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Sunday, November 11, 2012

Ommmmm Pants

According to Peggy Sagers of Silhouette Patterns, yoga pants are the new jeans. When I look at what women on the street are wearing, I can almost believe it. But in my heart, jeans can never be replaced. For me, yoga pants are the new sweatpants.

At one time, sweatpants were da bomb! a unisex trend favoured by males and females of all ages. Like yoga pants, sweatpants were worn as exercise and street attire. At their trendiest prime, sweatpant suits, aka track suits, went practically everywhere. It fuelled a huge label war, launching athletic wear firmly into the mainstream.

The current sweatpant incarnation is anything but  unisexual. Yoga pants are thin, stretchy garments cut to flatter and shape the female derriere, unlike thick, shapeless sweatpants. Guys still wear sweatpants, but not too many girls. Yoga pants are decidedly sexy. Sweatpants aren't.

Like any trendy garment that flatters the female form, yoga pants have transcended their original purpose. They've gone beyond exercise wear. Beyond leisure wear. In the right fabric, they're considered dressy and refined enough for work. 

Because they're so sexy, many schools are banning girls from wearing them.

When you examine them, what are yoga pants? A low riding pant, with a 2" elastic waistband yoke, made of synthetic fabric. Raise the waistband and narrow it by an inch and what do you have - good ol' polyester pants like my grandmother used to favour. Mind you, Granny didn't wear hers skin tight, and no one ever admired her butt in them.

Amazing what a bit of styling and lycra can do for an old trend....

Anyhoo, I decided to make myself a pair or three. I bought some fabulous athletic fabric (said to be from Lululemon) and was eager to give it a go. I used Peggy Sager's 3-piece Yoga Pants pattern.

Very easy to sew. The hardest part is picking the size. Peggy suggests taking your hip measurement and going down 1 size for 1-way stretchy fabric and 2 sizes for all-way stretchy fabric (like Slinky). Those who want their pant to skim, not cling, use the size indicated by your hip measurement.

I fall into the latter category, so I cut a size 12. The basted pant bagged rather than skimmed, so took in all the seam allowances, including centre front and back, as per Peggy's suggestion. It's at least a 10 now, maybe an 8. I found a level of fit that while it isn't what my daughters would wear, it isn't what my Granny would wear either.  

The only alterations I did were to lop off 2.5" inches from the hem and raise the waist. Yes, raise the waist. I have stretch-marks and fluff, I don't want my abdomen hanging out.

Are you a fan of the yoga pants trend?

                     - Lady T

Saturday, November 10, 2012


Apparently it's the fourth time that's the charm. I now have a T-shirt Master Pattern.

On the last (4th!) attempt, I took in the side-seams 1/4" then shaped them. The revised garment is flattering. Which is not the same as saying I love it.

In all honesty, I prefer my t-shirts more fitted. It's the inner 20-yr-old in me. Like my inner child, my inner sexy babe refuses to acknowledge the passing of time. Too bad my waistline doesn't.... 

Back to the newest t-shirt pattern. There's no more shaping to be had. The side-seams are as shapely as they're ever going to be. The only way I'm going to accomplish a closer fit is by:
a) going tighter (negative ease forces the material to curve to the body)
b) putting in a shaped centre back-seam
c) losing 20 lbs

The problem with:
a) it shows my lumps and bumps
b) it's the extra work plus the non-conventional look (although Banana Republic has done it)
c) - hahaha!

I may add that back-seam on special shirts, otherwise this is it.

The good news is the shoulder-seams sit where I want them, as do the armscye-seams. The sleeves are fitted, which I prefer. Loose sleeves add visual weight to the body and I have enough width without adding extra via floppy sleeves. A tiny bit of negative space between the sleeve and torso is much more flattering. Plus fitted sleeves stay pushed up better.

I owe this post some photos. All my new shirts are in the laundry basket. (I wanted to field test the last one before declaring the pattern a success.)

Pattern: Bianca Sweater from Loes Hinse
Alterations: 1) Moved shoulder seam forward 5/8" at armscye for forward round shoulder. 2) Took in and reshaped the side-seams. This pattern is designed with small tucks on the front, so I removed them at the same time. 3) Lengthened the body by 2". 4) Widened the back bodice armscye 3/8" for my prominent shoulder blades (aka angel wings).
Result: Well pleased with this version. It's my new T-shirt Master Pattern.

Friday, November 02, 2012

Love at First Sight?

