Thursday, March 31, 2011

Talk Back Thursday

Wow, wow, wow! Thank you so much to Nicole, Wendy, Carla, Sarah E., Julia, Mamafitz, Webfrau, Mary, Alison, Sarah, Summerset, Becky, Shannon, katherine h, and Patsijean for talking back to my confession last week!

I asked what kind of hems everyone uses and - Wow! - did I get a lot of excellent information!

Of course, as usual, the Reader's Digest Condensed Version of the answer is: It depends. ;)

But there was so much detailed information that I struggled a bit to come up with a good way to summarize it.

So, it looks like the majority of the various hemming methods can be described by picking one method from set A (see below) for the first step and then one method from set B (see below) for the second step.

Set A
  1. Fold the fabric up twice (double it)
  2. Serge the raw edge of the fabric (with an overlock stitch) and fold it up once
  3. Apply a binding material (bias tape, lace, grosgrain ribbon, etc.) to the edge and then fold it up once

Set B
  1. Top stitch with your sewing machine
  2. Apply a blind hem stitch with your sewing machine
  3. Hand stitch

Pretty much all possible combinations of one step from Set A and one step from Set B were mentioned by at least one person.

So, what did I learn about each combination?

When it comes to doubling the fabric, people were fairly evenly spread between following up with machine top stitching (3 'usually's), blind hemming by machine (2 'usually's and 1 'sometimes') and hand stitching (2 'usually's, 1 'often' and 1 'sometimes').

It looks like doubling the fabric and using a machine top stitch is most commonly done on casual clothes, and for narrow hems.

When it comes to serging the raw edge, people are most likely to follow this up with a machine top stitch (6 votes - 2 'usually's and 4 'sometimes') or a machine blind hem (1 'often' and 1 'sometimes'). Only 1 person said that she sometimes follows this up with hand stitching.

The reasons to serge & then machine top stitch included: (a) not having enough fabric length to support a double fold, (b) saving time and (c) taking in ease for garments like full skirts. Patsijean uses this technique on pajamas, and then does multiple rows of decorative stitches for her top stitching.

The folks who use a machine blind hem after serging a raw edge seem to do so on more professional clothes - dress pants, pencil skirts, etc.

When it comes to using some type of binding material - whether it be hem tape or grosgrain ribbon or lace (Wendy likes the nice seam binding that she gets at Steinlauff and Stoller) - most people follow this up with hand stitching (6 votes). Only one person mentioned using bias tape and machine top stitching for curved hems.

The main reason for binding and hand stitching is to finish very special garments made with delicate and/or expensive fabrics (4 votes), however there were some other reasons mentioned as well, including dealing with thick fabric and protecting fabric from wear and tear.

That pretty much sums up the majority of the general comments on preferred hemming methods.

While most people referred to the type of garment when deciding which of the above hemming methods to use, several people called out knits as a special category of fabric when it comes to hemming. The special methods for hemming knits that were listed include:
  • using twin needles
  • using a zig zag stitch
  • using a walking foot and a longer stitch length
  • serging with a rolled hem
  • using a coverstitch
  • and even leaving them unhemmed (but make sure to secure the threads on the side seams!)
Finally, we had a few special hem treatments called out. Mamafitz likes to use a Hong Kong seam finish, followed by hand stitching. Julia has several special finishes for her heirloom dresses, including a madeira applique hem and growth tuck hems.

Well, I've tried the best I can to summarize the flood of useful information - feel free to read the comments directly (here) for even more wisdom. :)

Thanks again, everyone! You guys are sewing geniuses!


PS - I never heard back from 2 of my give-away winners, so I re-drew names. Congratulations to: katherine h and Sarah E - please email me at!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

In the Queue Wednesday

This is one of my favorite casual (RTW) tops:

I think that the neckline (boat neck?) - possibly combined with the textured vertical lines - is flattering on me.

As you can see, it's getting a bit worn:

So, another project in my queue is to copy this garment. Given its age and shape, I think I'm going to just cut it up to copy it.

