Embroidered Clothing is Better

Say, did you know that it’s National Embroidery Month?

I’m guessing 100 hours on embroidering this dress.

No, me either. Which is tragic. I feel like I’ve wasted ten days of potential embroidery bliss through my careless ignorance. Not to say that I haven’t been embroidering–I have–but I didn’t know that I had the perfect opportunity to torment you all with embroidery talk!

I don’t remember when I started embroidering. I have half-completed embroidery projects around from when I was in elementary school, so it’s apparently been for at least 30 years; but I wouldn’t consider myself to be an expert. There are so many skills, stitches and techniques to master in embroidery that I will never get to that level.

I will never, ever be this good. Amazing.

It’s got a bit of a fusty reputation, too, much like sewing had in the last decade or so: it’s for old women, right? Making dustcatchers with bible verses to give as Christmas presents. Though there is nothing wrong with this, and the ageism and sexism in the assumption is problematic, it’s also completely not true. Lots of people, both men and women and of all ages–including this program for male prisoners in the UK–embroider; it’s not just for pillow covers and wall hangings; and if you want to put your favourite Walking Dead or Friends quote on your work, well, nothing’s stopping you.

Right? Now there’s a way to combine needlework and power tools!

But there’s no getting around that hand embroidery, unlike machine sewing, really is something that takes time, practice and effort to master. Don’t get snippy: you can make a knit t-shirt in an afternoon, and it will be perfectly wearable; you can master the techniques required to make a gathered skirt by machine in a day, as many beginners classes prove; but it may take you a year of practicing your stitches before you are good enough to embroider that t-shirt or skirt, and when you do, it will probably take you a week of active stitching time to actually do it. I hand-embroidered a work bag a few years back; it took 40 hours to make the bag from start to finish, and at least half of that was just the embroidery. Totally worth it, though.

This is why our clothes are no longer embroidered. Fast fashion and mass production rely on things that are replicable by machine and can be completed in a short enough time that the costs are still low. Hand embroidery does not fit in that business model. I think that our decades’ long experience with mass produced fashion has conditioned our eyes to see it as something somehow odd, fussy, irrelevant, or not-modern. As something we’ve outgrown. But frankly, if you’re already invested in making your own clothes, then you have already mostly rejected mass produced clothing, and you may as well go all the way. Haute couture still recognizes that well-completed hand-embroidery elevates a garment, adds a loveliness that cannot be replicated by machine embroidery or by printed fabric.

Also, embroidery has an incredibly long and surprisingly functional history. Smocking, for example, is something now associated with heirloom dresses made for little girls; but historically, it was used on workers’ clothing to add stretch to woven fabrics. Sashiko embroidery was first developed in Japan to reinforce areas of wear on clothing, or at stress points to prevent wear.

Some embroidery was of course always entirely decorative, and speaks to me of the need for personal decoration built deep within human nature.

Sioux dress w/ fully beaded yoke, from Wikipedia.

Aren’t these incredible? Imagine the dedication and skill it would take, not to mention the time, to produce something so beautiful. Imagine the need to make beautiful things that would have encouraged people to develop those technologies and skills in the first place!

Our clothing is no longer embroidered by hand because our clothing today is cheap, and hand embroidery is not cheap. Clothing today is meant to be disposable; if it wears out, if the colours bleed, if it fades, pitch it. Hand embroidery is not disposable; if done well, it will last for centuries.

I can understand why new sewers would be aiming for the quality of off-the-rack clothes: they represent the lowest common denominator of acceptable clothing in public, right? The seams are straight, the hems are even, things are pressed. And then fitting is the next natural skill to tackle, making clothes that are better than off-the-rack because the fit has been perfected for the body it goes on.

But what then? Do you just jump on a treadmill of cranking out endless repetitions of perfectly fitting garments that look like off-the-rack, but better fitted? End up with a closet just as full as the worst fast-fashion junkie’s? Is mimicking disposable fashion the end of the line in sewing skills development?

Of course not. Unless you really just want 30 identical boring knit t-shirts, so you can wear a different one every day for a month. But then you’ve made your thirty identical boring knit t-shirts, and then what?

If you get to that point, and you’re looking for a way to slow down in your clothing production, add more visible hand-made details, make something that will last and that does not look in any way like it came from a mall–in a good way–might I suggest embroidery? It is the last stage in handmade couture clothing, Dear Readers.


tl/dr: I’ll be talking about embroidery a lot over the next couple of weeks. You’ve been warned.