Not love. Interested, maybe, as in the uncommitted but definitely intrigued level of enthusiasm. While the other t-shirt patterns in my stash are in no immediate danger of being tossed, they're probably quivering in their paper envelopes a little.

The body of the latest garment was baggy, especially in the back. While Version 2 of the Stretch & Sew French T was hooker tight, Version 1 of the Loes Hinse Bianca (forever to be referred to as Bianca 1 from this day forth) was shapeless and made me feel, well, dowdy. It wasn't flowy and drapey. It was just baggy and shapeless. Like a sweatshirt.

This should come as no surprise. The sides of the pattern are ruler straight. Loes Hinse usually recommends heavy drapey fabric for her garments, and I'm sure heavy drapey fabric would hang and droop in a way that would mold to the body. Think slinky knit. My cotton/spandex knit was perky and bouncy and held its shape. No hanging therefore no shape.

So I ripped it out and tried again. In an attempt to give the back more shape, I took in the back an 1/2" along the side seams but that pulled the side seams to the back.

So I ripped it out and tried again. (I get a lot of entertainment value for my fabric dollar, playing with the same piece over and over like this.) This time I took in both sides equally - 1/4". Better. But still frumpy.

The front is okay. It's the back that bags and sags. This is a common problem for me with loose t-shirts and it's not flattering.

Several times in this quest for the ideal t-shirt pattern, I've thought of adding a back seam for shaping. But it seemed weird, as well as a lot of extra work. Then I saw a Banana Republic t-shirt with a back seam. Hmmmmmmm.... Maybe not so weird?

The fabric in Bianca 1 has provided enough entertainment value. Any more play and I'm in danger of wearing it out. The t-shirt is totally wearable, but it doesn't have the look I'm envisioning.

For the future Bianca 2, I'm going to morph the shapely side seams from French T Version 2 onto it. If that doesn't work, then Bianca 3 will have a back seam.

Do you have a favorite t-shirt? Is it shaped or straight sided?

               - Lady T

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Three Strikes?

A wrinkly Version 1 waving hello
Three strikes and you're out? Or third time lucky?

I'm on a quest to perfect my t-shirt pattern. I love wearing knit tops. They're comfy and versatile. Every season, the pattern books come out with fun variations for this basic garment - ruffles, crossovers, color-blocks, peplums. Ripped, fringed, laced. If I had a TNT (tried 'n' trued) pattern, then tweaking it to accommodate the current trend would be easy-peasy.

Twice I thought I had it.

First time, I managed to lose the pattern. Unthinkable, I know, but there were extenuating circumstances (involving flood, week of Christmas, houseful of guests, lightning speed emergency deconstruction then snail speed reconstruction of entire lower level of house, ie my sewing space).

Second time I thought I'd found my TNT, I realized the sleeve cap was too small for the armscye.

Any sane person would just rework the sleeve cap pattern. But for some reason, that option had about as much appeal as mouldy bread. Vague unspecified displeasure with the pattern perhaps?

Falling for "the grass is always greener" line of thinking, I grabbed the old Stretch and Sew French T's pattern. I've always liked it, and many moons ago, had tinkered with it a bit. So back I went.

Peggy Sagers of Silhouette Patterns recommends using finished garment measurements from your favorite similar-styled clothes when choosing a pattern size. I have an old, old Gap t-shirt that I still wear (but not in public) because I love it so. I measured it - 39.5". It came smack between the S&S medium and large. No problem; I traced between them. I moved the shoulder seam forward 5/8" for my forward shoulders, an alteration I automatically do.

Adjustment for prominent shoulder blades - the red striped area
For Version I, I used a lovely cotton/lycra with good stretch and recovery in a heathery carnation pink. (Photo at the top of the page.) The result was fabulous - except the shoulder area needed tweaking. Narrower front and prominent shoulder blades adjustment, then on to Version 2.

For Version 2, I used a lovely heathered charcoal cotton/lycra knit with excellent stretch and recovery, thicker and stronger than the fabric used in the pink version. Again, the result was fabulous and the fit in the shoulders was looking good. Only problem.... it was tight in the body. Not too tight for a teenager ... but too tight for a grandmother. Especially one with a belly.

Version 2 - cross with itself for being too tight
It took me all day to admit it was too tight. After all, that's akin to admitting you're, er, well, fluffy. Plus the pattern fit on 60"/150cm wide fabric so nicely - less than 1 yard/metre yielded a short sleeved t-shirt.

