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Sunday, January 29, 2012

Missing Stud

Indulge me for a moment, please. When my out-of-town husband (one of the faithful followers of this blog) reads today’s title, he’s going to experience a little zing, thinking I mean him. Of course I do, dear readers, of course I do.

It has nothing to do with a missing stud package. The Prym stud rivets I need to reinforce the stress points on my jeans. The finishing touch that will magically transform my jeans from home-made to custom-made. Most garments have subtle details like this that take them to the next level. Topstitching, size of buttons, angle of a hem. Many of these finishing touches are so small the eye doesn’t consciously notice. But the brain does.

So I want my stud.

Which one? That’s for you, dear reader, to figure out....

     -      Lady T

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

I Dream of Jean(nie), Part One

Today's entry has a soundtrack. It's the theme song from I Dream of Jeannie, an old, old television show about an astronaut who ends up with a sexy genie and her bottle. I’ve been humming it under my breath all day while assembling bits of denim.

Rumour has it that jeans are hard to sew, which is why I’ve never tried before. Let me dispel that myth here and now. They’re not. At least I haven’t found the task difficult so far. (I hope I'm not jinxing myself....)

Perhaps I should amend that: jeans are not hard to sew provided you have a sewing machine that can handle the job. An old-fashion, basic, straight-stitch machine, like Lady Singer (my new-to-me vintage Singer 15-91) is perfect. A modern machine may have the power for the job, or it may not. The only way to find out is stick a wad of denim under the presser foot and see if the machine chokes or chugs through. Be careful, though – you don’t want to break the machine or the needle.

Personally, I think the hard part of sewing jeans is getting a good fit. Most people wear their denim snug, so there’s not a lot of wiggle room for getting it right. <groan, bad pun> Seams can be taken in or let out, provided there’s enough seam allowance. But some fitting issues must be dealt with in the cutting stage, like the baggy bit under my butt shown in an earlier post.

While I was researching sewing jeans, I came across Jennifer Stern’s blog. Jennifer has her own pattern line, J Stern Designs and is a fabulous instructor (Sawyer Brook, PatternReview, and her blog). She believes if you’re between pattern sizes, go with the smaller one because it’s easier to add a little at the side seams than it is to get rid of the excess fabric that comes with a larger size. Interesting point and totally opposite to the go-bigger-just-in-case theory of pattern sizing. Jennifer also suggests taking key measurements (high hip, thigh) from a good-fitting pair of RTW jeans, and comparing them to the pattern. Peggy Sagers, from Silhouette Patterns, also champions taking measurements from clothing you like and comparing the numbers to the pattern’s. (Maybe if I hear it enough, I’ll actually do it.)

Unfortunately, I did not read these excellent bits of fitting advice until after I had made my muslin. Oh well.  

Here’s my progress thus far:
Simple pocket detail for trial pair
Topstitching at 1/8" and 1/4" from seamline

Pocket in, fly finished
More tomorrow!

           - Lady T

Sunday, January 22, 2012


Today starts of the fourth week of 2012, and already I’m running behind. See why I have this blog? Without the weekly flip of the calendar, I would’ve never noticed how non-productive I’ve been. Sometimes ignorance is bliss.

Last week I heard from Karen at Wild Ginger. Her suggestions for improving my PMB sloper include raising the waistline, moving the shoulder points, and reducing the width of my waist. The next step is inputting the revised numbers into my PMB program, printing a new pattern and sewing a new fitting garment. That means there is nothing more to do on this sloper, its job is done.  Project 2: check.

Next up, jeans. But not just any jeans. I’m making mine from a vintage 1980’s Stretch and Sew pattern, Designer Jeans #716 purchased this fall on eBay. High waist, straight leg, with a flattering tummy-flattening pocket stay – how could I resist? The last time I liked how I looked in jeans was in a pair like this. Can history repeat itself? I sure hope so!

