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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Sewing Rebel

Construction guideline sheets in pattern envelopes are a mixed blessing. On one hand, they outline the steps needed to complete the garment. On the other, their techniques and sequence of construction are often awkward and give less than lovely results.

For the majority of my sewing life, I followed construction guidelines scrupulously. Even if I knew an alternative method, I would use the stated one. That’s what the pattern company recommended, and they should know, right? After all, they were the experts. If the finished results were not great, I blamed myself, my sewing ability, my fabric choice, the way I held my scissors, the rush I was in. It was always my fault, something I did.

One day, something snapped. I lost my blind faith in sewing patterns and their instructions. I no longer believed that the thick black lines on the pattern pieces were in the perfect spot, or the fine black print on the pattern instructions showed you the best method.

I decided to think for myself.

I became a sewing rebel.

Suddenly I was altering pattern pieces as well as the construction order. Sometimes I went even further, and threw away parts of both. I did what I wanted, what I thought was best. If I didn’t know how to do something, I researched it. There is a world of information out there – books, magazines, videos, blogs, classes. I experimented. I tried new ways to do things. If I was going to make mistakes, then I wanted them to be my mistakes.

My sewing world was transformed. I became more involved. More enthusiastic. I had fun.

I became the boss of my own sewing.

What about you, dear reader? Do you follow pattern guidelines? Do you cut your pieces along the thick black lines?

Or are you a rebel sewist?

         - Lady T

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Intimate Apparel - A Play about Sewing, Underwear, and Love in 1905

Program cover for Intimate Apparel
Forget the famous Jerry Maguire love-at-first-sight quote, “You had me at hello.” The play, Intimate Apparel, did one better. I was hooked before the action even started, while the stage was still dark, by a single sound - an old-fashioned sewing machine. The distinctive clicky-clack made my heart go pittypat.

To my ear, it sounded exactly like a treadle machine in need of a good oiling. However on-stage, they used a beautiful old hand-crank. This lovely antique was more than a prop – Esther’s livelihood and the play’s plot centred around her prowess with the machine.

For anyone involved in the fabric arts, the play was sheer (or worsted or jacquard) delight. One of Esther’s love interests was a fabric merchant. The way the two discussed fabric made my fingertips tingle.  Only being trapped upstairs in the balcony prevented me from rushing on-stage to feel the materials for myself.

But my fascination wasn’t limited to the sewing machine and fabrics. Like me, Esther made her living sewing intimate apparel. She specialized in corsets, while I made mostly bras with the occasional bridal corset for fun. Esther’s corsets caught my eye. I must confess, I never sewed beaded fringe on any of mine.

As a corset maker, I’ve had my ethics challenged several times. Usually questions about feminism and subjugation and archaic torture. A paragraph in Intimate Apparel’s program’s wardrobe notes made me smile. It said:

Historically, women have been moulded into many shapes that are quite different from the natural shape of the body. Today it is women’s feet that are reshaped and constricted by stiletto heels and pointed toes....

For most people, the play focuses on the race and class issues of 1905. For me, it was the story of a woman’s life as told through fabric and thread.

Thursday, March 08, 2012


Two of my uber-fans complained to me yesterday about my lack of recent posts. One I could’ve ignored, but two. Two seemed like a message from the Universe to get to work.

The problem is the work. What I’ve been working on lately is hardly noteworthy. In fact, some of it is downright embarrassingly ugly.

First up: jeans. I think I’ve got a pattern that works! It covers most of the flabby bits and shows a wee bit of shape (the wee bit I still have), so I am happy. I have to hem them and attach the waistband button, then they will be good to go. Photo coming.

Second up: doll clothes. You’d think this would be a fast and easy project. Hahaha! It’s painfully slow and rather difficult. Seam allowances must be teeny tiny to look in proportion. Finishing the raw edges is a nightmare!

Jenny, Mandy, Jenny and Mandy keeping me company
in my sewing room.
I’m making clothes for vintage Fisher Price My Friend dolls. My Friend dolls are similar to American Girl dolls, except 30 yrs older and 2” shorter.  Mandy (followed by her friends Becky, Jenny, Nicky, and Mikey) came out in the late 1970’s, just before the Cabbage Patch Kid doll crazy hit. The Cabbage Patch Kids dolls totally eclipsed the My Friend dolls and my poor beauties were discontinued soon afterwards. To me, this was a pity because My Friend dolls were the nicest dolls I’ve ever seen. They had sweet little girl faces (verses teenage tramp or alien morphed), could stand and sit on their own, and were machine washable, with stylable hair. Fisher Price even included sewing patterns with the dolls to expand their wardrobes. (Please note: I’ve never seen an American Girl doll in person, and they may be equally as lovely. But it’s hard for a Canadian to get excited about something called an American Girl doll.)

Anyhow, figuring out the world of doll clothes has been an unexpected challenge. I found a vintage McCall’s pattern for My Friends clothes on Esty, and snapped it up. But guess what? The shirt/blouse doesn’t have enough overlap for a fastener. So even doll clothes patterns have to be adjusted and fitted. Bum-mer!

Last up: shirts. I’m teaching a shirt-making class at the end of the month. It’s called One Shirt, Two Ways. Each half of the sampler shirt will be constructed using different techniques. In other words, I’m teaching two ways to do a collar, two ways to do a collar band, two ways to do cuffs.... You get the idea. To prepare, I’m sewing a shirt for my Stud Muffin, but it’s been slow going because I have to stop and write the notes and do research. There are far more than two ways to do each section, so I’m auditioning the possibilities. Picture shortly.

That’s it for now. Thanks, DD3, for the suggestion to do a mash post!

               -  Lady T