Review: Women in Clothes

Women in Clothes
Women in Clothes by Sheila Heti
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I finally finished this book.

It took me several months to make my way through it; this was not, for me, a pick-it-up-and-finish-it-in-one-go kind of book. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; I have a lot of books in the slow-read category that I work my way through in bits and pieces over the long haul, sometimes years.

But in the case of Women in Clothes, it wasn’t necessarily a good thing, either.

It aims to legitimize the concerns about dress–what to wear, when, why, and what that clothing communicates–that specifically women have as something that it is possible for serious, intellectual and successful women to think about. It certainly makes the case that women largely do think about this whether they should be or not, and that women put a fair bit of thought into what their clothing says about them, their lifestyles, their aspirations, and so on.

But the sheer variety of voices somewhat undercuts the success of this central message: one of the things that is most inescapable to conclude after reading Women in Clothes is that different women attach different meanings to the same clothing, so we’re not all speaking the same language. It raises the question, what’s the point?

Unfortunately this question–and others raised by the book–is never answered.

The book is a (very large) collection of completed surveys (you can find it here) by about 640 women, as well as essays, photo essays, stories, conversations and interviews with women about clothes. I’ll be posting my own answers to some of the survey questions, for no reason at all really since I’m sure it won’t be interesting, in a couple of days.

Given the variety, there’s sure to be something in Women in Clothes that interests and resonates with you. Unfortunately, there isn’t a conclusion, or any kind of unifying discussion. I’m sure that was their point, but it was also a drawback.

The book would have been vastly improved if it were cut by half and organized in some fashion–by theme, perhaps, or socio-economic group. It’s an interesting book (in parts, anyway) but it could have been a lot better.

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I do have some sewing projects ready to post. I just need a weather-cooperative day off, and in the case of one or two garments, some hemming time.

Review: Climate Changed: A Personal Journey through the Science

Climate Changed: A Personal Journey through the Science
Climate Changed: A Personal Journey through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The first 25% of the book did nothing for me. It was a very dry recitation of the climate facts I already know, in graphic novel format. If you’re the kind of person who gets most of your climate news from the newspaper, this section may be more informative or interesting for you. But at the 25% mark I put it down and almost didn’t pick it up again. I had no real interest in reading 500 pages of climate science presented as speech bubbles on pictures.

I’m glad I did pick it up again, though (under pressure of a library returns deadline). Once the book gets into the author’s own struggles with and reactions to that climate science, it developed more narrative push. There’s still an awful lot of climate science–and interviews with experts in various political and social fields about the implications of that science for our reactions and in the 21st century–but there is also a story of his own acceptance of that information and the meaning it has for his own life, and how he reacts to it.

I don’t agree with everything that he or his experts say, but it was credible and well-informed and thoroughly researched, and I enjoyed it. I even learned something new! which is not a given for me at this point with a climate book.

That being: Did You Know that even if the nuclear industry developed to its fullest extent, the total possible reduction it could make to global carbon emissions is around 6%? Not the silver bullet it’s proclaimed to be. Interesting, no?

The art is exceptional, and there’s a lot of visual metaphor and meaning packed into his choice of imagery.

Anyway. If you are interested in the climate change issue, want to be more informed about it, and find climate change science books too dry or dense to read, this is probably an excellent choice. I’d highly recommend it.

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This is Forty, In Leather (Vogue 8750)

It’s finished!*

This series called "faces I make when talking to my daughter while taking pictures for the blog and getting ready to go out to dinner."
This series called “faces I make when talking to my daughter while taking pictures for the blog and getting ready to go out to dinner.”

And I wore it out to dinner with my best girl on the evening I turned 40.

I even dragged out all the cosmetic crap I’ve accumulated over the past mumble-many years and used it. There’s, like, goop in my hair. (Am I the only one this happens to? Remember silicone shine sprays? I have a bottle of silicone shine spray. I bought it fifteen years ago or so, when these were A Thing that people bought. I have used approximately 30% of it in fifteen years. I should throw it away, right? That’s not even the goop I used here.) I have two layers of stuff on my face, one layer of which is supposed to help the other layer stick better. I have stuff on my eyelids that’s supposed to help the eyeshadow stick better. And I am wearing a new lipstick, which is actually kind of nifty, I think. I even bought it at Sephora instead of the drugstore, when I was out buying the tights I am wearing, because I had no tights without holes in them with which to wear my leather skirt. And it’s still cold here.

