Sunday, February 28, 2010

Monday Morning Quarterback: Taking down 2 Q's in 1 Weekend

Agnes's arm whirled. The holy water spiraled out of the bottle and hit Vlad full in the chest. He threw his arms wide and screamed as the water cascaded down and poured into his shoes. "Look at this waistcoat! Will you look at this waistcoat? Do you know what water does to silk? You just never get it out! No matter what you do, there's always a mark."

--Terry Pratchett

Okay, the quote has nothing whatsoever to do with my post. But I was looking for an appropriate quote and found this one and I just couldn't resist... ;)

Do you ever have a time when you are just feeling desperate to sew? That's how it was for me this weekend - no matter what, I felt like I just had to do some sewing... So, I turned toward my queue.

The first project I tackled was not exactly what you'd call "sewing" - it was more in the nature of necessary precursors. Without further adieu, I introduce (ta da!) my cutting table:

Look - I have a cutting mat! I hadn't seen that for so long that I almost forgot I had it! ;)

Next, I turned my attention to a queue project that I thought would be practically instant gratification - my 60's peasant top.

It's a pretty straightforward pattern, with just a couple of interesting details. First, the layout for cutting - it calls for two separate pieces of fabric, not one piece folded in half at some point.

I don't recall seeing this before and I'm not sure of the point. Turns out, I was able to fit all the pieces on my fabric in the more traditional way.

Another interesting bit is that there are seams up the center front and the center back. The center front seam makes sense, as that is how you sew the little neck slit opening. But I'm not sure why the back couldn't have been cut in one piece. In any event, I should have thought more about getting my print to line up on these seams...

The last mild surprise to me was the neckline - looking at the picture on the front of the pattern envelope, I thought it was a drawstring neckline. But turns out you just add some gathers near the front center - no drawstring.

You cut a bias strip to make the neckline binding. My "instant gratification" project was slowed down because I didn't try it on until after adding the neck binding. (Dumb.) It hung too low for my taste, and I had to remove much of the binding, pull up the shoulder seams, and then replace the binding.

You also use the bias strip to form a single button loop. I found a perfect button! It matches both the colors and the design of the print in the fabric. :)

So, it's not done yet. I have the sleeves (true drawstring style) and hem to do - maybe another hour or so of work. But it's going to be cute and fun and it felt wonderful to get back into my sewing room! :)

I hope you had a wonderful weekend too!

Friday, February 26, 2010

Friday Confession

Thanks to you guys, I was browsing through my copy of Sandra Betzina's book, More Fabric Savvy, and I realized that I have barely explored the tip of the fabric iceberg in my sewing. Sandra covers ONE HUNDRED different types of fabric in this book, starting with "African Mudcloth", ending with "Woolens & Worsted" and picking up "Boiled Wool", "Hemp Cloth" and "Ripstop" along the way...

I've pretty much tried (1) cotton (oooh, be still my heart!), (2) eyelet (i.e., cotton with holes in it), (3) flannel, (4) fleece, (5) a few knits, (6) some lace trim, (7) a polyester brocade once, (8) silk organza as underlining and (9) silk (for the wedding dress).

Oh yeah, there was (10) that sequined slinky project I did for my niece, but I'm trying to forget that experience!

In other words, there's a ton of fabric that I've never tried! I'd estimate it to be at least (hmmm, 100-10...) 90 types!

How about you? African Mudcloth? Alpaca? Voile? Camel Hair? Charmeuse? Chenille? Corduroy? Crepe de Chine? Damask? Dupion? Garbardine? Georgette? Lame? Mohair? Moleskin? Ottoman? Pique? Silky? Viscose? Shantung? Silk Tweed? Stretch Leather? Suede? Taffeta? Tencel? Terrycloth? Velour? Velveteen? Viyella? Wool Challis?

What fun exotic fabrics have you worked with? Is there anything that you have vowed NEVER to work with again? Is there something that you are just dying to try someday, when the right project comes along? I'd love to hear your fabric stories!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Talk Back Thursday

Thank you so much to
Kelley, Faye, Patti, Paulette, Cindy, Kristine, Mary, Alison, Carla, Julie, Elaina, Summerset, Mamafitz, Meredith, Ivalyn, Cindy C and Claire S for talking back to my confession a couple of weeks ago! I confessed that, while I do change my sewing machine needle pretty regularly, I'm not that good at matching the needle to the fabric.

