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?

Make Do and Mend: Slippers Edition

There is so much going on in the world these days, and almost all of it seems out of my control. I find it easy to get sucked into a quagmire of negative thoughts and fear, so when I feel like this I try to find something I can do with my hands. My sewing or knitting or gardening is something I can control, and that helps me to feel a little better.

A year and a half ago I made myself some slippers. They were cozy and kept my feet warm. I wore them all that winter, and all this winter.

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And then a few weeks ago I realized both slippers were developing holes on the outside/bottom of the foot.

So I mended them.

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I started off with some non-superwash wool, some snips, and a darning needle.

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I cut a length of yarn, and sewed it in a regtangle-ish shape that went a little past the edges of the hole on all sides.

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Then I turned the whole thing 90 degrees and needle-wove the patch – over, under, over under. While doing this, I made sure to catch a stitch in the slipper at the end of every row so the patch would be firmly attached to the slipper on all sides.

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I followed the same steps on the 2nd slipper. This closed the holes on both slippers, but the yarn I used for the repair was very softly spun, and I knew I would have another hole soon if I didn’t put a tougher material on the outside.

I still had some of the leather I used when I originally made the slippers, so I made a template for a piece that would fit over the holes on both slippers, and cut the pieces out. When I made the slippers a year and a half ago I cut the leather with scissors and an X-acto knife. It was a PAIN! This time borrowed a chisel and mallet from my husband. What a difference! This was quick and easy and painless. Anytime I work with leather in the future, I will absolutely use a chisel and mallet!

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After cutting the pieces out I stabbed some sewing holes into them at regular intervals. Most people would use a proper awl for this. I don’t have one, so I appropriated another one of my husband’s tools for this purpose (I think this is some sort of electrical tool?). Pro tip: it helps to have a spouse that is handy! (Also, if you are borrowing tools, make sure you ask first!)

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With my pieces cut out and holes stabbed, I sewed the leather pieces into place. When I made the slippers I sewed the leather on with nylon cord, which was a royal pain. This time I used a doubled strand of upholstery thread. Much easier to work with, and almost as durable.

And here the slippers are, good as new, and ready for another winter.

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hoMEOWner

On December 30, 2019 my husband and I bought a house!

But that’s not when the story started. Right after I got home from my trip to Manila last summer we started looking at houses. We trolled the internet and drove all over. We finally decided we wanted to build a house, so we found a nice neighborhood that was being developed, signed the papers, and scheduled our appointment to choose the finishes we wanted.

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Then the wait began. After a month of nothing (while the architect finalized the drawings) our foundation was poured!

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From there the house progressed quite quickly. Within a few days of the foundation being poured, the walls went vertical, and things started falling into place.

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At times it seemed like nothing was being done, and at other times progress was much quicker than expected. But finally the day came when we signed the papers and got the keys.

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There are so many things I love about my house, but my favourites are the kitchen, my craft room, and my tiny backyard garden.

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We went a little overboard on the kitchen, but it was absolutely the right decision since we both enjoy cooking.

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My craft room is largely unfurnished right now, but it’s so lovely to have a space where I can leave things out and not worry about my husband stepping on pins in the middle of the night.

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I have been dreaming about creating a garden for at least a year now. My husband helped me build a raised bed for a vegetable garden. I am also thinking about digging up the bushes in my front bed and replacing them with roses and all sorts of bulbed flowers.

I feel so fortunate to live in a beautiful house and a beautiful neighborhood. Owning a home is something my husband and I have been working toward for a very long time.

I love my house.

Making My First Circle Skirt

A circle skirt is irresistible. I have always loved “twirly” skirts, but I never remember owning a circle skirt. I’ve been making more of my own clothes recently, which constantly leads me down pattern rabbit holes. When I found the Sense and Sensibility circle skirt tutorial I knew the time had finally come to make a circle skirt of my own. I bought 3 yards of a lovely plaid wool flannel on sale from Denver Fabrics and got started.

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The first part of any project is planning. I had a vision of wearing this deliciously warm skirt with a cream long-sleeved T-shirt, my bomber jacket, and my wedding boots. In addition to buying the fabric for the skirt, I also needed to by a cream long-sleeved shirt and some leggings for a bit of extra warmth.

That done, I focused on fabric care. Since my fabric was wool I wasn’t sure how friendly it would be to laundering. I wanted a skirt that was easy to care for, since that makes it more likely that I will wear and enjoy it more. I followed in Morgan Donner’s steps, and tested my laundering methods on several swatches.