Here Is The Back.
Here Is The Back.

Plus, yes, that is my silk-cotton voile floral blouse. It matches the skirt smashingly.

I love the pattern. It has really interesting seam lines that provide a lot of shaping and are quite flattering. I did two muslins, one in a woven and one in the faux leather, so I could work out the waist length and the grading, and you’ll need to as the pattern is not super straightforward due to all the seams.

But it makes a very nice, flattering skirt. If you’re looking for a pencil skirt pattern that’s a little different and you have the patience to go through the muslining process, I highly recommend it.

So, the rest of skirt construction:

-partway through making the skirt, I decided having some leather sewing references on hand would be a good idea, and bought two leather books. The postal service took forever in delivering them to me, so the skirt was mostly done by the time they showed up. The good news? Most of what I remembered was correct and the books reassured me greatly. The bad news? The exception to this is the *cold rubber tape, which I’ve never been able to find here, and which you are supposed to apply to seams as a stay tape to prevent the leather from stretching out. … Ooops. The other book recommends linen tape for the same purpose, which would have been a whole lot easier, but much much much too late as it needs to be sewn in. You can’t open up leather seams without weakening the leather, so my plan is to find some cold rubber tape or equivalent and apply it to my leather seams on the inside after the fact. It should still help.

closer up, for seam details
closer up, for seam details

-for the lining, I used the skirt sloper I made with the aid of Suzy Fuhrer’s Craftsty class, rather than duplicating the skirt pattern (which comes unlined). It was a whole lot easier and I knew it would fit. An online leather resource suggested cutting the lining on the cross grain with the hem on the selvedge, and that’s what I did. The lining is just shy of the top of the rear slit.

-there’s also petersham ribbon between the lining and the leather to keep the waist from stretching out.

closer up from the back.
closer up from the back. note that it’s not the waist that’s uneven, but the shirt blousing over the back that makes it look so here.

-pounding the seams with a little mallet was a ton of fun. I may need to do more pounding near the zipper–it’s just not as flat as I’d like. There were some good suggestions on zipper installation in the books but, well, they got to me after I’d finished it. It’s still ok, though. What I did was baste the zipper in along the leather edges so they matched up, sew the seam between the slit and the zipper, then topstitch straight down from the waist to the hem to get the zipper/seam/slit all in place and behaving. It worked, mostly, and it made for (mostly) even (except around the bottom of the zipper) topstitching, which is important.

-the hem is not sewn. I measured where it needed to fall, folded it up with binder clips, pounded it with the mallet to make a nice crease and line, ran double-sided tape along the line on the inside, and then used the mallet to press it into the tape nice and flat.

more faces I make when I'm talking to Frances, taking pictures and getting ready to go out.
more faces I make when I’m talking to Frances, taking pictures and getting ready to go out. The skirt looks nice, though.

-apparently, according to the leather books, I made this unnecessarily complicated for myself by picking a pattern with so many pieces. I’m glad I did. It looks really nice, and the pattern provides a lot of shaping without darts. It’s basically a 3D skirt, when finished, which is very cool. Some of the side seams do not match up perfectly but I think from a distance you can’t really tell. Nevertheless, next time I’m picking a skirt pattern with fewer pieces. Current plans are to adapt that skirt sloper into a six- or eight-gore skirt with a bit of an a-line. This time a proper waistband, and waiting for the cold rubber tape.

OMG, the leather skirt!

In leather!

This is a skirt! Almost! Made out of leather!

So there is this thing that is happening this month in my life that happens to many of us eventually, being a milestone birthday of the sort that women are supposed to be too embarrassed to mention in public. I am turning 40! Instead of being properly embarrassed, I’m a bit giddy about it. OMG I’m turning 40! How amazing is that! I get to be 40! What excellent justification for a month of self-indulgence! Well except that I still have the whole single-mom schtick, so it will be more like moments of self-indulgence mixed in with days of picking up toys, signing school forms and cleaning up after dinner. Ah well.

In any case I decided that finishing the leather skirt in time for turning 40 would be a good thing to do, and allow me to wear my new leather skirt that fits on my 40th birthday, thereby making it into a Fabulous Forty kind of thing, rather than jeans-and-a-shirt Regular Forty (which will be the day following).