For some crazy reason, I grabbed Loes Hinse's Bianca Sweater pattern to compare. When I laid Version 2 over Bianca, I nearly fell over. The shoulder/armscye area from Version 2 (which I'd so painstakingly altered) matched the shoulder/armscye area of the Bianca perfectly!

About the body width. <sigh> It was wider - much wider. Approximately 3/4"/2 cm wider per seam - 3"/8cm total. I traced the Bianca, size L, with a sad, yet hopeful heart that this would be The One.

Just so you know I know: 
1) I could've added 3/4"/2cm per seam to Version 2 but Bianca had all the adjustments already built in.
2) Different knits have different stretch and drape, and maybe Version 2 would've worked with a different knit. After all, Version 1, with its slightly stretchier fabric, squeaked through the tightness test. Sandra Betzina recommends having 1" side seam allowances to adjust for the varying stretches of knit fabric. Version 2, with its tiny seam allowances, did not have any "just in case" extra. I will not make that mistake again, even though the short sleeve version of the pattern will no longer fit in 1 yard/1 metre.

For fairness, I'm using the remainder of the heathered charcoal knit from Version 2 to make up the Bianca.

So, is the third the charm? Or am I going to strike out?

                         - Lady T

Saturday, October 27, 2012


One of the problems when dealing with UFOs is the person who finishes the garment has no idea what the person who started it was thinking - even if it's the same person!

While working on a discarded project, it becomes increasing clear that the person who started the stupid thing was right Out to Lunch. What on earth were they doing??? No wonder the thing ended up in the UFO pile. 

Other questions arise such as: Which pattern was used? Were there any construction instructions? Where is the rest of the fabric? What happened to the notions? And, worst of all, why isn't this working?!?

It's like trying to construct a jigsaw puzzle with your teeth - because you're hands are tied behind your back. The pieces may end up chewed and soggy, but the good bit is they flatten back out real nice when you beat them with your forehead.

I decided to start with something easy (ha!) and finish two black-and-white t-shirts I'd cut out and partially sewn at a guild sew-in a couple of years ago. At the time, I figured I could finish them both in that session (double ha!).

The flowered one was almost complete - only the hems were left. I'd planned to coverstitch both shirts when I finished the striped one.

As I worked on the striped shirt, the vague recollection of struggling with the sleeves on the flowered shirt popped to mind. Once again, I realized the sleeve cap was a good 1cm smaller in circumference than the armscye. As with the first shirt, I used the stretchiness of the fabric to compensate, but the stripes ended up a little wonky.

Flower Power and Jailbird have left the UFO pile
Then I noticed the hemline. The stripes were slightly off on it, too. Obviously I'd cut on the fold - both sides at once - instead of as a single layer, which is the way striped fabric should be cut. I was close to finishing, so I continued.

Now that they're done, I can't say that I'm thrilled with either one. While I like the fabrics - especially the flowers - the fit is off. And here's the really weird part - the fit of the striped shirt is worse than the flowered one, even though they were cut at the same time from the same pattern. The shoulders on the striped shirt slide towards the back more.

Is it because the striped fabric was slightly off grain? Or is it the difference between the two knit fabrics (flower - poly/lycra, stripe - cotton/lycra)? 

At any rate, time to celebrate this (flawed) victory. Two t-shirts have officially exited the UFO pile. Alas, many still to follow.

What about you? Any UFO sightings around your sewing area?

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

UFO Sightings

Pile of UFOs on and beside the Singer table.
See the basket below? It may get filled....
This is the pile of UFOs (unfinished objects) I found yesterday while shovelling out my sewing room. <sigh> So many. So many!

How I loathe UFOs. There's usually a very good reason for abandoning a project. The Big 3 are: 1) fitting problem, 2) construction problem or 3) something more urgent/enticing came along. Often it's 1 or 2, and then 3 appears, so I tuck the offending garment away.

I'm determined to work my way through the stack. Either the garment will be finished or it will be tossed. None will be left half-done. The trick is to figure out how to clear the pile without  tossing them all out (bad) or losing my mind (worse).

Cleaning up my sewing sanctuary took all day yesterday. I went overboard and tackled the pattern storage problem too, culling a few.

Cutting table (as uncluttered as it gets)
Here's the end result.
Other sewing area. This Singer is the treadle
twin to the one with the stack of UFOs

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Buzz Killer

For me, this is the worst sewing buzz killer:

Yep, that's my sewing table. Messy isn't it? And that's just the table! There is stuff piled on every surface. Mounds of it. I'm too embarrassed to show it all. Let's just say, that's the cleanest part of the room. I'll let you imagine the rest.