Turns out, I'm in the minority on this. Only 2 people reported being a little like me - shaky on the whole matching thing; while over a dozen people pay attention to at least the type, and usually the size, of the sewing machine needle that they are using.

Regarding sizes, Cindy explained that typically the lighter weight (or finer) the fabric, the smaller the needle size you want to use. Several people echoed this and reported that they try to use the smallest size needle possible for each project.

As you would expect, no two systems were exactly the same. The biggest discrepancy seemed to center around the use of the universal needle. While most people agree on things like, "use a stretch or jersey needle for knits", the opinions on the universal needle ranged from "never" to "usually" and hit most everything in between. ;)

I was especially intrigued by an idea that both Julie and Summerset proposed - they actually try several different needles on scraps of fabric and then pick the needle that gives the best looking stitches. Julie said that it's worth the extra time.

Finally, people provided a number of excellent resources for learning more about needles and fabric:
  • The most recommended resource was Sandra Betzina's "More Fabric Savvy", which I am embarrassed to admit that I own, and clearly need to consult more often! ;)
  • Apparently I also need to check my sewing machine manual and any sewing encyclopedia!
  • Patti provided this link to a resource by KwikSew
  • And Cindy provided this link to another resource - this page explained why there are 2 numbers on the packages of needles that I see - one is the American size and the other is the European size.
  • Alison pointed me towards Schmetz and, not surprisingly, their web site has a helpful page here.
  • And Ivalyn pointed me towards Thread magazine. A quick search of their site produced a number of relevant articles, including this one on needle types and this one on needle sizes.
Have I mentioned lately that you guys rock? Thank you so much for all your input on the selection of the best sewing machine needle! :)

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

In the Queue Wednesday

Thank you so much to everyone for your words of understanding, encouragement and advice regarding my experience at the Original Sewing and Quilt Expo! Every time feelings of failure try to rise up and overwhelm me, I just re-read your comments and feel better.

Well, I didn't spend the entire time at the Expo sitting in our booth trying not to cry - I managed to squeeze in some fun shopping! ;)

Remember this
baby bubble pattern designed by the Scientific Seamstress?

I made
two of these outfits for my vet's baby daughter last December...

I thought of it as a kind of girly pattern, but a good friend at work who is expecting her first child - a boy - later this Spring, fell in love with the pattern and was pretty adamant that, without the sleeves, it's a perfectly fine romper for a boy!

So, I picked out these fabrics to make a reversible baby bubble for her baby's wardrobe:

I really like using a solid/geometric pattern for one side and a cute print for the other - I think that makes it more versatile. The baby's room colors are blues and browns, so the fabric is perfect! I think she'll love it! And I'll get to it soon - it's in the queue! :)

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Failing Big

It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed.

-- Theodore Roosevelt

This week was my first experience as a vendor at a show. Christine and I had a booth at the Original Sewing and Quilt Expo in Tampa, Florida. Here are some shots of our booth:

Here's Christine behind the table, wearing one of our "gwyn hug" shirts, embroidered by Lori (Girls in the Garden).

The cards were included in the New and Noteworthy section of one of the Threads magazines, and we had the blurb framed and on display.

My favorite bit was our cartoon banner. It got a lot of smiles. :)

So, let's get the bad news out of the way. We didn't sell anywhere near enough sets of cards to even cover the booth fee, never mind all of the other expenses that went into going to the Expo. Truthfully, it was pretty discouraging. There were a lot of quilters there, who weren't interested in garment sewing. I still believe that the cards are a good idea, but I'm pretty disheartened regarding my ability to manage a small business. I really lost a lot of money... :(

(Don't get me wrong - my husband and I each have full time jobs. It's not like our mortgage is in jeopardy or anything. You don't need to worry about us - we're fine.)