So the brainstorm I had while making up the sweatshirt was dual:

1) It’s leather, dough-brain. Just do lapped seams instead of regular seams and you won’t need to worry about easing or slightly mismatched seamlines.

2) Also, true the damned curves. When you stretched out the pieces to account for your high waist, it probably messed with the curves so now they don’t match and of course they bubble.

So I trued the damned curves, and yes indeed, there were some serious mismatches on those very curved side seams, and then I cut out test pieces from the stretch faux leather and sewed them together using lapped seams. And while it was not perfect (mostly because it was a test and I didn’t care if the side seams matched up or not), it was FLAT.

Once this lovely, FLAT, assembled test piece was done, I compared it and the trued pattern to the skirt sloper I made up a month or two ago. Hallelujah, the waist and low hip measurements matched, and the high hip was if anything a bit on the big side, giving me some more space to fiddle with and flatten the curved seams in front of the dress.


I mean I only bought this leather in, what, August?

Next step: Cutting! Out! The! Leather!

Which I did! And then I took the little leftover bits from the edges and cut out some very, very curvy pieces and sewed them together, making sure I could make them FLAT.

Which as a process, looked something like this:

Very carefully draw the seam lines on both pieces. On the top piece, draw the line on the reverse; on the bottom piece, draw it on the top. You’re not going to wash this garment so plan on the marks being permanent and choose accordingly. I used white tailor’s chalk and a felt-tip pen. With the felt tip pen on the right side of the bottom piece, I drew the seam line at 1/2″ instead of 5’8″, so that I could lap and completely cover the marks with the top piece.



Cut out enough notches on the curved piece so that when the seam line is folded back, it lies perfectly flat. Test this before you start taping them together.



Start with a match point, and using a small piece of double-sided tape meant for leather and with a width of ideally 3/8″ (but 1/2″ will do if you can’t find 3/8″), begin taping the folded top piece to the flat bottom piece. Fold a segment of the top, tape it to the bottom, short piece at a time, all the way around the curve.bloggish-19-5


When you’re done, you’ll have a nice FLAT curve, all taped together.


Now edgestitch that curve outside of the tape so you don’t get your leather needle all gummed up from the tape.  Leather needles do not like to be gummed up.


Assembling these pieces into front and back pieces was a whole new adventure.

There was lots of skipping of stitches when joining spots with more than two layers of leather , and a metric fuckton when I sewed in the zipper. Something about two layers of leather plus zipper tape equalled very unhappy janome machine. Because leather makes permanent holes, you do not ever want to go over the same section with the machine. So I did a lot of stopping, tying off threads, carefully placing the machine needle back right in precisely the same hole I stopped in, continuing from there, repeating as required,  finishing the seam, and then going back with the hand leather needle and back-stitching pieces together through the holes that the machine made, where the stitches skipped.

I got all of the pieces sewed together into a finished skirt body, topstitching and everything. The topstitching is ok. You can’t tell from a distance, but the occasional bits of skipped stitches and then the hand-sewn replacement sections are not great. They’re not terrible. But they’re not as nice as they would be if I’d sewn them on an industrial machine that could manage to be more cheerful about sewing through multiple layers of leather.

The really key thing is this:


It does! It really fits!

The side seams are close enough to matching up that I’m happy. Maybe 1/4″ off in places, but they look like they line up when you look at them from a distance. I can pull it on, do it up; the waist hits me at the waist, the hips hit me at the hips, the knee hits me at my knees.

Pulling it on is a bit of a struggle as it’s not yet lined and the leather is very soft and ‘sticky’.  So lining it is the next step. Leather tanning and dyeing agents are notoriously tough on natural fibres, so I went with poly for the petersham ribbon and the lining fabric, which is a bright multi-coloured floral that is slipper on both sides so it won’t stick to either me or the leather, fingers crossed.


Four days to finish it! Can it be done?

CAVEAT: I am not a leather sewing expert. This post is not intended to substitute for professional leather-sewing advice. In the event of a leather-sewing emergency, please consult with a leather professional.