The problem is I love all things sewing. Fabric. Patterns. Thread, Trims. Elastics. Magazines. This much passion requires diligent organization. Or else the above happens.

In my defence, we've been doing a big kitchen renovation. (Yay!) Stuff was dumped in the sewing room that shouldn't have been. (Boo!) Worst of all, I didn't organize the things that did belong in there. (Double boo!)

Things piled up. Newly purchased stuff. Half-finished projects. Patterns under consideration and the fabrics that might go with them. 

In spite of the chaos, I really, really wanted to sew, so I decided to ignore it. I shifted stuff around, clearing whichever surface I needed at the moment. As you can imagine, mixing the piles like that added to the disorganization. If there'd been any order before, it was gone after the scoop-and-dump of quickly cleared surfaces.

Being creative in a messy space is difficult for me. It distracts me, kills my sewing mojo. Although it's a terrible waste of perfectly good sewing time, I have to conquer the chaos. I have to organize that mess.


Monday, October 22, 2012

Making a Splash

Kwik Sew 3153, which was almost a UFO
Summer officially ended a month ago, and I just finished my swimsuit. <sigh> Let's pretend I'm really, really early for next year's beach weather. Besides, it's so gorgeous, I have to forgive myself for being pokey. The end result was worth the wait!

I used Kwik Sew 3153. It's a tank-style suit, with a shelf bra and a back band with a hook closure. I traced the medium, my standard Kwik Sew size, and lengthened the bodice by an inch below the waist. Next time, I'm going to flatten the front leg curve a little so it follows the curve of my leg crease instead of curving up in the torso. Small detail.

I'm also going to widen the back band a tad. It's a bit skimpy and, I feel, out of proportion with my broad linebacker's back. I know most people like skimpy backs for tanning, but as I usually just burn, the tanning appeal is lost on me.

The fabric is a nylon-lycra knit bought at Ann's Fabric Shop in Hamilton, Ontario. (If you're in the Niagara region, check out this store! I never leave there without a bulging bag of material.)

As you can see from the photos, the print is a bold mix of blue and green swirling lines. My chief concern, when cutting it out, was that none of those lines swirl into my crotch.

I cut the front on the fold and - you guessed it! - the underside had a misplaced swirl. Disappointing but no big deal as I had more fabric. So I cut out the front again, using the first one as the pattern (after double-checking the swirl positions). Success! The first cut piece then became the full-front lining.

Powernet shelf bra continues into back band.
Foam cup inserts
For the shelf bra, I used flesh-colored powernet, the fabric used in bras. It's not as stretchy as the swimsuit fabric, which is the reason I used it. I don't need "the girls" bouncing all over the place, or worse, sagging. Powernet lets me keep my bosom where I want it. The back band is also lined with powernet.

Some people use powernet for front and back linings. The power in powernet smooths bumps and slims bulges. It acts, in essence, like built-in Spanx. However, that figure control comes with a cost - the swimsuit is much warmer (as in hot!) and the feeling of all-torso compression gets to most people within an hour or two. So I voted no to the powernet lining, even though my figure could use the help.

In the shelf bra, I inserted foam cups. They add shape (remember the compressing power of powernet) and offer protection from cold-water show through of the twin peaks.

I used 3/8"/1cm chlorine-friendly swimsuit elastic along the outer edges as the 1/4" didn't feel substantial enough. This lyrca print has a lot of built-in oomph, and I felt the narrower elastic would lose the battle of who's in control.

The straps are also lined in powernet to control their stretchiness, and each outside edge is finished with elastic. (The pattern has one strip of elastic going up the middle, with both edges turned over it.) My straps still stretch but they don't sag, even after swimming. Plus they're a tad wider which is more in proportion with my broad shoulders.

Blurry photo of 3-thread coverstitch finishing
All elasticised edges were stitched with a 3-thread coverstitch. This looked fabulous - especially on the straps - and was easy-peasy until I had to attach the straps to the back band and add the back fastening. Then it all went south.... To be fair, it was finished garment piece being sewn to finished garment piece, so there were a lot of layers of print fabric, powernet, and elastic. More than one needle broke, and more than one curse was uttered. These final stitches were sewn with my regular sewing machine, slowly and carefully, but still a needle broke.

