Sunday, May 31, 2009

Weekend Project: Knots!

Friendship is a knot tied by angels' hands.

Many passions share abstract themes, such as the desire to always be learning and improving. But this is the first time that a very concrete skill from my other hobby - rock climbing - has actually come in handy during my sewing!

I'm working on my niece's top - a stretchy pink fabric covered with sequins - and using a pink woolly nylon thread in my serger. Threading the needles is a complete nightmare! I finally realized that the "easiest" method was to tie the end of the woolly nylon to regular thread before threading:

About 50% of the time, however, when the knot reached the eye of the needle and experienced a little bit of tension, the two threads slipped apart. Then I remembered a knot (I think it's called a water knot) that we use to connect ropes when we are climbing. Threads separating when you are threading a machine is a pain. Ropes parting when you are climbing is a whole different ball park! ;)

It worked really well for me, so I thought that you guys might like to see it too! I've taken photos with yarn, as it is easier to see the details than with thread.

1. Loosely begin a simple knot in one of the threads (make a loop and put the end through the loop):

2. Take the second thread and, starting at the cut end of the first thread, carefully trace the loop you made in the first thread. (It's kind of like you are working backwards.)

3. Continue following the loop...

4. Finish doubling the knot. Notice that the 2 cut ends are opposite each other - not aligned. This is critical!

5. Tighten from both ends simultaneously and you're done!

This puppy should NEVER come undone! People stake their lives on it. :)

Friday, May 29, 2009

Friday Confession

As I mentioned on Wednesday, I got a bit swept up in the Memorial Day sales and bought some fabric over the internet. I didn't have a specific pattern in mind, and was kind of stymied over how much to buy. I thought that 3 yards was probably enough for most anything I'd want to make, but then I got nervous that I'd run out and (here's the confession part) I ended up buying 4 yards of each... Yikes!

So, how about you? How much fabric do you buy when you don't have a specific pattern in mind? Do you have rules of thumb for the general amount of fabric needed for shirts, dresses, skirts and pants?

Photo credit: heidielliott

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Talk Back Thursday

Thank you so much to Amelia, Summerset, Beth Conky, Elaina, Becky, eword10, Claire S and MeredithP for talking back to my confession last Friday! I asked about experiences with online sewing classes.

Five people had taken at least one online sewing class (all through Pattern Review, I think) and three people had not taken any.

Classes that were specifically recommended included:
- Shannon Gifford’s class on Making a Pants Muslin
- Kenneth King’s class on Strap Seam Construction
- Anything by Sarah Veblem

The major pros cited were:
- Convenience (if good classes aren’t available locally)
- Excellent written instructional materials
- The opportunity to practice something immediately (not always true in those one hour classes at the Original Sewing and Quilt Expo, for example)

The major cons mentioned were:
- Chats can be difficult to follow
- It would probably be more fun in person
- If you were making a mistake, a live instructor would probably catch it more quickly
- Chats were too close together to allow busy people time to finish the homework

Most people recommended the online classes at PR – the ones who hesitated generally called out a mismatch between the teaching approach and their learning styles. More specifically, a couple of folks mentioned being visual learners who prefer watching over listening. In fact, eword10 suggested that PR add videos to their online classes – that sounds like a good idea to me. :)

I’m looking forward to my class on Couture Hand Stitches! It starts in the second half of June. I’ll be sure to tell you how it goes!

Thanks again to everyone for taking the time to share your thoughts and experiences! :)

Photo credit: Stas Kulesh

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

In the Queue Wednesday

Well, I did something doubly unusual for me - I ordered fabric from the internet! And without a specific pattern in mind!! Yes, I got swept up in the Memorial Day sales, and picked out these two fabrics from the Gorgeous Fabrics website:

A Tessuti cotton pinstripe shirting:

A double border paisley jersey:

(Okay, maybe I like pink...) I can imagine using the shirting for either a blouse or a shirt dress, and the paisley knit for either a skirt or a wrap dress.

So, I don't know what and I don't know when, but don't worry, I'll get to these! They are in my queue... :)

PS - and Pink always has Priority!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

A One-of-a-Kind Shirt for a One-of-a-Kind Guy!

Happy 50th Birthday to the Love of my Life!

Here he is in his birthday shirt - custom designed by Miss Black Pepper, custom printed by Spoonflower and sewn by me:

If you don't recognize the images, those thingamajiggies are different pieces of gear for technical rock climbing - a hobby of ours.

