Making a Quilted Plague Doctor Mask

It all started at a Renaissance Festival. I saw a woman wearing a quilted plague doctor mask, and I immediately knew I needed one. So I googled how to make a plague doctor mask and this is what popped up.

I was ecstatic that a pattern existed and it used a technique that I was already familiar with! I traced the pattern onto some interfacing and immediately made a mock-up.

I made a few minor fit adjustments, and then got started with the piecing. I used the English Paper Piecing technique to construct each panel, but I decided to skip the papers and cut my batting to shape instead.

I used a range of blue batiks to make the mask. I had already cut about a million 2″ squares for another project in the same fabrics, and unfortunately this size was a little small for many of the pieces, so I spent some time drawing new lines to make the shapes a better size for my pre-cut squares. I traced the new pattern onto some woven fusible interfacing, fused that to some quilt batting, and cut out my pieces one by one. Then it was on to the sewing.

I basted each fabric square onto its corresponding piece, trimming the fabric to size as I did so. Then I whipped each shape to the next one to form the four main panels of the mask. When all the piecing was done I ironed the panels – it was so satisfying to see all the fabrics and seams relax and flatten. Then I ironed the lining pieces to size and pinned them to each of the coordinating outer pieces in preparation for quilting. I used my muslin as the liner, and I am really pleased with how well the colours coordinate with the outside of the mask. It’s one of those tiny details that only I will know about, and it makes me happy.

I quilted each panel by sewing close to each seamline on my machine. I was amazed how the quilting made the panels so much more stiff and stable! I added a bit of bias to the eye-holes in yet another batik, then removed the basting threads and started sewing the panels together (using whip-stitches again).

The mask was finally in one piece, but it wasn’t quite done. I tried it on, just to make sure it fit. It turns out the mask fits my dog, too (he was not happy about this)! The last steps were to make some straps and to sew them on along with the binding. The straps close with a pair of D-rings.

My mask is complete, and I love wearing it! It’s definitely different than wearing a closer-fitting mask and it gets in my way a bit, but I firmly believe that great style is worth a little inconvenience.

Sewing a Book Quilt – Part 1

As the title suggests, this will be a new series of posts about a quilt I started late last year. I actually bought the pattern in July of 2020, and one of my 2021 goals was to sew the quilt. That didn’t happen for a variety of reasons, but I am determined to make the quilt happen this year.

One of the biggest reasons I didn’t make progress on the quilt in 2021 is because I didn’t have a plan. So this year I started with planning. I knew I wanted to use the Taller Tales Quilt Block Collection for my quilt, but I wanted it to be more than just a collection of books. I added in the Gnome pattern from the 2021 Quiltmas Spectacular, but I still wanted something else. I hit upon the idea of adding words to my quilt, and I remembered the Thomas Jefferson quote, “I cannot live without books.” Pithy and so very true. When I mashed all these elements together this is what I came up with:

I had never done Foundation Paper Piecing before this quilt, and the first block was frustrating and took longer than I expected. Even so, it only took me about an hour, so I decided I could spare an hour a week to make a block. I calculated that if I sewed a block every weekend they would be complete in 14 weeks. I then gave myself two weeks per row of text, making 8 weeks for the center block. Then I planned 4 weeks to assemble the top, for a total of 26 weeks. My timings were meant to be generous since there will inevitably be a few weekends where I don’t make as much progress as expected. If I am able to follow my plan for the quilt top, that leaves me a full half of the year left for quilting and binding. I don’t have that part planned yet – I will figure it out when I get to it.

For the books and the gnomes I am using my scraps from garment sewing as much as possible. These are all sewn onto a plain white ground for continuity. Not all garment materials are appropriate for a quilt, but I have a fair amount of cotton scraps, and even some from my mom that she used to sew me clothes when I was a kid! I love all the memories this quilt will house once it is done! I am avoiding any fabrics that are stretchy or have significant synthetic components. I am not too worried about colours – I trust that my own sense of colour guided my choices when I bought the fabrics, and thus my stash of scraps is already curated to my personal colour palette. This is also meant to be a scrappy quilt, so as long as nothing screams that it doesn’t coordinate anything is fair game.

