Sunday, December 25, 2011

Mother & Child Aprons

Skills acquired: pattern drafting, pattern cutting, cutting on the bias, sewing on the bias, making pockets, stitch the ditch, using bias tape, mitered corners

This was my big Christmas project, an apron for my sister-in-law and her son. (He's three and loves to play chef.) The pattern is a combination of things I drew up myself on postal paper and patterns from Stitch by Stitch (the picnic place mat and pockets from a skirt). My nephew's is extra fun because the belt and pockets can be untied and snapped off to be worn as just a tool belt.

I'm very proud of my invisible stitches!
The gear print fabric is twill. I'd never worked with twill before and learned that it likes to twist. But then some of it was cut on the bias too. I made all the tubes first so I could watch Damages while I turned them inside out.

Since making these, I've acquired a hem gauge so ironing the hems will take far less time. I also realized after I made my nephew's apron that I'd hemmed the first fold then the second (fold-stitch-fold-stitch) when really I only needed to fold-fold-stitch. Hers also has mitered corners, while his are bulky folds.

For future aprons, I think I'll install d-rings at the neck to adjust the strap. For the little boy's tool belt, I'll add a hammer loop as well. Part of me also wanted to use a zigzag stitch in a contrasting color for the hems just for interest. I may try that in the future too.

A few people were interested in me making them aprons, so I'll set up a custom order on Etsy. (More on Etsy later.) I'll post here when the link is up.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Blind Hem...Sort Of

Skills acquired: Blind hem

After much consulting with my mother and my yoda about what on earth a blind hem is, I put one in a pair of jeans. (At 5'4", most of my pants need to be hemmed.) This was both a success and a failure. If these jeans were pure cotton, I think it would have gone better, but polyester blends don't iron as beautifully as cotton. Ironing a tube didn't go as well as it could have either. My hem is also too short for heels. The biggest problem, however, was that I thought I could do this without cutting off the excess fabric. Not so. They don't lay cleanly because of the extra bulk, so while my hem is perfectly blind, it needs to go on a diet. When I get a moment (please see my previous post of upcoming projects), I'll pick this out and try again.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Projects in the Queue

I'm still working on secret Christmas projects, so no photo updates this week. But soon there will be a slew of project posts. I have a lot lined up.

- Pillowcases The pillow cases I have are a terrible dye. I bought two lovely olive brocades which will give me some slippery fabric experience as well as practice putting in invisible zippers.

- Apron I've been using the same apron since middle school home-ec. The fabric is terrible. I'd love to use some of the techniques I've learned to make something retro and dress-like.

- Applique Robots One of my friends has two boys, so I thought I'd learn appliques by making some nice linear robots for their wee little shirts.

- Silhouette Skirt I have big, big plans for this. My first one will be for my dear roomie!

- Scarf Winter is nippy. Making some scarves will get me started on jersey and several fabric techniques.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Tools Wishlist

I've been sewing this week, but I can't post pics until after January. (Secret Christmas projects!) In lieu of a project update, I thought I'd make a list of the tools I need/ am lusting after.

Wrist Pin-Cushion I'll most likely be keeping my pins in magnetized containers on the wall (<3 Ikea.), but moving to put the pins in their proper place while I sew disrupts my rhythm. I'd really like a wrist pin cushion so it's all by me as I work. (I guess could make one, but it wouldn't be as cool as this embroidered sugar skull from Etsy.)
French Curve I'm a curvy girl and will be making clothing accordingly. A French Curve helps alter commercial patterns and draft patterns for the shapely figure.

Scarf Hem Foot Chiffon is lurking in my basement, and the mere idea of working with it intimidates me. My sewing yoda told me there's a foot that will roll the hem of a fine fabrics while you sew! As I have big plans for fine fabrics, I'd love a scarf hem foot.

Ruffler Foot Pulling the bobbin thread gets the job done of ruffles, but a ruffler foot would do this faster.

Sleeve Board Sewing means ironing has become part of my life, and I rather enjoy it. I do not enjoy, however, ironing sleeves. Puff sleeves are the worst! When I cant' get the sleeve on my board, I end up with one smooth side and one creased side. A sleeve board would fix that.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Flower Bib Necklace

Skills acquired: Zig-zag finish

My not so successful tulle skirt was my own silly design. This necklace is also my own design, but I feel it worked much better than the skirt.

I used more of the roses from my headbands and under the petals stitched them to some heavy felted cotton. The pearls were hand-stitched. Since I had a couple snarls, exposed ribbon ends, and a Frankensteinian back from altering my original arrangement, I traced another piece of cotton and zig-zag stitched the edges to my original back piece.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Quick Thoughts for the Week

I made a second Charm Pack skirt this weekend both to apply what I'd learned and to see how much faster a project would be the second time. Even with a couple unforeseen problems, the second was finished in under two hours. We won't talk about how long the first one took. (This is also why I'm posting something so scatter shot instead of a "look what I made!")