It should be easy - only 3 pieces (front, back & shirt sleeve) and a neck binding. The trick will be making sure that the material that I use has the same weight and drape and "hand"...

Man, it seems like it's been forever since I've been able to spend any time in my sewing room. :(

So I don't know when I'm going to be able to get to it. But, don't worry, I'll copy this top! It's in the queue... :)

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Tuesday's Torch Story

Change your thoughts and you change your world.
~Norman Vincent Peale

I'm preparing for the summer session of my ESL class and, as I mentioned last week, I'm planning to change things up. No more vocabulary flash cards or grammar lessons - the emphasis will be on conversation - just sitting around and talking - in English.

During the year, Spanish has been allowed in the classroom - sometimes I've explained things in Spanish and I've allowed my students to ask questions in Spanish. Now I think it's time to move forward and make my students (at least) try to communicate exclusively in English.

But I know that being in the same environment will trigger the same behaviors - feeling comfortable speaking in Spanish. I'd like to try to make the new rule obvious and provide a constant visual reminder that things have changed.

So, this weekend, instead of sewing (sigh...) I worked on a different kind of project. I made five large, sturdy street signs, to stand in strategic locations around the classroom.

I'm pretty pleased with both how they turned out and how inexpensive they were. For the base I bought dust pans from the dollar store. Single pieces of yellow and black cardstock, from the scrapbooking section at Michaels made the signs, reinforced with foam core cut from a science fair display board purchased at Walmarts. The most expensive bit was the pre-cut, sticky lettering - I probably could have done something with the computer, but this was quicker and easier...

The only unexpected issue was that the weight of the sign tended to topple the base, so I got some large decorative glass pebbles to serve as counterweights.

Of course, I know that I'll still have to remind my students. But I'm hoping that having these signs arranged around the room - and one strategically placed by the door as they enter the room - will signal that it's not the same old room with the same old rules. Things have changed!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Friday Confession

How about a sewing-related confession, for a change? It feels like it's been a while... ;)

Today's topic is hemming. My confession - I typically do a very plain-Jane hem. I just fold up the fabric twice and do a straight (machine) stitch around the edge.

How about you? How do you hem your garments? By hand or by machine? Do you use hem tape or some kind of lace seam binding? If by machine, do you use a special stitch?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Talk Back Thursday

Attention: Mae and Sydney - you were winners in my last give-away. I can't conatct you through your profiles. Please email me at: to claim your gift certificates to Patterns from the Past. If I do not hear from you by next Thursday, I will draw new names.

Thank you so much to Sarah, Carla, What-I-Found, Faye, Helen, Katherine, Diane, Beckie, Julia, Becky, Corrine and an Annonymous commenter for talking back to my confession last week!

I had been feeling a bit down that my recent give-aways hadn't attracted more commenters, and wondered if I was doing something "wrong". I asked people for their opinions on give-aways and what types of give-aways would draw people to participate.

Your comments reminded me of a fundamental fact of life that I know, but don't always remember and apply...

It's NOT all about ME. ;)

I had this feeling that I had done something wrong and if I could just do it right, then hundreds, thousands - maybe millions! - of people would respond to my give-aways.

(Oh, okay, how about "dozens" ?)

But as I read the replies, I realized that this is just not the case. Almost half of the commenters (5 out of 12) responded that they rarely or never enter any give-aways at all.

And there were a lot of reasons why not, including things like (a) a conscious decision not to accumulate stuff (gasp - not even sewing stuff!), (b) not being sure if give-aways are open to people living outside the U.S., and (c) not feeling comfortable de-lurking for a give-away.

Even among the people who do enjoy participating in give-aways, there were different opinions as to what type is the best. I was interested to see that gift cards received mixed reviews - while several people prefer them, at least one person doesn't like them and would prefer bundles of cute fabric or trim, or an independent pattern.

