Wednesday, March 31, 2010

In the Queue Wednesday

THIS one has been in my queue for a looooooong time...

Although, not actually since 1914! ;)

I love the soft, flowy, romantic lines of this dress - either sleeveless or with the puffed sleeves with a cuff. Can I be a flower child AND a romantic?

Has anyone ever tried one of the Sense & Sensibility patterns? If so, any advice?

When will I get to this? Hmmm.. Hopefully before it becomes 100 years old! In any event, don't worry - I'll get to it. It's in the queue! :)

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Weekend Project: Stealing Time

The smallest feline is a masterpiece.
--Leonardo Da Vinci

For the relevance of the opening quote, see the parting shot. ;)

My two teenage nephews from the Great White North are visiting us here in sunny Florida for their Spring Break, so I haven't had much time to myself. But I have managed to squeeze in bits of time here and there to work on the loom. This is my second-to-last set of Christmas kitchen towels. Yay!

Here I have tied the beginning of the new warp onto the end of the old warp and am about to pull them through the reed:

Through the reed and ready to be pulled through the heddles:

Through the heddles...

Threading complete! The old threads can be cut off now.

Winding the new threads around the back beam:

New threads tied onto the front apron rod for winding around the front beam (as I weave):

Here I've woven in a "header", made up of panty-hose and a thick yarn, to even out all of the warp threads:

And the weaving begins!

The loom waits, ready for me...

Parting Shot:

Oliver helps Milly recuperate by acting as if nothing has changed. ;)
She tries to pretend that he annoys her, but I think that secretly she has a soft spot in her heart for him... (My evidence? He's still alive.)

Friday, March 26, 2010

Friday Confession

A couple of weeks ago, when I asked about clipping threads after sewing each seam, several people said that they had learned this lesson years ago from a Home Economics teacher. That got me to wondering how everyone learned to sew.

My mother sewed when I was a child, but she didn't teach me how (as best as I can remember). I learned the basics in a highschool home ec class, and even though I didn't sew again for over 20 years, when I finally did get back in front of a sewing machine, those basics came back to help me! Of course, a lot had changed in the intervening years (thank you, fusible interfacing!)...

How about you? How / when did you learn to sew? From a family member? From a home ec class? Did you teach yourself? I'm looking forward to hearing your stories! :)

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Talk Back Thursday

Thank you so much to Becky, Lori, Summerset, Linda, Gwen, BConky, Sewing Geek, Kristine, Lady Jenn, Lisa Laree, Shannon Hillinger, Mamafitz, Stitchywitch, CarlaF, Faye, Patsijean, Debbie, Alison, Eword10, Cindy, Julia, Karima, Gaylen, Julie, Elaina and Tamara for talking back to my confession last Friday!

I asked if people cut out or trace the pattern tissue from the Big 4 pattern companies (Simplicity, Butterick, McCalls and Vogue).

Personally, I cut those patterns, and 7 of the 26 commenters do too. Six of them don’t think twice about cutting because they only buy their patterns on those extreme sales ($0.99 or $1.99) – so they can easily buy another one if they end up wanting another size. A few others mentioned that they feel comfortable cutting because they rarely need another size – either they generally only sew for themselves and theirs sizes are stable or they have so many projects in their queues that they rarely make anything more than once! And, of course, there is always the “impatience” factor… ;)

On the other hand, 9 of the 26 commenters report that they trace. The most common reason given for tracing is the need to make a lot of alterations to a pattern. And some folks are losing weight, so they don’t know what size they’ll want to make the next time around. As for just re-buying the same pattern the next time it’s on sale, a couple of folks pointed out that it can be a gamble, as patterns are discontinued.

And, of course, we had the “it depends” responses – 6 of them, to be exact. The main “it depends” factors are expense, size and potential future use. A couple of folks cut the cheaper patterns and trace the expensive ones. Several folks cut if they want the largest size on the pattern, but trace if they want one of the smaller sizes. Some folks cut once if they know they are only going to use it once, but trace if they anticipate re-use.

