Tag Archives: sewing

Trapped on the Island of Muslins

Well … trapped might be a strong word. But you know what I mean.

I have big sewing plans (for me) this season. There’s that suit, which means pants and a jacket. I want to make jeans, for me and for Frances. There’s the leather skirt. I’ve got fabric for some nice button-up shirts that I’m dying to sew, and another pair or two of knit pants for Frances, plus maybe a long-sleeved t. And maybe a couple of knit shirts for me, if I still have time after all of this insanity.

The thing is, it all requires muslins. Suits need to be fairly precise to be wearable; I’ve got the jacket pieces cut out, but need to find an appropriate lining (nothing too pricey; it’s just for practice) and get that cut out too. I’ve done up a test for the suit pants, and they’re ok, but they need some fitting adjustments. I’ve got a muslin sewed up for the leather skirt, and it’s pretty decent; but I want to be absolutely sure before I cut into that divine leather, so I want to finick over it a bit more and do some test sewing on some edge pieces to see what kind of seam would work best before I cut it out.

Figures I’d pick the $600 shirt–but if I make something like this, it’ll cost me >$50, notions included. Not bad, eh?

I sewed up a few muslins for some new shirt patterns. They fit pretty well, actually, so now there are cut-out pieces of the shirts in silk-cutton and double-gauze. Nice, yes? But I’m waiting for a Guaranteed Not To Shrink Interfacing to arrive before I can do much with it. Also, I want to do some embroidery on one of them, so there is much paging through of embroidery books and googleing of inspiration images to see what might look good to do. (Summary: colourful embroidery on a white shirt seems always to look very Western, which is not a look I’m going for, so I’m leaning towards whitework.)

I cut out and sewed up the front and back legs and crotch seam of a pair of jeans for Frances, then held them up to see if it would fit, and found out I’d badly misjudged the needed size of the back pieces, and spent many tedious hours ripping out the double topstitching and the serging, and re-measuring and cutting new pieces of denim.

I made her another pair of the Nature Walk Pants, sized better to her preferences. She loves them now.

Quiltalongs are quilting along. But yeah, how many of you want to see Farmers’ Wife Quilt Blocks? That’s what I thought. (Quick update: I’ve got like 40 blocks done! That’s almost enough for a quilt! Hurray!) (Quick further update: you know, patchwork is a fantastic lesson in precision sewing. I recommend it for anyone who’s looking to bone up on their details.)

And there was the dyeing with cochineal post, which both went on forever and managed to say nothing of interest to anyone but me. Right? Right. (You can still anticipate a nearly-identical post about woad at some point in the future. Don’t say you weren’t warned!)

The point being, I’m still sewing a ton, but I have no sewing that’s really blog-worthy. Like, as tedious as that cochineal post was (and I know it, you don’t have to spare my feelings), imagine how much more tedious half a dozen “hey so I’m making this but it’s not done yet and I can’t show you any pictures because I had to rip it apart before it was done enough that it could be modeled, so yeah, here’s a pile of stuff that might become a thing” posts.

So I have condensed them all into this handy summary post: So many muslins! All stuck in various stages of finishing! Nothing finished! Bah.

I do apologize. I know my wordy rambling about non-project related matters is of little interest to most of you. But project posts will return, someday soon. And there will be ridiculous photos of me wearing things I made that are not imperfect but that I’m still willing to take credit for in public. In the meantime, I offer you these wordy ramblings as a sign of my commitment to future picture-y ramblings. TYIA

A long, mostly boring, very pointless, story about dyeing with cochineal

Lots and lots of cactus bugs.
Lots and lots of cactus bugs.

Last fall, almost exactly one year ago, I took an introductory class in natural dyeing.

It was a little disorganized, but I enjoyed it overall. We dyed linen, cotton, a cotton-hemp blend, and wool, using onion skins, cochineal, logwood and black walnuts.

Black walnuts made for some very pretty browns. Logwood (seriously just wood chips from the logwood tree) made brilliant indigos and purples. Onion skins made this amazing marigold yellow. And cochineal made fuchsias and pinks.

Cochineal, if you’re wondering, is the female of a beetle species that lives on the prickly pear cactus. Not to be overly specific, eh? Do you wonder how exactly this dye was discovered? I do. “Say, Bo: what happens if we dry out these bugs, grind them up into a fine powder, and disolve them in boiling water? Do you suppose they might dye our fabrics red?” “They might, Sep. But just to be sure we know what we’re doing, let’s separate out the male from female bugs.”

I mean, how would they even know which were the males vs. females?*

And they say that our ancestors weren’t scientific. What is this, I ask you, but science and experimentation?

Anyway, cochineal was the world’s foremost source of bright red dye prior to chemical dyestuffs. It still is used very commonly as a food colouring and as a dye for cosmetics. This apparently has caused big problems for some cafes and restaurants, because vegan customers would order bright red foods or beverages, apparently under the misconception that bright red=artificial. But no. Bright red=beetles. And actually all that bright red food your child is eating that you think is making them hyper? Probably bugs, not Mystery Chemical #9 or whatever.