Now, to the fun and interesting stuff. First, we met some of the nicest people! The other vendors at the Expo were especially wonderful! The ones with the booths around us took us under their wings and gave us lots of pointers and advice. Wendy has her own sewing center in Ft. Myers, Sewing Boutique, where she sells machines and teaches sewing and quilting classes. She had the Tin Lizzy booth - demonstrating a free-arm quilting machine. Trisha and her husband, of Salem Manufacturing Company, sell cutting mats and templates made right here in the USA. And Teri's booth, Thread & More, was a treaure chest of notions and gadgets for sewers and quilters. They all made us feel immediately part of a family. :)

There was also some interesting behind-the-scenes drama. A major chain sewing store was there, and the rumor was that they had worked a deal with the show producers and hadn't had to pay for their combined SIX booth spaces. They were offering most of their merchandise at a 40% discount, undercutting the small business owners and taking away a lot of their business. All of the vendors that we met were really upset about it. A mini-version of what is going on everywhere, I guess... :(

All in all, it was quite an experience. I think it's going to take me some time to process the lessons I've learned and regroup and figure out how to proceed from here... But I'll never forget the kindnesses that the other vendors showed us. They are special people and I wish them all the best! :)

Monday, February 15, 2010

Missing In Action...

I'm going to be MIA this week, as I prepare for and participate in the Original Sewing and Quilt Expo in Tampa, Florida. It will be my first time as a vendor (selling the "How Much Fabric?" Reference Cards.) It's exciting and nerve-wracking all at the same time! Wish me luck! I'll try to post some pictures of the booth over the weekend, and will be back to my usual schedule next week. :)

Friday, February 12, 2010

Friday Confession

This is a bit of a extension of last week's topic, but it seems worthy of it's own post. While I am OCD about changing my sewing machine needle every project, I am not particularly good about making sure that my needle "matches" my fabric. I mostly use universal needles, and I periodically put in a denim needle if my fabric is quite heavy and a stretch needle if I'm sewing a knit. But I don't really know what I'm doing and I have NO idea what the sizes mean... :(

How about you? Do you have a system for matching needle to fabric type? Do you pay attention to the needle sizes? I'd love to know what works for you! :)

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Talk Back Thursday

Thank you so much to Faye, Webfrau, Linda, Julia, Mary, Amelia, CarlaF, Casserole, Gaylen, Karin, Gwen, Julie, Becky, Shannon, Mamafitz, Summerset, Claire, and Meredith for talking back to my confession last Friday! I admitted that I’m somewhat OCD about changing my sewing machine needle, and asked how often others change theirs.

With some questions, it’s easy to divide people into distinct groups – but this time there was a lot of partial overlap between different people’s responses. So it’s more difficult to get a clean count of how many people do one thing versus how many people do another.

There were three clear motivating factors for a needle change:
Fault-based: A major problem with the old needle, such as it breaks, the fabric starts snagging, the stitches look “off” or it starts making a “punching sound” when it goes through the fabric
Materials-based: A change in the type of fabric being sewn, for example, going from wovens to knits
Time-based: The start of a new major project (not just some mending or a couple of seams) and/or at intermediate stages during a large project

Almost everyone switches needles for major fabric changes – but some use that as an excuse to throw out the previous needle, while others save the old needle and re-use it until it eventually breaks or causes a problem. Similarly, some only change their needles when there is a major fabric change, while others also change regularly whenever they start a new major project, or when they feel they have been working on a single project for a long time.

Amelia mentioned that her shop recommended a more specific time-based approach – they said that a needle should be changed after 8 hours of use. I have never heard this one, but it seems a bit more precise than the rule I heard, which was “every big project”.

So, should we try to err on the side of changing needles well before they start getting dull? Or is it okay to use them until you see a problem? Obviously this is a decision that each person must make for herself...

But we did hear from two “converts” who had experiences that convinced them that it was worth replacing needles frequently – when Julie was working on her wedding dress, she found that this made the sewing easier and eliminated a lot of little problems with her stitching that she had previously been attributing to operator error. And Webfrau came to the same conclusion when she got into creating surface embellishments for quilting projects.

Speaking of changing the needle for different types of fabric, a few people mentioned their policies – and I realized that this seems like an excellent topic for another confession! For today, I’ll just pass on Gwen’s breakdown of her preferences, as it was the most extensive one that anyone laid out:

Use / Needle Type
Most wovens / Sharp (over universal)
Knits / Ballpoints
Lycra / Stretch
Faux suede / Microtex
All purpose / Denim (all sizes from 70 to 110)

Only a few people mentioned serger needles, but the ones who did were in agreement – no one voluntarily changes their serger needles very often! ;)

Thank you so much to everyone who took the time to comment! As always, it was very interesting to read your experiences and I learned a lot! :)

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

In the Queue Wednesday

Well, I haven't cleaned my sewing room yet, but I did accidentally wander too close to a local Joann's and was, of course, sucked in by their tractor beam and forced to buy this cute cotton print and peasant shirt pattern.