It's a cute pattern, easy to sew. It's comfy, has great coverage. Next time I'll use a 2-thread coverstitch for finishing as there are fewer needles to break. I'm thrilled it's done; this poor swimsuit had been buried in my UFO (unfinished objects) pile for several months.

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Tale of Two Dresses, Part 1,000

"Joan" at the office (undergoing renovations)
Ms Better Than The Best (aka Ms BTTB) recently send me some photos of her modelling the dress from Tale of Two Dress, Part 2. Gorgeous!  So Joan from Mad Men. I love the bold print. No fading into the background for our Ms BTTB!  

In my mind's eye, I am picturing another version, this time made from a heavy knit, with the skirt tapered....

Bold in turquoise/black/white stretch woven

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Alien Abductions and UFOs

Imagine the following spoken by Maxwell Smart. "Would you believe I was abducted by a fleet of aliens? ... No? ... How about 2 aliens? ... What about a man in a spacesuit?"

Aliens. That has be it. How else could I explain a 3-month absence?

As proof that I'm not making this up, I'm going to show you an honest-to-goodness UFO. A sewing UnFinished Object.

Several months ago, I started this self-drafted skirt with SC. She finished hers, but unfortunately I stalled half-way through my waistband. (Can you imagine, it was already hemmed!) The abandoned skirt lay like a limp rag in my to-do pile.

Dear readers, I don't know if you've noticed this yet, but I seem to have a teeny problem finishing things. I'm sure this character flaw has something to do with the previously mentioned alien abductions. The Extraterrestrials must've started when I was very young and impressionable.

The rewards of finishing a project!

Annoyed with myself, I unearthed it from the pile (I'm sad to say there were several new pieces on top of it). After contemplating my options (the reason I had stalled previously - indecisiveness), I decided to insert a piece of thick, non-twist waistband elastic to help compensate for my expanding/shrinking waistline. I closed the seam and presto the job was done!

Here I am wearing it. As you can see, I'm enjoying a celebratory glass. It's not every day you overcome to-do pile gravity!

              - Lady T

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Gauging the Gauge, or Knitting Hell

Instruments of torture?
I’m not sure whether I’m numerically challenged or have the most uncoordinated hands in the world. Maybe both.

This past weekend, I tried to knit a sweater in the round using Elizabeth Zimmermann’s EPS method (Elizabeth’s Percentage System). Basically this entails multiplying your body measurement by your knitting gauge (stitches per inch) to determine the number of stitches needed. Success rests on determining the gauge accurately.

Which is how I fell into the blackest hole of Knitting Hell. Twice I managed to resurface and make another attempt, only to be sucked back down again.

Let me tell you the sad, sad tale.

After knitting about 6” of Version 1, the instructions said to measure the garment to make sure the width was what I expected, so I did. The measurement indicated I was short 3”.

Disappointing, but not fatal. I recalibrated my gauge, using the 6” of the first version to count stitches. According to this count, my original gauge was off by 1 stitch per inch. So for Version 2, I increased the number of stitches and added another inch of width for good luck. As I knitted round and round, it occurred to me this version seemed a little big. At the designated 6” mark, I measured again, and discovered I was wrong. It wasn’t a little big, it was w-a-y too big.

Once again, I checked and rechecked my gauge. Crazy as it seemed, Version 1’s gauge was correct. What!?! How could Version 1’s gauge be right if the garment measured too small?

When I’d abandoned Version 1, I’d cut the wool off the ball instead of unravelling it and reusing it. So I still had the original 6” of knitting intact (sadly, not still on the needles). I pulled the unfinished mess over my head, only to discover it fit perfectly. Unfortunately too many stitches had come undone for me to simply slide it back on my needles and continue on.

I was stumped. How could I have goofed so badly?

My best guess is the 2x2 ribbing on the bottom of the sweater must’ve pulled it in nicely (as it is supposed to) which affected the measurement when I checked at  6”. I figure the pull of the ribbing had also affected the gauge count.

Frustrating but the solution was obvious. I would simply begin – again – using the original number of stitches. After all, Version 1’s mini-sweater fit nicely. So I unravelled Versions 1 & 2, and rewound the wool on the ball, ready to be used in Version 3.

The twist that keeps on twisting
When knitting in the round, you must be careful to straighten the cast-on stitches and make sure they are not twisted before knitting them.

Yep, you guessed it....

Even though I’d straightened and restraightened that cast-on row, one little twist must’ve snuck in. Trying to fix a twist is like trying to straighten a moebius strip – you can follow the twist round and round forever, but it will never lay flat. 