Because cochineal is made out of ground-up lady beetles on one particular cactus species from one particular corner of the world, it was very rare and very expensive, and it still is.

Last year for Christmas, Santa** ordered me my very own jar of lady beetles.

Then I needed to set up my dyeing studio. I needed a burner for the basement, to boil the dyestuffs well away from my food. I needed cheap large pots to boil and soak things in.

I needed washing soda, to scour the fabric. Mordanting chemicals, to allow the dyes to bond with the textiles. Chalk (!!!) to bond the mordanting chemicals to the fabrics. Textiles to dye. Sieves and strainers, to drain things. Rubber gloves, to handle dyes and dyed fabrics and mordanting things without hurting myself or turning my hands pink.

All of these things I slowly collected over a few months, as the budget allowed. Washing soda I found most easily procured at the local health and organic food store. Mordanting chemicals I purchased through the internet (potassium sulfate and aluminum sulfate). Chalk is … well, chalk. You know where to get chalk. Textiles dye better when they aren’t already bleached or dyed, so I bought a few metres each of undyed linen and cotton off of Maiwa.

And then, bit by bit, I plugged away at each step of the dyeing process in the free time not already dedicated to sewing.

Scouring. No retouching on the photo--all that brown gunk came out of my nice clean textiles.
Scouring. No retouching on the photo–all that brown gunk came out of my nice clean textiles.

First, scouring: boiling your fabrics in large pots with dish soap and washing soda, and being pleasantly disgusted at all of the dark brown gunk you’ve dislodged from your pristine and never-used fabrics. Yuck.

Scouring them another time or two to make sure that no more dark brown gunk is hiding in them.

Mordanting: boiling them again, if you’re using potassium sulfate, in a large pot for an extended period of time, and hanging them up to dry. Or soaking them in a not-boiling pot with aluminum sulfate, if you’d rather, allowing them to dry and then soaking them again in chalky water to get the aluminum sulfate to stick.

(Fans of the BBC’s Victorian Christmas shows will be relieved to know that stale urine is no longer a part of the natural dye-er’s process. Instead, we have these lovely sulfates.)

And then you have fabrics you can actually dye.

Ground-up lady beetles, with my fancy-pants mortar and pestle (aka old teaspoon and small bowl)
Ground-up lady beetles, with my fancy-pants mortar and pestle (aka old teaspoon and small bowl)

Choosing the first dye to experiment with was not easy. They’re all so much fun, yet so time-consuming. Sigh. I decided to start with the pink-reds of cochineal, and set to grinding myself some lady beetles. (The amount of lady beetles to grind to powder is determined by the weight of the fibres you plan to dye, or WOF. You want about 3-8% of WOF in ground-up lady beetles.) Then dissolved them in boiling water, added the dissolved lady beetles (absolutely a brilliant red at this point) to a big pot full of water, set it to simmer, and added some fabric swatches and a few of my great aunt Annette’s doilies.

bug juice
bug juice
The original linen on the left, the dyed linen on the right. Subtle but you can see it.
The original linen on the left, the dyed linen on the right. Subtle but you can see it.

And they turned pink! But not pink enough, so I tried it again with a higher concentration of ground-up lady beetles. The shade of pink was better, but not as good as I would have liked. I think this is because both the doilies and some of the swatches were previously bleached (cotton and linen, respectively). The undyed linen swatches turned out a darker pink the second time.

I’m also wondering if the mordanting didn’t take the way it should.

This first time, I used potassium sulfate, which doesn’t bond with plant fibres as well as it does with animal fibres. To address this, you’re supposed to use tannin before the sulfate; but I didn’t, because I didn’t remember doing that at the class I took and that turned out pretty well so I thought maybe I could skip it. Then the dyed products were weaker than I expected, so … maybe that was it?

So I mordanted another set of fabric with aluminum sulfate, not supposed to need pre-tannining. But you do need to after-bond it with chalk. My goodness. How people used to do this in the days before chemistry degrees is beyond me.

I mean, who was the first person to think, “Say. You know what I should do, if I want these ground-up beetles (or chunks of wood, or dried skins of onions, or fermented woad leaves) to make my leathers and textiles a brighter colour? I should store my pee for long enough that it goes stale and stinks to high heaven. Then I should soak the textiles in that. THEN I should dye them. That’ll work!”

Anyway. The dyed bleached linen was for a particular project, so I’m not going to re-do that; but I am looking forward to some dyeing experiments with unbleached and properly mordanted fibres to see how punchy the colours can get. Stay tuned!


*Now having looked at the Wikipedia article, the differences between the males and females are rather striking.

**One of the most interesting parts of single motherhood, is that you have to be your own Santa. So in this case Santa=me. At least he always gets me exactly what I want, even if I do have to pay for it.

Blog Psychology Pt 4: Peer Pressure

So social psychologists have conducted a number of interesting experiments on the influence of groups on individuals. In one of my favourites, they had a group of people at a table and asked them a very simple question: which line on the right matches the line on the left?

A number of groups were assembled, and asked the same set of 18 questions, similar to the above. In each group, one person was a research subject, unaware of the experiment, and all of the others were plants or research participants. The research participants were instructed to give the same wrong answer most of the time, so that the research subject would have to choose between giving the right answer against the group, or going with the group and giving the same wrong answer everyone else did.

