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?

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?

Another Wrap Shirt (I’m Addicted!)

Early this year when I was shopping for a new sewing machine I found this beautiful Robert Kaufman quilt panel. I bought it because it was too beautiful to leave behind. I had vague notions of making it into a quilt, but I secretly wanted to find a way to wear it. It was such a small piece of fabric (27″ x 44″) that I couldn’t think how it would be possible to turn it into a piece of clothing. But then I made my first wrap shirt and realized this was a way to use quite a small piece of material to good effect.

I shamelessly lifted this photo from this fabric store website because I forgot to take a picture of the panel before I cut into it.

The first step of the project was cutting out the neck opening. I used my first wrap shirt as a guide for this. I faced the neck opening with a gorgeous batik that I also used for the binding and ties. Next I added some shaping. My first wrap shirt had darts that radiated from the chest to the waist. For this shirt I wanted to preserve the beautiful design as much as possible, so I used horizontal darts instead.

Step 3 was to make binding and apply it to the garment edges. I used a 1/2” straight grain binding since I didn’t need to go around any curves. Finally I added waist ties to the front and back. The ties attached to the back are made of twill tape (they tie under the shirt in front) and the ties attached to the front are made of batik (they tie in back). For the batik ties I used strips that were 4” by 22 1/2” (half the fabric width) to end up with ties that were 1 1/2” wide.

At this point I thought my shirt was done, but I tried it on and I didn’t like how wide the shoulders were. So I came up with a cunning plan to pleat the additional material to reduce the shoulder width. I did this by hand with spaced back stitches. I didn’t worry too much about making each pleat the exact same size, I just made sure the shoulders were both pleated down to the same measurement (4 1/2”). With that, my second wrap shirt was done!

I love the bright, clear colours in this top! I was worried that the wrap design would slip down and expose the side of my bra, but I don’t find this to be an issue. Due to the very small amount of fabric I started with the top is a few inches shorter than I would like. I solve this problem by wearing it with high-waisted bottoms, but this does limit my outfit options. I’m also not sure if I like the bagginess just below the shoulder pleats on front and back. I suppose every adjustment has positive and negative effects. If it truly bothers me I can easily rip the pleats out and wear my shirt. The pleats were done last, so they don’t impact any of the finishing.

I don’t know why I am so drawn to garments like this. Maybe I just love the cleverness and simplicity of making a whole shirt out of 3/4 yard of fabric!

Do you find yourself gravitating toward a specific style of garment or pattern? Why?

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?