Selfless Sewing: Christmas 2021

Christmas is over, which means now I can share my Christmas makes with you! I have done completely Handmade Christmases in the past. Mostly because I didn’t have money, but I did have time and yarn. As I started to earn more over the years I also started being more strategic about which gifts to buy and which to make. Some years I didn’t make any presents at all. This year I decided to sew gifts for my two sisters.

My middle sister does the most incredible Jack Sparrow cosplay. It seemed obvious that she needed a pirate shirt in her life and repertoire. I used the same basic pattern and instructions as for my own pirate shirt, but with a few modifications. My sister’s shirt is made in a mid-weight linen, where mine is made of handkerchief linen. I also made her shirt slightly narrower – the entire shirt circumference is one Width of Fabric. I did a lapped shoulder seam on her shirt, where mine has no shoulder seam at all. And I sewed her shirt on the machine with French Seams.

Most of the visible stitching, such as at the collar, hem, and cuffs, is done by hand. The buttonholes are done by machine. Doing so much of the work by machine made this shirt MUCH faster than mine, which I sewed completely by hand. My sister was beyond thrilled, and that made me happy.

For my youngest sister I made a pair of plaid pants. Truth be told, I started these for her birthday in August, but then I got bogged down with fitting, and gave her something else for her birthday. It was nice to pull these out a few days before Christmas and have them almost done already! I based her pants off my modified pants pattern (which is based off the Cigarette Pants from Gertie Sews Vintage Casual), and then adjusted them to her measurements. The fabric is from Hobby Lobby. I really wanted to make pants from this fabric for myself, but I had already made myself a pair of grey plaid pants earlier in the year, and two pairs of plaid pants in one year seemed like overkill. The pants turned out fantastic! I accidentally cut them too short for a double-fold hem, so I finished them with black fold-over elastic instead.

Do you make Christmas gifts or do you prefer to buy presents?

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.

Handkerchief Musings

When I made my linen bedsheets I cut squares out of the corners for the corner boxes. Instead of wasting the linen scraps I decided to make handkerchiefs! Handkerchiefs have been around in some way, shape, or form for as long as people have needed to wipe their hands and faces. I was surprised to learn a few years ago that mens’ and womens’ hankies are not the same size (a standard man’s handkerchief is 12″ square, while womens’ hankies vary from 8″ to 10″ square). Was this yet another subtle sexist thing? Why weren’t women allowed to have hankies as big as those men used? One of the joys of being a maker is the ability to make things just as you want them. I resolved to make myself a 12″ hanky.

I had 4 offcuts from my sheets, and they were roughly 19″ square. But they weren’t actually cut square. I didn’t draw a thread when I cut the corner boxes out, and the pieces turned out pretty ragged. To make my first hanky I drew threads to create a true 12″ square, then cut my hanky out, and hemmed around all 4 sides with whip stitches. Easy peasy. But I was annoyed with the waste cutting a 12″ square caused. The remaining pieces were 6″ wide and 12-18″ long. I could piece them to create a second 12″ hankie, but it just wouldn’t be as pretty (or fold as nicely) as a piece with no seam.

For my second offcut I cleaned up the edges, and divided the piece in 4. I followed the same finishing steps as for the larger hankie: small double-fold hem secured with whip stitches. These hankies turned out between 8-9″ and almost square. The lack of waste (other than cleaning up the ragged edges) was very satisfying.

Then I started using the linen hankies instead of my regular Kleenex. I was surprised to find that I actually preferred the smaller size hankies instead of the larger. I guess this is one of those conventions that is actually due to personal preference instead of being a result of sexism.

I love my new hankies. I’m considering embroidering initials or flowers on the corners, but that is a project for another day. I learned an important lesson, though: sometimes I make assumptions about things, but once I learn more I find that my assumptions were wrong. There are a lot of things wrong with this world, but just because something seems unfair doesn’t always mean it is, or that it was meant to be. I don’t believe that people are inherently good, but if you let yourself see things in a positive light you can be amazed by the goodness of ordinary people.

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?