What can I say? I may not have experienced much of the 60's the first time around (I was only 8 years old when the 70's rolled in) but I guess I'm just a flower child at heart! ;)

I'm hoping that this is a fun, quick pattern! Don't worry, I'll get to it. It's in the queue. :)

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Weekend Project: A Surprising Turn of Events

I'll be more enthusiastic about encouraging thinking outside the box
when there's evidence of any thinking going on inside it.
--Terry Pratchett

Mr. Pratchett's pessimism notwithstanding, it worked! Tying the threads for the new set of towels to the still-warped threads from the old set of towels and then gently pulling them through all of the pieces of the loom worked! I bet I cut 4 hours off the time it usually takes me to warp the loom! Yay! :)

At this rate, my 2009 Christmas presents should easily be completed by May 2010... ;)

I hope your weekend was also full of happy surprises. :)

Friday, February 5, 2010

Friday Confession

I change my sewing machine needle after every project.

Am I being obsessive and wasteful? Or is this a good idea? How often do you change the needle in your sewing machine? In your serger?

Photo courtsey of House of Sims

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Talk Back Thursday

Thank you so much to Cindy, Julia, CarlaF, Gwen, Ivalyn, Shannon, Elaina, Becky and an annonymous commenter for talking back to my confession last Friday! I confessed that I've never made a sloper.

I was half expecting the same kind of response that I got on pressing seams - a landslide in the "you must do it!" camp. But apparently slopers aren't as popular with this crowd as they might like to think they are... ;)

Cindy gave a nice definition of a sloper - it is a simple, no-frills pattern for any type of garment made to fit certain measurements, that is used as the basis for constructing a wide variety of patterns (that will fit the same person) with different styles. She explained how the different pattern companies (Simplicity, Vogue, Burda, etc.) each work from a different set of slopers, which is why you might find that one company's patterns fit you well "out of the box", while you have to tweak patterns from another company to get a good fit.

Reading between the lines (which sometimes gets me in trouble!), it sounds like people make their own personalized slopers mainly for one of two reasons - either they plan to use them to draft their own patterns from scratch or they plan to use them to improve the fit of commercial patterns.

About six people fell in the "not a huge fan" category. A couple of those (like me) have never actually made a sloper, and Becky has made one, but hasn't had the chance to use it yet. The other three have all made slopers in the past, but currently don't use them.

The main reasons people gave for not using slopers in their sewing routine included:
(a) using commercial patterns, rather than drafting patterns from scratch,
(b) generally not having fitting issues with commercial patterns, and
(c) mostly sewing for children and/or with knits - cases when fitting isn't as challenging.

People also proposed alternatives to formal slopers. Shannon has a favorite t-shirt pattern (made years ago by tracing a t-shirt) that she now uses to adjust new patterns, in lieu of a made-from-scratch sloper. Gwen makes a muslin before applying any new pattern to fashion fabric. And Elaina drafts her own patterns straight from her body measurements, as shown one of her favorite books, Dorothy Moore's classic, "Pattern Drafting and Dressmaking" (pictured above, courtesy of

It wasn't all one-sided, however. There were two strong yes votes for slopers. Ivalyn made a sloper to use with her Wild Ginger software. She lets the computer do all the adjusting of the pattern pieces to fit her measurements perfectly. And our final commenter has significant fitting issues with commercial patterns, so she paid a local seamstress to measure her and create a sloper for her, and she now uses that sloper to draft her own patterns from scratch. Both very cool and smart ideas!

Thanks again to everyone who took the time to answer! You really make this series fun and informative! :)

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

In the Queue Wednesday

Sometimes I can't fit in any sewing because I am too busy with other things. But sometimes I find myself disinclined to sew because my sewing room is a mess. And I think I am in that situation now... (But you can judge for yourself - look at my "cutting table" - yikes!)

So, before I can get to ANYTHING else in my queue, job number one is to clean up my sewing room! I think I'll find my good scissors, my seam gauge and my sewing mojo! ;)

Don't worry, I'll get to it... It's in my queue! :)