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?

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.

Making a 1920s One Hour Dress

I meant to make myself a 1920s dress last year (2020) since it was the centennial of that glorious decade, but that didn’t happen for various reasons. But you know what, 2021 is the centennial of 1921, and I still wanted a dress from this era. So I made one.

I had bought 2 1/2 yards of this beautiful rust-coloured rayon in my bulk fabric purchase early this year. I took my measurements and followed the Closet Historian’s extensive tutorial to create my pattern and dress (patterning, cutting and sewing, sewing and finishing, hip fullness, variations). I planned to use French Seams throughout. Since my fabric was 60″ wide I was able to fold it in half selvedge to selvedge and use 1 1/4 yards of fabric, leaving over 1 yard to use in another garment down the road (I originally bought this rayon to make a blouse).

With my pattern ready I drew cutting and seam lines on my fabric and made the few cuts necessary. This was stressful, since rayon is shifty and I hadn’t made a muslin. I was surprised at how little fabric waste there was after cutting.

With my fabric cut I sewed the side seams and lower sleeve seams. Next I pleated the extra material at the sides and finished these pleats off internally with a bit of lace from my stash. Then I sewed the shoulder seams.

At this point my garment was almost done, but I wanted to try it on before finalizing the dress. I’m glad I did this, because I needed to remove an inch from the shoulder seam to prevent wrinkling around my hips. I also took this opportunity to draw in my neckline. With the fitting done, I re-worked the shoulder seams, cut out the neckline, and started on the finishing.

The skirt hem, sleeve hems, and neck opening are all finished with a simple double-turn hem (although this was a bit tricky at the neck because of the French Seams at the shoulder. I considered finishing these edges by hand, but I don’t mind the machine stitches showing since this is not meant to be a couture garment.

The final touch was to sew up a coordinating belt. I had a tiny bit of fabric left over from the clutch I made for my wedding, so I cut that into a belt-y shape, sewed around the the edges, turned it out, ironed, and top-stitched the opening closed. It turned out quite a bit shorter than I wanted, but it makes a very cute bow when tied at the hip.

I love the colour and the movement of this fabric and I love how the dress turned out! The idea of 1920s fashion has been tantalizing me for a while, but I was always afraid it would be unflattering on me because of my pear-shaped body. The Closet Historian helped me have confidence that I could look lovely in these styles, too. The secret is to pattern the dress for the body you have. I have made a ’20s slip which I will go into in another post, and I may make some other period undergarments to go with this dress eventually as well.

One other thing I like about this dress: If I wear it with a belt at the waist it has a 1930s vibe. So I basically get two decades with one dress!

What styles or decades have you been wanting to try, but have been too intimidated to make the plunge?

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?

Dress Like a Pirate – Part 2

Earlier this year Bernadette Banner made a Pirate Shirt. Since then there has been a tidal wave of people making similar shirts of their own. I had already thought about making myself an 18th Century Men’s shirt, but Bernadette’s video sealed my resolve to make this garment for myself. Around the same time I ordered 5 yards of handkerchief weight linen from Fabrics-Store.com. I found some inspiration photos, but my interests diverged: on the one hand I wanted to make a classic, plain shirt. On the other hand I wanted RUFFLES.

After much consideration I decided to make 2 shirts: one would be a plain 18th century shirt, the other would be a modern shirt with a neck ruffle. I made the ruffled shirt first using the Juliette Blouse pattern from Sew Over It.

Since the ruffled shirt was made with a modern pattern and a sewing machine, I decided to go full 18th century with the construction of my pirate shirt, meaning that I sewed every single stitch by hand. Sewing by hand can be extremely rewarding, but it is also quite slow when compared to machine sewing. At several points I longed to pull out my sewing machine and make some quick progress. Instead I toted my project around with me and worked on bits and pieces here and there.

I started with the sleeves: I sewed up the seams, felled down the seam allowances, seamed in the gores, gathered the sleeves down, and applied the cuffs.

Then I moved on to the body: I added in small gores at the neck, finished the front slit, gathered the neck, and applied the collar.

Finally, I gathered the sleeve heads, sewed them onto the body of the shirt, sewed the side seams, felled all the seam allowances down, and finished the hem.

