking in parts of the book that is fascinating–not his own, to be sure, but that of the cultures he writes about.

So that’s worth a star. And I do believe, as he does, that we need to re-embed ourselves with the rest of nature (conceptually and psychologically–we have never actually severed ourselves from it, but our belief that we have is responsible for most if not all of our environmental problems). But I believe that we need to do so with proper respect and relationship to the relevant facts, not on the backs of insubstantial just-so stories that can’t bear the weight.

View all my reviews

Math Skirt (yay!)

This is the skirt I will point to whenever any young person ever asks me WHY they have to learn about fractions, measurement, multiplication and division, and WHEN they will possibly ever use this in their real lives. Because this, Dear Readers, is a Math Skirt.

Love the skirt but my god the pictures turned out terribly. I’m scraping the barrel here, Dear Readers. Also: The Front.


Let’s word it like a math test problem:

You have two 40″ long pieces of border print fabric that must be assembled into a fitted skirt for an adult woman with a 30″ waist and a 38″ high hip (5″ below the waist). How much must the waist be pleated to reduce the 40″ to 30″, assuming twelve pleats on front and back (24 pleats total)? How much must the pleats be reduced 4″ down to ensure adequate volume for the high hip? For bonus marks, draft a 1″ waist-band.

Sure yes! Let's go tromping around in the woods in my new white skirt!
Sure yes! Let’s go tromping around in the woods in my new white skirt!

I didn’t even properly draft a pattern for this. I just cut out two 40″ long fabric rectangles, sat down with a calculator, a ruler, and a pink chalk marker, and started figuring out where to put the pleats and how big to make them to fit the way I wanted them to–which was to duplicate this skirt, as much as possible.


I do love that skirt.

White invisible zipper, white hook and eye. Side zipper so I didn’t have to break up the print. The fabric is a mid-weight cotton satin, and it’s just gorgeous. Just the right amount of body to get a pleated skirt puffing out nicely, but still light enough to be a pleasure to wear when it’s hot outside.

In the photographs, the white of the skirt catches all the light and you can’t see any details. So here is one with the exposure turned way down so you can see the pleats. They’re pleated from the waist to the high hip, sewn down nice and snug, and then released. Each pleat has a 45-degree stitching line at the bottom that you can just barely make out in this picture.

Pleats Proof.
Pleats Proof. Also Extra Wrinkles, that don’t show up in real life.

It has a white cotton voile lining, and here I used the skirt sloper to make a quick and dirty a-line lining–just enough to keep the main skirt belling out and provide a little extra opacity.

The Back.
The Back.


Since the border print ran along the selvedge, I just turned it up once and top-stitched it down. It’s not like it’s going to fray, after all.

Here I’m wearing it with a recent yet-to-be-blogged blouse, but I’ve got enough of the border print left over that I think I can make a shirt, maybe with the border print on one shoulder. This is yet to be decided.

In the meantime: Math Skirts–not so hard!

As a bonus, at the end of my little photo hike, this lovely lady popped out of the woods to say hello.


Terrible picture as it was getting dark, but the deer around here are not shy of humans, so she just placidly trotted along, snacking on greens, eyeing me while I tried to get a good shot. Which I clearly failed to do.

V8997, the Sheath Dress Edition

Perfect place to take outside pictures in public with a good back-drop and no observers: a church on Saturday night!
Perfect place to take outside pictures in public with a good back-drop and no observers: a church on Saturday night!

I bought this stretch cotton pique at Fabricland on sale for $5/metre knowing that it would make the perfect V8997 sheath dress–snug but still comfy! Big colourful floral pattern! Enough body to hold it’s shape nicely! Figuring out the perfect lining fabric took a little longer, but eventually I settled on a stretch cotton poplin in white. I wanted something with the same give of the fabric, first of all, but secondly, I wanted to keep the cotton feel and breathability for those super-hot days in July and August when anything slippery on the skin feels like a wet plastic bag coated with silicone.

Yes, I know; it’s summer now and I still look like a ghost. It’s either that or bright red, Dear Readers. I don’t do tan. Actually, this is my tan.

As I’d made the circle-skirt version of this before, the sheath dress was pretty simple. I shortened the bodice pieces on the shorten line, as last time it was too long; it turned out to be just a smidge too much and next time I’ll put back in 1/2″ of it. I also needed to take out between 1/8″ and 1/4″ for all the waist and hip seams (and that’s a lot–there’s eight pieces between the front and back) to make it reasonably snug and sheath-like. I took out about 1/4″ on the princess seam right at the armscye as well, to deal with some gaping that only become evident once the whole thing was sewn together (of course–so it had to be disassembled and reassembled at that seam. Always an adventure).

I also added about 3/4″ to the inside of the v at the shoulders to better cover bra straps.

The Back! Which I forgot to do up at the hook & eye. Oops.
The Back! Which I forgot to do up at the hook & eye. Oops.

The main variation was the welting. This is the same white stretch cotton poplin I used for the lining, in 1 1/2″ bias strips, folded in half. One of the things I really love about this dress pattern is the seamlines, particularly that angle around the waist (empire waist in this case thanks to the extra shortening–d’oh!), and I didn’t want it to be hidden by the busy print. And then I thought if I were going to add welting around the waist I should add it at the neckline and armscye as well, just for greater consistency and visual balance.

The Side. Still debating if I should snug in the waist a bit more. The stretch means it has a tendency to bag out a bit after wear.
The Side. Still debating if I should snug in the waist a bit more. The stretch means it has a tendency to bag out a bit after wear.

I’m glad I did. I think it looks sharp, emphasizes those seamlines well, and adds an extra 1/2″ on the shoulders for even more bra strap coverage (key!). But oh my god did it ever make assembling those pieces that much more finicky and time consuming.

The zipper was just a regular white zipper–I didn’t want to mess with an invisible zipper with a really thick and spongy pique fabric. But hey! Check out how those seamlines and welts match up!


Not bad, eh?

Used a blind stitch for the main fabric at the hem, and my new 6mm hemming foot for the lining, which I totally love and which is also going to revolutionize my shirtmaking, I can tell. It was the easiest hem I’ve ever sewn in my life, ever.

And a ton of hand-stitching to attach linings to seamlines internally once most of the construction was done.


I’ve worn it a few times already and I can atest to it being super, super comfortable, thanks to the stretch. Like pajamas comfortable. And find me another sheath dress that you would compare to pajamas, I dare you.

Can you see the migraine in these photos? Plus: meet Butch, an arm-patch activity monitor I'm wearing for a few weeks as part of a medical study. Butch joins Bertha, my insulin pump (named after the crazy wife in Jane Eyre--yes, really) and the Biologist, a continuous glucose monitor I'm also wearing for the study. The Biologist does not get along with acetaminophen, which is the only kind of painkiller I can take. Point being that until July 6, when I get a headache, I get to just suffer through it. And also I will be sporting extra weird medial bulges in blog photos for a couple of weeks. Did you care? Probably not.
Can you see the migraine in these photos?
Plus: meet Butch, an arm-patch activity monitor I’m wearing for a few weeks as part of a medical study. Butch joins Bertha, my insulin pump (named after the crazy wife in Jane Eyre–yes, really) and the Biologist, a continuous glucose monitor I’m also wearing for the study. The Biologist does not get along with acetaminophen, which is the only kind of painkiller I can take. Point being that until July 6, when I get a headache, I get to just suffer through it. And also I will be sporting extra weird medial bulges in blog photos for a couple of weeks. Did you care? Probably not.
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