Right before Christmas, I whipped together a muslin using discount rack denim softened in Coca-Cola*. The fit wasn’t bad. I took it in a smidge in the hips, plus took a tuck out of the upper back thigh to get rid of the flappy fabric under the behind. Now that Projects 1 and 2 are done, I’m free to work on these jeans. Today I took out the basting, and altered the pattern. Fortunately I was able to recut the pattern using the original denim pieces, so I’m going to use them again to make my trial pair.

Wish me luck!

*The tip to use Coca-Cola in the wash cycle to soften denim comes from Peggy Sager of Silhouette Patterns.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Catch of the Day

This morning I went fishing in the waters of our local Kijiji and caught a big one – a thirty pounder at least! A fabulous 1936 Singer 15-91straight-stitch sewing machine in a classic wooden cabinet.  

My new-to-me Singer 15-91
The machine is not in mint condition, but she has been thoughtfully used and doesn’t have any major battle scars. Her decals are still bright, and the black paint is mostly shiny with a few knicks.  Best of all, she is clean and in working condition, and purred the moment I pressed the foot pedal. Her curvy silhouette, that little flash of gold – she looks great for an old babe.

Unfortunately the poor dear came naked, without any accessories or manual, but those were problems easily remedied. The 15-91 has the same size feet as my Featherweight, so the girls can share. I downloaded her operational manual from the internet, so that was a non-issue.

Not only was she naked, but (I hate to mention it) she smelled a little. I won’t say she inhaled, but it was clear she had the habit of hanging around smokers. I scrubbed her down and wiped away a lot of brown film. In the process, I discovered her pretty cabinet had suffered another indignity – cellophane tape! That’s right, somebody had stuck miscellaneous bits on her table top. I wonder if it was the same naughty person who crayoned on the bottom of two of the drawers. (Actually, I think the crayon marks are rather cute.) The cabinet has drawers on one side, the other side features a cubby hole that’s exactly the right size to hold a phone book. Did Lady Singer moonlight as a telephone stand in her younger days?

Don’t be misled; although she is quietly understated, Lady Singer has personality. She prefers that her bobbins be inserted backwards, so they turn counter-clockwise in the bobbin-case. Needles, she insists, must be installed with the flat edge facing left, and thread run through the eye from right to left. As she’s 76 years old, she’s rather set in her ways, and I must respect her preferences.

Doesn't she look right at home?
Still, she is a gentle soul. You only have to press her foot pedal to realize it. Nothing flashy, no wild shaking, no loud noise. With quiet competence, Lady Singer produces row after row of perfect straight stitches. She infuses the atmosphere with a sense of calm assurance.

What are your thoughts about vintage sewing machines? Think their day has come and gone? Or do you feel they’ll still be sewing strong when the newer models are bits of broken plastic?

-             Lady T

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Not So Tried and True

Have you ever been about to cut into fabric and had something stop you? A niggling doubt? An inner voice shouting halt? It happened to me with Project 1.

I laid out my tried’n’true t-shirt pattern on a beautiful piece of navy interlock.  The scissors were poised to take their first snip when my sewing muse whispered in my ear, “Didn’t you find the sleeves a little wonky the last time you used this pattern?”

I paused. Did I?

It had been awhile, so I had to remember which t-shirt my muse was referring to. Oh yes, the black-and-white striped one I’d tossed in the UFO (UnFinished Object) pile in frustration. (There’s a moral here, folks.) When I’d tried to insert the sleeve into the bodice, I’d discovered the sleeve’s seam-line was too short and I had to stretch it to make it fit. This misaligned the stripes across the chest, which irritated me, which is why the poor thing ended up in the UFO pile.

Thinking about it some more, I realized the first two shirts I’d sewn with the pattern also had suffered from this flaw, but I’d thought the wonky ripples around the armholes were caused by sewing error, not a pattern mistake. The first shirts were made in mistake-hiding solid coloured fabrics; it was the misaligned stripes that twigged me to the problem.