Note that “re-use” can play out in two different ways – re-use with a different size and re-use with the same size. It’s obvious that if you trace one size from a pattern, you can later trace a different size. But some people trace even when they expect to re-use the same size over and over again, because tracing paper is generally sturdier than the original pattern tissue paper. On the other hand, some people, like Linda, adhere fusible interfacing to tissue paper pattern pieces to make them sturdy enough for multiple re-use.

Finally, 4 people had a very creative alternative. Summerset, Lady Jenn, Julia and Elaina cut the largest size in every pattern (making sure to include all of the sizes in those places where the smaller sizes stick out beyond the larger sizes) and then fold the tissue paper to whichever size they want to cut at the time! Very clever! :)

Thanks again to everyone who took the time to respond! :)

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

And the Winners Are...

Congratulations! Please email me at

As always, I wish everyone could win... For what it's worth, even if I didn't randomly draw your name (and even if you didn't enter), I still can never express how much I appreciate your friendship and support! Thank you for TWO amazing years! :)

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Weekend Project: New Friends from Distant Quarters

Is it not delightful to have friends coming from distant quarters?

So, I seem to have picked up a new sewing student - just what I need to fill up my "free time", huh? ;)

Of course, it's all Ana's fault. She talked me into volunteering to help with the ESL classes being offered through her church, and that is where I met Mei. Mei is Chinese. She did a little bit of sewing back in China, with an old treadle sewing machine. But not much - for example, she has never put in a zipper.

Today was her second time to come over to sew. The first time, we used a Big 4 pants pattern and some of my remnant fabric to adjust the pattern to a size and style that suits her. Around the waist she fit into the size 8, but she has no hips, slender legs and is short, so we made quite a few adjustments.

I told her to take apart our muslin and trace the pieces to generate a new pattern. I thought you might like to see one of her pattern pieces, as she labeled in in Chinese:

Last week was her first time using an electric sewing machine, and today was her first time using a serger. The fabric she had picked out ravelled quite easily, so we used an overlock stitch.

This is so much more difficult than it was to work with Ana and Juana, for two reasons. First, of course, the language. With Ana and Juana, I translated my lessons into Spanish for them, so even if I didn't understand what they were saying to me, at least I was able to say my main points in words that they understood. Now, I'm relying on Mei's English - and I don't think she understands much of what I say. I need to get a Mandarin-English dictionary!

Second, given that she has done some sewing before, she has a tendency to do what SHE thinks is best, regardless of what I have asked her to do. This is probably made worse by the language problem, in that I cannot always explain why I want her to do something. So, we often have a bit of a struggle. For example, it took several, increasingly forceful attempts for me to get her to put her muslin on inside-out (so that I could take it in).

But, we basically finished her first pair of elastic-waisted real pants today (not counting the hem). She seemed pretty pleased. Here's the front view:

And here's the back view.

One of these days I'm going to learn how to say no... Then maybe I'll get around to my own sewing. ;)

I hope you had a great weekend and are ready for Monday. :)

Friday, March 19, 2010

Friday Confession

Last weekend Ana wanted to use one of my patterns for baby clothes. The problem was that I had already cut out the 3-6 month size, and she wanted to make the 9-12 month size. So we had to extrapolate to create the larger sized pattern pieces.

I got to thinking that if I had just traced the pattern the first time, we could have made a different size much more easily. But when I start a new project, I'm usually feeling a bit excited and impatient, and so I jump in and cut the pattern pieces.

What about you? When you buy a tissue paper pattern from a company like Simplicity (as opposed to using a pattern magazine like Burda World of Fashion), do you directly cut out the pieces for the size you want to make, or do you trace them and preserve the original pattern intact?

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Talk Back Thursday

Well, last week's confession was a bit of a dud. I asked about clipping threads at the end of each seam and whether people do it after each sewing seam, at the end of a project, or just any old time. It seems that no one thinks about this much, or really cares...

Ha! Just kidding!