The last bit of planning (at least for now): I printed off all my FPP papers for the books and the gnomes. I have selected the alphabet I will be using for the center, but I haven’t ordered the book yet.

With the planning out of the way, I got to sewing! So far I have completed 4 blocks (all the same pattern). I only need 4 of this block, so I will be moving on to the next kind of book this weekend. With each rendition of the block I have gotten faster and better at it. Now I can bang out a block in half an hour – and that includes ironing between each step!

I am so excited about this quilt! The small, quick wins every week are so motivating, and I am having a lot of fun with the FPP technique! I’ll update you once I’ve finished the next round of blocks.

Read Part 2 here.

A Tale of Two Scarves

This is the story of two scarves that lived very different lives.

In September of 2019 I bought two balls of Cascade Paradigm Shift in the Seattle colourway. I loved the bold colour shifts throughout the yarn. I warped my loom for a scarf, started weaving, and then stopped.

A year later, in September of 2020 I pulled my loom out and wove the rest of the scarf in a day. I initially thought the scarf would be too wide and bulky to wear comfortably due to the heavy cotton yarn in both warp and weft, but the looser weave structure makes it very fluid and nice to wear.

A few months later in December of 2020 I needed a last-minute Christmas gift. The cotton scarf was the wrong colour for the recipient, but I remembered how it wove up in a single day and decided to weave another scarf.

The warp was a variety of fingering weight wools in white, with a stripe of pink on one side. The weft was half a skein of Less Traveled Yarn’s Creosote Collection on their Lafayette base. It was mesmerizing to watch the colours shift with every throw of my shuttle.

It took longer than a day to weave, but it was such a lovely experience. The fabric is much finer than its cotton cousin, and it turned out the perfect width.

I twisted and knotted the fringe and then sent it off to its new owner.

I’ve been trying to use up my stash yarn (and avoid buying more), and I forgot how quickly a skein of yarn weaves up! I have the other half-ball of this variegated yarn and a skein of Eggplant to use as a warp. Now I just need to figure out who in my life needs a purple scarf.

Circle Skirt, Meet Petticoat

I have been obsessing over the Coquelicot Skirt by Wildflower designs since before the pattern was available. I waited for months as they posted teaser images. I knew this was the perfect garment for me. The pattern was published several months ago, but for some reason it’s taken me quite a while to get around to making it. But at long last the time has come. The Coquelicot skirt will be mine!

Each sewing project starts with pattern and fabric choices. The pattern suggests using very drapey fabrics for maximum swish factor, but I decided to go in a different direction: I wanted a quilted skirt. Last winter (Winter of 2020/2021) I saw the most beautiful quilted floral fabric at JoAnn’s. I kept convincing myself not to buy it because I didn’t have a project for it, and then when warmer weather came back it was taken off the shelves. I thought it was gone forever, and I was very sad. Then early this winter I saw it again! This time I wouldn’t let it pass me by. I bought 1 1/2 yards (I think?) along with a similar amount of a coordinating quilting cotton and started planning my garment.

I cut the main skirt panels out of the quilted fabric, and everything else out of the plain cotton. You can see in the photo above that I had several options for my seam finishes. I started by binding the pocket slit with 1″ bias made from a light batiste (it’s the same batiste I used for my 1920s slip). I then used the same batiste to finish the edges of the quilted panels using a Hong Kong finish. Then I seamed up the back panels (the front was cut on the fold). You’re supposed to sew the seams and then apply the Hong Kong binding, but these quilted pieces were heavy, and I didn’t want to wrangle them any more than I had to.

With the pocket slits finished I sewed the pockets onto the back skirt panel with the raw edges facing in, then overcast the raw edges. I should have bound this edge with batiste, but I forgot until the pocket was already sewn up. The pocket itself is bound with a remnant of tan bias I had from another project.