My background here is one leather purse, put together as part of the Craftsy sewing a leather bag class, and reading some leather sewing books, and generally figuring things out as I went, otherwise.  Sewing with leather is completely different than sewing with fabric and the same tools and practices that guarantee good results with fabric will give you shit with leather (and vice versa).

Believe it or not there’s a lot more to say about the Leather Skirt Adventure, but I’ll spare you those for this post.

A double-gauze V9029, with hand-stitching

After a good, quick Linden as a palate-cleaner, I decided to do a good, semi-quick palate cleanser before getting back into anything more complicated. And by this I meant that I made another V9029, this time in a Nani Iro double gauze that I bought last fall (shame on me), and then edge-stitched by hand.


No smiles today. Today we are grim.
No smiles today. Today we are grim.

Yeah, well, what else was I going to do?

I bought this double gauze last year because the print was so lovely and the cotton was so soft, and I knew it was going to be a shirt, but what kind of shirt? It seemed too floaty to make into something tailored, but loose woven tunics and I are not on speaking terms.

After spending too many hours googling pictures of double gauze shirts, I confirmed that yes, almost every bit of Nani Iro sold becomes either a Grainline Scout tee or a Wiksten Tova. But looking at that sea of Scouts and Tovas, I only had eyes for the one double gauze Simplicity button-up blouse.

So I pulled out my V9029 and sewed it up again, making note of the fitting changes I wrote down on the pattern.

Grim from the side.
Grim from the side.

And I had a very Andrea brainstorm.

Because you know it was Embroidery Month, and the fabric print has that lovely hand-painted feel to it, and wouldn’t it look nice with a little hand-stitched touch? Like maybe the edge-stitching done by hand in a matching embroidery floss?

DMC 725 was a perfect match for the marigold yellow in the flowers. One strand of floss in a small needle, and to get the stitches just right, I ran my tracing wheel–hard, without the carbon paper–1/8″ from the finished edges.


It made a lovely straight line with evenly spaced divots that I just followed with the needle, up down up down, all the way around all the pieces needing hand-stitching. It’s not quite perfect, but then for hand-stitching, you don’t want it to be quite perfect. You just want it to be close enough. It made a heavy and long enough stitch that you can see the yellow, but from far away, it just looks like a normal shirt. So just what I wanted.

Grim + Haughty, With Dog. He's so much more photogenic than I am.
Grim + Haughty, With Dog. He’s so much more photogenic than I am.

V9029 is becoming a TNT for me. The sleeves are the right length this time, the collar worked better–a bit on the big side, but no puckers underneath, and it fits fairly well through the body with no gaping and not too much ease. (For me, a successful button-up shirt is a shirt that, if I leave it unbuttoned, will fall naturally to the centre front, and this one does.)

I used the reverse of the double gauze on the under collar and inside of the collar stand, but given that it’s transparent it doesn’t add much contrast value. Still. It is a Thing that I Did.



Plus the obligatory back shot:

Look! My Back!

Look! My Back!

Not bad for fit, eh? So that’s one shirt pattern pretty much nailed.


Photos this time were inspired by those super formal early photography portraits, where no one ever smiled and so everyone looked faintly ridiculous and/or bordering-on-postal.

The chair in the corner was clean for a change; plus, it meant I got to sit down. I like to think that Simba also enjoyed it as another chance to claim a lap as part of his expanding territory, but it’s hard to be sure.

Palate Cleansing Projects and a Linden Sweatshirt

Dear Readers, it is March. This part of Canada has just slogged through one of the coldest Februaries in living memory, which makes the Marchness feel like something worth celebrating. March is practically spring! At least it’s not February.


So here I am, celebrating March in all of its slightly-less-wintery glory, in my new Linden. Yes, it is actually snowing in these pictures.

I’ve read a lot of sewing blogs and talked to a lot of sewers who speak of the palate cleansing project–a small, quick make tackled after something long and drawn-out, just to get the creative juices flowing again. And for about forty-five minutes about a week ago, I thought I might be the only one to ever resort to mid-project palate cleansers.

You know … when that long, drawn-out, detailed sewing project is just taking so much longer than you thought, or it hits a road block you’re not sure how to solve, or you know how to solve it and you just can’t face it right now. Then I say to myself, Self, fuck it! Make something that’ll take 3 hours tops. Wear it tomorrow.

The sweatshirt also has a side. Here it is.
The sweatshirt also has a side. Here it is.