All of the clothing images, with the exception of the Sioux dress, are haute couture clothing designs from runway shows. And they’re all a bit over-the-top and decadent. But I hope they made the point that our clothing today isn’t embroidered, not because it’s old-fashioned or out-of-date or inherently unattractive, but because it costs serious time and dedication.

My First Burda

Burda’s got a bit of a reputation, eh?

The instructions! The complexity! The lack of seam allowances!

But it was the only place I could find a nice dress pattern I could adjust to fit my daughter, that would work with the kind of knit we’d already bought for her holiday dress (a shiny panne velour, in a bright cobalt/navy blue). So I decided to gird my loins and enter the battle of Burda.

And found myself strolling through a park. Dear Readers, it was not hard. It was a dress pattern. Yes, I had to add 5/8″ seam allowances, but other than that … you know … sew the yoke to the bodice, join the shoulders, the sides, make up the sleeves, add the sleeves, gather the skirt, sew it on, hem. I hardly even had to look at the instructions.



The bias trim in velour on the neckline and sleeve hems turned out to be a bit tricky, but not that bad.

The adjustments didn’t work out quite as well as her last dress, but purely my fault; I added girth to the front, but no length, so the front waist seam is not level on her. I also had to make up two sets of sleeves, as the first was too narrow. But it was an easy fix and we had lots of extra fabric, and this happens with all the woven shirts I make for her. She also asked me to make it ankle-length, which I was happy to do and which used up all of the extra velour.



I even decided to make it a bit more difficult by using lace binding on the hem to ease the excess in, so it’s all catch-stitched. There’s no wonky top-stitching on the velour, and there’s no weird bubbling from excess fullness, so it worked out. Again, not so bad.

It’s a nice dress that fits her well and falls well within her preferred grey-and-blue colour scheme. But of course, she had Christmas at her dad’s and didn’t wear it there and then forgot to bring it home so couldn’t wear it here … so it’s still waiting for its perfect debut opportunity.

In the meantime: Burda! Not as terrifying as previously reported. I will definitely try their patterns again.

Review: The Stumpwork, Goldwork and Surface Embroidery Beetle Collection

The Stumpwork, Goldwork and Surface Embroidery Beetle Collection
The Stumpwork, Goldwork and Surface Embroidery Beetle Collection by Jane Nicholas
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A fantastic book for the advanced beetle-loving embroiderer. This may be a small audience, but it’s a wonderful book–from the research on the inspiration insects, through to the instructions and projects using stumpwork, goldwork, crewel, beading, and applique techniques.

I finished my first stumpwork beetle –the ladybug–and can say that the instructions are clear, the measurements and diagrams are accurate and make sense, and the project worked.


In person, this little guy measures about 1 cm long.
In person, this little guy measures about 1 cm long.

It is definitely not a perfect project, but I learned some things in doing this one:

  1. You cannot substitute the 24-gauge jewellery wire you have on hand for the 28-30 gauge florists’ wire called for in the pattern. It makes too thick a border for the wings, and once you finish the wing, you’ll have a devil of a time trying to get the wire through the background fabric.
  2. Draw the outlines on to the back of the background fabric, so you can still see where the legs go after the front has been covered by the wings. Draw the outlines of the wings on the front of the wing fabric, because honestly you’re going to cover the whole thing front and back with stitches anyway so it doesn’t really matter where it goes.
  3. The black seed beads you have on hand are maybe not quite small enough.
  4. You will absolutely need to have good, clear detailed vision of objects held at about nose-distance. Doing couching stitches over even 24-gauge jewellery wire, and then padded satin stitches to fill in tiny shapes only a few millimetres in each direction, will require you to hold things pretty close to your face and be able to see them relatively well. This may mean reading glasses. If you’re me, this will mean reading glasses worn in front of your regular prescription glasses. Hazel Blomkamp, whose wonderful crewel embroidery books I got the double-glasses suggestion from, gently reminds her readers to take off the reading glasses before being seen by anyone. Or you can take selfies and post them on the internet, which is what I did.

    In a 4" embroidery hoop, to give you a sense of scale.
    In a 4″ embroidery hoop, to give you a sense of scale.
  5. Working itty-bitty black stab stitches around the borders of the two teeny pieces of black felt that form the body underneath those wings will require the brightest light you can find. Don’t try to do this in the kitchen at 10pm.
  6. After 30 minutes stitching while wearing two pairs of glasses, you will not be able to see well without them.
  7. But you can totally do 3D stumpwork embroidery.  It’ll even be recognizable when it’s done, if a bit messy.