In the control condition, there were no groups: a single research subject was asked the same set of questions. These subjects got less than 1% of the questions wrong.

In the groups, the research subjects were far more likely to give the wrong answer. 75% of them changed their answer to the wrong answer at least once. Morevoer, some of them actually come to believe the incorrect answer was correct. It wasn’t just that they gave the wrong answer to go along with the group, but that their minds actually changed to accept the incorrect answer.

People don’t just go along with something they know is wrong, when a large group surrounding them claims it is true.

They may come to actually believe it.

You’re not an exception–something we’ll come back to in Part 5–and neither am I. By objective measures (and yes, there are objective measures–we’ll get to those in part 5 too) I’m less susceptible to peer pressure than most people. But it still happens. When it seems like everyone around us is singing from the same song sheet, it can be very hard to sing your own song. It’s easier to either stay quiet or sing along with the rest. But it’s precisely because peer pressure is so influential (and well beyond middle school) that it’s so important to try to speak the truth, or your own truth, especially when the majority says otherwise.

In order for the conversation to change, someone has to say it first.

For most of our evolutionary history, being accepted as part of the tribe was key to our survival. Despite many centuries of western Individualist tradition, no man is an island; and even the staunchest libertarian could not actually accomplish all of the tasks needed for survival without assistance. We’re super-social highly cooperative other-oriented tribal primates, basically, and feeling like we belong is a key psychological need. So of course it feels like shit to be the one person in a group to stand up and say, “Actually, I think women are men’s equals,” and “No, racism isn’t funny,” and “I do support gay marriage” and “I’ve had an abortion,” and yes even, “actually, I think that latest indie pattern/sewing book/fabric line kind of sucks.”

Unlike the first four examples (potentially), standing up in the SBC isn’t going to kill you. So you may as well practice it.

And bloggers, you may want to drop the claim that you aren’t being influenced by your sponsorship arrangements or that it’s a personal attack for anyone to question you or your sponsors. We’ve got to start embracing the idea that it’s ok to have public conflict and disagreement, because this is how things change–when people know that it’s safe to disagree with the group without exclusion or expulsion, then they will.

That was oddly hyperbolic for a series on sponsored blogging, I’ll admit, but I’m going to let it stand.

Oliver + S Nature Walk pants: pajamas for school

Ah, back to school. That time of year when a whole wardrobe full of comfortable, clean, cute clothes is discovered, in the course of the first two weeks of September, to be completely inappropriate and unwearable.

“MOM! I have no shorts to wear today!”

What are you talking about? I just did the laundry two days ago. You have a whole drawer full of shorts.

“They’re too short!”

? What? You wore them all summer and they were fine!

“But I can’t wear them to SCHOOL!”

Ah. Well, what do you want to wear? I’m not buying you a new pair of shorts in the next ten minutes, and you need to get dressed.


It’s a new school and she’s in grade 6 and of course both of those things means she wants to make a good impression on a whole new group of people, and not look like a little kid (she’s small for her age). So I get it.

For her whole life to this point, she has been a knits girl: knit shorts and t-shirts in the summer, jogging pants and t-shirts in the winter. For medical reason, anything with a non-stretchy waistband hurts, so she hasn’t worn blue jeans in many, many years. That’s fine by me. My priority is that she is able to learn at school, and being in pain because of your blue jeans isn’t conducive to that, so jogging pants it is.

She refused to put her book down. Wonder where she got that from?
She refused to put her book down. Wonder where she got that from?

So I spent the last few weeks of August hunting down patterns for knit pants that would be as comfortable as jogging pants but not look like jogging pants. Something a little neater and more stylish, but with lovely stretchy waistbands. I picked up the Oliver & S Nature Walk pattern and some navy blue french terry, and this is the result.

Standard modifications apply: used a size 7/8 everywhere but the front waistband, where I graded up both the front curve on the legs and the length of the front yoke to match her waist measurements.

(This is one of those practice things. For the years I’ve been sewing for her, I tended to grade up everywhere to her largest measurement and then just hack off the length, which didn’t really work. Last winter it just kind of clicked. Now I’m much more selective about which seams I grade up and by how much and where, and it works a lot better. Everyone looks better in clothes that fit them well; some of us just have to work harder than others to get that.)

Inner seams were serged. The left-needle thread was navy, but the rest were grey. I stitched the serged seams down with navy thread afterwards to prevent too much grin-through. Hems were standard–knit-hem fusible tape, turned over. Blind stitch at the bottom. Inner waistband seam done by hand with a stretch stitch to keep it comfy and neat. The exterior back stitches were done in the ditch–the main seam and the topstitch seam.

Not bad, eh? Totally respectable for a grade 6 girl on the cusp of puberty who wants to fit in at her new school. They’re a bit low-cut for her tastes, so next time I’m adding some depth to the crotch seam and widening the waistband.

Fun fact: this year she totally got into picking her “look” for the new year. I asked her what colours she’d like (so I could buy fabrics that she would wear). Blue and white, she said. Blue and white? I replied. That’s it? It sounds like it’s going to get boring after a while.