I was especially pleased with how well the images lined up across the two front halves of the shirt! Check it out - not bad, huh? ;)

I've only known him for about the last half of his first 50 years - I'm looking forward to spending every single one of his next 50 years with him! :)

Friday, May 22, 2009

Friday Confession

I have signed up for an online class at Pattern Review! I will be taking the class on Couture Hand Stitches, taught by Susan Khalje. I've taken a couple of other classes this way, and found the handouts to be excellent, the chat sessions to be scheduled too close together in time for me to finish my "homework" between each one, and the chat sessions themselves to be pretty good, but a bit confusing to follow sometimes (maybe a reflection of growing up pre-internet).

How about you? Have you ever taken any online sewing classes (through PR or anywhere)? What did you study? Did you learn a lot? Would you do it again? Pros and cons? Any cool online sewing courses that you can really recommend?

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Talk Back Thursday

Thank you so much to Cole's Corner, Beth Conky, Kathy, Cindy, CarlaF, Lindsay T, eword10, Gwen, Sue, mamafitz, Faye Lewis, Alison, Summerset, Celeste, Amelia, SunnyQ, Sarah and Jenadina for talking back to my confession last Friday! I confessed that I don't use many (okay, any) of the fancy stitches on my sewing machine.

It seems I am not alone. Five people reported never using the fancy decorative stitches, 10 reported rarely using them and only 2 reported using them "sometimes". Not surprisingly, the most commonly used stitches are straight (called out by 8 people), zig zag (5), button hole (3) and blind hem and overlock/overedge (each called out by 2).
What I found most interesting is the uses that people suggested for those decorative stitches:
  • Several people mentioned using them (or planning to use them) to personalize and jazz up hems and other edges in children's clothes, costumes and even on store-bought items like dish towels.
  • A couple of folks said that these stitches are more commonly used with vintage patterns and heirloom sewing.
  • Summerset uses them on her art garments.
  • SunnyQ successfully used one to cover a blemish in some fabric - an idea that I thought was particularly clever! :)
I particularly enjoyed Amelia's story of how she never used to use them, but her daughter loves them and uses them in new and creative ways, which has freed up Amelia to think "out-of-the-box" and experiment more.

And Sue had an excellent idea - when she first got her machine, she used each stitch once and made herself a sampler book. I'd like to do this sometime too.

In her comment, Cindy asked the more general question of what brand of machine do people use and how much did they spend? I have a 7 year old Kenmore which I bought new for about $400, and which I am very happy with. It's my dependable little workhorse. ;)
(Although, just to show you how quickly things change, the Kenmores that Ana and Juana bought last fall have more features than mine and cost half as much!)

Here is the breakdown among the commenters who also answered Cindy's question:

  • Bernina - 4
  • Brother - 3
  • Viking - 2
  • Janome - 2
  • Singer - 1

And regarding cost:

  • less than $100 - 1
  • between $100 and $500 - 2
  • between $501 and $1000 - 2
  • over $1000 - 1
Finally, while NO ONE expressed any unhappiness with their machine(s), 3 people made comparisons between two machines that they own now or have owned in the past, and in each case, the person stated that she is (or was) just as happy with the more basic model as with the fancy, bells-and-whistles model.

Thanks again to everyone who took the time to tell me a little about your sewing! :)

Photo credit: Linda Matthews

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

In the Queue Wednesday

Today's queue project is a somber one. I will be making two Hawaiian shirts for a friend who has been recently diagnosed with cancer, because these shirts are convenient to wear during chemo treatments. As button-up-the-front shirts, they allow easy access to the chemo port on the chest, and yet they are still casual and comfortable (i.e., more like polo shirts or t-shirts than dress shirts).

I picked this fabric because my friend loves airplanes:

And this fabric because he recently became an American citizen:

I hope he likes my fabric choices. He's scheduled for 6 rounds of chemo, spread across 18 weeks and I'd like to get these shirts to him right away. So, as you might imagine, these are now at the top of my queue.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Weekend Project: Alphabet Soup

I don't give a damn for a man that can only spell a word one way.
Mark Twain

Thanks to everyone for your advice about what to make with the adorable alphabet fabric that I found in Missouri! After some consideration, I decided to go with a simple piece that can double as a wall hanging and a light cover. In addition to its versatility, this had the advantage of being quick and easy to make.

Sure enough, I was able to start AND finish the alphabet "quilt" for Mariana this weekend! Here are some shots of the front:

1-6 and A - I:

F - I (repeat) & J - U

R - U (repeat), V - Z and 7 - 12:

For the back, I chose a cute pink fairy-ballerina cotton print:

Here's a close-up:

I have very little quilting experience - just enough to have been thoroughly aggravated by the top layer stretching out beyond the bottom layer when I sew. This time, in an attempt to overcome this problem, I invested quite a bit of time in extensive ironing and hand-stitching all of the layers together carefully before moving to my machine. While this helped a lot, I still had some slippage... :(

So, I'm thinking of investing in a walking foot for my machine. What do you think? Does anyone have one? Do you like it?