I ran into such a roadblock on my second blazer.

Self, I said that Monday, fuck it: make yourself a sweatshirt with that textured cobalt blue knit fabric you’ve had for months now. It’s freezing cold and you need another warm shirt that does not feel like wearing splinters. (Those of you who can’t wear wool will understand.)

So cold this winter, Dear Readers. Last year was bad for storms but this year is much worse for cold. It’s gotten to the point where no one is even talking about the weather because we just can’t stand it. Do you know what it takes for Canadians to stop talking about the weather?

Come on, sun! Melt that snow!


So, I made a Linden. In textured cobalt blue knit. It’s not the most glamourous project I’ve ever made, but it is warm and comfortable, and including cutting time I made it in about an afternoon.

The Linden pattern was on sale at Needlework, which made the perfect rationalization for buying it. I even already had my serger set up with wooly nylon thread in the loopers and cobalt blue in the left needle after making Frances a sweatshirt from the same fabric.

From pattern tracing to finishing, it took me an afternoon.

If you’ve ever made a raglan shirt before, you won’t even need to refer to the instructions. It’s incredibly straightforward, and I found the fit pretty much perfect, once I sized down. The back is a bit baggy for my tastes, but it is a sweatshirt, so big deal.

Here Is The Back
Here Is The Back

This is mostly a size 10. I took about two inches off the sleeves (of course) and off the middle of the back (so the band was sewn at the regular hem in the front, and tapered off quite a bit to the back; because if you are a woman of a Certain Bra Size, the fronts of your shirts will be higher than the backs without any of this high-low hem nonsense). I also tapered to the depth of the size 8 neckline, as I thought the neckline on the 10 was a bit wide. (Just drew a new line from the notches in the armscye to the point on the size 8 neckline that is directly agove the size 10, and drew a new line, so it would be just a smidge narrower.)

And it worked! It’s comfy, it fits, my bra straps don’t show, and it’s warm. The fabric is a bit scratchy, which I don’t understand, and it’s already pilling–I haven’t even washed it yet. !! But it is cold enough that I DON’T CARE.

Even better, while I was making it, I thought up something that I think will solve my fitting issues on the leather pencil skirt. So the blazer may continue to take a back seat in the real world while it percolates in my subconscious, with a magical solution to present itself at some future time.

But Google has informed me that mid-project palate cleansing is anything but rare, and while doing a search I found a bunch of fun links on palate-cleansing work in fields as diverse as graphic design, knitting, reading and writing fiction. Just as a taste–

UX Design
Project Management (I think)
Writing Novels

It sounds so much better than “procrastinating,” eh?

The Next Blazer, Eventually, While Analyzing the Walking Dead

I found myself in possession of more free time and less money in February than is typically the case, which I decided was the perfect excuse to figure out my next blazer, the Vogue 8333 Claire Schaeffer pattern.

After the difficulties of working with fusible interfacing on the poly-wool blue blazer I made in the fall, I decided to go whole-hog and go the hair-canvas/pad-stitching/tailoring route. This meant many, many hours parked on my butt with a needle in my hand, and how better to spend it than feeding a new netflix addiction?

Now: I cannot in any way watch horror and I have not been able to since I was in elementary school. I know that for most people it goes the other way round, but I aged out of my ability to tolerate violence and now if I see someone bleeding and in pain on a screen, large or small, I will probably have to get up and leave the room, or at least shut my eyes and try not to listen. This is precisely why I’ve never watched the Walking Dead before (that, and the fact that I would have had to pay for it, but the blood-and-guts is the big reason), but the villain in the last season of Farscape is pissing me off so much* that I can’t finish watching it and I wanted a new show to occupy my eyeballs during workouts and hand-sewing sessions. So the Walking Dead it is.

(Pro Tip: Do not watch the Walking Dead while holding a fresh hot cup of tea in your hand, unless you want to end up wearing the fresh hot cup of tea and mopping it off the table and floor.)

Now, I am an inveterate environmentalist with a long, long history of hugging trees and espousing the virtues of various squiggly critters, and that may (almost certainly did) colour my perceptions of, well … just about everything. But. That first long weekend watching The Walking Dead non-stop convinced me that the show is a thinly-veiled metaphor for environmental collapse.