    See? 3D!
    See? 3D!

Given that these little ladybugs are so small, I think they could be a super cute touch on a shirt collar or placket or something.  I’m not sure what I’ll do with this little guy. It’d be a fun pendant for a necklace, don’t you think?

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So close, and yet so far: leather skirt muslin #2

I had such high hopes for this skirt.

Goofy poses taken from Women In Clothes (ref. in below photo)
Goofy poses taken from Women In Clothes (ref. in below photo)

One of the high hopes that I had was that it would be a fun holiday skirt. But this thought, this “wouldn’t it be great to get all gussied up in nice shoes and tights and everything at the end of December?” idea, comes strictly from a determination not to know myself and the laziest inner leanings of my winter heart.

No, actually, what sounds like fun at the end of December is to put on a pair of comfy blue jeans, an old worn-in sweater, make a huge pot of english rose or dorian grey tea, put my hair in a ponytail and spend the entire day sewing, while wearing fuzzy socks. Getting gussied up and wearing a skirt and tights and nice shoes and everything means, for at least a short period of time, being cold; and I have no interest in that. (I was very cold taking these pictures, which is why I took three of them and went back inside.)

A second high hope that I had for this skirt was that the material, a lovely bright copper faux leather with a bit of stretch, would be good for muslining out my leather pencil skirt again, if only to practice leather sewing techniques on something similar. And in terms of getting the fit right, it certainly was. This pencil skirt fits. And thanks to the rayon lining, I know it’s not due to the stretch.

Not just the lighting.
Not just the lighting.

But thanks to the stretch, all those lovely interesting curvy seams bubble and hiccup like a drunk man at 2 am on a Saturday.



So while I’m pretty sure the fit is fine, I’m going to have to try it again without stretch. Before I do, I’m going to take another closer look at the seamlines on the adjusted skirt pieces, because truly fixing the bubbling probably means finessing those quite a bit as well, to make sure the curves match as much as possible.

Today's crazy pose courtesy of the poses shown on pp 233-239 of Women in Clothes, which I am still very slowly making my way through. As you can see, the bubbling doesn't go away when I wear it.
Today’s crazy poses courtesy of the poses shown on pp 233-239 of Women in Clothes, which I am still very slowly making my way through. As you can see, the bubbling doesn’t go away when I wear it.

However, I did lay out my lovely leather and make sure that these pieces will fit on the skins that I have. And they will, just barely. So once I get the curves figured out, Dear Readers, I am off to the races on making a gorgeous leather skirt, that I am pretty well certain not to wear until April at least, because it is Canada in the winter time and it’s cold outside.

Review: Playing Big: Find Your Voice, Your Mission, Your Message

Playing Big: Find Your Voice, Your Mission, Your Message
Playing Big: Find Your Voice, Your Mission, Your Message by Tara Mohr
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Boy, am I ever glad I didn’t pay for this.

Mohr’s heart is in the right place. She wanted to write a book that would help women overcome a lifetime of socialization and learn to believe in ourselves, so we can pursue our own big dreams and goals. And that is wonderful. But the execution fell apart somewhat.

To begin with, it is pretty well a standard self-help book, with standard self-help advice: make friends with your inner critic, find and follow your inner mentor, step depending on praise or running from criticism, deal with fear, stop undermining yourself, figure out what your big dreams and callings are, chase them down to the ends of the earth. All fine, so far as they go, but not earth-shaking. I’ve read enough self-help books over the course of my life to know that making friends with your inner critic is the first piece of advice offered in almost every self-help book, and whether you call it your Inner Mentor or your North Star or your Peaceful Place or your Future Visualization or whatever, finding it is always the second.

(Aside: I had three stages in my own self-help book journey: 1–I was young and proud and much too good for self-help books; 2–I was older and sad and decided maybe I could use help even if it came in the form of self-help books; 3–I am even older and either through the books I’ve already read or just the process of increasing curmudgeonization, I feel like I no longer need it. The Fuck-Off Fairy has been and gone; now I figure if I do something and it turns out to be ridiculous and everyone laughs at me, well, at least I’ve brightened their days.)