So she pored through those seasonal colour guides In Style puts out and eventually wrote me down a whole list of colours: navy blue. medium blue. sky blue. any blue really. teal. white. ivory. cream. and keep those separate, please. light grey. heather grey. light heather grey. dove grey. silver. and marigold yellow.

At least she will not have trouble putting together a matching outfit in the morning.

Although she has decided that she wants to wear blue jeans again, and I’m sure this is related, too. So my next fun tailoring task will be blue jeans for my bunny. Boot cut, dark stretch denim, nice jeans styling with all the right pockets and everything. Should be a fun challenge.

Style Arc Jasmine Pants: pajamas for work

There's this thing in sewing blogs where people look up into the sky in a so-called Birdie Shot ... I thought I would spoof on it with a Meteor of Death Shot. Oh my god! Death from above!
There’s this thing in sewing blogs where people look up into the sky in a so-called Birdie Shot … I thought I would spoof on it with a Meteor Shot. Oh my god! Death from above!

I almost–almost!–wore my Colette Jasmine shirt with the Style Arc Jasmine pants for the photos for this one. Just because it would tickle me to be head to toe Jasmine, plus the Jasmine shirt is pink and that would make for a fun colour combo (to me). But the shapes didn’t really work together, so alas, it’s just one Jasmine this time.

Yokes on the back.
Yokes on the back.

Super comfy, though. The Jasmine pants pattern is a stretch woven, so while they look quite professional, they feel like pajama pants. Hurray.

Angled pockets!
Angled pockets! Front fly!

I like the style of pockets enough that I’m currently splicing them into a woven pants pattern that doesn’t have pockets, and these pants also come up almost to my waist, which means when I sit down, my underwear stays under. The back has a nice jeans-like yoke that helps with the fit and makes it a bit more stylish. I didn’t have to make any adjustments; it fit just fine out of the package, straight up size 12.  You’ll just have to take my word for it when I sat that when I’m not posing strangely in the garden, there are no drag lines on the front, except for where I put the insulin pump in my pocket.

The fabric is an inexpensive cotton-poly stretch twill from Fabricland.

Better picture of the pockets.
Better picture of the pockets.

Another review I read (can’t remember where) said that if you want a slimming effect, the thing to do is to replace the stretch woven on the inner pocket piece with a woven-woven, and just have a bit of facing on the visible part. That is likely true. But I was lazy and just used the stretch woven everywhere, so no slimming effect for me. Still, if you wanted to, you could.

OH MY GOD WE'RE ALL GOING TO DIE! ... in comfy, stylish pants.
OH MY GOD WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE! … in comfy, stylish pants.

Photo notes: Today was spend-your-points day at Shoppers (as I write this), so I went in to get my $110 of free stuff, and of course there was someone there doing makeovers … so what the hell. Why not. Right? Free!

The amount of stuff she put on my face, it’s amazing it didn’t swell by 3 cm around.

Moisturizer. Some serum to make the moisturizer work better. Primer. Concealer. Foundation. More concealer. A sparkly thing. Eyeshadow. Eyeliner. Mascara. Bronzer. (If you’re wondering about the darkish stripe on my cheekbone, that would be it.) Lipstick. Gel stuff for eyebrows. WOW. All that stuff I usually just look at and wonder what exactly it is supposed to do, I had on me. And I looked, in person, like the victim of a freak circus accident. Either that or a TV personality on my lunch hour.

She was a very nice lady and we had a lovely conversation and I feel bad saying anything critical about it, but it was a lot of makeup for me. BUT, victims of freak circus accidents tend to look like normal human beings on camera, right? So I thought it made a good occasion for the photo shoot.

With the brightness on the photo turned all the way down, I am whiter than the birch tree and my neighbour's white window trim. And that's with my summer tan. Anyway, carry on!
With the brightness on the photo turned all the way down, I am whiter than the birch tree and my neighbour’s white window trim. And that’s with my summer tan. Anyway, carry on!

However, even covered with two different moisturizers, primer, concealer, bronzer, some sparkly thing, and a lot of very dark eye makeup, you’ll notice I still look as white as if I were an incandescent lightbulb left on in a dark room. The lack of melanin is entirely natural. (sigh)

StyleArc Emily Top

StyleArc has an excellent reputation for producing high-quality patterns with  RTW details, and without the ease issues that can be found in the Big 4 (McCall, Butterick, Vogue and Simplicity). On recommendation from many internet sewing friends, I decided I wanted to try them for myself, even though the price tag (as they are shipped from Australia) is fairly high.

Subtitled: after a long work day, commute home, making dinner, and then making tomato soup for later canning, the only thing I wanted to do was lie down ... so that's what I did.
Subtitled: after a long work day, commute home, making dinner, and then making tomato soup for later canning, the only thing I wanted to do was lie down … so that’s what I did.