How I Made Bedsheets from a Pile of Linen (and why I will never make bedsheets again)

In a way all of us who sew, knit, or otherwise make things do it for the love of creation, knowing that it will often be less expensive and/or easier to buy something rather than make it. But that doesn’t stop us. We want to try a different colour or fabric than we can find in stores, or we want to tweak the fit or make some other alteration. Whatever the reason for making by hand, we enjoy the process and take pride in having made something useful and beautiful. But sometimes we hit a wall and realize that the specific thing we are making might be better bought. I came to this realization while knitting socks a few years ago. I still have a bunch of sock patterns and sock yarn, I just don’t enjoy the process (or the tight gauge) of sock-knitting.

A few weeks ago I got into bed and our sheets ripped! We’ve had these sheets for 7 years, so I suppose they were due to be retired. After I got over my shock, I formulated a plan to make a set of linen sheets. It was just sewing a bunch of straight lines, right? How hard could it be?

I bought 15 yards of IL019 linen from fabrics-store.com. This ended up being more than I needed, but I would rather have too much fabric than not enough. I measured the sheets we had and planned the lengths I needed to cut. When my fabric arrived I pre-washed it and cut it using the drawing-a-thread method to ensure everything was straight. Drawing a thread takes longer than making a normal cut, but it was the only way I was going to get this very shifty linen cut straight.

I started with the top sheet since it seemed less intimidating than the bottom sheet. I cut 2 lengths, seamed them together selvedge to selvedge, and hemmed them. Easy peasy, right? Wrong. I think I’ve told you before about how I can’t resist making things harder than they need to be. I have been dying to use some of the decorative stitches on my new sewing machine, and I decided this was the perfect time! So I embroidered a Greek Key motif on the outer edges of the top sheet. It looks beautiful, but it took FOREVER.

With the top sheet done I could no longer ignore the bottom sheet. My process was a little chaotic: I drew a thread and cut my fabric. Then I seamed the lengths together selvedge to selvedge and trimmed everything to the correct length. Next I cut a square out of each corner to make the corner box. I did not draw a thread for these cuts (I actually stacked the linen and cut all 4 corners at once), and they turned out pretty off-grain. I sewed the corners with a French seam for durability and a beautiful inside finish. Then I unpicked the corners and re-sewed them right side out. Then it occurred to me that the double fabric width was probably wider than our bed, so I measured and re-seamed the center using a flat-felled seam.

I had cut 4 lengths of elastic, so I attached them to the corners at this point using a zig-zag stitch. I have no idea what lengths I cut or how I got to the numbers I did, but it worked. The last step was to hem the sheet. I used a normal straight stitch, since the bottom of the fitted sheet won’t be visible on a daily basis.

Before declaring victory I made a couple pillowcases using French seams and the same decorative top-stitching as the top sheet.

I was elated to be done with this project!! The linen was lovely to work with, but the huge amounts of fabric made it such a pain to wrangle. I was so looking forward to snuggling into a pile of deliciously soft linen. We put the fitted sheet on the bed…and it didn’t fit. By a lot. I may have sobbed uncontrollably at this point.

I took a break from the project, since it had consumed an entire week of sewing at this point. The following weekend I compared the new fitted sheet to an existing sheet that fit well. I needed to add a whopping 11 inches!!! I am honestly not sure how I mis-measured on such a grand scale.

I cut the sheet down the center (by drawing a thread) and added a panel to make up the missing width. All the seams are flat-felled. I felled the center seam of the insertion the opposite direction of the main center seam to reduce bulk. This was not an elegant solution, but it worked, and the seams don’t feel obvious when laying in bed.

The last step was embroidering the word “side” on both side edges of the fitted sheet. Our other sheets have a little tag saying whether you’re looking at the side or top/bottom of the sheet, and it is super helpful when making the bed! I used one of the alphabets on my machine for this. The embroidery went really quickly, but cleaning up the threads in between the letters was a bit of a pain.

I love these sheets turned out! They are soft, and yet textured! My husband keeps remarking that he feels like we’re at a hotel. I would definitely like more linen sheets in my life, but I’m not sure I would be willing to make them again. Buying linen sheets costs about twice as much as making them (if I get the fabric on sale), and that extra money seems like a good investment in my mental health and happiness.

What have you decided is better bought than made?

Tackling the Mending Pile

This week I am tackling my mending pile. If you, like me, have a pile of mending to do, why don’t you join me? Let’s see how much we can get done.