I got TWENTY-TWO responses - the only other Friday Confession that has elicited so many comments was Cindy's guest question about using the seam ripper. So, thank you SO much to Lois K, Patsijean, Mamafitz, Eword10, Summerset, Linda, Julie, Becky, Cindy, Shannon, Alison, Debbie, Karima, Gwen, Mary, Faye, Aminat, Tamara, Carla F, Claire S, Shannon AND Elaina for "talking back" to my confession! (Phew!)

First of all, many people pointed out that the answer depends on whether we’re talking about a sewing machine seam or a serged seam. So, let’s deal with sewing machine seams first.

Of the 22 people who responded, only 2 people responded that they really don’t have a system, and just trim their threads whenever they feel like it.

Fifteen (almost three-quarters) consistently trim the threads of each seam as soon as that seam is completed. The “whys” that these folks gave can be divided into three categories. Two people explain this habit as a legacy from their junior high school home ec teachers (see all you teachers out there – you DO make a difference!) Three people pointed out potential problems with leaving hanging threads to a final step, such as having those threads get caught up in the machine’s feed dogs and/or not being able to find them all at the end. And 9 people (add me to this category to make it 10) basically said it was a personality thing – it would drive them crazy, too OCD, Virgo, etc.

The remaining five people don’t trim after sewing each seam, but do have some kind of system for deciding when to trim. Tamara trims when the threads start becoming a nuisance. For Shannon Hillinger, it depends on how “important” the garment is – a fancy dress or gift for someone else gets a more consistent trim-every-seam-as-you-go treatment than some weekend-lounge-around-the-house t-shirt or shorts. Julie and Mary use an assembly-line (or chain piecing) approach to sewing that involves sewing many seams in one continuous stream and postponing trimming until the sewn pieces need to be cut apart, ironed and cross-seams sewn. Julie learned about this technique to save time from the Palmer/Pletsch book, Painless Sewing. Linda also thinks in terms of time management during her sewing, and she does all her trimming at once, at the end of the project.

Oh, it seems that I’m a bit behind technologically - several people mentioned how much they love the newer sewing machines that trim the threads at the end of each seam automatically. I didn’t realize that there were machines that could do that – sounds cool. :)

Next, on to sergers. Several people pointed out that, if you trim the threads too close to the end of a serged seam, it is likely to unravel. And, not surprisingly, a bunch of people, including Mamafitz, Summerset, Cindy, Faye and Claire S., had solutions to that particular problem! In general, the recommendations were as follows:

If the serged seam is going to be crossed by another serged seam, you can just leave a tail on the first seam and let the second seam trim and seal it.

But if the serged seam is not going to be closed up with a cross seam, then the thing to do is to take a hand needle and thread the serger tail threads back through the seam.

I had been using Fray Check on my serger seam thread tails, but I don't really like the result, so I'm going to try this method in the future. :)

Thanks again for all the comments - astrological and otherwise! (BTW, I'm a Virgo too!) You guys rock! :)

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


First, the winner of my 400th post give-away - a $50 gift certificate to Kiva - is (drum roll, please):

Cole's Corner!

Cole will be able to review a number of individuals in third-world countries who have their own small businesses and add her $50 in with many other people to support a loan to whomever she chooses. (I generally go with seamstresses - but that's just me.) Once that loan is paid back, Cole can put the money towards something special for her own sewing room!

Cole, please email me at:

I wish I could give a Kiva gift certificate to everyone who commented. I can't do that today, but I'll have another Kiva gift certificate give-away for my 500th post (in about 6 months), so stick around and try again! :)

Next, my TWO YEAR Blog Birthday give-away! I've been thinking about what to do for several weeks and I finally got an idea based on one of my recent Friday Confessions. I asked about experiences with different types of fabric. The fabric that had the most votes for "Oooh, I'd really like to work with this!" was, not surprisingly, silk.

So, for this TWO year anniversary, I will be giving away TWO $50 gift certificates to Thai Silks!