Which leads me to another puzzle, dear readers. Why is the Devil depicted carrying a pitch fork? After my visit to Knitting Hell, I know those sharp prongs are really knitting needles.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Tale of Two Dresses Part 3

Ms BTTB proving that No One is
Better Than the Best
The excitement of the two dresses just never ends! Ms Better Than The Best (Ms BTTB) recently sent me a photo of her wearing her dress from the night of the Big Event. This was taken pre-party.

The "fun element" for the night was a masked dance - reminiscent of the old Regency era masked balls, but with shorter dresses, and very few Earls and Viscounts. Instead of wearing her feathery eye-piece on her face, Ms BTTB turned hers into a fascinator and wore it on her head, a la Royal wedding guest hat. Cute, isn't it? More than one fellow guest wished they'd come up with that idea for theirs.

            - Lady T

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Mother's Day & Sewing Spaces

Happy Mother’s Day to all of you who nurture others. To me, that’s what mothering is all about – nurturing. Just about all aspects of good mothering seem to fall under nurturing if you work on it long enough, ie: disciplining = nurturing, enforcing curfew/homework/chores = nurturing, teaching child to drive = nurturing. Even ignoring them can be seen as nurturing as it “encourages” the child to develop the ability to self-entertain. (See, you can twist anything around if you try hard enough.)

Nurturing and the kitchen are a natural linkage. For me, so was nurturing and the sewing room. The fact that my little darlings did not always appreciate this form of mothering is the subject of another post. (Anyone else hear things like, “I want Ocean Pacific/Gap/Espirit shorts, not mom-made ones!”? Of course you did. It was their way of nurturing you – inspiring you improve your skills so the garments in question didn’t look mom-made.)

In spite of their former reluctance towards custom-made/mom-made things, all three of my daughters sew and have good basic machines in their homes. Sometimes when I visit them, I get a chance to noodle around on their machines, which is fun. What’s not so fun is their sewing rooms, or rather, the lack of them.

Portable sewing on the dining table
Two of them sew at their dining table, the other has a nook in the hallway right by the front door. The pressing area goes wherever there is space and an electrical plug. All the arrangements require setting up and taking down (and in the case of my oldest daughter, baby-proofing the area afterwards).

I remember sewing like this back in the day, but I’d forgotten how time consuming and enthusiasm dampening it could be. It takes huge drive to dig out everything, set it up, and put it all away every time you want to create. And the organization! It’s so easy to misplace parts, like pressing hams and tracing paper. Sewing has so many bits and pieces besides a machine and an iron.

Let me assure you that I am not criticising their sewing areas. They have limited space and don’t have the room. That they are willing to sew at all I consider a marvel.

It’s made me realize how truly blessed I am to have a dedicated creative area with a door I can close when things get messy. I can leave projects half-finished, and ignore the scraps on the floor. If I didn’t have this luxury of space, well, I don’t know how much I would sew.

To those who sew in “portable” sewing spaces, I tip my hat to you. You rock!

                      - Lady T

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Fabulousness in Ottawa

Do you rank things? I do. Even though the world is blissfully unaware of my contests, I hold them and declare winners. Since sewing is dear to my heart, it should come as no surprise that I hold secret and private contests involving all things fabric. 

Today I'm ready to make an announcement.  

Grand Winner: Darrell Thomas on Preston Street 
The winner of Lady T’s Favourite Fabulous Fabric Store in Canada award goes to... drum roll please... Darrell Thomas Textiles in Ottawa, Ontario.

This pronouncement does not come without due consideration. Over the years, I've auditioned many, many fabric stores. My husband declares I have built-in fabric store radar. If we drive though a town that has one, chances are I'll find it without even trying. It's spooky.

Lady T and Darrell - he hates having his picture taken
but kindly agrees, providing I join him.
Darrell Thomas Textiles wins hands down. This independent store is chockablock full of fabulous fabrics and notions. The offerings are exquisite – Versace, Armani, Burberry – big names for a small store. Even the notions are drool-worthy; Darrell Thomas has the nicest interfacings I’ve ever seen; other stores may offer more varieties, but this one carries the best. The customer service is unbelievable – once I saw Darrell invite a customer who’d run aground on her sewing project into the classroom and help her past the roadblock. A-maz-ing.
My purchases: Burberry lining, 2 silky fusible interfacings, fine wool
Beautiful navy Australian wool, milled in Italy

In an era when many (most?) independent fabric stores have gone the way of the dodo bird, it’s comforting to see one going strong. I stop in every time I’m in the area. 

