Can you Paint with all the Colours of the Wind?

When I was growing up Pocahontas was my favourite Disney princess. It seems she made a lasting impression on me, because a while ago I bought a few yards of this viscose blend jersey to make a dress.

My pattern was New Look A6122, and I used view A. 

After washing my fabrics, I laid everything out and cut it, doing my best to keep my fabrics on the straight of grain. It’s hard enough to cut on the straight of grain with a more stable knit like I used in my basic t-shirt recently, but this viscose blend was all kinds of shifty! As mentioned before, my sewing machine won’t do a zig-zag stitch right now, which would have been the best way to sew this dress up. I used a twin needle instead since the zig-zagging bobbin thread allows seams sewn this way to have a small amount of stretch. It’s not a perfect solution, but it’s better than a normal straight stitch.

I worked up the bodice, then tried it on for a fitting before attaching the skirt. It’s a good thing I did this, because I ended up taking 6 inches of width out of the top of the neckline, raising the bottom edge of the bodice, and removing the lower bust darts. With that done, I reattached the armsceye and waist pieces, and started work on the skirt. The pattern instructs you to make gathers with the extra fabric in both front and back, but I didn’t want to create any more bulk around my midsection. Instead I put two pleats in the front and back pieces – much more slimming.

I sewed the front pieces and the back pieces together, then sewed up the side seams. Then I attached the straps to the back piece by hand in an effort to keep the garment outer as clean and seamless as possible. I let the dress hang before hemming it. I was afraid the slippery, stretchy fabric might grow in length with time. Once it had hung on my dress form for a day or so I cut the hem, and hemmed it. 

This dress is very fun to wear! It is swooshy and feels so flattering! Every time I wear it I start singing the Pocahontas sound track! I would absolutely consider making another one, however there are some changes I would make: the waist and armscye pieces are interfaced with fusible interfacing. As you can see, the outer layer is pulling away from the interfacing in places, leading to a messy looking front. This is mainly caused by the fabric being so much stretchier than the stretch interfacing. If I did this again I would choose a fabric with much less stretch for the interfaced pieces, maybe a 100% cotton knit, and depending on the strength of that fabric I might skip the interfacing altogether. If I made this again, I would do the majority of the stitching with a zig zag stitch, possibly supplemented by some top-stitching. The twin needle works well enough, but it’s not quite stretchy enough for this fabric. Ah, the fabric. If I made this again, I would probably go for a less stretchy/slinky fabric. It’s so fun to wear, but so hard to sew!

Spur-of-the-Moment Sewing

You know how sometimes you see a fabric and it just grabs you? That’s what happened to me with this.

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It’s a wide-stripe cotton seersucker I found at Hobby Lobby, and there was less than a yard left on the bolt. I’ve never seen a seersucker with such a wide stripe! It hurts my brain when I try to figure out how to weave it.

Like much of the world right now, I’ve been working from home a lot recently. One of the up sides of this is that if I decide to cut out a new shirt in the middle of the day I can do it on my lunch break. That’s totally normal behaviour, right?

I used a Dolman Sleeve shirt I currently own and love as a pattern template. The front and back are the exact same pattern piece except for the neckline. I used the full length and width of the fabric, and only have a few square inches of fabric leftover! For the construction I used a mixture of machine and hand sewing. The seams were done with the machine, and the finishing was done by hand. I do love a tidy felled seam!

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When the construction was done I tweaked the sleeves and neckline, then finished the edges with bias tape. The bias tape was sewn onto the right side of the garment by machine, then felled down on the inside by hand. The shirt hem didn’t need any finishing since it is the fabric selvage.

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Tadah! This was a super quick project! I made it over 3 days, working on it for odd minutes here and an hour there. It was a pleasant mixture of hand and machine sewing. The fabric is delightful – I love the colours and the texture. The only thing I’m not sure about is the boxy silhouette.

P.S. This is yet another make that pairs so nicely with my cream jean shorts. I swear they go with everything, and I wear them all the time! Wearing clothes I’ve made myself is the best!