Note that, while I like the symmetry of my 2nd anniversary and 2 give-away winners, this is one pattern that I can NOT promise to maintain over time! ;)

If you would like the opportunity to win a $50 gift certificate to Thai Silks (is that a trick question?), then leave a comment with your name. The give-away will be open for a week, and I'll announce the winners next Wednesday. Good luck to everyone!

And most of all, thank you to everyone for your support over these last two years - I wouldn't still be here without you! :)

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Weekend Project: Sewing with a Friend

True happiness is of a retired nature, and an enemy to pomp and noise; it arises, in the first place, from the enjoyment of one's self, and in the next from the friendship and conversation of a few select companions.
--Joseph Addison, The Spectator, March 17, 1911

I am leaving for a big work trip tomorrow (Monday) and I had a TON of work that I was supposed to do this weekend, but I said the heck with it all and spent the afternoon sewing with Ana. We haven't really sewn together (leisurely) for a long time, and it was really nice! She has 3 friends who are either pregnant or new mothers, and so she is working on baby clothes. For the 2 baby boys, she is making the short sleeved onesie from this pattern:

She wanted to use my copy of the pattern and I had previously cut out size "small" (6 months), but she wanted to make "medium", so we extended the pieces appropriately onto tracing paper. I thought that was a good exercise for her and she got the hang of it right away.

This is an asymetrical pattern, so there are TEN pattern pieces to be cut out. She discovered that she had more fabric than she needed, so she is making the booties too. Between extending the pattern pieces and cutting everything out, that took up most of the afternoon. But it relaxing and peaceful and fun. I hate how busy I've been lately and wish I could have Sunday afternoons like this every week!

Here is the fabric she picked out for the two baby boys:

While I mostly worked with Ana on her stuff, I did do a little bit on my peasant-hippie-flower-power blouse. Remember that I put on the neckline binding and then decided that it hung too low and took off the binding and took up the shoulder seams?

Well, I decided that it was still a little bit lower than I was comfortable with and so I took off part of the neck binding again and am in the process of increasing the gathering around the front center - hoping that will take up just enough extra for modesty's sake.

I hated taking the neck binding off again, but I decided that I want to wear this blouse, and I won't if it hangs too low, and there's no point in making it at all if I end up with something that I don't wear! So, it was out with the seam ripper... ;)

I also worked on the sleeves. It has drawstring sleeves, using ties made out of the same fabric as the blouse as the "drawstrings". The pattern uses 2 buttonholes to pass the tie through on each sleeve:

I basted in one sleeve - but I think I'm going to pull it out and re-do it, to even out the gathering around the shoulder.

Here's a side view of the sleeve.

One nice thing about this style is that it accomodates my slightly large upper arms (due to rock climbing muscles, I keep telling myself - note that this works better for upper arms than it does for the stomach). Hopefully next weekend I will have enough time to finish it. It's finally getting warm enough here in Florida for a top like this! :)

I'm still planning a give-away for my blog's 2nd year anniversary. I was going to post the details this weekend, but I'm waiting to hear from a company whether or not they offer gift certificates... So, my new plan is to announce it next Wednesday, when I announce the winner for my 400th post give-away. It's going to be a big one, so make sure you check back! :)

I hope you had a wonderful weekend too! :)

Friday, March 12, 2010

Friday Confession

So, I was sewing with a friend the other day, and I noticed that she didn't trim the thread tails after sewing each seam. I asked her about it, and she said that she waits and does them all when the project is finished.

I always trim the threads at both ends of every seam as soon as I finish it (unless they are gathering stitches, of course). It never even occured to me to wait... I think it would drive me crazy to have those threads hanging while I continued to work on the project. (Not that I'm OCD or anything!) ;)

So, how about you? When do you trim your threads? Individually, with each seam? Or all together, at the end of a project? Or just whenever you feel like it?

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Talk Back Thursday

Thank you so much to Julia, Christine, Sarah C, Annie, Gwen, Summerset, Alison, Meredith, Karima, Mary, Julie, CarlaF, Cindy and Elaina for talking back to my confession last Friday! I confessed that I've never tried a burn test to identify the fiber content of a mystery fabric...