The Emily top was the free pattern in July, and I liked it for the neckline pleat, so I ordered some other patterns for the suit I’m planning and got the freebie. I have beautiful coral-red bamboo jersey from my April fabric spree; initially, I was planning a dress, but after sewing up the first Moneta and the scandalous wrap dress, I figured I probably actually had enough knit dresses and what I could really use were some tops, particularly a coral-red t-shirt to replace the coral-red short-sleeved sweater I used to wear all the time with this skirt. Those flowers are applique and embroidery, not print. Isn’t it fantastic? And yet is has been languishing in my closet because I no longer had a shirt to wear with it.

One of the things that StyleArc does differently is send you the pattern in only one size. So you need to be fairly sure that the size you’ve selected is the right one for you; there is no drawing between the lines for size 8 and size 10 and fitting that way. Another thing they do differently is assume that you already know how to sew pretty well; the instructions are minimal. For the Emily top, you get a couple of bullet points and one illustration.


  • Neckline and pleat. Super cute, eh?
    Neckline and pleat. Super cute, eh?

    I found the assembly of the neckline pleat a bit confusing. After the first try, I didn’t like the placement–the pleat was too far off the neckline and into the neck, and didn’t lie the way I wanted it to.

  • I also found that I didn’t like the neckline binding. I should just know better than to use binding on knit necklines. This is a fairly substantial knit, and with the addition of the fusible hem interfacing, it became so stiff that it stood up from my neck like a mandarin collar.
  • So I ripped out the right shoulder seam and cut off the binding, did a regular seam on the neckline and resewed the right shoulder back together with the pleat farther over. I think it looks a lot better this way. I hand-stitched the extra bit of pleat width into the back neckline.
  • The sleeves I find a bit on the tight side. Next time, I’ll add half an inch or so, just to make it a bit looser.
  • I’d like some extra space in the shoulders. This is a common issue for me with both patterns and RTW, so I don’t blame StyleArc.

    Back view. Fence leaning. In real life, the shoes, skirt and top all match, which is what happens when you really love a colour and just buy it without thinking about what you'll wear it with.
    Back view. Fence leaning. In real life, the shoes, skirt and top all match, which is what happens when you really love a colour and just buy it without thinking about what you’ll wear it with.
  • And it was very, very loose when I first made it. Oddly loose, given that the package shows this as snug and tucked into a snug pair of pants. Anne’s version at Clothing Engineer is also loose, so it’s not just me; plan accordingly!
    So after serging the top and trying it on as given on the pattern, I reserged the side seams and nipped in the waist by an inch or so on each side. There’s still plenty of ease, but now I can wear it tucked in to something without looking totally ridiculous.
  • I tried using the blind hem on the bottom hem as directed, but it was too wavy; then I tried the lightning stitch with the walking foot, and that was worse. I ripped those out and used my lovely fusible knit hem tape. The ripped-out hems left a few small marks, but tucked in this is not a problem.
  • Inside of hand-stitched sleeve hem. First serged, then folded inside and stretch-stitched in place. You can see the zig-zag if you squint.
    Inside of hand-stitched sleeve hem. First serged, then folded inside and stretch-stitched in place. You can see the zig-zag if you squint.

    I hand-stitched the sleeve hems. Yes, it’s true. I wanted a nice flat finish on the sleeves, which I knew I wouldn’t get unaided on the machine, and the fusible hem tape I knew would be uncomfortable on such a snug hem. They’re small; it didn’t take long to sew. I stitched a zig-zag on the reverse and a small back-stitch on the front, which keeps it neat and close to invisible but maintains the stretch nicely.

    And a close-up of what it looks like on the outside. You can see it pretty clearly here, but not in the other photos. It's a great, simple stitch for finishing short knit hems by hand.
    And a close-up of what it looks like on the outside. You can see it pretty clearly here, but not in the other photos. It’s a great, simple stitch for finishing short knit hems by hand.

Otherwise, it’s done, it’s comfortable, the sleeves are long enough that I can wear it most of the year (like most office-workers, my cubicle is over-heated in winter and over-cooled in summer). And it matches my skirt perfectly. I wore this to work at my earliest opportunity and may or may not have spent part of the day rubbing the sleeve hem appreciatively and thinking about how soft and comfortable it is. Plus, neckline pleat!

End of makes that could be considered summery; time for fall!

Vogue 8747: a fun blouse that fits

When I bought this Liberty lawn earlier this spring at my favourite local fabric store, I had in mind a Belcarra or Scout or some other kind of casual t-shirt. But the more I wore my lawn Jasmine, the more I realized: I am not a fan of pullover woven shirts.

Nothing wrong with them. But when you tend towards the top-heavy, anything big enough to pull over is going to gape at the waist, whether bias cut or no. I do like and wear my Jasmine, but tucked in for that very reason. So whatever the lawn was going to become, it had to be fitted.

I decided on this Vogue blouse, size 14D.

I’d made up a test garment in polyester crepe, but it was one of my very few wadders: the fit was fine, but the polyester just would not press properly, and on a shirt like this, press is important. So I got it far enough to determine that yes, the waist and bust would fit and I could close it, and then moved on to the cotton version. Which of course means that I had all kinds of learning experiences left to enjoy as I progress towards a wearable shirt.