Sewing Basics

I’ve been sewing a lot this year. This is in large part because I now have a sewing machine, which allows me to complete projects more quickly. As I looked at my wardrobe recently I realized I was missing some basics, and was quite unhappy with my t-shirt collection. I’ve found myself avoiding wearing the t-shirts I have because I just don’t like them. So I pulled out my trusty Alabama Chanin t-shirt pattern, bought some printed cotton knit from Hobby Lobby, and got to work.

I’ve used this pattern before, but last time I used a rib knit, which is much more stretchy than the Stockinette fabric I was using this time. I did not realize this until I had already cut out the whole shirt. It turned out to be too small and too short. I was lucky that I had just enough fabric to cut out another shirt in a larger size. I made sure I was using a Jersey needle in my sewing machine, but it started making a funny noise, so I sewed almost the whole shirt by hand with a running backstitch. I figured out later it was not a problem with the machine. The needle was slightly bowed, which caused it to rub up against part of the machine.

The last piece of the puzzle was hems and the neckband. I chose a Herringbone stitch that I worked around the shirt hem, the sleeve hems, and the neckband. I debated doing a second round of herringbone in either white or a soft green, but ended up liking the single Herringbone better. The shirt was now finished.

One of these days I’d love to add more details, like additional embroidery, appliqué or reverse appliqué, or even beading! These are the techniques Alabama Chanin is best known for, and I’ve never given it a proper try.

**You’ll notice I’m wearing my new shirt with my me-made shorts, making this an entirely me-made outfit! I love wearing clothes I’ve made for myself, and these shorts are super comfortable!

Hiking

My husband and I recently decided to start hiking again. There are so many beautiful trails within a few hours drive from us, and with Coronavirus being a fact of life now, hiking is a good way to get outside and exercise while staying away from people. Our eventual goal is to hike the entirety of the Foothills Trail in northern South Carolina.

The last weekend of June we hiked a section of the Foothills trail from Highway 107 to the trailhead at Oconee State Park. The hike was 4.6 miles each way, and we planned to camp overnight somewhere in the middle.

We started out with heavy packs and light hearts, and walked our way slowly to the trailhead. This section of trail is very beautiful. Green, somewhat hilly, and there are even a few sections of temperate rainforest with the most lovely flowering trees!

About a mile before we reached the trailhead we saw a sign for some hidden falls. We completed the first half of our hike, then retraced our steps for a mile and hiked the additional mile and a half to the falls.

What a beautiful place to rest! Our feet and legs were tired and sore, having walked over 7 miles that day, and it felt so good to soak them in the cool water.

My husband built me a small fire, and even though there wasn’t an official campsite, we set our tent up on the small patch of level ground we could find.

In the morning I knitted to the sound of the falling water.

Then it was time to pack up our gear and hike out. The 4.5 miles back to our car wasn’t bad, but we were both exhausted from our long hike the day before and from not sleeping well. We were glad to get off our feet and go home. Over the course of 2 days we had hiked just over 11 miles.

Note to Self

Note to self: when picking up a project that you haven’t worked on in 6 months, read the directions.

Exhibit A: I pulled my husband’s sweater out of the UFO pile this week. I last worked on this in December in hopes of it being ready in time for Christmas. Both fronts, the back, and one sleeve are finished. I would have finished it before the end of 2019 if I hadn’t injured my shoulder by working on it so much (note to self: when knitting a lot, I have to get some exercise to keep from getting injured). I wrote the pattern for this sweater, and I remember knitting the first sleeve, so I jumped right in, figuring I knew what I was doing.

WRONG! I worked six inches past the cuff, merrily increasing every 6th row. When I looked at the directions for how many increases to do, I saw that I was supposed to start out the sleeve by increasing every 4th row.

Riiiiiiiip. It’s amazing how quickly a sweater can be reduced back to yarn. What’s the old saying, the second time is the charm?