I was surprised to see that about 2/3rds of the people who responded have tried a burn test at least once, and more than 1/2 report using this type of test periodically. Looks like I'm going to have to take my matches outside (lesson learned from Alison!) and give it a try! ;)

Apparently the burn test is best for distinguishing natural fibers (they burn) from man-made fibers (they melt), and it is not as easy to distinguish blends. Sarah C was taught other tests for identifying specific fibers within each category in a course on textiles she took in college. She didn't go into details, but I'm imagining test tubes filled with colorful liquids and bubbling beakers and white lab coats. :)

Summerset gave a good explanation for why to do it - you can't always tell the fiber content by feel and you need to know the fiber content in order to know how to care for your garment.

Among those people who rarely (or never) use the burn test, there were several different methods of dealing with the fiber content question. Some peope feel that, between feeling the fabric and pre-washing it, they can get a good enough idea of what they are working with. Others, like Julie, are very careful to keep detailed records of the fiber content of each fabric purchase. And some, like CarlaF, only use mystery fabric for muslins, when knowing the fiber content isn't that important.

You guys have got me curious and I think I'm going to have to give this a try on some of my remnants. I'll post pictures - although it might be a couple of weeks...

Thanks again to everyone who took the time to share your experiences and thoughts! I learn so much from all of you and love to read your stories! :)

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

400th Post Give-Away!

I can't believe this is my 400th post! I'll continue with my tradition of celebrating each hundreth post by offering a give-away of a $50 gift certificate to Kiva. Kiva is an organization that allows "regular" people (i.e., not bankers, loan sharks or big-shot businessmen) to pool their money and make small loans to small business people in third world countries. I've helped make several loans to seamstresses and tailors in Central and South America, Africa and Asia - lending them money to help them build their businesses by buying sewing machines and/or materials such as fabric, thread, etc.

The winner of this give-away can go to the Kiva website and choose a loan to put her gift certificate towards. Then, when the loan is repaid, she can either leave it in the Kiva system and support another loan, OR pull it out and buy something special for her own sewing room!

If you would like to enter the drawing, just leave a comment with your name. The give-away will be open for one week and I'll announce the winner in next Wednesday's post. Good luck to everyone!

Oh, speaking of give-aways, I'm going to have another one very soon, to celebrate my blog's 2nd anniversary! So, stay-tuned... :)

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Weekend Project: Four Towels and a Cat

I was nursing a bad hangover when a cat stamped into the room.

--P.G. Wodehouse

I finished another set of Christmas kitchen towels this weekend! Yay! Just two more sets to go... I'm still on track with my "give them out before I am 6 months late" game plan... ;)

When I cut these 4 towels off the loom, I left the the excess yarn threaded, to make threading my next set of towels faster.

And I also measured out the 402, 4-yard lengths of the new yarns. Here's a sneak peak at the next color scheme:

Truthfully, I like brighter colors, and so sometimes it takes a bit of a push to make myself work with these dark colors. But, of course, I let my friends pick their own colors, and these are what they chose... My last set will be a series of bright, primary colors, and I am looking forward to getting to work with them!

Parting Shot: I traipsed through a dozen quotation websites looking for just the right one to accompany this picture of one of our cats, Milly. She recently had surgery and the vet decreed that she MUST wear this hood to prevent her from aggravating her incision. Milly is, not surprisingly, less than thrilled with the plan.

In case you are not skilled at reading a cat's eyes, I will translate for you. Milly is communicating this message: "I am going to kill you tonight in your sleep."

Send us good wishes that ALL of us survive her recovery! ;)

Friday, March 5, 2010

Friday Confession

Well, I'm still mining Sandra Betzina's book, More Fabric Savvy, for information and she has a page that describes how to use a burn test to identify a number of different fabric fibers. My confession - I've never set a piece of fabric on fire - at least, not on purpose... ;)

How about you? Have you ever tried doing a burn test (or some other test) to identify the fiber content of a piece of mystery fabric? If so, did it work? Did you set off any smoke alarms? Do you think it's a useful skill to have in any sewist's repertoire?