Swatch number 1 was my control – it didn’t get laundered at all. Swatch 2 was handwashed with Eucalan wool wash. Swatch 3 was washed in the washer on my normal cool water setting. Swatch 4 was washed with swatch 3 and dried in the dryer on my normal low heat setting. Each swatch shrunk a little more than the last, but the difference between swatch 1 and swatch 4 was minimal, so held my breath and laundered my whole length of fabric. The fabric came out of the dryer fluffy and wonderful, not the ruined felted mass I secretly expected. That bit of suspense over, it was time to draft my pattern and cut everything out.

I used wrapping paper as my pattern paper. It’s pretty and whimsical on one side, and has a very helpful grid on the other.

Once I had my pattern drafted and cut out it was time to cut out my fabric. In Jennie’s tutorial she mentions that the width of your fabric will determine the length of your skirt. I wanted a mid-calf length skirt, rather than just below the knee as my fabric would have allowed me. Since I am the boss of my sewing I chose to piece the bottom of both the front and back of my skirt. I made sure to piece along the plaid lines as much as possible. This is an excellent way to disguise piecing, but it can be a bit tricky to sew just right.

Because of this decision I had barely enough fabric. Another departure I made from Jennie’s tutorial was to cut my fabric on the selvedge. I did this because I wanted openings on both sides of my skirt – one for the zipper, and the second for a large pocket. Using the selvedge meant that I had to sew both seams (Jennie recommends sewing the full seam anyway), but that I didn’t have to finish the seams since there is little chance of the fabric fraying.

On to the construction! I started by piecing my front and back panels. I wanted this to be very exact, so I basted before sewing the panels with a running back stitch. Once the panels were complete I cut out my pocket and sewed that in with the corresponding side seam.

Then I mustered my courage, pinned, pinned again, and sewed the invisible zipper in with a back stitch. If I can sew an invisible zipper in by hand, I can do anything!

At this point I put the skirt away for a few weeks while we went to Phoenix for Thanksgiving. I came home with a sewing machine, so finishing the 2nd side seam and attaching the waistband were a breeze. I used a whip-stitch to attach the inside of the waistband to the skirt because I didn’t want any visible top-stitching on the outside. Then I began the long process of hemming the skirt. I started by making sure my hem was even when worn, which actually means that if you measure the length of the skirt it’s longer in the back than in front. My fabric doesn’t fray much, so I turned the hem up once by about half an inch and whip-stitched it into place over the course of several evenings.

The last thing I did was sew a button hole and button on by hand. The skirt was now complete.

Now that I’ve worn the skirt there are a few changes I want to make.

  • The waistband seems a bit big. I need to figure out how to shorten it without causing gathers in the skirt at the waist. When I do this I may add some interfacing for additional stability.
  • I have not yet finished any of the interior seams. I plan to do this like the hem by simply whipping the seam allowances into place.
  • The pocket is gloriously large, but about an inch too low. I plan to take this out and raise it.
  • I may want to take another stab at leveling the skirt.

I love how warm this skirt is. It’s like wearing a blanket! And I love twirling in it. I will forever love twirling. I definitely see more circle skirts in my future.

Pillowcase Renovation

Quite a while ago I bought a pair of pillows for our living room. They weren’t very expensive, and at the time they were exactly what we needed.

Recently we decided to change the colour scheme of our decorations, and realized these pillows didn’t go with our new colours. Armed with scissors, a sewing machine, and a couple of those fancy pillowcases that came with a comforter but never got used, I decided to make new cases for our pillows.

I was lucky that the existing pillow cases were the right width for my pillows. They were, however, quite a bit too long.

I started by measuring the width of the cases, and using that measurement to mark a cutting line along the length.

Next I used my seam ripper to detach the binding from the edge that would be cut off.

I bought zippers to make it easy to get the new cases off and on, so now it was time to install them. My first attempt didn’t go so well. I sewed the zipper to the front piece first, which made it impossible to sew it to the back piece. I ripped this out and started again.

Zipper attempt number 2 went much more smoohly. First I turned the raw edge of the back piece under and sewed it down. Then I turned the edge under again and sewed the hem over the edge of the zipper. This made a nice, neat inside with no raw edges. Once that was done I sewed the other side of the zipper down to the front piece.

My zipper was longer than my pillowcase, so I sewed a tack where I wanted the zipper to stop and clipped both ends.

Finally it was time to sew the binding over the edges. I won’t say my stitching is perfect, but it gets the job done.

The pillowcases fit perfectly, and work beautifully with our decor. This was a relatively simple project that was made almost entirely from stash. I’ve kept the pillow forms and pillowcases from the landfill, and saved money since I didn’t have to go out and buy new pillows. I call that a win!