  • Tops
    • Bees shirt – fix gaping neckline
    • Burnt Orange shirt – sew up side slits
    • Blue Adrienne – adjust sleeve elastic (possibly replace sleeves with linen)
    • Green Adrienne – add strap guards, remove small stain
    • Edwardian Blouse – add peplum and closures
    • Bruyere Shirt – adjust waist
    • Embroidered linen top – fix loose embroidery
    • Black Long-Sleeved shirt – fix hole in front
    • Cream Lace Top – hem thread is coming out
  • Bottoms
    • Cream Shorts – finish internal seams, add waistband OR hook and eye closure
    • Herringbone pants – add waistband
    • Floral Plaid pants – adjust waistband
  • Other
    • Patch quilt

The first item I worked on was a burnt orange t-shirt. This was a recent thrift store acquisition and I fell in love with the colour and the interesting cut of the back. Unfortunately, the sides were slit all the way up to the natural waist. I’m not sure if this was where the slit was meant to be, or if it was so high because I’m long-waisted. I sewed the slits up with a whip stitch leaving just under 2″ open at the bottom. This took 10-15 minutes before I started work one morning.

Item number 2 was my Edwardian blouse. I only got to wear it once before it was shrunk in the wash. I unpicked the closures and cut off the neckband and hem. I cut out a peplum using a half-circle skirt pattern, and pleated the bodice to fit. Then I sewed the closures back on and hemmed the new neckline. I won’t say this was an easy fix, but I think it turned out quite nicely. This fix took 3-4 hours.

Item number 3 was my Plaid Floral Pants. I was a few pounds lighter when I made these pants earlier this year, and they were tight in the waist even then. I unpicked the stitching holding the waistband closed on the inside, unpicked the zig-zagging holding the elastic waistband down, then cut the waistband and inserted 2 more inches of elastic. Then I reversed the process: I zig-zagged the waistband elastic onto the waistband, then folded this down and stitched the waistband down on the inside. The pants are still fitted, but are much more comfortable to wear. Bonus: I like where the stitching holding the inside of the waistband down is located better now than where it was before. It’s less visible, and thus provides a slightly cleaner finish. This alteration took 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

Item 5 was my Bruyere shirt. I meant this to be a wearable toile, so I went with the size listed on the pattern envelope and didn’t make any major alterations. The shirt turned out a bit tight at the waist. I think this is partially because the waistband sits too high on me – it sits on top of my rib cage rather than just under it at the true waist. I let the side seams out by 1/4 inch each, resulting in a gain of around an inch at the waistband. This took maybe 15 minutes.

Item 6: My black long-sleeved Alabama Chanin shirt had developed a few small holes in the front. I closed these up with a few whip stitches on the inside. I was able to sew these vertically to align with the ribs in the fabric, so the fix is nearly invisible from the front (The small mark you can see is a mending job for a horizontal hole. It’s amazing the difference in visibility!). This was a simple mending job that took 5 minutes or less.

Item 7: My green Adrienne blouse was too loose in the shoulder elastic. I could have unpicked the seam that joins the sleeve to the body and shortened the elastic, but that seemed way more complicated than it needed to be. Instead I added strap guards using twill tape and a few sew-on snaps. This was a fiddly fix that took about an hour and a half (but only 4 needles-full of thread).

Item 8 was another new (to me) top. The hemstitching on the lace shell had come loose. I did a quick running stitch to tack this back into place. This took 5 minutes or less.

I imposed a time limit of a week to work on my mending, knowing that I would not make it through my whole list. I am really happy with the 7 garments I mended or altered (or edited, as my husband termed it), though there are one or two more that I wish I had gotten to. The time limit was helpful in keeping me from obsessing over mending to the point where I lost all the joy in it, especially since I have quite a few new projects in my mental queue for this Winter. I would highly recommend tackling your mending or alterations pile. I now have 7 garments that are more wearable and that I will not pass over when getting dressed.

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.

Happy Fall, Y’all!

Yesterday was the first day of fall and I got an itch to make something to mark the occasion. I raided my stash and came up with about half a yard of cotton flannel and a few yards of lace. I thought about making a quilted scarf, but decided on a shawl since it would be faster and easier to make and because I love wearing shawls. Plus, a shawl can do double duty as a scarf.