Words to Think On

A few years ago I was introduced to the idea of selecting a word of the year instead of, or in concert with, new year’s resolutions. I like how this is rather less specific than, say, a resolution to lose 10 pounds or start exercising every day. It is harder to gauge progress using this method, but it is also harder to feel like a failure when you still weigh the same in December and stopped going to the gym in February.

In 2019 the word I chose for myself was Enough. I chose this word because it could mean a lot of things – good enough, smart enough, pretty enough, but also, rest because you’ve done enough. Reminding myself of these concepts helped me when I felt anxious about myself or like I was always behind or nothing I did was good. One afternoon I sat down and did a small embroidery of this word – something decorative to remind me of my goal. This embroidery should have been very simple by rights, but it turns out I don’t know when to stop. I thought about taking some of the colours out, but I decided that with all its imperfections, it was still good enough.

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This year, the word I chose was balance. I chose it before the Coronavirus pandemic took over the world, and while I didn’t have the pandemic in mind when I chose my word, I have found it to be very appropriate to what is going on. It’s hard to find balance when you’re not supposed to leave your house or see people. This word has been a reminder to me that even though right now I’m working at home, I don’t have to work all the time. And that getting some rest, or even relaxing and not working on a project, is part of the balance of life, too.

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How do you find balance in these strange times we live in?

 

I thought my pinafore days were over

My mom sewed a lot for me when I was a kid. She made me all sorts of lovely dresses and skirts, especially sundresses until I stopped wearing them in favor of pants around age 12. I don’t remember if she ever made me a pinafore as such, but I remember reading about them, and my sundresses certainly served the same purpose.

Recently as I was scrolling through Instagram I came across the Fleur Pinafore by Untitled Thoughts. I was entranced. But then I kept scrolling, because I don’t wear pinafores, and I haven’t since I was 12 at most. But then it kept popping up on my feed. And then I followed the hashtag. And then I found myself at the fabric store shopping for supplies to make myself a pinafore.

I bought this beautiful softly woven cotton fabric from Hobby Lobby. It’s somewhat more loosely woven than quilting cotton, which makes it drape nicely, and the colours and pattern remind me of my childhood in Arizona. I also bought some plain deep red cotton as an accent/lining fabric.

Now I am a very creative person. I’ve written knitting and tatting patterns, and I’ve drafted one or two very simple sewing patterns for myself. So when I looked at the Fleur Pinafore, I thought about how it’s pretty much just rectangles, and I decided to take my measurements and draft my own pattern. And doing that turned out pretty well, but I definitely feel that if I had bought and followed the pattern this would have taken me less time and my finished product would have turned out a little nicer. As it is, though, I’m pretty happy with what I made.

The first thing I did was to measure myself and my fabric and have a good think. I even made a little sketch! I wanted to be extra fancy with the front “bodice” block of the pinafore, so I cut and stitched this first.

Then I cut my lining fabric. I had originally planned to do my pockets, waistband, and lining all in the same wine red fabric, but it turned out that I didn’t buy quite enough. So my waistband and the front and back blocks were lined with an eggplant purple linen/rayon blend that was left over from another project. Before sewing the fashion fabric to the lining, I made up the straps so I could stitch these in with the seam. Once the front and back blocks were assembled, I turned them right side out, clipped the corners, ironed everything, and top-stitched around the edges. With this the bodice front and back were done.

The next piece I worked on was the waistband. I cut the waistband straight, as a rectangle, but with hindsight I wish I had cut it on a slight curve like a pants or skirt waistband. The red fabric originally meant for lining was cut as the outer waistband, and had interfacing fused on. Then the waistband outer and lining were centered over the bottom edge of the bodice blocks, and seamed.