Working on this project has really built my confidence. I catch myself looking at lots of clothes and patterns now and thinking, "It's just some straight lines and some curved lines. I can do that."

I just realized that the Charm Pack skirt pattern can be altered using strips of fabric instead of squares in a light organza. Voila! Petticoat.

While on an excursion to Goodwill this past weekend, I picked up some men's shirts to make into skirts. (See the excellent photograph to the left.) Very excited.

When I cook, I look up several recipes and pull from each to make my own version. I've been doing the same with sewing projects.

I put in a tutorials tab to keeps tabs (ho, ho! punny!) on cool things to try. You're welcome.

I'm upping my level from super beginner to beginner. Break out the champagne!

Monday, November 7, 2011


One of my favorite part of Stitch by Stitch is that tools are broken down by necessity. Great! I'm totally clueless. Guide me!

I already had a seam ripper, measuring tape, iron, and scissors. Those are no brainer items, but I've been careful to note what frustrates me as I work and then purchase a tool to help with that frustration.

So far I've purchased:

- Seam gauge. This is a great little measuring tool with a slider. I found it especially helpful when trying to get my hem exactly 3/4 inches deep.

- Seam guide. It is so freeing to not need to stare at the throat plate guide lines. I do check the edge of the seam guide every so often, but I can focus more on odd bunching with the guide in place. Even if you abandon it later, newbies should try one when starting out.

- Rotary cutter/mat. After making my tutu and trying to cut a straight line for some bias tape, I felt like scissors were my enemy. I even got those for-either-hand deally-dos, but I still veer and get ragged edges. A rotary cutter will help me make continuous and swift cuts.

- Acrylic ruler. This stands on its own and pairs with the rotary cutter. Mine is 18 inches long. For quick measurements, I like it better than measuring tape, plus I can use it to get a perfect edge with my rotary cutter.

Next on my to purchase list is a wrist pin cushion, a ruffler foot, and a scarf hem foot. When I start making more clothing, I'll get a sleeve board, tailor's ham, and french curve.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Charm Pack Skirt

Skills acquired: hemming, installing elastic waistbands, gathers, pressing, not cursing at my sewing machine (even when it stabs me).

One of the projects in Stitch by Stitch is a girl's patchwork skirt made from charm packs. Since I was making mine for a verge of toddler, I altered the pattern some using the tutorial on One-Hip Mom. I ended up with a 5,8,12 pattern for a one-year-old.

I really learned a lot doing this project. If you're new to sewing like I am, I highly recommend making a mom's day by making one of these. You gain several skills, but mostly you gain confidence.

Here's some of what I learned and plan to do differently on future skirts.

- When pre-washing and drying a charm pack, have a method of keeping the squares together. I was fishing them out of sleeves and undies.

- Pay attention to the patterns you're making. I almost had a column of the same print.

- Pin far enough away from where you want to stitch so you don't have to take pins out as you go.

- Pay attention to how you pin. I put some in in a way that made it awkward to stitch without stabbing myself.

-Pressing makes everything beautiful. I double pressed my hem and waistband before stitching, and it turned out beautiful. My mom, who used to sew herself, was very impressed. It's so pretty, I'm posting a detail shot.

- Hem the bottom before you pull the gathers. Hemming on a curve isn't fun.

- I thought the skirt was too small, so I added another column before doing the back seam. It was more difficult to add than it was to make the skirt initially, but the experience was cool. I saw how much I had to undo to do it right.

- I used my seam gauge and seam guide on this project. Both tools were super helpful, and I can't imagine doing this without them.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Tulle Layers

Skills acquired: patience, profanity, respect for tulle

I, having all the patience of a three-year-old, did not want to develop sewing skills by making napkins, graduating to pillows, then practicing bags. Oh no. I want to work on clothes now, now, now! I've had a jersey, melon skirt for a couple years now that I never wear because it's Spanx or vpl. Sounds like the perfect thing to alter, no?

With my flair for the dramatic, I thought this would be a fine base layer for a neon yellow tutu. "Tulle will be great," I thought," because I wont' have to hem it!" Turns out I'm just the sort of naive mark shifty tulle lays in wait for.

I folded and trimmed this with only a tape measure as my guide. Remember what I said about shifty? le sigh. It was all sorts of uneven. I was so frustrated with it, I spent weeks just glaring at it on my dress form.

Eventually, I decided to just plow through it. I sewed the layers together, gathered them, sewed them to the skirt, sewed up the back (that part took at least three tries), and sewed on the ribbon that covers my terrible stitch work.

This is the finished product. (I think like look like one of Toulouse-Lautrec's cancan dancers and even topped the outfit with a hair feather.) Notice the lack of detail shots. It's puffy at the top, and the stitching is all over the place. The back is especially awful, so I spared you a photo. No doubt I'll want to redo this later, add more tulle -- cut properly -- and stitch straight. But for now I can say, "I made this!"

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The First Thing I Made!