Someone even suggsted that I have a give-away for my "How Much Fabric?" Reference cards. I do try to avoid making this blog about promoting the cards, but I could be talked into giving them away once in a while if no one objected... ;)

So, I REALLY want to thank everyone who took the time to help set me straight! I will continue to have give-aways for (a) every 100th post and (b) each year anniversary and I'll just be happy knowing that the people who want to participate, will participate and the people who don't, won't. And that there are people out there who enjoy reading my blog, regardless of whether or not I have give-aways. :)

Have I told you recently that you guys rock? ;)

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

In the Queue Wednesday

I have exactly one completely self-drafted pattern - for a rock climber's chalk bag with interchangeable covers.

You can see the entire process that I follow to make these chalk bags here.

Anyways, I usually try to make personalized chalk bags for all our climbing friends. And that is another project that is waiting for me in my queue - a chalk bag for our climbing friend Jen.

Jen produces documentaries, and so I looked for a cotton print that featured cameras. Look what I found on spoonflower:

Isn't it great?

I don't know when I'm going to get to it, but don't worry Jen, I will make your chalk bag! It's in the queue... ;)

PS - Thank you so much for the encouraging and supportive comments on my weekend post - you all really helped make me feel better! :)

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Tuesday's Torch Story

Tonight is the final exam... It covers the entire year - from our earliest lessons on introducing yourself and knowing simple colors and shapes to our most recent lessons on conjugating verbs.

It will include the vocabulary flash cards covering the 300 most commonly used words in the English language...

the false cognates that can get a person into so much trouble (embarazada doesn't mean embarrassed - it means pregnant!)...

and the (approximate) translations of the lyrics of the dozen or so songs that we studied.

There will be body parts and adjectives - although not necessarily together. ;)

It's not about being mean or tough. It's about helping each student decide independently if he wants to stay with me next year and go through it all again, or if she feels in control of this material and is ready to move up to the intermediate class.

Because - while I have LOTS of ideas for improvements - I am planning to basically repeat the bulk of the course material next year.

Speaking of ideas, we're going to have a short (2 month) summer session, and I'm going to really change things up for that session. My plan is to focus on conversation. Each week's homework assignment will be a reading (in English) and each class period will be spent primarily discussing the reading (also, of course, in English).

Right now I'm trying to come up with a good selection of readings. Not surprisingly, I've found dozens of websites with options to consider. I'm also rooting through our bookcases - and have been skimming essays by James Thurber and Dave Barry. If anyone reading this has any suggestions based on personal experience, I'd love to hear them! Thanks! :)

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Weekend Project: The Definition of Insanity

Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
--Albert Einstein

You may remember my phenomenal failure at the Original Sewing and Quilt Expo in Tampa last year. If not, the short story is that I rented a booth to sell the "How Much Fabric?" Reference cards - and lost my shirt....

Okay, not literally, but I didn't come anywhere close to breaking even. Any sane person would have walked away poorer but wiser.

Sammy says, "Oh, no! Tell me you didn't..."

Sorry, Sammy. I did. Kind of...

When the organizers of the Expo contacted me this year, I explained that I had lost a lot of money and wouldn't be participating again. But they offered me an option. What if they could find a vendor who would be willing to let me sell my cards in her/his booth, in exchange for my assistance working the booth?

I guess it's true that hope springs eternal, because I said yes. The vendor who agreed to the plan was Clare Rowley of Creative Feet. Here is her booth:

Clare sits at the sewing machine from 10 am to 6 pm and does a non-stop, high energy demo of her products - the three sewing machine feet and the octagon-shaped free-motion embroidery and quilting hoops - that she has invented. She always had a crowd, and some people stayed and watched for hours.

I sat in the back corner and rang up her sales. If you look closely you can see my display on the table on the right.

Here is a close-up of her machine - a BabyLock. It took her 62 hours to hand-paint it and was an attraction all by itself.

Here is a close-up of my display:

And even closer:

So, it was quite an experience. Watching and listening to Clare was an education - she has been an inventor, an artist, a certified sewing machine technician and a business woman for her whole life.