The final piece to assemble was the skirt. I found that if I folded my remaining fabric in half it was the perfect length, so I cut it into 2 equal pieces along the fold line, and sewed 3 rows of basting stitches along the top of each skirt panel. Before gathering the skirt panels, I sewed them together, leaving a 5″ opening at the top of each seam. I inserted a placket into both openings, but instead of attaching both sides of the placket to the skirt, I attached one side of each placket to my pockets. The pockets had not been seamed yet, so I sewed the second half of each pocket to the second skirt panel, and then sewed the pockets together. This is hard to describe, and even harder to visualize, but it left me with a pocket and a skirt opening in the same place.

At this point I was running out of daylight, so I did a quick single-turn hem, and went to bed. The next morning I was wild to wear my new pinafore, so instead of waiting to sewing in closures I pinned it on and went about my day. This wasn’t part of the plan, but I am so glad I wore this around for a day before adding closures! It turns out that my sitting down waist measurement is about 2 inches larger than my standing up waist measurement, and I had not accounted for this in my pattern drafting. Wearing the pinafore pinned closed for a few hours helped me to figure out where the closures needed to be so I would end up with a garment I would actually enjoy wearing.

The last adjustment that needed to be made was to the hem. I cut the skirt as 2 equal rectangles, not taking into account the difference in waist-to-hem measurements in the front and back. The proper technique to fix this is to take out the waist seam and raise the waist to the right measurement, but I had already established that I was not taking the waist seam out. Instead, I cut the front panel to be an inch shorter in the front, angling to match the back panel at the side seams.

My pinafore is technically still not done. I still have a single-turn hem, and I need to do some finishing work on the pocket edges, but it is wearable, and I have loved wearing it this month!

P.S. This garment is massively cat approved! My black cat normally refuses to sit in laps, but the first day I wore this pinafore he volunteered to be a lap kitty. This dress is magic!

Me Made May: I made Shorts!

Hello, friends, and happy May 1!

I remember when I first heard of Me Made May, probably 6 years ago. I had a few me-made garments in my closet, but not nearly enough to wear everyday. The idea of wearing handmade every day – or even taking it a step further and wearing only handmade items – boggled my mind. So the first and second Mays I watched from the sidelines, marveling at all the things other people had made. The third May was the first year I participated. By this point I had made several tops and had quite a few knitted accessories. It made me sad that it was Me Made May, and not Me Made February. It’s a lot easier to wear knitted shawls and socks in the winter than in the late Spring. The second and third Mays were easier than the first as I continued to make things I needed instead of always buying.

This will be my 4th year participating in Me Made May, and this year I have a game-changer: Pants. I’ve wanted to make pants for quite a while now, but it seemed scary and I didn’t have a pattern, so I always put it off. What made me change my behaviour (and my mind) this year was the COVID-19 pandemic and the realization that it was Spring and I only had one pair of shorts. Just before the pandemic hit the US and everything shut down I went to the library and got a bunch of books. This wasn’t intentional, but it was fortuitous, since I now get to keep the books until the library opens up again. One of the books I got was Gertie Sews Vintage Casual. The book comes with quite a few patterns, ideas on how to mix and match them to create different garments, and a lot of general sewing and fitting advice. One of the patterns is for fitted cigarette pants made in a stretch fabric. I like fitted pants, so I took my measurements and cut a size 6 with an 8 waist. When I buy ready-to-wear pants I often have trouble with them fitting well in the bum, so I added some length to the back and sides of my pattern to make sure I would have enough coverage. Then I ordered some stretch denim from StyleMaker Fabrics and waited for the mail.

A few days later my fabrics had arrived. I washed and dried my first fabric, laid out the pattern pieces, and cut everything out. Then I machine-basted everything together according to the pattern, and did a self-fitting. The pants fit surprisingly well out of the envelope. I took the waist in (I probably could have cut a straight 6), made a small adjustment in the front seam, lowered the waistband, and raised the hem. I made sure to mark all my adjustments, then I took everything apart. Before I started these shorts I told myself that these were just a muslin, that it didn’t have to be a wearable garment, and that whether or not they fit I was going to take them apart and transfer my changes to my paper pattern. Doing this made me feel like an adult and a virtuous sewist. And I know that next time I use this pattern it will already be adjusted to my body and preferences.