(Shocking! I know!)

I’m in good company on the metaphor bit: The Walking Dead has been analyzed as a metaphor for just about anything people don’t like, from gun control to Obama’s America (I mean, seriously. People. You may not like Obama but you are not living in a post-apocalyptic landscape of zombies and disintegrating infrastructure). But every one of those think pieces (and there are a lot of them) admitted that the metaphor broke down on one or two key points.

But environmental collapse? It works pretty damned near perfectly.

For one thing, consider that over the past several decades, we’ve been obsessed with apocalypse. The number of apocalyptic television shows, movies and books has been increasing every decade, regardless of who is in the White House or whether government spending is going up or down. We’re very good at covering them up with just about anything but environmental collapse–alien invasions, robot insurrection, massive flu epidemics, nuclear warfare, and now zombies–but we are as a society spending more and more of our time entertaining ourselves with stories about the end of the world. I’ve made this point before, but in the 1960s, science fiction was about the golden age that technology and American Values were going to unleash on the entire universe, likely populated with savages who needed a good ray gun or teleporter.  The idea of coming out with something like that now–would you watch it? Could you now suspend your disbelief on something so optimistic?

Zombies, though, make a particularly good foil for anyone who wants to think about environmental collapse without consciously thinking about environmental collapse. Think about it: zombies are the past eating the future. The dead rise up and consume their young, in zombie stories quite literally. In the environmental stories that surround us every day, our past is constantly consuming our present–the industrial revolution devouring the climate, our forests, the oceans, the collapse of all of the world’s major fisheries, the coral reefs, and so on–and we are in turn becoming the present that is devouring the future mostly through failing to grapple with it all.

I’m not suggesting that this was a conscious decision on the part of the comic book writer or the show’s creators. But I do think that these stories, of what has been done to our present by our ancestors, and what we in turn are doing to our descendants, make a very fertile ground for zombie apocalypse stories to grow in.

I would also like to lodge a formal complaint that, for the love of god, where are they getting all this gasoline from? Why are they still driving around in cars? They live in a warm climate–hasn’t a single one of them thought to steal a bicycle?

Meanwhile, back on the blazer:

I’ve been using a combination of the V8333 couture instructions, the Craftsy class on classic blazer tailoring, stuff I’ve found in various sewing books, and chocolate. I made up two muslins (one full, one half) to check the fit and it was a bit of a bear, though starting with a princess seam is the way to go if you know you’ll be doing significant adjustments to the bust. The fabric on the real version is a wool tweed I picked up at King Textiles in the fall.

Dear Readers, Behold My Mistakes:


The Craftsy class suggested using muslin for underlining, whereas the pattern suggests silk organza. The Craftsy class also self-drafted the underlining pattern pieces for the shoulders and back, and they cover just the top area, whereas the Vogue pattern has the all of the main pieces underlined, including the sleeves. And–Vogue! I’m looking at you!–the pattern layout shows the underlining pieces laid out on the straight grain, and the first third of the instructions cover the underlining pieces and fusing them to the main fabric, and then buried as a “couture tip” a third of the way through the instructions they mention maybe cutting out the underlining pieces on the bias. Not funny, Vogue. Not funny at all.

Anyway, I used muslin because it was what I had, and I cut it on the straight grain because … that was what the instructions said to do. And I’m thinking that may have been Mistake #1, because I know I underlined the pieces properly, and yet this is what the back looks like. Which if that’s not stretched out wool (or shrunken underlining) I don’t know what is.

There is seam ripping in my future, I can just tell.

Otherwise it’s gone pretty well. My pad-stitching is a thing of beauty, or more like a thingless, because you can’t see it.

Pad-stitched under collar on the right, non-pad-stitched upper collar on the left. Not bad, eh?
Pad-stitched under collar on the right, non-pad-stitched upper collar on the left. Not bad, eh? Please ignore thready bits–they will be removed before it’s done. Also, that’s not top-stitching at the edges, it’s basting, and it’s all going to be removed.

It fits well.

The collar and lapel are joined in this weird backwards way I’ve never seen before.  I’ll cover that in a future post.

I added in the shoulder reinforcement as suggested in the Craftsy class.

Taming the corners of the lapels and collars followed V8333. I tamed the corners or the lapels etc. as suggested in the V8333 instructions, and it worked pretty well too.