For another, the feminist portion of the book seemed half-thought-out, at best. She acknowledges the reality of discrimination and sexism in shaping our world, our lives, and our personalities, but then doesn’t really consider how that sexism will react to us in our new, fearless, uber-confident and self-mentored-up selves. If we are taught self-deprecation in order not to seem uppity, for example, it stands to reason that when we no longer self-deprecate, the world will not take it well. In my exeperience, one can absolutely expect a significant backlash to any move away from the feminine Norm of Nice.

Most of the research that forms the basis of the book is anecdotal and personal–of course, since this is self-help; one can’t expect double-blind studies and statistical correlations. However, it is less that convincing, particularly when some of the anecdotes are of the “I listened to my inner voice, and it told me to send my first ever written piece to Forbes, and it got published!” variety.

The chapter on fear, though, angered me.

Mohr states that really there are two kinds of fear: pachad, which is the fear of things that don’t actually exist, like monsters under the bed; and yirah, which is the fear felt when we confront the divine or other things larger than ourselves. Pachad we should ignore because what we fear isn’t real. Yirah is telling us we should move forwards.

You may notice that there is a distinct lack of any discussion of the fear of real, present and immediate threats, like sabre-toothed tigers, abusive ex-husbands, or the imminent prospect of foreclosure on one’s house. Both of the kinds of fear she does discuss mean, in her view, that you should move forwards towards your dream; but look, terrible things can happen and sometimes our fears are rational and realistic. The Universe is not a cosmic vending machine and we are not all guaranteed to have our dreams come true if we are nice people who want reasonable things. The worst can happen, and sometimes it does. Sometimes people fail, and it is irresponsible not to even discuss what to do when one’s fears are realistic or even probable, and it boggles my mind that however many people read this manuscript and no one thought to wonder about the whole fear thing.

Here’s my own personal advice on fear:

As yourself three questions: What is the most likely outcome? What is the best case scenario? What is the worst case scenario?

If you can accept the most likely outcome, if the best case scenario is something you truly deeply want, and if the worst case scenario is something you can recover from, it’s a good risk.

If the most likely outcome is not good enough, if the worst case scenario would crush you and you aren’t sure you could recover, or if the best case scenario isn’t amazingly fantastic, it’s probably not worth it.

By all means, do some research or talk to people to figure out what those scenarios are; but just plunging ahead on the expectation that the Universe takes care of people with good intentions is silly and irresponsible.


There was a time in my life when a lot of this book’s contents would have resonated with me and I would have dragged out my journal and earnestly completed all of the journaling prompts. If you are at that time in your life, I wish you good luck, god speed, and it almost certainly isn’t as bad or as scary as you think. Keep breathing. You’ll get there.

Somehow or other, I did; or at least, I think I did. I did more tagging of pages that I agreed with than tagging of insights–in fact, I didn’t tag any insights. Yep, still scared of things; no, it doesn’t stop me; the inner critic is still vicious but I just smile and nod at her and keep on plugging; praise and criticism don’t tell me what to do; etc. Maybe I’m just a smug and self-satisfied brat. In any case, I’ll be sending this back to the library, where it can hopefully inspire and console someone else.

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I made jeans!

And they’re not Gingers!

Not that there’s anything wrong with Gingers, I’m sure, but I already had a Jalie jeans pattern so that’s what I made, and here is my Jalie jeans offering in the midst of this current Gingers maelstrom.

Doing what I do, when I wear jeans. Yep, that's a pile of magazines on the arm of the chair.
Doing what I do, when I wear jeans. Yep, that’s a pile of magazines on the arm of the chair, and fuzzy socks on my feet. Hey, it’s cold!

I suppose a more accurate title might be “I made ANYTHING!” but actually, I’ve been sewing quite a bit. I just haven’t been the slightest bit interested in taking off my incredibly comfortable lounging-around clothes to make any kind of effort in blog photographs whatsoever, as you can see above. I’ll get to blogging them, hopefully before spring, but no timeline guarantees here.

I made them on Christmas Day, because my daughter was at her dad’s house, and all the stores are closed so what are you going to do? Yes, I know, other people visit family or friends, but as far as I’m concerned it isn’t Christmas without my girl, so I’d rather not.