Lady T and T&G at the Tulip Festival
Another fabulous attraction – The Ottawa Tulip Festival! Bed after bed of gorgeous colour, it not only dazzles the eye but uplifts the heart.

But dearest to my heart, my most favourite fabulous attraction in Ottawa is DD#2, aka Tall & Gorgeous (T&G). Luckily for me, she enjoys accompanying me when I visit the other favourite fabulous Ottawa attractions.

           - Lady T

Thursday, May 03, 2012

The Tale of Two Dresses - Part 2

Pin-basted together with the darts on the outside.
Getting a feel for the hem length.
Nothing is more inspiring than success!

After her triumph with the black knit party dress, Ms Better Than the Best was eager to sew again. She decided a sheath dress (or two or three) would be a great addition to her wardrobe. A good-fitting sheath dress flatters the curvy figure and makes getting dressed in the morning a cinch. With a tested tried ’n’ true pattern, Ms BTTB knew she could create some interesting variations on a theme with different necklines and fabrics.

Finding a good basic sheath dress pattern proved to be harder than expected. Several “almosts” had full skirts, or slits, or weird design lines, or no sleeves. Finally she found one she liked: McCalls 2401. It features bust and waist darts, straight skirt, sleeves and a simple neckline. Unfortunately it is not one of the pick-your-cup-size patterns.

Deciding which size to use is a challenge for anyone, but it’s especially hard for a curvy girl. Using the full bust measurement is a recipe for disaster. In the end, she chose the size she thought would best fit her shoulders and neckline, and would do the full bust adjustment for the bodice. A good solution, especially as I was around to help drape-fit the pattern.

After a quick tissue-fitting, and pattern altering, the dress was cut out of muslin and basted together. Not bad, but the darts needed adjusting, which is easy to do in the muslin format because you can add or cut away fabric. While I was working on one side of the dress, I could see the fabric was trying to form French darts. (French darts start from the side seam, around the waist, and  angle up to the bust. It’s a very flattering line.) I pinned it out and we took a look. Nice!

Close-up of the two French darts, pin-basted together on the
outside. I like the way they subtly shape the dress.
Just for fun, I split the French dart into two – one above the other – and the result was gorgeous! From the one pattern, Ms BTTB now has two looks – the standard bust-and-waist-darts, and the draped French darts.

Unfortunately, our sewing time ran out before we finished the project. For our final fitting, the French dart dress, cut out of the fashion fabric, was pin-basted together with the darts on the right side. The lines looked good on this inside-out version, and appeared to be in the right place. So far, so good.

I’m eagerly awaiting the finished version.

      - Lady T

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Tale of Two Dresses, Part 1

Nobody's Better Than the Best! (aka Ms BTTB)
Sometimes I think I fret too much – sweat the small stuff. The thought gained momentum recently when I was lucky enough to catch some quality sewing time with my youngest daughter.

An aside: In a past post, I referred to my youngest daughter as DD#3, which, strictly speaking she is, but she is much, much more than that, so I wanted blog-name that would better reflect her wonderfulness. This is a tad difficult, since I already picked the perfect name for her at birth. Then I remembered a handle she gave herself when she was young, said in one long, loud, fast breath, “I’m The Best and Nobody’s Better Than the Best!” (Can you picture her siblings’ reactions?) For brevity’s sake, I’m going to use the initials from the last part of that long-winded moniker, Better Than the Best, so I hereby christen her Ms BTTB. The Best would be a simpler nickname but if I wrote that, her siblings might develop strange notions about our family dynamics that would take years of intense therapy to undo.

A second aside: I am also a DD#3, and I was called The Boss. Hmmmmm.

Anyhoo, back on topic....

Ms BTTB had a fancy function to attend – a masked dance. My poor little Cinderella had a flat wallet. However, in her cupboard, she had a long length of black cotton-spandex knit material (aka t-shirt fabric). With only an idea in her head (no pattern) for a drapey dress, she chopped, chopped, chopped into that fabric and made basically two rectangles. Gathering it on one side about halfway down, she sewed it together, leaving the prerequisite spaces for head and arms and legs. Ms BTTB tried it on, decided it was butt ugly, and tossed the homely thing in the corner.