Parting Shot: In addition to working on the quilt, I snuck in a trip to the Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa, FL with my sewing friends. Juana braved the camel ride!

I hope everyone had a nice weekend with lots of sewing and little slippage! ;)

Friday, May 15, 2009

Friday Confession

I don't have the fanciest (Kenmore) sewing machine in the world, but it does have a handful of decorative stitches ...

which I've pretty much never used. Yikes! :(

Although I've got the top row, from 5 to 8, well covered! ;)

How about you? Does your machine have a bunch of decorative stitches? Have you used them? If so, which ones and for what types of projects? Are you glad that your machine has them or do they seem kind of superfluous?

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Talk Back Thursday

Thank you so much to Donna Hodgson, Teddylyn, eword10, emelle, Lisa Laree, Amy, goodworks1, Elaina, Gwen, Becky, ezeldabeth, Claire, Ivalyn, SunnyQ and Beth Conky for talking back to my confesison last Friday! I asked how people dispose of their used sewing machine needles.

I combined the input that I got from everyone here (special thanks to Elaina who knows a lot about this!) and added a little bit of my own research on the web (see, in particular, , and here’s what I got out of it:

Regardless of the type of sharp implement, there is a growing desire to protect people (especially sanitation workers) from getting hurt and so the generally recommended process is to put your used sharps in some kind of container before throwing them into the trash. One site recommended any puncture resistant, shatterproof container with a sealable lid. My commenters had a lot of specific examples, in addition to the pill bottle that I use:

  • Empty spice container
  • Empty 35 mm film canister
  • Empty needle container
  • Empty coffee can
  • Empty Altoids tin
  • Empty baby formula glass bottle

They also suggested some minor variations to this approach, including:

  • Double-seal the container by taping or gluing the lid shut
  • Label the container before tossing it.

Medical sharps, such as the syringes used by diabetics for insulin, pose the additional risk of accidental transmission of infectious diseases. Because of this, more and more communities / counties / states are imposing additional restrictions on sharps disposal. These restrictions include things like:

  • Using an approved community drop box (possibly available at a pharmacy or doctor’s office or even the “city dump”)
  • Participating in a mail-back and/or syringe exchange program
  • Hiring residential special waste pick-up services

While sewing machine needles (typically) shouldn’t pose a risk of medical contamination, the key is this: Some local ordinances distinguish between medical sharps and other sharps and only apply these special rules to medical sharps, while other local ordinances do not make this distinction and apply the same rules to all sharps!

One place to start to learn more about the regulations in your area is:

While most of my commenters use some type of canister to hold their used needles, a few offered alternative suggestions. A couple of people secure their needles in other ways – such as wrapping them in duct tape or weaving them into some other item of trash. And at least two people reported re-using their needles (with or without sharpening) for heavy-duty projects and/or sewing on paper. (In my research I did run across one website that argued that using dull needles could damage your machine by messing up the timing and/or coordination of the internal mechanisms, but I don’t know if that’s true or not.)

This topic brought up a lot of concerns and a lot of good ideas. Thanks to everyone for taking the time to share your thoughts and practices!

Photo credit: fdecomite

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

In the Queue Wednesday

I need some advice on this project. I've been a bit concerned for a while that Marianna (the 4.5 year old princess here) may not know her alphabet. (I'm not sure - while she seems happy to see me, she doesn't speak much in front of me. My broken Spanish may confuse her...)

Anyways, while visiting my Grandmother in Missouri, we made our traditional stop in a wonderful quilting fabric store, Satin Stitches, and I found this pre-cut piece of fabric with beautiful bright alphabet blocks:
There are also smaller squares illustrating the numbers 1 - 12 along the top and bottom of the piece.

The overall piece is 23" x 44" and each of the alphabet squares is approximately 4" x 4" (not counting the black border).

So I bought it, thinking I could make something for her. My first thought was a wall-hanging - just add some batting, back it with another pretty print, stitch some quick quilting lines along the existing black borders and add some loops for a rod or ribbon. It would be a quick and easy project.

Then I got to wondering about other possibilities - for example, making one of those fabric books - either with a center binding or accordion style. The advantage of this is that she could carry it around with her. On the other hand, I wonder if this style isn't too babyish for an almost-5-year-old?