I then created the front and back waistbands and the lacing panel. I didn’t interface any of these pieces, since the quilting cotton is stiff enough on its own. I let the garment hang overnight just in case it decided to stretch out (it didn’t).

with all the pre-construction work out of the way, all that was left was to sew up the side seams and do the finishing. The hem is bound with bias made from the same fabric used for the waistband and pockets to provide additional continuity to the skirt.

With that the skirt was done! Hooray!

It is a lot of fun to wear, even though the heavy fabric made it a bit of a pain to make. It is quite warm when sitting down, although it stands out from the body when standing up, so it’s not especially warm when I am upright.

I made View A (half-circle skirt) with the waistband from View B. I do not recommend this, and especially not with heavy fabrics. The waist lines are drafted on very different curves, and that made it rather difficult to get the back waistband onto the skirt. But that is a problem stemming from my decisions, not from the pattern itself.

One change I would make (because there’s always at least one change I would make): I find that the internal lacing panel folds up on the right side when tension is put on it. This makes total sense since there is nothing keeping it flat. I would fix this by inserting a small bone just inside the lacing tape on just the right side.

Have you ever worked with quilted fabric? What is your favourite kind of garment to make?

Happy Birthday to Me!

A few weeks ago I celebrated my birthday!

On Saturday I went trail-riding with my husband and sister. I swear humans were meant to travel on horseback. I love the smell of the horses and the swaying of the horse as it walks. Cars go fast, but horses nurture my soul.

On Sunday my husband took me out for breakfast, and then we went shopping for a cake plate. We returned home with this beauty and I set to making a cake.

My sister joined us after lunch and she and I worked all afternoon on a deliciously creamy lasagna and on my birthday cake. I had chosen to make an Ube cake to remind me of my travels in the Philippines a few years ago. First I used powdered Ube to make Halaya, or Ube jam, then I used that jam to make a delightfully purple cake. The cooking took all afternoon, but we had the most wonderful meal.

My youngest sister (who went riding with us) knitted me a teapot cozy, and my middle sister made me a Lord of the Rings journal! What a piece of art!!

It was a delightful birthday, and I thoroughly enjoyed snacking on cake and giving slices away to friends and neighbors.

Making a 1920s Slip

Ideally you would make the undergarment first and the outer garment second. But the lure of pretty fabric was too much for me, so I made my 1920s One Hour Dress first. Having made the dress I recognized the need for an appropriate undergarment to smith any wrinkles and reinforce the correct silhouette. This is, after all, the 1920s, and the garçon look is all the rage.

I started with the same 1 hour dress pattern I made using the tutorials from The Closet Historian and a few yards of white cotton batiste. The cotton batiste is more stiff and less drapey than the rayon used in the outer garment, though still very lightweight. I did a quick fitting and took the side seams in by 3/4 inch each side (this makes the final garment 3 inches smaller in total compared to the outer dress). I sewed up the side seams using French seams and sewed the pleats in place. My batiste was 45″ wide (vs. the 60″ wide Rayon I used for the dress), so I used the full width of the fabric for both front and back of the slip.

Time for another fitting: I angled the neckline to be 1 1/2 inches higher in front than in back. This also makes the garment more comfortable around the underarm. Finally, I created 1” wide straps from the batiste.

The last thing to do on my slip was apply lace. I had bought 5 yards of cotton lace several months ago with the vague idea of making a blouse or a petticoat or something. I used the lace to finish the neckline and hem and to cover the raw edges of the side pleats (the lace is on the outside of the slip, whereas the lace finishing is on the inside of the dress). In the end I had about 2 inches of lace left, which was super satisfying.

I am quite pleased with the finished garment. It’s simple but effective, and the lace is so lovely. If I was making this again I would stack the side pleats so they weren’t quite as wide (it would look like a knife pleat on either side of the seam with a box pleat stacked on top).

The fabric of the slip is rather sheer so I won’t post full photos, but here is a side by side of the outer dress without a slip (left) and with the slip (right). It doesn’t make a huge difference, but does help control wrinkling. And since the dress is made of a delicate rayon, the cotton slip will help to minimize contact between my body and the dress, keeping the dress clean longer and extending its life.