I know the theory is that blue jeans are super hard to sew. But really, they’re just pants with a lot of extra top-stitching. I did a quick muslin on Christmas Eve, just waist to knees to get the fit right, and then Christmas Day sewed the whole thing up. Jalie has their own sizing, and I think these were a U in the waist and a W in the hips. I also added 1 1/2 inches between hip and waist, and changed the leg shape from the dramatic flare to a more relaxed bootcut. And as is de rigeur in the SBC, I used Liberty lawn scraps to line the front pockets.


A word on this jeans pattern, though I have shared this before: The good thing about it is, that every size from preschool girl to 3XL womam is in the same envelope.

The bad thing is, that they’re all on the same piece of paper. So there is a lot of tracing required.

But I can theoretically use this same pattern for blue jeans for both Frances and myself until we both kick the bucket. That’s a pretty good plus.

The other pretty good plus is that it’s a well-drafted pattern that goes together nicely. Notches line up, instructions make sense, and so on. I didn’t follow them completely, as I prefer the join-inseams-then-crotch-then-outsides method of pants construction. But whatever. It all worked. And I enjoyed using the bartack stitch so much, and pounding in a nice metal jeans button.

Oh, and I totally ignored the markings for rear pocket placement. I put the jeans together, and tried them on, and then figured out where I wanted the rear pockets to sit. I sewed one on one side, took off the jeans, and folded them in half carefully along the centre back seam, making sure that the waist band and hips lined up properly. I then stuck pins through all layers, at the corners and points of the one pocket that was sewed on, and used those pins on the other side to align the second pocket for placement. Easy peasy–but apparently something that is often overlooked either in the rush to completion or an urge to be completely faithful to the pattern markings.

Here is my butt, in the jeans that I made. No fancy topstitching this time, but next time for sure. The slight offness of the back yoke is the only thing I'm not really happy with, but it's usually covered by a shirt, so whatever.
Here is my butt, in the jeans that I made. No fancy topstitching this time, but next time for sure. The slight offness of the back yoke is the only thing I’m not really happy with, but it’s usually covered by a shirt, so whatever.

Since then I’ve worn them every day I can get away with. They are incredibly comfortable. It’s 94% cotton & 6% spandex, starts off fairly snug and then bags out a bit over 3-4 days. The photos in the post are from the point with the most bagging out, so there’s some additional wrinkles that aren’t there when they’ve been freshly washed, but they’re still snug enough that they mostly stay put (I can sit down without showing my underwear! THERE IS NO MUFFIN TOP!) and given all the rolling around these things tolerate, I can’t complain.

And yes, there’s also a pile of books on the floor, and more books on the table.
You should see the pile of books beside the bed. And the one in the night table.
But at least I just gave away a box of books …
… because that means there’s room for new ones! Ok, not really.

I love them.

And I will make more–but not until the projects pile is a bit smaller.

an incredibly long and depressing explanation for Hibernation 2014’s replacement

Hibernation 2014 fixed a lot of things.

No, scratch that: Hibernation 2014 gave me some space while time fixed a lot of things. Like the creepy ex, losing my job, finding the new one, the thyroid thing, and adapting to all of Frances’s new health gizmos and routines, for starters.

But there’s one thing Hibernation 2014 will never and can never address, and that’s climate change. I don’t mean that it can’t solve it–though it can’t, and please spare me the speeches about how making your own stuff is good for the environment, usually it’s not–I mean that it can’t really help me cope with it, in a permanent way.

You know that feeling that comes over you when you visit a historic battleground, or the site of a massacre or tragedy? How the blood that was spilled somehow hangs in the air; you can feel it, or shadows of it, around you? Well, being well-schooled in climate change and trying to do something with your life to solve it makes the whole world feel like that. Of course there are the environmental catastrophes that underlie every step we take; the forests that have already disappeared, the passenger pigeons that should be in the air, the charismatic megafauna that were wiped out before the europeans ever set foot here in Canada. But there is also the knowledge of the catastrophes to come, the knowledge that everything you could possibly do for the rest of your life will not be enough to keep even a small part of it from dying.

And yes it is technically possible for some super-scientist to come along with a miracle technology sometime in the next thirty years and save us from ourselves. Just like it is technically possible for a doctor to come along with a miracle drug and save a cancer patient in palliative care. But it is awfully unlikely.

I’m still doing what I do. You know, I pay for bullfrog power and I drive as little as possible and I recycle and use reusable bags and I haven’t been on an airplane since 2010. I use the library for books whenever I can. I work in renewable energy, and boy, I’d love it if I were working harder in renewable energy. But I still live a mostly-typical north american existence on top of a mountain of stuff I don’t really need, and the climate (speaking in purely scientific terms) would be better off without me (and you).