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Talk Back Thursday

Thank you so much to Kristine, Cindy, Julia, Elaina, Amy, Becky, Shannon, Gwen, Mamafitz, Uta, CarlaF and Tamara for talking back to my confession last Friday! I asked about people’s experiences with the wide variety of different fabrics that are available…

As usual, I was blown away by the amount of experience that many of you have! As a group, these commenters could give Sandra Betzina a run for her money! ;)

First of all, about half a dozen commenters reported that they have worked with just about every type of material that is available – from “soup to nuts” (we need our own variation of that saying – any ideas?)

In order to report out on the more specific comments, I made some rough groupings.

The least-liked fabric category contains what I think of as highly artificial, man-made materials, such as gore-tex, metallic fabrics, neoprene, plastic, sequined lycra and vinyl. Nine people said that they have tried one or more materials in this category and nine people said that they did NOT enjoy the experience. A “perfect” record! ;)

Another not-very-popular category contained sheer fabrics – chiffon and georgette. The only two people who called these fabrics out by name also said that, while they may be beautiful, they are not the most fun to work with...

As you might guess, the most commonly used and the most liked fabric family contained what I think of as natural fibers – cottons, wools, blends, suede and fur. Eight people called out having experience with fabrics in this category and three more would like to work with fur and/or suede in the future. Most of the comments on these fabrics were positive. In fact, the only negative comments included the fact that fur can be messy when cut and some people have an itchy skin reaction to wool. Julia really likes lambs wool, as it doesn’t have to be hemmed and it can be sewn with the seams exposed for a neat look. Gwen likes the way she can mold and shape natural fibers.

Heavier-weight natural materials, such as corduroy, denim and leather were also reasonably well-liked, although it sounds like leather can be difficult to work with if your machine isn’t up to it.

The category with the most “I want to try this!” votes would be the silks – including dupioni, shantung and hemp/silk blends. Three people called out experience with silks, all three of those people reported enjoying working with silk and three more people called out wanting to gain more experience with silk.

Polyester satins and other “slippery” fabrics, however, didn’t fare as well – neither of the two people who mentioned this type of fabric were very complimentary…

While “slippery” wasn’t popular, “stretchy” fared better – not many people mentioned knits explicitly, but the few who did seem to like both the rayon and polyester knits.

Last, but not least, the category that everyone has been waiting for - materials starting with the letter “V”: Velvet got one thumbs up and one thumbs down and the combination of velveteen and taffeta got a BIG thumbs down from Julia, who complained that one crawls, while the other slips. Her advice: stay away!

Finally, two people said that their focus is not really on fabric types. Elaina looks at the drape and weight of a fabric, and decides whether or not it will achieve the effect she wants, without being overly concerned about the exact fiber content. And CarlaF is focused on honing her fitting skills with the more traditional natural fibers – more exotic fabrics will come later for her.

Thanks again to everyone who took the time to tell me your fabric stories! I love reading them! :)

PS - On a different topic, you may have noticed that, a while ago, the pretty pictures in my blog layout disappeared. Yesterday I tracked down what happened and was able to upload a "fixed" template, at the expense of losing all of my widgets. It'll take me a few days to recreate my link lists, including my blog roll. I'm sorry for the delay, but don't worry, I'll get to it. It's in the queue! ;)

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

In the Queue Wednesday

In addition to some fabric for another baby outfit, I also picked up a pattern for me at the Sewing Expo. No fabric yet... That just means a fun shopping trip is in my future! ;)

This Lotus Cami is my first Amy Butler pattern. I checked, but this pattern hasn't been reviewed yet. If you have used this pattern, or actually any Amy Butler pattern, I'd love to hear what you think!

Given that I'm currently working on a blouse for me, this project will have to wait until I make something for somebody else. But, don't worry, I'll get to it. It's in my queue. :)