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?

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.

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?

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!

A Smocking Adventure

When you sew (or knit, or do any kind of craft) you inevitably accumulate some sort of a stash. Pretty and useful materials are fun to accumulate, and this has the added advantage that when inspiration strikes you can immediately make the thing. But a significant part of any maker’s stash ends up being scraps of this and bits of that – enough to do something small with, but not small enough to throw away. I had a scrap of linen just like that. I had made a bias-cut dress and my scraps were weird shapes. I rescued a rectangle about the length of my waist to knee and almost as long as my full waist measurement, and decided to make an apron. But not just any apron, oh no. I had to make it complicated interesting. I had seen several Smocking tutorials floating around Pinterest, and decided to give the honeycomb stitch a try.

I started out by hemming both sides and the bottom edge of the apron. Then I marked my smocking lines using a heat-sensitive pen and quilting ruler. You don’t have to run gathering stitches through your fabric before beginning Honeycomb stitch, so I started on the smocking immediately after this step. I used a blue ombré embroidery floss (3 strands) for the smocking, and worked both left to right and right to left. I found that it was easier to work left to right, but perfectly possible to work in both directions.

When the smocking was done I ironed the top edge flat and applied a bit of navy blue bias tape (also left over from a previous project) as a waist tie. The apron was done!

I’ve never thought about myself as an apron kind of gal, so the apron sat around for a while waiting to be used. One day I was harvesting peas from my garden and needed a receptacle. A bowl seemed annoying to wrangle, so I put on my apron and fell in love! This is the perfect use for an apron and the perfect way to harvest produce since it moves with you and keeps your hands free.

I do find that the bias ties are a bit slippery, so I might sew along the ties with some embroidery floss to add texture and hopefully a little more grab.

What is your favourite thing to make with fabric (or yarn) scraps?

Dress Like a Pirate, Part 1

Who has not, at some point in their lives, been enamored with the idea of pirates? Whether Peter Pan, Errol Flynn, or Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow, pirates have haunted our imaginations since childhood. My husband recently bought me a Pirate magazine, which reignited my imagination and inspired me to make a pirate-y shirt. I actually couldn’t decide if I wanted my shirt to have ruffles or not, so I decided to make two garments: one with ruffles and one without.

I couldn’t get ruffles out of my brain, so I started on the ruffled top first. I used the Sew Over It Juliette Top pattern and white handkerchief linen (IL020) from fabrics-store.com. The construction was pretty straightforward, and I only made a few deviations from the instructions. Instead of making the ruffles a double layer, I finely hemmed the ruffles before basting them to the shirt fronts and sewing the shirt fronts together.

I finished seams as I went: the shirt fronts and ruffle are flat felled, I used French Seams for the side seams and sleeve seams, and I sewed a spare bit of ribbon over the raw edges where the sleeve is sewn onto the bodice. I shortened the sleeves to elbow length, thus avoiding the sleeve cuff altogether. The sleeve hems and shirt hem are finished with a variation on a rolled hem.

Overall I LOVE this top! Now that it is in my wardrobe I find myself reaching for it far more than any of my other tops. It is light and breezy, and will be perfect for summer. That being said, there are a few things that I’m less happy about:

  • Shirt length: I have a long torso, but I didn’t lengthen the pattern. I’m happy with the length in back (this is probably because of my swayback), but the front and sides are a bit short and have come untucked from my waistband a few times.
  • The V-neck is a little lower than I am comfortable with.
  • I didn’t trim the rolled hem well before sewing. The rolled hem variation I used puts the raw edge right along the sewing line, so if this isn’t trimmed well before hemming, the hem can look a bit…fringey. This is entirely user error and not a problem with the pattern.
  • The shoulders are too wide in front, and the underarm opening is too low. These two pieces together limit my arm movement somewhat. Compare this shoulder/underarm with the shoulder/underarm of my Bruyere shirt:

I have plans to make at least one more Juliette, possibly with some shoulder/sleeve modifications, and even possibly with an extra ruffle! I could also make a plain top by omitting the front ruffle. There are lots of possibilities here, and I am excited!

I have not forgotten about the non-ruffled pirate shirt. That is still coming, and it is going to be epic!