Nice, sharp, flat corners. Huzzah!
Nice, sharp, flat corners. Huzzah!


*the villain in the last season of Farscape is a woman who defeats the good guys with some scent gland in her boobs that turns them into bumbling, hormonal, ragingly lustful idiots. Say it with me now: That’s Sexist! As well as boring and gross. And it just made me lose all interest in seeing where the show ended up.

Embroidering Stuff: How-To

I can’t actually remember when I started to embroider. But I found a half-finished pre-stamped crewel piece of a frog on a toadstool saying “kiss me!” in a box of my old books, so clearly I have been embroidering for a good long time–at least 30 years. And the funny thing is that I’m still not an expert. There are dozens of techniques and stitches that I still want to learn.


I’ve done crewel, freestyle, cross-stitch, needlework, needlepainting, blackwork, whitework, redwork, some ribbon embroidery, a bit of crochet lace and smocking, and now stumpwork. So while I’m not an expert, I’ve done enough to be able to give some pointers to people looking for a place to start:

1. Cheapest: Needlepainting

Use a small needle and the threads you already have! Make tiny straight stitches in different colours to sketch or “paint” out the picture you want to make. Draw the picture directly on the fabric first, though, so you’ll have something to follow. If you have a good pattern to use, fantastic; otherwise, you’re best off if you already know how to draw fairly well, because it’s a lot of the same skills. Chloe Gordiano is a master of this.

2. Easiest: Cross stitching

There’s a reason this one still has its own magazines, and the rest don’t: it’s basically colour-by-numbers on the fabric equivalent of graph paper. If you want to put a cross-stitch design on a non-aida fabric (like the back pocket on a pair of blue jeans, or a shirt lapel), get yourself some waste canvas; you baste this stuff on top of the regular fabric, complete the cross stitch design, take out the basting stitches and pull the waste canvas out from underneath the stitches. (Trust me, it works.)

It’s also fairly inexpensive. It uses six-stranded cotton embroidery floss you can typically get for $0.5/skein or less, and aida cloth is similarly priced. Get yourself a cheap plastic hoop and a couple of tapestry needles, and you’re good to go.

3. Trendiest:  “freestyle”

This is the kind of embroidery found in Sublime Stitching or Doodlestitching books and patterns. Easy, cute, fun. A few basic stitches: back stitch, straight stitch, maybe a split or chain stitch, satin stitch if you’re feeling ambitious.

4. Best introductory book: Mastering the Art of Embroidery

Sophie Long covers an enormous range of different kinds and styles of embroidery in her large and absolutely beautiful book. Not only does it include a survey of different styles of embroidery and the main stitches of each, as well as some basic projects, she includes interviews with proficient artists in those crafts, and absolutely amazing photographs of completed work. The kind of thing that will make your jaw drop open. It is a great combination of inspiration, information and instruction.

It is not the kind of book that will help you master any one technique (no one book could do that); it is the kind of book that will help you figure out what kind of embroidery you might like to try, and where to start.

Also, Sophie Long is a graduate of the Royal School of Needlework in London.

5. Most fun and inspirational embroidery book: Hoopla

Many, many photographs of finished works by professional embroidery artists doing amazing and unexpected things, as well as interviews and a handful of projects and ideas. Ever seen cross stitch on a wooden door or car hood? Right, well. There you go.

6. Best intermediate embroidery books: the Royal School of Needlework Essential Stitch Guide series

The existence of the Royal School of Needlework in London, and the sad lack of any such institution here in Canada, often makes me wish I could pack up and move to Britain for a few years. This is a degree granting institution, people. In hand-sewing. And the work their graduates do is just breath-taking.

Also, their graduates publish a series of instructional books on a wide variety of different kinds of embroidery: crewel, whitework, blackwork, goldwork, stumpwork, and more. They’re small and relatively inexpensive and you can trust the information in them.

7. If you ever get to the point where you’re looking for embroidery books at a higher-than-intermediate level, you won’t need my help or anyone else’s. At that point, you’ll know the experts and the artists by name yourself, and trot after their exhibits and books and magazine articles happily wherever they lead. However, if you do want to browse some embroidery eye-candy, you can find my embroidery bookshelf on GoodReads here. There’s also a fair number of pattern books for different embroidery styles, if you’re the kind of person who loves to embroider but hates to draw out the pattern first.