I think this may be why I have been so obsessed with apocalyptic fiction for the last few years. BattleStar Galactica can be read as a climate fable pretty easily. And there’s the Last Policeman trilogy, Station Eleven, the Hunger Games, The Girl with All the Gifts, Area X, The Clockwork Century, Drowned Cities, Spin, the Windup Girl–it goes on. Even though I recognize that this is a failure on my part to engage with the reality of the situation and, where this obsession is shared by the culture at large, a failure on all of our parts to engage with the reality of the situation. This is no virus. It is no alien or robot invasion. It isn’t zombies. It is no asteroid. It is us, all us, all of us. We are the gun, the bullet, the victim, and the hand that pulled the trigger. It’s just us, living our lives in the world we inherited, finding it easier to hold on to what we have now and let tomorrow take care of itself. Even though it can’t.

Do you remember how all of the science fiction in the 1960s was all sparkly spaceships, personal jet backpacks, robot servants? Star Trek and the Jetsons.  And now all of our science fiction is the End of Everything. Zombies and asteroids and brittle intergalactic totalitarian empires. Killer androids and deathly viruses. I think we all know, deep down, even those of us who can’t admit it out loud. And I think we are all scared.

So in a not insignificant way, Hibernation 2014 was a way to hide from all of that. And chances are, sewing and making things will remain a way for me to continue hiding from all of that. Oh hey, don’t get me wrong; I’ve always loved making things. But that’s the reason it’s so therapeutic, you see: I love it. And it is totally unconnected with the end of the world.

Anyway, I am going to rename Hibernation 2014 ‘burrow & sing’ for the time being. It is just as unconnected with sewing and making as Hibernation 2014 was, but without the now-outdated year reference, and with the added benefit of being a line from a Dennis Lee poem called hang- that pretty well describes how I feel. (Google Books has Testament, the book it’s from, if you’re interested, and hang- is on page 34.) Yes, it’s pretentious and obscure, I know. But I really love Dennis Lee’s environmental poems, so if nothing else, I’ll get that little reminder every time I post.

I could just call it sewing. Yep. But I don’t want to. So there. Plus, it’s not always going to be sewing, per se.

I had a lot of hope right up until about 2012. I knew it was 20 years too late to actually fix it, but first I thought that Copenhagen might actually get us to a climate deal that would get us somewhere and stave off the worst of it, and then when that fell through, I thought that there were enough smaller initiatives like the Green Energy Act and municipal plans to make some kind of difference. But our emissions keep climbing, and we keep having international climate negotiations which consist of poorer and developing nations screaming for help and first-world countries (particularly Canada) snubbing them, and the ice keeps melting and species are going extinct and it’s not even that no one seems to care, but that the people who care the most are the deniers and are working tooth and nail on the coat-tails of significant funding from fossil fuel companies to make sure that nothing changes. Our likely continuum of outcomes at this point is from catastrophe to a Canfield Oceans mass extinction event. It’s not like coming to terms with the death of a loved one, where there is one loved one and the rest of the world carries on; it’s the death of all loved ones, human and not-human, and when I’m not busy living the life I know is contributing to all of that, I need to hide out from it all in a burrow of fabric and thread.

2015 Sewing Plans

I KNOW. Sewing plan posts stink. I won’t be offended if you skip it. But whereas other people’s sewing plans mostly bore me to tears, I find my own endlessly fascinating. I don’t expect you to, though.

1. There will be clothes! Like finishing that leather pencil skirt, and the suit(s), and a couple more blouses for work.

2. There also will be clothes for Frances! She grew out of her raincoat, and also she’s been bugging me for a mini duffel bag. So I’ll start there.

3. There will be quilts! I want to make a quilt for my own room this year. I’ve picked out the Heaven & Earth pattern from Material Obsessions 2, for which I can find no decent photo online. But it is full of colour and contrast and I love it. It’s going to take a while to find some good fat quarters for it, though, so it’s likely to take most of the year. I’m also going to finish that Farmer’s Wife quilt. Slowly.

4. There will be embroidery! Last year I had a loose schedule, where I did handwork during the week and machine sewing on weekends, when I had bigger blocks of time. I’m going to get back into that, and I’m going to start by sewing up an embroidered beetle on weeknights from this mouth-watering book. (I don’t actually recommend eating the book. Or the beetles, for that matter.) There are many new and exciting embroidery books in my life right now, and I am all stocked up with projects and mojo.