So, what do you think? Any other ideas to throw into the mix? What could I make with this adorable alphabet primer print for Mariana?

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Weekend Project: Exuberance

Exuberance is better than taste.
-Gustave Flaubert

Ah, Gus, a man after my own heart! This principle just may be my salvation... ;)

My hip skirts are finished. I'll show you one on my dressform today, and try (sometime this week) to get a picture of the other on my actual body! ;)

Once I got over the zipper silliness, the pattern was exceptionally easy. There are only 2 pattern pieces - a one-quarter circle for the skirt body (cut 4 per fabric) and a 6 inch rectangle (cut 2) for the hip band. Everything is cut on the bias, so I recommend avoiding directional prints.

I used cotton - I think the folds hang nicely with the weight of the two layers. However, between the full circle pattern and the (relatively) heavy fabrics, it's not the most slimming combination! ;)

(I'm also still trying to figure out the exact location between my high waist and low hip where the skirt should sit to be most flattering.)

If I make it again, I may try other fabrics. In particular, I think the top layer would look cool as a sheer or lace overlay...

I wore it to work and got mixed reviews - mostly positive, with only one comment regarding being ready for square dancing. Apparently some plebian unfamiliar with Gustave Flaubert! ;)

Friday, May 8, 2009

Friday Confession

Well, I'm not exactly sure what to do with my old sewing machine needles. I have this vague feeling that I'm not supposed to just throw them in the trash, so I've been collecting them in an old prescription pill bottle. But now I don't know what to do with them...
How about you? What do you do with your old sewing machine needles? Do you think it's okay to just throw them away? Or do you do something special with them?

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Talk Back Thursday

Thank you so much to Beth Conky, Gwen, Mary, Sarah, Elaina, Faye Lewis, Cindy, Lois K, Summerset and Becky for talking back to my confession last Friday! I brought up the topic of teaching sewing and mentioned that I have a difficult time letting my students figure out things for themselves, as I always want to jump in and “fix” everything.

If you teach or are thinking of teaching sewing, then I definitely recommend that you take a minute to read the original comments (here), as these women shared a TON of helpful advice and many interesting stories!

But I’ll try to summarize (although it could be argued that brevity is not one of my strengths!) ;)

Summerset explained that, at a high level, teaching sewing is like teaching just about anything. You should start with a simple project and then progress to more and more challenging projects. (Elaina pointed out that “simple” includes the fabric – no taffetas or chiffons on day one, please!) At each stage, it’s important to set achievable goals for your student and make sure that YOU are prepared.

Others also mentioned the importance of knowing the patterns and machines that you’ll be teaching with inside and out; although Elaina also pointed out that she always lets her students know that no one is perfect and even with years of experience she still has the occasional “wadder.” Also, Beth Conky mentioned one disadvantage of being so much more experienced than your students – sometimes she forgets to go over steps that are now automatic for her.

Several people, like Sarah, recommended some variation of this strategy that Mary laid out for introducing each new skill or technique:
a) Show and explain (Gwen emphasized the importance of explaining WHY, not just how…)
b) Do it together
c) Let your student do it alone

People like Cindy and Elaina described a wide variety of teaching experiences and mentioned differences between teaching adults versus children, and girls versus boys. But what I found really interesting was that, even within one category (such as women), several emphasized the importance of being sensitive to individual differences across your students and adapting to each student’s learning style, speed, skill level and even standards. In fact, a couple mentioned that one of their biggest challenges was finding the right pace for each student – making sure that the lessons were neither boring nor overwhelming. Apparently in sewing lessons, as with clothes, there is no perfect “one-size-fits-all”!

Getting down to the specifics of what to teach, a couple of people mentioned how important and challenging it can be for students to master the vocabulary of sewing.

People also talked about the importance of “raising” independent sewers. Lois always teaches from the pattern instructions, so that her students learn to (and how to) use the pattern instructions when they are back at home and on their own. Elaina forces herself to let her students experience the process of making mistakes and fixing them themselves (if possible), although she and several others are careful to not let people get too overwhelmed and discouraged.

This is definitely an area that I need to work on, although it was reassuring to learn from Faye and others that I am not alone in my need to jump in and do things for my students! ;)

Finally, one last recurring theme – how wonderful it is to share this passion of ours with others and the joy and rewards that people receive from teaching sewing!

Thanks again to everyone! I wish I had asked this question before I started my lessons!

Photo credit: WorldIslandInfo

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

In the Queue Wednesday

Here's the other pair of fabrics that I recently purchased to make a second hip skirt for myself (!):

As before, I'm using the large print (on left) for the top layer and the small print (on right) for the under layer of the skirt. I've actually already the cut out all the pieces and the under skirt will extend about 1.5 inches beneath the over skirt.