3 Tops in 3 Days: A Jersey-filled Weekend

At the end of last year I did an assessment of my wardrobe, and I was appalled with what I found. My clothes were worn, didn’t fit, or just didn’t excite me anymore. The result? I didn’t want to wear any of the clothes I had, and I hated getting dressed in them. I have always loved clothes and dressing in a way that makes me feel pretty, and without that ability I didn’t feel like myself. I resolved to dig myself out of this hole not by going shopping (or at least, not just by going shopping), but by making many of the pieces that were missing or worn out.

You’ve seen several of the pieces I’ve made over the last 6 months. Most of them have been made of woven fabrics for the simple reason that my sewing machine had broken and would only stitch a straight stitch. It did (and still does) a great job at straight stitch, but I dreamed of sewing zig zags and buttonholes, so I entered a side-quest to find a new sewing machine. I searched online, read dozens of reviews, and visited several sewing shops in my area. Finally I made a decision, gave the shop my money, and sat down to wait for my machine to come in. Did you know that the pandemic has caused a sewing machine shortage? I didn’t until I was shopping for a new machine. It seems that when everyone was stuck at home a lot of people decided to pick up sewing. That along with factory and shipping issues has caused a shortage of sewing machines and delays in getting a machine once you have ordered it. I waited 2-3 weeks (which felt like months) before my machine came in. Then the sun shone, the birds sang, and I brought my new machine home!

My new machine is a Baby Lock Presto II. She has 100 built in stitches (including 7 zig zags, 7 buttonholes, and 4 alphabets), and sews up to 850 stitches per minute. I had planned to buy a manual machine for the sake a simplicity and quality, but companies are moving more and more toward electronic machines, and these seem to have the best quality offerings. I am still learning what she can do, but I am happy with what I’ve seen so far.

Around the same time I ordered my machine I bought several cuts of jersey in preparation for FINALLY having a zig zag stitch (I had been wanting this capability for at least 2 years, so I was ready!). First I made a Wiksten tank with some jersey from Hobby Lobby (it’s the same jersey I used for this shirt). It had been a while since I made my last Wiksten tank, but my modified pattern pieces seemed about right, so I moved to cutting out. My cut of fabric was about 6 inches too short for the pattern, but I didn’t let that deter me. I ended up piecing the upper front and back pieces to make a final piece that fit (I didn’t want to sacrifice any length in the top since I am long-waisted). After the piecing was done I completed the actual construction, then moved to fitting. The Wiksten tank is patterned for woven fabric, so I wasn’t sure how it would do with jersey (even a more rigid cotton jersey like this) and I’m so glad I took the time to fit this before doing the finishing. I took several inches out of the shoulder and out of the underarm (I angled this out to the hem, and I love the angle it created and how it fits me). I contemplated putting a tuck in the front neck to reduce gaping, but decided to wait until I had washed the garment in case the neckline had stretched out while sewing (after washing I decided the neckline was ok). Finally I finished all my edges by turning under once and zig-zagging into place. In hindsight, this wasn’t a great way to finish the neck and arm holes because it created some puckering, but it is what it is, and I am treating it as a learning experience.

Second I made a light blue t-shirt with bees on it (fabric from Joann’s). I veered from my trusty Alabama Chanin t-shirt pattern to try the t-shirt pattern from Gertie Sews Vintage Casual. I have found that the Alabama Chanin pattern works well with ribbed Jersey, but doesn’t fit me when using a stockinette style jersey. I went by the pattern size recommended in the book, and was very pleased with the overall fit. I felt that the neckline was too low, and the neckband gaped a little, so I took note of these things to change in my next version.

For the third shirt I used the same pattern as the second, this time with a happy clouds jersey fabric. I raised the neckline, made the neckband a little smaller, and stretched the neckband a little tighter when applying it. This resulted in the perfect t-shirt! I am so happy with the fit of this and I definitely plan to make more.

3 tops in a weekend is a lot of sewing (at least for me). I am so pleased to have these garments to help fill out my casual wardrobe. I am planning to make more t-shirts, so stay tuned!

Do you have a favourite stitch on your sewing machine?

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!