5. There will be embroidery on clothes! I have some ideas. For now I’ll tuck them away safely. There will also be embroidery on accessories.

As an aside, do any of you have any theories about why more sewing bloggers don’t do this? It’s such a fun and easy way to make something that’s really unique and has personality, and well done it is so lovely, and it involves a lot of the same needles and threads sewists already use to make the clothes anyway. Why not add a little embellishment? Unlike a hand-rolled hem, it’s even visible.

6. There will be blogging about some, but not all, of this! Don’t get used to this frequency, though.

7. There will be organization! Inspired by an Online Friend Who Shall Remain Nameless but Possibly Volunteer to Out Herself, I have created an excel spreadsheet to document all of my sewing patterns, fabric, and ongoing projects. It seemed like a good idea at the time … anyway. Apparently, after sorting out the patterns Frances has outgrown and the fabric scraps I’ve finally accepted will never be made into anything, I have just under 50 patterns and about 80 separate pieces of usable fabric, 2/3 of which is quilting cotton (for quilts, people). Why do you care? You don’t! I know. But these meaningless statistics took a good chunk of a Saturday afternoon to generate, and dammit, if I can’t monetize it, at least I will put it somewhere on the blog.

No, wait: I can now keep track of what projects are going to use which patterns and fabrics, and identify where there are actual gaps, as opposed to shopping on a whim and a prayer. That is the plan, anyway. And it’s fairly important because, sometime between the roof post and the end of the year, my furnace broke down and needed to be replaced. (In a Canadian winter, Dear Readers, a functioning furnace is not a luxury.)

8. I will participate in MMM! But don’t worry, I will never have the time or interest to document what I wear every day, so there is no risk whatsoever of having a 30-day What I Made and Wore post extravaganza.

9. It’s going to be FUN!

Because if your hobbies aren’t fun, you’re doing it wrong.

10. And lastly, there will be exclamation points!

Review: Vintage Quilt Revival: 22 Modern Designs From Classic Blocks

Vintage Quilt Revival: 22 Modern Designs From Classic Blocks
Vintage Quilt Revival: 22 Modern Designs From Classic Blocks by Katie Clark Blakesley

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I’ve had Vintage Quilt Revival for about a year, and finally got around to making a project from it. The blocks, projects, aesthetic and photography are all very appealing and pretty. But either it was my dumb luck, or the book suffers from a number of errors, because the cross-patch bag project’s measurements were all wrong.

What it is supposed to look like, when done, assuming you pick the same colours and all in solids, which I didn't.
What it is supposed to look like, when done, assuming you pick the same colours and all in solids, which I didn’t.

It is supposed to make an 8.5″ block before finishing. The book tells you how many of each type of block to cut out, and in what size; this I did, right off the bat. Then it says to get the template off the included cd and print 16 copies and use foundation piecing to put them together. Well, this is absurd. The cross-patch block is not difficult, from a piecing perspective. Careful measurement and piecing will work to produce a good block without wasting 16 pieces of paper. Also, I don’t have a cd drive on my computer, and I’m not buying a new laptop so I can make better use of a $20 book.

The block. See where it says 8.5"? And see how simple and straightforward the assembly is? Why would they require a reader to use foundation piecing?
The block. See where it says 8.5″? And see how simple and straightforward the assembly is? Why would they require a reader to use foundation piecing? Also, when I say “inner” I mean “inside the yellow border,” and when I say “outer” I mean everything else, including the yellow rectangles.

Or it would work, if the measurements given for cutting were accurate.

But they weren’t.

(Aside: the inner pieces are given as 1.5″ wide. The outer pieces are given as 2.25″ wide. I have double-checked and yes, it does say 1.5″, and yes, it’s for all of the inner pieces, not just one–so not a typo. I have a feeling that the 2.25″ is the correct measurement so if you are going to make the crosspatch bag from this book, cut your inner squares out at 2.25″x 2.25″, and the white strip as 2.25″ x 6″. That should work better.)

Finished block. You can see how it wouldn't really work if the inner squares and rectangles were thinner than the outer ones.
Finished block. You can see how it wouldn’t really work if the inner squares and rectangles were thinner than the outer ones.