No, it's not awkward to hike into the woods and take selfies of myself staring pensively off into the middle distance. Not at all.
No, it’s not awkward to hike into the woods and take selfies of myself staring pensively off into the middle distance. Not at all.

It’s the challenge I like, right? Good thing, because it challenged me.

To begin with, I have a high waist, so when I’d got the blouse sewn up together enough to try on, there was all this extra fabric on my back. As in, snug everywhere else, but baggy city on the shoulder blades. No problem! I just took the shoulder seams apart, cut a wedge shape out of the side back pieces to preserve the shape of the armysce, and took two inches off the top of the centre back, then sewed everything back up again, reshaping the curves to match what I’d cut off. In theory, this should have preserved the shape and length of the shirt portion so that the collar (which I’d already assembled) would fit; in practice, the shirt became just a smidge too long, and getting the collar to go on properly became an enormous challenge. Made doubly so by my insistence on using the serger to do this to minimize fabric in the collar.

blog-4-1It minimized the fabric all right–by slicing up portions of the shirt and collar so that I had to resew them, twice, making the collar stand now about half as tall as it should be. It’s a hot mess in there, but thank goodness you can’t see it. You can see some pleating at the top of the shirt front, due to all the sewing and resewing that I put the poor thing through.

blog-11-1And then I also moved the waist up on the pattern, but ended up making the new waist a bit too snug. (sigh) So when I first had it all made up, it was tight. Very tight. I thought I might have to wear this tucked in forever. Much to my surprise and gratitude, when I washed it to get off the markings and remove some persistent wrinkles, it loosened up. Colour me very happily surprised. Isn’t cotton supposed to shrink?

The flowers on the lawn have red centres, so I used red buttons on the front.

At the very least I now have the pattern properly marked up for next time, and it’s versatile and comfortable enough that I’m sure I’ll be making it again. It’s a simple, basic work blouse that I am currently wearing with grey dress pants, and should work under suit jackets and sweaters so I can continue to wear it as it starts to get colder. (Note, Mother Nature: in September, not now. August is still supposed to be hot. Thanks for your understanding!)


When you sew, transitions means something a little different than buying light-weight long-sleeved tops and hoping you can wear them in November. (Keep in mind this is Canada. Even in southern Canada, it does get cold.)

It means asking yourself when, in all practicality, you should stop sewing for the season you’re in and start sewing for the season you will be in soon. There’s no point to starting a four-week project when you’ll be wrapping it up just as the weather starts to shift. What’s the fun in finishing something you can’t wear for ten months?

And it is August, after all. We’ve got a good month left of summer heat, most likely, and then we’ll be looking for sweaters and cardigans to take the chill off, lightweight coats, and (if you’re me) pants instead of skirts. (I am a strictly fair-weather skirt wearer. I have winter skirts and I wear them if the weather will approach 0C and there won’t be any snow. Otherwise, it’s pants through to spring.) It would be nice if I had some new fall makes ready to wear around the end of September.

Which means I’d better get started.

I’ve had a good run so far this summer. Since the end of Me-Made May, I’ve made:

  • a few t-shirts for Frances
  • Frances’s grad dress
  • a Renfrew
  • a pleated yellow t-shirt
  • a pair of denim shorts
  • a scandalous faux-wrap dress
  • a yellow wonder-dress
  • a crocheted sweater
  • a pair of Vogue shorts
  • a second Moneta
  • a button-up shirt
  • most of a Belcarra (just needs hemming)
  • pieces cut out for another Chardon, with some dyeing and embroidery planned
  • and most of a Style Arc Emily shirt–hemming to be done and neckline to be altered.

There are things I’d like to make for myself and Frances over the fall/winter:

  • some nice long-sleeved t-shirts for my girl
  • some pants for her that aren’t jogging pants (which she always wears) and also aren’t jeans (which she hates) would be great. Except that patterns for girsl are usually so, so girly and Frances doesn’t go for that.
  • She wants me to make her a denim jacket. I’ve had the pieces cut out for ages, so I really have no excuse.
  • a nice I’m-here-to-kick-ass-at-my-new-school first day outfit for her, unless she’d rather buy one
  • two or three pairs of heavier-weight work pants, for winter
  • a crocheted sweater
  • that suit
  • a pair of jeans, or maybe two (my favourite jeans are becoming unwearabley holey)
  • a couple of long-sleeved work-appropriate knit tops, and long-sleeved button-up woven tops, would be great too
  • and somewhere in there will be a Special Christmas/Birthday Outfit for Frances, because that’s what we do

It’s a very, very practical list. You’ll notice not much cute or twee happening in there.

It’s also a very, very time-consuming list. It’ll keep me going over the winter, for sure. There are at least fifteen garments in that list, and I’m going to want to make things for people for christmas, too.

Anyway, not only should I prioritize and then shorten that list, but probably stopping with the summer sewing a little on the sooner end would also be helpful. I’ve decided that, once the Emily top is done, it’s on to fall sewing for me.  What do you do?

Last Summer Hurrah: an instant-gratification Moneta that decided to be less instant and more educational

Courtesy Uncle John, who is a much better photographer than I am.
Courtesy Uncle John, who is a much better photographer than I am.