I went back to the pattern and measured the seam-line on the bodice armhole and the seam-line on the sleeve. I discovered the sleeve was missing 1” (2.5cm), which is a lot. To fix the problem, I raised the top of the sleeve cap a smidge, and widened the sleeve cap slope so it wasn’t so steep, and this made up the missing amount.

I don’t know if the error is in the original pattern or if I caused it when I altered for a forward shoulder. Does it really matter? The important point is there was an error in my tried’n’true pattern that needed to be fixed.

Some people think this is a lot of fuss for one pattern – a basic t-shirt at that. The payoff for developing a tried’n’true pattern is the confidence it gives you when you sew: you know how the garment will fit, and a good fit greatly increases the odds of a project’s success.

I live in t-shirts. They fit my lifestyle. Maybe I'm delusional, but I feel a figure-conscious cut takes a t-shirt from frumpy to flattering. Styled with interesting necklaces or colorful scarves, the look bumps up to casually chic. T-shirts can slide unobtrusively under jackets, or be bejewelled and become showstoppers. What’s not to like? For me, a good-fitting t-shirt a wardrobe basic and worth every minute spent perfecting its pattern.

Besides, I have big plans for this t-shirt pattern. Want a hint? Check out Wendy Mullin’s Sew U: The Home Stretch.

Are you a t-shirt person, or are they too casual for your taste?

Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Stash Buster Sewing Challenge

Do you have interlopers in your stash pile, odd pieces of fabric that leave you shaking your head and questioning your judgement? What was I thinking when I bought that?

I’ve noticed a correlation between how long I’ve owned a piece of material and its suitability. The longer it’s been in my stash, the less likely it will be used. Of course, that’s not a hard and fast rule. Some pieces are bought for the future. But the question is, will that future ever come?

Only Nonpareils, those with the strongest wills, the clearest heads, will have fabric stashes devoid of any ill-advised purchases. The rest of us are fated to own a few oddball pieces that don’t have a snowball’s chance of ever being used – by us, at least.

Enter my Sewing Guild and its newfound love of sewing contests. Let’s swap stash orphans, our Past-President suggested. I take yours, you take mine, and each of us has to make at least one garment with these fabric foundlings. Enthusiastic agreement propelled the notion from fabulous idea to Fabric Challenge.

This inventive lady collected bags and bags of our under-loved stash pieces, and using a creative eye, she turned the odd assortment of fabrics into Challenge Bundles.

Ever one to enjoy a creative challenge, I signed on. Unfortunately, I got last pick.

My favourite bundles were snatched up early. However, I was lucky enough to get one that had caught my eye. It featured a heavy red/black/bronze paisley-print polyester knit that was paired with a fine taupe rayon woven. The colour combination was unusual but pleasing.

Now that it’s mine all mine, I can’t envision how to use this mishmash of fabric types together. Plus a couple of other stumbling blocks, such as I never wear red. Or paisley.

Folks, there’s a reason it’s called a Challenge. I have until the March meeting to create my ensemble. Otherwise it’s two new oddball pieces for my fabric stash.

            - Lady T

Friday, January 13, 2012

A Wild Time with Wild Ginger

The faithful few have been peering at my static pages, wondering when the next blog entry will appear. Alas, I haven’t fallen down a manhole or been whisked away by a seductive man. My blogging life has been derailed by more mundane stuff than that, like writing a sewing guild newsletter, and attending meetings, and drinking wine. Ok, the latter wasn’t mundane, especially since it was with a seductive man. (I said I hadn’t been whisked away by one, I didn’t say there wasn’t one.)

All this has put me way behind. My apologies. First up, Project 1, the t-shirt made from a tried-n-true (ha!) pattern. It’s done. I’ll share the nitty-gritty and some  photos when I figure out how to insert pictures in the blog. Most of the faithful few already know I’m technically inept, so this learning bump will not come as a surprise to them.

Second up, sewing guild meeting. That event deserves an entry of its own, so I’m skipping right over it and moving on to point three, the focus of today's blog, Pattern Master Boutique. (PMB is a pattern-drafting computer program from Wild Ginger.)