8. Embroidery magazine well worth the cover and shipping charges: Inspirations

An Australian embroidery magazine with a very impressive roster of regular artists who contribute projects and articles. Everything about the magazine is very high quality, and their projects are helpfully organized by skill-level and type. You’ll find every kind of embroidery in it, with really fantastic photography. I’ve got more projects dog-eared in back issues of this magazine than I will ever have the time to make.

9. Inspirational web haunts: the Mr. X-stitch and &Stitches Flickr boards

Among others. You’ll see a lot of overlap, but there’s a good amount of really impressive embroidery on the internet. (And a lot of crap, of course.)

10. Embroiderers to Stalk on the Internet

Not including websites already linked to above…

Sophie Long

Jane Nicholas, stumpwork guru.

Mary Corbet, does just about everything well

Michelle Carragher, costume embroiderer, including Game of Thrones

Embroidering Stuff: Purses

If you’re thinking about dipping your toes into the pool of decorative hand-stitching, purses and bags are a great place to start.

You don’t need to worry about flattering placement, or layering other pieces on top of something embroidered if it’s dimensional, or whether or not it’s “professional” or “appropriate;” you don’t need to worry about fit (if what’s holding you back is spending a lot of time decorating something and then having the final product not fit well). And there are some really good books and patterns out there that you can use as-is, or modify to be more your taste.


This is my winter work-bag. It’s a good size (almost, but not quite, briefcase-length), and the inside is the top of an old pair of blue jeans, so it’s got lots of functional pockets. I sewed the bottom of the jeans-top shut, gusseted the corners, added a facing to the top, then measured the outside of this to cut the outside pattern pieces, added handles, top-stitched and voila. Construction-wise for the bag, not very tricky (except for sewing through multiple layers of boiled wool and denim). But to me, the embroidery makes the bag.

The pattern is based off of one in Bags in Bloom by Susan Cariello, a really fantastic embroidered-purse project book that includes patterns and instructions for the bags and for the embroidery. I chose one part of a nice pattern and scaled it up for use on a slightly larger bag.

Another project from the book.Gorgeous, isn’t it?

Given the heaviness of the boiled wool, heavier embroidery fibres were called for: primarily yarn (as in, for knitting) in wool, bamboo and angora, regular stretch lace, perle cotton for the finer details, and freshwater pearls and glass beads in the flower centres.

No, working worsted-weight yarn through boiled wool was not the kindest project on my fingers, but the end result was so worth it; and if you started with something like heavy linen, cotton canvas or a good stiff silk, it would not be so hard on the digits.

I’ve heard that Bags in Bloom has been recently republished under another title; if the cover looks the same and it’s by Susan Cariello, it’s the same book. But there’s a few other recent embroidered-bag project books, and while I haven’t yet had a chance to make up a project from them, they both look very solid from my reading: Artfully Embroidered by Naoko Shimoda and Strolling Along Paths of Green by Yoko Saito. Both are Japanese craft books recently translated into English.

From Artfully Embroidered


Artfully Embroidered includes a variety of embroidery styles, and bag projects beyond purses, including coin-purses (above), wallets, tote bags, and so on. Strolling Along Paths of Green is more of an applique/quilting book, but the projects look beautiful.

From Strolling Along Paths of Green
From Strolling Along Paths of Green

If you find my bag amateurish, that’s fine, and you can exclude it from your memory for the next question:

Looking at them, do you think that either printed fabric or regular solid fabric would have been as lovely?

I don’t. You’d miss the texture that the stitches add, and the effects their fibres can create, whether shiny, sparkly, matte, fuzzy, or variegated. You wouldn’t have the same opportunities to customize, either; adding or omitting beads, shifting or outright altering the colour scheme, changing the scale of the image, using only a portion of the pattern. Certainly my work bag (and yes, I’m bringing it back in) would have been just a grey sack.

That grey bag is the one project I can count on to get a “You made that? You know you could sell those” response, including from gallery and store owners. Not that I made it for the approval of others, or that I would enjoy it less if I didn’t have it, and of course I have no intention of making them to sell. But it is something that, if executed reasonably well, adds a lot of punch to an otherwise simple and unremarkable project.

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