I started by cutting the flannel into the largest square I could manage, then cut that diagonally down the center to make two triangles. I chose to piece one edge rather than cut the entire shawl smaller. After the piecing was done I aligned two straight-grain edges and seamed them together by machine. Then I ironed the seam and felled the seam allowance down by hand with a running stitch. This was the entirety of the construction of the shawl. Next up was finishing and decoration.

The top of the shawl is on the straight grain, so I finished this edge with a machine overcast stitch. Then I added lace to the edges. I used a lace from my stash that had mysteriously been cut into multiple pieces. I joined the lace as inconspicuously as possible to make one long piece, then zig-zagged it to the very edge of my shawl. I stretched the shawl edges slightly as I applied the lace – partly to account for the lace shrinking in the wash and partly because I thought this would make the shawl lay more nicely. Because I stretched the fabric edges I ran out of lace about a foot from the end, so I substituted a similar lace from my stash.

This was a very fun and quick project, and I am excited to wear it more this Fall and Winter. It’s not perfect – the stripe colours don’t align perfectly, and I had to use two kinds of lace, but the overall effect is quite nice, and it was made entirely from stash leftovers. I’ve never had a woven/sewn triangle shawl before. I think the combination of the plaid and the lace is striking and very cute, and it’s very soft and warm.

What is your favourite way to celebrate Fall?

Ruffle Mania

I’ve written about my Bruyere shirt and how much I love it. I’ve also written about my Juliette blouse and the things I like and dislike about it. I wanted to try combining my favourite things about both patterns to create a top that was beautifully feminine and a perfect fit.

My plan was this: I wanted the Bruyere shoulders, neckline, and shaped hem, and I wanted to double the Juliette front ruffles and keep the relaxed body fit. I also wanted flutter sleeves and a slightly ruffled collar. I combined the fronts and backs of both patterns to keep the things I liked, but not the things I preferred to leave behind. I drafted the flutter sleeves using this tutorial and the circular collar based on the neckline curve of my front and back pattern pieces.

Once the drafting was done I cut all my pieces out and hemmed my front ruffles, sleeves, and collar by hand.

With all the prep work out of the way I moved to the sewing machine. I generally followed the instructions for the Juliette blouse when making this up. It was difficult to get the front ruffles to align, but the beauty of ruffles is that the overall effect hides any minor errors in sewing. Once the front was assembled I worked on the back. I don’t know where my head was, but I had to re-do every single step on the back due to simple errors. After sewing and ripping and sewing again I finally had my back assembled. Next I sewed the side seams. Before I added the sleeves and collar I did a quick fitting and adjusted the neck opening. With my neck adjustments made I sewed on the collar and flutter sleeves.

I used several different methods to finish the raw edges on this garment. As mentioned earlier, all the outer hems were done by hand for the cleanest finish possible. The front seam was felled down by machine, but I found that this was more visible than I like, so I plan to rip this out and do a mock French Seam finish instead. The side seams were meant to be French Seams, but I forgot until I had sewn the seams, so these are mock French Seams. The collar and neck V are felled down by machine (I wasn’t super precise on this, and unfortunately this seam tends to roll outward). The sleeve seams were trimmed to 1/4-3/8″ and finished using an overlock stitch on my sewing machine.

This was such a fun and interesting project! I’ve never combined patterns in this way, and I learned a lot! Every part of a pattern impacts so many other parts, so you have to be really detailed in the patterning stage to make sure nothing is missed. And just in case you do miss something, it’s important to do test fittings while the garment is being assembled to make sure everything is correct.

I love all the ruffles on this version, but it seems a little unbalanced on its own, like there is too much going on at shoulder level, and not much going on anywhere else. I combat this imbalance with a belt or a high-waisted skirt or pair of pants. I do plan to use this modified pattern again, but next time I think I will make a version without ruffles. Next time I will deepen the arm-hole just a smidge, add bust darts as seen on the original Bruyere pattern (but not on the Juliette pattern), and I will lower the neck V by about an inch.

Have you ever combined patterns before? What is your favourite pattern alteration when sewing for yourself?