Wild Ginger is on Version 5 of PMB. I jumped in at Version 3. I must confess, I didn’t have a lot of success with the program and never got a fitting muslin that I liked. As a result, PMB sat in my computer, gathering cyber dust. At the time, I didn’t know much about pattern drafting or fitting, and I got lost. Sewing buddy NM continued on, and made lots of lovely clothes with her program.

When Version 5 came out, NM persuaded me to upgrade and try again. This time, I had lots of fitting experience (the Big 4 pattern companies – Vogue, Butterick, McCall’s, and Simplicity – don’t fit me either) and I’d learned a few things about manual pattern drafting, so I felt ready.

Wednesday,  NM and I, along with fellow PMBer BE, got together to make fitting slopers. In turn, the three of us stripped to our skivvies and were measured. (Let’s just gloss over my imperfect acceptance of my imperfect middle-aged body.)

Version 5’s measurement chart is much simpler than Version 3’s, and we zipped through. The only point of debate was the shoulder point location. We spent a bit of time discussing the importance of a good fitting shoulder and how the fit of the whole garment depends on it. Somehow I missed actually reading the instructions for measuring the shoulder point because PMB clearly states where it is, and it wasn’t where I put it. Sigh. What can I say? It was an interesting philosophical sewing discussion.

After entering our measurements into the computer, the printer spit out the pages for our patterns. Assembling the pattern takes a few minutes but isn’t hard. Each corner is marked with a quarter of a circle. When the edges of four adjoining pages come together properly, you get a full circle in the corner. Easy peasy. Pattern to fabric, cut fabric to sewing machine, and presto! our finished sloper.

The fitting sloper is a basic, tight-fitting sheath dress with sleeves. The front has side and waist darts, and a jewel neckline. The back has waist darts and a CB zipper. A plain-jane dress.

Round 1 of the slopers turned out surprisingly well. All of us have tweaking to do, and we’ll probably email Wild Ginger for their input (which they encourage you to do), but the general idea is right. Except for my sleeve/shoulder area, which was my fault for not using the correct shoulder point. The upper arm area felt a little snug, as if it was a size too small. Although the other ladies told me the sloper looked good, all I saw was King Kong wearing Fay Wray’s dress.

(An aside: Nothing reveals your figure flaws like wearing a plain, tight dress. Every mouthful of those Christmas goodies are present and accounted for.... )

Later that evening, after reading the measuring instructions and realizing the shoulder point mistake, I asked my husband to redo the shoulder point measurements.  Round 2 of the great sloper quest– much better! The tweaks are the very same ones I make on commercial patterns – forward shoulder, swayback, hollow chest. Won’t it be grand to have these adjustments built-in to the pattern!?! (Or am I expecting too much?)

I’ve sent some photos and my measurement chart to Wild Ginger for their assistance. You know my guesses as to what I think they’ll say I need to adjust. I wonder if we'll agree?

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Who's On First?

Decisions, decisions, decisions. Sewing always involves so many decisions. What to sew? Which fabric to use? Who to make it for? Sometimes a project gets bogged down before it even gets started.

Take Project #1 as an example. The choices are so wide open, it’s almost overwhelming. I have a closetful of fabric, a filing cabinet filled with patterns, and a houseful of people clamouring for something new to wear.  What to sew shouldn’t be a hard decision, but it is. Sometimes too much choice is just as bad as none. 

Some parameters would help. Since there aren’t any real ones, I’ll create a few artificial ones:

1.       It must be a garment.
2.       I shall be the lucky recipient. (Elaine of The Selfish Seamstress would approve.)
3.       The project must be quick and easy, so I will can bask in the feeling of accomplishment. (Therefore the winter jacket  is out.)
4.       I must use a tried and trued (TnT) pattern.

I feed the criteria into the local high speed data bank (aka my brain) and - bing! – out pops the answer. A knit top! Given the sorry state of my t-shirt collection, this is an excellent project. Now to find a worthy fabric...

Do you ever stall your creative energy with indecision?

              Lady T