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With my pattern updated, I sewed everything back together with a normal stitch length. Then I wrangled with the zipper: I put the zipper in 4 times, and I’m still not happy with it, but there comes a point where good enough is all you need. On the first try the zipper went in beautifully. But I had used a basting stitch length, and I was worried about the longevity of my zipper. So out it came. On the second try my stitch length was correct, but the thread tension on my machine was horrible. Ditto for the third try. I noticed on the second and third tries that the bobbin-side of the sewing looked much better than the needle-side, so for my fourth attempt I sewed from the inside of the garment (which made much more sense to me anyway). There are still a few weird loops of thread on the outside of the fabric, but it mostly looks ok. This was the only part of this sew that my machine had trouble with, and I think it just didn’t like sewing through 2+ layers of denim and the zipper tape.

Once the zipper had been wrangled into submission, I pinked the inside seams and sewed the hem. Then I did a final fitting for the waist height, sewed the waist facing in, and tacked it down at the zipper and seams. At this point I realized I should have sewn the facing in before the zipper, but oh well. My shorts were finished, and at that point, being finished was all I cared about.

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I have fabric to make another pair of shorts, which will bring me up to three pairs – a respectable number. After that, I’d love to get some fun stretch wovens or Ponte knits and make full-length pants. I can make pants, y’all! The sky is the limit!

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Finally Finished: The 4-year Red Tunic

In the spring of 2016 a friend gave me some fabric. She had gotten a few remnants at a garage sale and thought I might enjoy it – how sweet of her! This was a few months before my wedding, so most of my time, creative energy, and money was going into wedding planning. I assessed the fabric and decided that if I cut carefully I could make a sleeveless tunic, so I used a tunic I had drafted the previous year as a pattern, and got started.

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The fabric is canvassy, possibly a linen/poly blend, and it has decent drape. I was going for a high-low hem, decorative pleats to add fullness to the bust, and a diagonal front zipper as the main focal point.

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I cut my pieces out, sewed the fronts and back together with French seams, and stopped. At the time I didn’t have a dress form or the zipper, and I was daunted by the prospect of draping the front pleats on myself. The top was also rather blocky-looking – not the best look for my shape. So I stuffed everything into a bag, put the bag deep into my stash, and forgot about it for a while.

Over the years I have pulled this project out several times with intentions to finish it, and at some point I even bought a zipper. But it wasn’t till about a month ago that I finally sat down and got it done. I started by assessing the fit. 4 years later, boxy still wasn’t a good look for me, so I pinched a dart/seam into the back to make the top more fitted. I have a bit of a swayback, so back shaping is very important for me to have a decent fit. With that done, I finalized the neckline and put in the zipper. This was a scary moment, but it actually went quite well. Then it was on to the high-low hem, and then finishing the arm-holes with bias tape. After 4 years, my top was finally finished!

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I love the dramatic look of this top, but I’m not super happy with the fit through the waist. But hey, with all the last-minute fitting and the super uninformed cutting and construction at the beginning of the project, it’s not too shabby.

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What to do with Swatches?

Several years ago I started saving my swatches. At the time I had some notion of how this could be a tangible record of past projects, especially items that were given away as gifts.

But as I accumulated more and more swatches I started to wonder if there was something I could do with them other than keep them in a shoebox. I pondered the conundrum and gradually an idea began to form: I could sew my swatches together into a patchwork blanket.

Obviously this won’t be an ideal solution for every swatch since some are oddly shaped or 3-dimensional, but I love the idea of taking something that would normally be discarded and making a memory blanket of sorts from it.

The upside of this plan is that the knitting is already completed, and all I have to do is the finishing. It also turns swatching into a part of an existing project, and not just a hurdle to clear before starting something new. The downside of the plan is that all the fun knitting is already done, leaving me with a million ends to deal with, and just as many seams to sew.

What do you do with your swatches?