I did it. I went fabric shopping in Toronto. My god, what a budget-buster that is.

(Digression: It’s not just that I’m undisciplined when it comes to fabric. In fabric stores close by I have no trouble walking away from things if I’m not sure or don’t have the time to sew it up soon. But Toronto is not an easy trip for me: it takes me a couple of hours to get downtown by train and a couple more to get home again, and most weekends most of the year, I need to be home by late afternoon on Saturday in order to be here when my daughter gets back from her Dad’s. So my opportunities to get down there and spend the day are very limited–a few weekends a year–and so when I’m down there and I see something I like I know it will be months before I have the chance to get back and buy it again. My credit card weeps in advance of these trips. Anyway.)

Uncle John again.
Uncle John’s again. And yes, here is Frances in her lovely grad dress, with Ice Sparkle, her dragon companion. I’m telling myself that it’s so far away you can’t really make out her face … thoughts?

But this dress was not a budget buster. Not at all.

Whenever I’m on Queen W I make a point of stopping it at Downtown Fabric, because it’s a lovely well-organized little shop with a wide variety of fabrics, from inexpensive and simple to insanely nice. I didn’t see any of the fall stuff I was technically looking for, even with the assistance of the shopkeeper’s employee’s two adorable young daughters, who accompanied me throughout and kept showing me what they really liked and thought I should get. (A sweater knit with large cats on it featured prominently.)

But a lovely polyester knit panel print caught my eye.

This is me making my "I love Frances" face.
This is me making my “I love Frances” face. Photo courtesy of Aunt Sue. They are a family of photographers.

Polyester! I know! But it was soft and thick and the print was so beautiful–a panel grading from cafe-au-lait at one end to cream at the other, with a white floral pattern in the background and a black and pumpkin floral design covering one half of the lower bottom–and it wasn’t at all expensive. (Note: The guy who runs the store will give you a discount on whatever the price is on the bolt. Sometimes a substantial one. Saunter around and take your time and you’ll probably get a good deal.)

Anyway, I got two panels’ worth, or about two metres, which I figured would be just enough to make one sleeveless Moneta. Not that I was planning on making another Moneta, but the drape of the fabric and the print placement just cried out to me, “I want to be a simple knit dress with a long sweeping skirt!” And who am I to deny a fabric its deepest heart’s desires?

Staying with the tea theme, but self-taken this time for a closer dress view. Plus Simba. Who thinks he's a dragon.
Staying with the tea theme, but self-taken this time for a closer dress view. Plus Simba. Who thinks he’s a dragon.

I chose to lay out the pieces so that the dress would grade from pale to darker from shoulder to waist, and then darker to pale from waist down, with the large flowers as close to the side-bottom as I could get them. The skirt is lengthened considerably to give the large flowers space, from about knee-length to more like tea-length, but I really like it. It makes the dress very work-friendly and classy, and the flowers on the fabric are quite pleased with it too. The bodice is self-fabric lined, and I used knit hem stabilizing tape on all the seams and hems. Still love that stuff. Often I’ll fuse it on, make up the seam or hem, and then peel away the excess. It’s still in there making the seam strong and flat, but you can’t see it at all.

But assembly was not as smooth as all that, Dear Readers. First off, my sewing machine flat out refused to stitch on this with a lightning (stretch) stitch. I tried regular, ball-point and microtex needles, and various kinds of thread. No luck. I guess that’s how you know a fabric is a good synthetic–the stitches skip and the bobbin thread knots up on the back. So I had to do all the major seams on the serger, including the neckline and the finish on the armholes. An interesting experience.

Getting the clear elastic on to the waistband was an exercise in frustration (and by “frustration” I mean hollering). The serger just flat out refused. I spoke to it nicely. I pleaded and cried. “No!” it said. So I basted the elastic on with the sewing machine using a regular stitch, and even then had to stop and re-thread every so often because it would start skipping.

More tea, more Simba, better flower view.
More tea, more Simba, better flower view.

After I joined the shirred skirt to the bodice and tried it on, it became obvious that the clear elastic was just not comfortable around the waist. It digs in. Same thing as the first version, so no surprise, but I decided I didn’t want to have elastic digging into my midsection whenever I wore the dress. So I serged that seam again to cut off the elastic, figuring the bodice lining would help support that seam when I stitched it all together. In the course of serging off the elastic, I accidentally cut a little hole in the bodice front. I know. A scrap of fabric put behind with some double-sided tape (didn’t want to risk sewing it up by hand and making it even more obvious) fixed that problem. Hemmed it with a straight stitch, which is ok because the hem doesn’t need to stretch anyway. And then sewed the bodice lining to the waistband by hand.

Taking out the elastic on the waist did make it a lot more comfortable, though. It’s not any looser, but it doesn’t feel so constricted.

Hours past when it should have been finished, it was finally done.

Now that I’ve made two Monetas (link to the first), I can safely say that the bodice is just too snug for comfort for me. The first one I made has relaxed somewhat, and I hope this one does a bit too. I even added an inch at the sides of the front bodice piece, and it’s still very snug. Still, I think the longer skirt balances the look out enough to make it work-appropriate, and I love this print.