Skill acquired: back stitching

My mom got me some shiny fuchsia polyester, and I had no idea what to do with it. Then I stumbled upon a tutorial for making flowers out of polyester. The flowers are insanely easy to make.

1. Cut circles of different sizes out of the fabric. They don't need to be perfect circles.
2. If you want a poppy, leave the circle as is. If you want more of a rose, snip some cuts into the circle.
3. Using a candle, melt the edges.
4. Pile the petals together by size.
5. Stitch together.

I made a bunch of flowers. These two were sewn onto elastic headbands and topped with skull buttons for some punker babies I know. I plan to turn the others into a bib necklace. They're super simple to make, but it felt good to both finish a project and be able to say "I made this."

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Book Review: Stitch by Stitch

Since deciding to throw myself into sewing, to follow the path of millions of women, to develop a practical skill for myself, I've been flipping through every sewing book I see. For the clueless beginning sewer like myself, I cannot recommend enough Stitch by Stitch: Learning to Sew, One Project at a Time by Deborah Moebes.

All introductory sewing books have a couple pages on tools you need. Stitch by Stitch includes 18 pages on tools. Rather than present a list of tools she always uses, Moebes lists tools you must have to sew with a machine (seam ripper, hem gauge), tools that aren't necessary but will make sewing easier (rotary cutter, ruffler foot), and tools that not everyone likes but some people find essential (pattern weight, seam roll). The author also explains why there are different pins and what they are for, types of thread, and why you should invest in scissors and an iron.

From here, the book has another 24 pages on getting to know your sewing machine (“You and Your Machine: A Love Story”). Moebes explains the feet, the needles, stitch varieties, bobbins, thread tension, and on and on. She even lists several of the book's projects that you need to do to build up certain skills. I would have no inclination to make an applique tee shirt, but doing so will give me practice with fusible interfacing and sewing curves.

But before you move on to projects, Stitch by Stitch has an additional 8 pages on fabric. When you've finished, you'll know what the common fabrics are and their uses, why you should always wash fabric before sewing, plus weave types, print terms, and fabric grains.

One of the reasons I bought this book was for the patterns (yes, you get to patterns after about 73 pages). It includes a basic button down shirt and a basic a-line skirt. I can't think of two better things that I'd like to make for myself. The patterns are sizes 4-14, and the CD format allows you to print them over and over. The book also gives clear (patternless) instructions on how to sew a basic tote bag, several basic pillowcases, a makeup roll, napkins and more.

Happily, there are pictures of failures. If your project looks like X, tighten the thread tension. If it looks like Z, you didn't feed it through the machine fast enough. Usually if books bother to mention mistakes you may make, they only describe them, but as a beginning sewer, I don't know what loose bobbin thread or improper tucks look like.

Not only have I found Stitch by Stitch indispensable for the projects I've tackled, but it's also reassuring. The overall tone is supportive and encouraging. Yes, you will mess up, Moebes reminds you over and over, but you'll also get it right eventually. Her love of sewing is so evident that you can't help but want to fall in love with the skill too.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

The Bunny Inspects The Dress Form

Kinkajou is convinced that this adjustable dress form is her new plaything. A lady from my church gave it to me, and while I'm not really at the making my own clothes stage yet, it's really exciting to have it waiting for me.

Monday, September 26, 2011

On Learning to Sew

I'm writing this on a lazy Saturday morning. My sewing machine is staring at me over the top of my lap top. Had it a tongue, no doubt it would be sticking out. The little bastard and its army of scissors, seam rippers, bobbins and rulers taunt me.

Hubby got me a sewing machine for Christmas because I wanted to be able to hem my own pants, to make my own curtains, to play with pillowcases. Then life got busy and it sat around for months untouched.

But a few months ago, unhappy with where I am in life, I decided sewing was my way out. That if I worked at it, I could follow in the footsteps of millions of women (my grandmother included) who used their needle and thread to earn an income.

I spent evening after evening practicing stitches, learning how the fabric moves with the feed dogs, feeling the tautness of my bobbin thread. I also spent countless nights lamenting my wobbly cuts, yelling at the gnarl of thread caught in my machine, crying over a task that seems insurmountable when I can't even sew a straight hem.

It's not all been defeat. I was able to put a blind hem in a pair of jeans. I've made some good progress on a tutu. ("A tutu will be easy," I thought. "I won't have to hem!" Let me tell you, tulle is a slippery devil.) The mystifying buttonhole foot finally makes sense.

My husband has quietly accepted the fact that he will never see the dining room table again and that though the sewing bric-a-brak has been untouched for weeks, he should not ask me about my progress. I'm not giving up. That idea of having a marketable skill, of having even a bit more freedom is too sweet. But I'm frustrated, and my sewing books can't always give me the insight I need. Now that my busy time at work is winding down, I think I'll call up a seamstress from my church and see if she can be the Yoda to my headstrong, gimme-it-now Luke.