The finishing touches were closures: 2 off-white buttons for the sleeve cuffs, and braided elastic closures. The sleeve closures were my one main departure from historical practice. I had cut the cuffs long enough to go around my wrists with a little ease, but not long enough to button close and still have ease. The solution was to create a thread loop for the button closure. Buttons are hard enough to wrangle when you have a decent buttonhole, so I braided some elastic thread to make dressing myself easier.

The photos speak for themselves: this shirt is marvelous!

Now that I have my authentic pirate shirt I need some pants, a vest, and a hat.

Drink up, me hearties, yo ho!

Sewing a Romper from a 1940s Pattern

There are 2 sewing facts that I find hard to reconcile:

  1. Most patterns don’t fit most people perfectly right out of the packet. Because of this it is recommended to make a toile or test version of the final garment.
  2. While I don’t mind making a test garment, I hate “wasting” good fabric (and the time required to sew it up) on a garment that is never going to see the light of day.

What this means for me in practice is that I often will make a test garment out of fabric that I don’t mind losing if it turns out awful, but that is nice enough that I would wear it if the garment turns out well. This is a fine line to tread, but I seem to enjoy making things more difficult for myself than they need to be.

Removing the embroidery from certain areas of my textured fabric

On the latest episode of “How Can I Make Myself Crazy?” I decided to make a toile of the Wearing History Homefront Overalls. I had bought 1 1/2 yards of a textured stretch denim and 1/2 yard of the most beautiful batik from JoAnn’s last year for this garment. I traced my pattern pieces, grading between sizes to fit my body (I am pear-shaped, and I had read multiple reviews that said this pattern runs slim in the hips). Instead of facing the top edges I chose to fully line the bodice and straps. I also decided to remove the embroidered stitches in the straps and waistband to really make the texture pop in the rest of the garment. With these details sorted I cut out my fabric and set about removing the embroidery stitches. I sewed together the shorts with basting stitches and did a fitting. I used the bodice lining for my fitting, since I was rather short on fabric and would not be able to cut a second bodice if my first attempt turned out too small.

With both the bodice and the shorts fitted to me, I set about attaching all the pieces together. I didn’t follow the instructions, since I’ve made several pairs of shorts and pants before, and since I was making several major changes to the pattern (fully lining the bodice and waistband, etc.).

I finished my seams along the way: all the raw edges are enclosed in lace tape or in some sort of lining. When attaching the straps and the side placket I did my best to follow the lines of the embroidery to make the attachment stitches almost invisible. I love a clean finish in a garment!

I ran out of matching thread just as I finished the construction, but before I sewed the buttonholes. After a bit of hemming and hawing I decided to sew the buttonholes in cream thread. They don’t match perfectly, but they don’t stand out as an eyesore, either.

Things I love about this garment:

  • I LOVE the buttons! I had just enough of these beautiful rose buttons in my stash for the straps and side opening.
  • The fabric is really fun.
  • Taking the time to fully line the pockets, bodice, straps, waistband, and placket makes the inside of the garment very pretty and makes me feel that the garment is really sturdy.

Things I don’t love about this garment:

  • Despite taking the time to fit the bodice I somehow got it too small. I can squeeze into it, but it’s not as comfortable as it could be. This is entirely my own fault, not the fault of the pattern.
  • It’s hard to balance needing to shorten the back to better fit my swayback and having enough room to sit down in these. I didn’t make any swayback adjustments, and I’m glad I didn’t – I might not have had enough room to sit down comfortably.
  • The button placket makes it hard to get in and out of this (and I have to undo all the buttons every time I go to the bathroom). If I were to make another romper or pair of overalls again from this pattern I would choose a zipper rather than buttons.
  • I like using the selvedge edges of my fabric, but the selvedge edge is visible on the side placket, which isn’t the cleanest look. The visibility of this edge is also partly due to fit issues.
  • The shorts are too short. I cut the legs to the line indicated in the pattern. They’re not excessively short, I just prefer my shorts a little bit longer. I have a tan line a few inches lower on my leg where my other pairs of shorts end.
  • The legs are extremely wide. The pattern is made to be this way, I’m just not used to such a wide leg, and since my fabric is stiff rather than drapey the legs stand out from my body. Again, this is not a fault of the pattern, just an area where I need to adjust my expectations.