Time passed. Unfortunately, her wallet didn’t gain any weight. Necessity being the Mother of Invention, she picked it up, dusted it off, and tried it on again. Assessing the design, Ms Better Than The Best decided she liked the cowl neckline, but lumpy, dumpy middle ruined the silhouette. She pinched, she twisted, she created magic. When she was finished, Ms BTTB had an interesting asymmetrical, sleeveless, cowl-neck dress. The addition of a bit of bling on the side twist took the garment up that final notch. Voila! A gorgeous dress!

Button sewn on the edge of cowl
However, don’t focus too closely on the finishing detail. The seams... well, they stayed together. The hem... unfinished is au courant. The super-long facing in the back... turns out it helps smooth bra-band area nicely.

Button creating weight - imagine
it hidden inside
Button hooked on bridge of bra, creating
a stationary, non-risque neckline

One detail was sheer brilliance. On the bottom of the cowl, Ms BTTB sewed on a small clear button. It adds weight, so the cowl hangs nicely. Better still, the button can be tucked into the bridge of the bra, creating a sharp, low V that stays in place and doesn’t show anything. Nada.

Ready to party!
What I love best is the joie de vie that went into this creation. Sure, the dress spent some time balled up in the corner. But enthusiasm started the project, and enthusiasm finished the dress. With the goal firmly in mind, BTTB went at it, full steam ahead. She put her heart in it.

I wanna sew like that.
         - Lady T

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Couture Trouser Class with Jon Moore

L-R: BAD, Jon Moore, and Lady T
Some days you hit it lucky. You’re in the right place at the right time. That was me last summer when the email from Kathryn Brenne’s Academy of Fine Sewing popped up on my computer announcing the Couture Trouser Class with Jon Moore. I jabbed the Reply button so eagerly, I almost dislocated my finger.

Good thing my reflexes were so fast; the class sold out immediately. Anyone who hesitated or was vegging on vacation ended up on the waiting list.

They missed a most excellent class.

As I discovered last year when I took his Couture Jacket Tailoring class, Jon is a fabulous teacher. Skilled, knowledgeable, and experienced – he’s also surprisingly modest. I didn’t realize why he was so skilled, knowledgeable and experience until after last year’s class when I googled him. Most people talk up their credentials, but not Jon, not even on his own website. He didn’t just work for The Royal Couturier Hardy Amies, he was a Royal Couturier. (Just imagine, he’s custom fit me and the Queen! Now that’s a not-to-be-expected-in-this-life combination.)

My trouser draft

As a student, I especially appreciated his inexhaustible patience and his ability to explain why one (time-consuming) technique was used instead of another (simpler). By the way, the answer always centred around control of the fabric, which reigns supreme in couture sewing.

For the first step, I drafted a pattern using my personal measurements. The crotch curve was the trickiest line to get right. Jon corrected the line on my draft, then further refined it on my muslin. The end result was something that looked like it had truly been designed for me. (Not too surprising, since it had, but it still came as a shock that my pants fit so well.)

My dainty behind highlighted in muslin
Once my pattern had been adjusted, I cut out the pieces from the softest, lightest, drapiest wool flannel ever. No lining for the legs, though. Jon feels that lining interferes with the fabric’s ability to stretch and drape. Plus it’s very difficult to press lined trousers. If a lining is needed, he prefers the wearer to don a trouser “slip”.

Immediately after the trouser pieces had been cut out, I finished the raw edges with a simple zigzag stitch, with the zig on the fabric and the zag falling off the edge. Alternate methods: hand overcasting (traditional couture seam-finishing technique that barely changes the hand of the fabric), or serging (standard RTW and/or home sewing technique that can be stiff and bulky). As I always race the clock during classes (and usually lose), I was happy to use the quick, but still unobtrusive, zigzag option.

Lined fly and yet-to-be-lined contour waistband
The zipper fly was constructed with two separate facing pieces plus a lining. The lining wrapped around the fly facing creating a mock piping edge. It was a time-consuming construction process but unbelievably elegant.

By far, the lined contour waistband took the longest to construct, involving oodles of basting, stab-stitching, crossing-stitching and fell-stitching. The entire waistband was interfaced with canvas, giving the rest of the pants a firm foundation from which to hang. Again, it’s a time-consuming technique but oh so elegant!

SAW from Ohio
KH from British Columbia

Lady T's squishy tushy (Hey! How did those drag lines get there?)
All in all, it was a fab week. I ended up with a great fitting pattern, a fuller understanding of couture sewing, and the inspiration/synergy that comes from spending a week with a dozen highly creative people. 

    - Lady T