In answer to Beth's question from last week, the fabric is a (slightly heavier-weight) cotton.

In case you don't remember from last week, this is the pattern:

As I mentioned, I've already cut out the pieces. I should have pictures of both skirts for you (along with a pattern review) next weekend! Yup, you'll be seeing these babies soon! They're in the queue! :)

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Weekend Project: KaBoom!

For 'tis the sport to have the engineer hoist with his own petard
-- Shakespeare

Did you know that a "petard" is basically a land mine? So this quote means that a person is blown up with his own mine. I bring this up because, if you heard a loud boom coming from the direction of Florida this weekend, I think I can explain... ;)

One of my sewing students, Ana, constantly has ideas that involve deviating from the pattern instructions. Sometimes I can immediately see why they are bad ideas, and sometimes I am not sure if they would lead us into trouble or not.

The problem is that I am far from fluent in Spanish and so I generally have to stick to trying to communicate simple ideas. And she is the type of person who will be satisfied with a good explanation, but never with a "because I said so" excuse.

As a result, I came up with a one-size-fits-all bit of advice. I recommended that the FIRST time she sew any pattern, she stick faithfully to the instructions. My argument was that the people who designed the pattern probably put a lot of thought into it and know what they are doing and they may have good reasons for their approach. However, after she has sewn a pattern once, she should be familiar enough with it to be able to figure out if and where and how she can make modifications.

Makes sense, right? It was certainly good enough for Ana...

Apparently I need to run it by myself again! ;)

Yup, I took a peek at the hip skirt pattern and immediately started thinking that I could do better than the pattern designer. The waist band (really at the hip) is 3 inches wide and the pattern calls for 3/8th inch wide elastic to be inserted in the band.

The large discrepancy between the sizes of the waist band and the elastic just didn't seem right to me. Plus, I decided, I like zippers better anyways - I'll just put in a zipper instead. And so I did. ;)

Take a look at these two waist band pattern pieces from different patterns. See if you can figure out which one lies nicely along a woman's hip and can be closed up with a zipper, and which one needs some elastic along the top to help it conform to a woman's shape...

(So, as you can imagine, after putting in the zipper and trying on the skirt, I took out the zipper and bought some 3/8th inch wide elastic!)

It is truly embarrassing to have to admit to making such a stupid mistake.

But what an excellent lesson learned for me. First, a reminder that, despite having sewn for several years, I still do not know as much as professional pattern designers! ;)

Second, you can be sure that I'll pay a lot more attention to the shape of pattern pieces in the future - especially before I attempt any of my own modifications!

The skirt isn't quite finished yet, and given that I have other photos for you, I'll postpone a picture of the skirt until it is done.

Speaking of Ana, I pulled off a triple surprise this weekend. Juana and Ana had birthdays in April, and our friend Susan's birthday is early in May. I managed to throw a surprise birthday party for ALL 3 of them!
Here's how I did it. I invited Susan to help me throw a surprise birthday party for Ana and Juana. They were expecting me to show up alone for our regular sewing afternoon today (Sunday), and did not expect to see Susan or to have a party.

However, I had told them that Susan's birthday is this week, and if they wanted to give me birthday cards and/or presents for her on Sunday, then I could make sure that she got them during the week. So, when we showed up, she (of course) ahd presents for them, and they were prepared with cards and gifts for her! I had gifts for all, lots of balloons and a cake that listed all 3 names!
I wouldn't be surprised if this triple surprise goes down in history as a highlight of my career! ;)

After pizza and cake, we did spend some time sewing. Ana finished the purse that she was making for Mariana (the 4-year-old for whom I recently sewed a light blue sparkling princess dress).
And Juana finished the dress she was making for her brand new baby niece.

It was a wonderful afternoon! I hope you had a great weekend too!

Friday, May 1, 2009

Friday Confession

If you've been reading my blog for a while you know that I've been teaching two young women how to sew. We started almost exactly a year ago (our first lesson was on Mother's Day), met every Sunday through the Christmas holidays, and now meet once or twice a month. I'm really enjoying it and they are doing quite well.

But I have definitely learned something about my limitations - I am way too quick to jump in and show or explain how to do something. Thus, I am not doing a particularly good job at teaching them how to figure things out for themselves... :(

How about you? Have you ever taught sewing? If so, do you enjoy it? Any tips or secrets for doing a good job? Any particular aspects that you find challenging?

Photo credit: Nathan Russell