I intended these to be a toile of the trousers you can make from this pattern, but I’m not sure I met my goal. I determined that the trousers fit, and I made adjustments to the front and back darts, but I wish I had taken the time to truly fit them to myself instead of rushing to the finish line on this garment. Patience is a virtue, but I only possess it in limited quantities.

Do you take the time to sew a toile or muslin? How do you solve the problem of good fit vs. wasted fabric?

Plaid Floral Pants

Late last year I realized that I didn’t like any of my clothes. I hadn’t bought anything new in quite a while (thanks COVID!) and many of the items in my closet were old and showing signs of wear. I take immense pleasure in dressing prettily, so my dilapidated wardrobe was actively making me unhappy. I decided to approach the problem from two directions: I would buy several garments depending on what I could find in stores and what I didn’t think I could easily make myself, and I would make items I wanted to make or couldn’t find in stores. I made a list of garments I wanted to add to my wardrobe or replace, and I listed out some colours or styles I specifically wanted to target. Then I went shopping for clothes … and ended up returning half of the garments I bought due to fit issues. This further fueled my resolve to make my own clothes. Next I went online and picked out a whole host of beautiful fabrics to make myself beautiful clothes. You’ve seen quite a few of the garments I made from this bulk purchase, and I still have several fabrics that I haven’t even cut into yet!

When I first saw this floral plaid ponte knit from StyleMaker Fabrics I knew I had to have it for myself. It was just so beautiful! I bought enough to make a pair of pants. I had already made a pair of Cigarette Pants using a similar knit ponte, so I knew my pattern fit me, but that I needed to make a few alterations to accommodate the fabric. My main alterations were to narrow the pants from waist to hem by about half an inch per pattern piece and to add a plain waistband instead of the internal waistband from the pattern.

I used zig-zag and lightning stitches for everything to reduce the possibility of popped seams (and because my new machine allows me to use fancy stitches whenever I like!). The sewing went quite quickly once I had started, and within a few hours I had a lovely new pair of pants!

I really like these pants! They fit great, and the make quite a statement (maybe too much of a statement?). As with everything, however, there are a few things I don’t like:

  • The plaid doesn’t quite match up due to a pattern error (I’ve fixed this on my pattern so it doesn’t come up again).
  • I’m pleased with the waistband, but I want to futz with it a little. The waistband is made from a long strip of fabric, with a length of 1″ elastic inside. I zig-zagged the elastic to the inside of the waistband to prevent it twisting. I applied the front of the waist band to the pants, and then top-stitched the under-side down, but I folded it too far away from the edge, so the seam allowances are not caught in the waistband like they should be.
  • The waistband is maybe a little bit too tight?
  • I intentionally left the pants long because I don’t like my ankles showing when I’m sitting down (weird, I know). This worked a treat with my herringbone pants, but in these pants it just causes leg wrinkles due to the tighter fit in the leg. You can’t see this in the photos because I folded up the hem by about an inch to make them the perfect length.
  • These pants are loud, and I can only wear certain colours/styles with them. Since I’m still rebuilding my wardrobe this is severely limiting the amount of wear I can get out of these pants right now.

Despite the flaws in my garments, I see so much progress in my skills and abilities over the last few years. I am so proud of myself for making beautiful garments that fit and look pretty professional. And let’s not forget that professionals make mistakes, too. I don’t know if I’ve ever looked at store-bought clothes as closely as the clothes I make for myself, but I know that I’ve seen some weird stuff in purchased clothes over the years, too.

12 Months, 20 Years

20 years ago, my mom and I started small embroideries to be sewn into two quilts. The idea came from a magazine, with the goal of creating one embroidered rectangle for each month of the year. I was about to turn 9, and during that summer I embroidered 11 of the 12 months. And then summer came to an end, and the project sat in a box for a very long time. Early this year when I visited my family my mom gave me my completed blocks as well as the materials and instructions to finish the final block.

I traced and stitched the December block (in January, ironically) to finish the embroidery for the quilt.

The original quilt is designed to be an art quilt rather than a functional quilt, and it’s quite a small size. I love the idea of making items functional items, rather than just decorative, but I’m not it sure will be possible to make this quilt functional (for me) due to the embroidery and the small size. I need to evaluate my options to determine how this will be finished and with what fabrics.

How would you finish this quilt?