Besides adding a bit of space to the bodice front and lengthening the skirt, I also deepened the front neckline by about two inches. The original is quite high. There’s lots of room for alteration there.

Anyway. It is done, I have survived, the dress also survived, the fabric is happy to be part of this dress, and I am happy to wear it. I’ve already worn it to work, and it was comfortable and swished elegantly when I went to the kitchen to fill my tea cup. I also wore it to the inaugural meeting of the Ottawa Chapter of the Dragon Tea Society, from which I have stolen some of the above pictures, figuring it was more interesting than anything I was likely able to take of myself. And given the colours, I think I could add a jacket or cardigan to this and wear it into the fall.

Leather Again

One of the things I really, really wanted to do during my Day In Toronto was stop in at Perfect Leather.

After my bag-making adventures, I wanted to expand my leather sewing experiences, but with softer leathers made for different kinds of garments, and I knew that I was not likely to find them close to home. Actually when I bought the bag leather locally I was directly told by the store owner that if I wanted a good garment leather selection, I should go downtown to someplace like Perfect Leather, and with that kind of inside information all you can really do is nod and agree.

So imagine my disappointment to learn that Perfect Leather is not open on Saturdays.

At all. Period.

Boo Perfect Leather! Most people aren’t available for shopping M-F 9-5:30. What are you thinking?

However … King Textiles also has a garment leather selection, as well as fabric and notions and a good reputation. And they’re open on Saturdays. So that’s where I spent my money.

And did I ever. I bought  wool and a lining in there to make up that suit I was talking about, but there is also this:


A very soft taupe-y lambskin suede, picked up for less than $1/square foot, coming to about $10 total. Ten square feet is just about what I used for the work bag I made previously, so I know it’s enough for a decent sized purse or tote. And just imagine: it will cost less than the equivalent bag out of cotton canvas. Now THAT is a good deal.

And this:


A gorgeous plum/maroon lambskin leather with a lovely sueded back, a birch-tree print, and an absolutely fantastic silky drape. It was more expensive, at either $4 or $5/square foot–I forget–but still a very reasonable price for such a nice leather, and I bought enough for a good pencil skirt for about $100. (Incidentally, while their selection is I’m sure more restricted than Perfect Leather’s, it was still pretty decent and a lot of fun to look through. There were a few pieces of metallic gold calf skin that I am still thinking about. Not enough to make the trip back to buy it, but enough to think wistfully of the Projects That Might Have Been). While $100 is a lot to pay for fabric for a pencil skirt, when you think about buying a leather pencil skirt with a lovely drape in a beautiful colour with a nice print, it looks a lot more reasonable. This is how I rationalize my purchases.

However, there’s some internal pressure now to make this the Most Perfect Pencil Skirt of All Time, and this is where you come in.

Yes, you!

I need a pencil skirt pattern.

For those of you newish to leather sewing, here are things I keep in mind:

1. Generally, you don’t want too many darts. Leather is not like fabric. It doesn’t press, you don’t iron it, and there’s bulk. It’s possible to deal with this, but the fewer and smaller darts, the better.
2. You also generally want patterns that use lots of small pieces rather than a few big pieces. Yes, bigger pieces are easier to sew together, but they are harder to cut out in leather because it has irregular edges and may have imperfections from the skin of the animal. I mean, if there’s a mark or a small hole smack dab in the middle of the hide, it’s hard to work around when you have big pattern pieces. Small pattern pieces can just be placed around it.

So I’m looking for a pencil skirt pattern that has a fair amount of structure, and where the shaping comes from the construction rather than darts. I’ve googled for inspiration, and was gratified to see that most RTW leather pencil skirts are both a) insanely expensive (cheapest I saw was $400, and that was on sale; there were a number well over $2k) and b) boring as sin. Lots of black. Some brown. One orange, one red, and two bright yellow (encouraging). $100 for this particular leather pencil skirt is looking better and better. However, this didn’t help with inspiration.

But, ok, patterns. Current contenders include:

Vogue 8750
Nice seam details and few to no darts. I think if I used lapped seams and let some of the suede from the back show through, it would add a really nice detail.
Vogue 7937
I love the flouncy bits at the back of the skirt on the left, but I’m not entirely sure how the leather would handle them. I’m also not entirely sure that I have enough leather for it.
Butterick 6060
Kind of bland, but it’s an option.
Butterick 5566
The yoke’s cool, isn’t it? I’m not sure about those big pieces in the front and back, though.
Style Arc Etta skirt
Flounces (cute!) and lots of nice, narrow pieces. This might work.
Style Arc Zoe skirt
I love the shaping on this and think it would look fantastic in leather, but I’m not at all sure that the hides are long enough to accommodate the pattern pieces.

So, if you were two pieces of lovely soft lambskin in a deep maroon with a birch print on you, which of these skirts would you most like to become? Or none of these? Right now I’m thinking the first one way up at the top is my best bet: lots of smallish pieces, a good shape, good seaming details, and calls for less than 1m of fabric, which is about equivalent to how much leather I have. But I’m willing to be persuaded otherwise.