So I made up the first block just following the diagram, and the lattice arms on the outer portions were about an inch wider than the arms in the inner portion, completely breaking the interwoven effect. I had to take them apart and trim an inch off of the outer lattice pieces to make the effect work–and at that point, of course, it was no longer 8.5″. It was 6.5″. Which would mean a bag that was 12″ across instead of 16″ across. Not something I was really keen on.

So I trimmed all the outer pieces into sizes that would work with the inner pieces, cut out pieces for one more block, and turned it into a cushion cover. (3 blocks x 3 blocks with an envelope back in a solid yellow.) It’s a very pretty cushion cover, and I’ve had the 18″ form inside it hanging around for years, waiting for an appropriate home. But it’s not a bag, and I’m not sufficiently motivated to try another project from the book to see if they have more accurate cutting measurements. I’ll just use the book for inspiration, and use block instructions from elsewhere.

It's a very pretty cushion. It's just that I wasn't really planning on making a cushion.
It’s a very pretty cushion. It’s just that I wasn’t really planning on making a cushion.

View all my reviews

I’m starting to think, though, that I may be one of the few people on the planet who waits to review crafting books until after I’ve tried a project from them. This book has a lot of good reviews on GoodReads, but none of them mention anyone having actually made something from the book. Buyer beware.

Hibernation 2014: Wherein I Angst

Say, did you know that this isn’t technically speaking a sewing blog?

It isn’t even, technically speaking, a crafting or making blog.

Technically speaking, it’s a green blog. If you’ve read back through the old entries, you know this. If you haven’t, why would you? I just spoiled the ending.

Technically speaking, the whole sewing/making thing was a one-year blog experiment to see if it helped me cope with last year.

And now 2014 is ending and I need to decide what to do with it. (The blog, not the year. The year has its own ideas and is carrying them out without my input. Inconsiderate, really.)

I like blogging about sewing, even if I could pack all of my readers into a moderately-sized bathroom. I plan to keep doing it. At the very least, though, I need to change my category handle.

I suppose angsting is a strong word for what this post actually contains so far. Let me add some extra hand-wringing:

2014 is almost over and my sewing blog category has been all about 2014 and I don’t know what to dooooooooooooo!



What I made this year:

  • Four pairs of pants
  • Seven dresses
  • Three pairs of pajamas
  • Seven t-shirts
  • One sweater
  • One leather purse
  • One cross-stitch project
  • Two pairs of shorts
  • Two jackets
  • Two button-down shirts
  • Three skirts
  • One pair of blue jeans

What actually gets used:

  • The pants, especially the Jasmine pants, one of which I am wearing as I type this.
  • The pajamas, which Frances wears all the time, including all non-scheduled downtime at home.
  • Most of the t-shirts. Frances wasn’t too keen on the first t-shirt I made her but later iterations fit better, and she wears them all the time. And my first Renfrew wasn’t a raging success, but I wear my pleated Butterick tees and the Emily top all the time.
  • The purse. Every day, until it got cold and I switched to the winter bag.
  • The fancy shorts.
  • The button down tops.
  • The second Moneta dress, when it’s hot.
  • The jeans are new, but I suspect I’ll be getting a lot of wear out of them.

What I have learned:

  • More pants/shorts, fewer dresses/skirts.
  • Always add 1.5″ to the rise on a new pants/skirt pattern
  • Always take at least 1.5″ out of the sleeve length on a new shirt pattern
  • Always raise the waist on a bodice at least 1.5″ on a new pattern.
  • Conclusion: In terms of pattern sizing I am essentially I am a short woman with long legs.
  • Don’t cut out the collar pieces until after you’ve adjusted the shoulders and neckline on a new pattern, because it’ll probably be wrong.
  • Pullover tops made of woven fabric do not work for me, bias-cut or not.
  • Significant shirt alterations are easier with princess seams than with darts.

What I want to learn next:

  • A really good blazer pattern, and proper tailoring with sew-in hair-canvas and pad stitching and the whole shebang.
  • Can I make Frances a blouse that she will wear on purpose?
  • Sewing very curved seams on leather, without puckering or stretching
  • A really good non-stretchy work pants pattern that goes up to my waist and down to my feet that is warm, comfortable, and would work well in a suit combo
  • Some basic pattern drafting. I have it on good authority that Santa is bringing me Pattern Magic for Christmas (mostly because in my house, I am Santa. Ha!). (And here we are celebrating Christmas tomorrow, since Frances was at her dad’s for the holiday this year.)


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