What it wasn't, was profitable. For whatever reason, I barely sold any sets. I'm not sure if this just isn't the right crowd, or I haven't found the right way to "pitch" them, or what. It's probably a bit of both. Sigh...

It's not much fun to hear "I told you so" from a cat! ;)

Friday, March 18, 2011

Friday Confession

My confession this week: I don't know what kind of give-away you would like.

In the last month, I've had 2 give-aways - one in honor of my 600th post and one in honor of my 3rd year blog birthday. (I know, it's kind of a pain that the 2 events fall so close together each year...)

So, typically I average about 70 hits per day on this blog. But fewer than 25 people participated in each give-away - even though each was up for a week and I posted reminders during that week.

So, my question for each of you this week - what type of give-away would YOU sign up for?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Thursday Winners!

In honor of my 3rd year blog birthday, I announced a give-away last week - three $35 gift certificates to Patterns from the Past - a website that sells vintage sewing patterns. (Okay, 3 years old may not qualify as vintage, but I needed a theme...)

Without further ado, the three randomly drawn winners are:




Congratulations! Please email me at to claim your gift certificate. :)

Thanks to everyone who participated and special thanks for the kind words about my blog! I wish I could give a gift certificate to each of you!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

In the Queue Wednesday

Well, I didn't finish work early last Friday, but I did make it to the Edinburgh Fabrics store on Saturday morning. The store was stocked with the most amazing collection of sari fabrics! The colors and patterns were amazing, but expensive and (for me) impractical enough that I wasn't overwhelmed by temptation. ;)

I did find this cute, gauzy print that insisted that it belonged in my closet. (Or, at least, in my stash!)

I think it will be perfect for this top pattern:

I've already made this once (here), but I used a straight cotton print and decided that it really needed a lighter weight, more flowy, gauzy fabric. Also, I messed up on the neckline, so I'm looking forward to a second chance at doing it right.

It seems like forever since I've had a chance to sew, but don't worry, I'll get to it. It's in the queue... :)

P.S. - Remember, today is your LAST chance to sign up for my 3rd year blog birthday give-away here. I'm giving away gift certificates to Patterns from the Past, so if you enjoy vintage patterns, you definitely want to sign up! Odds are still pretty good... ;)

I'll be announcing the THREE (randomly drawn) winners tomorrow. Good luck to everyone!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Morning Decision: Where to Have Coffee...

No thanks - been there, done that. ;)

Perhaps a bit too clever for me...

Is Capt. Taylor well known around Scotland for his good coffee, I wonder?

Here I have two choices - downstairs, Black Medicine Coffee and upstairs, the Spoon Cafe of J.K. Rowling fame.

A bit too African for my Scottish morning coffee...

I'm not THAT hungry first thing in the morning!

It's like coming home!

I think my Cafe Mocha says it best. :)

PS - the 6 people who have signed up for my 3 year blog birthday give-away here have requested that no one else sign up, as they currently each have a 50% chance of winning. ;)

Friday, March 11, 2011

Year Three: Blog Birthday

Yup. My blog is three years old. It's a good time to reflect on the past and the future of my blog. To think about why I blog - what I hope to accomplish by keeping this blog...

Of course, another good thing about birthdays - they are always a good excuse for a give-away. :)

For this give-away, in honor of year 3, I will randomly select 3 winners.

In honor of the whole notion of being old, the prizes will be gift certificates to buy vintage sewing patterns from Patterns from the Past. More specifically, each winner will receive a $35 gift certificate for this website. (Note that they do ship internationally.)

If you'd like to be considered, just leave a comment on this post sometime before midnight (EST) next Wednesday. I'll announce the winners next Thursday. :)

Good luck to everyone! :)

Photo credit: larryjh1234

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Okay, maybe this one will have a broader appeal...

This will be my treat tomorrow, if I can finish up my work early! Wish me luck... :)

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

A Round of Jeopardy

Your answer might be: "Mine."

Question: What trip to Edinburgh would be complete without spending an evening here?

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Kilt Maker Shop Window

Monday, March 7, 2011

Traffic Jam

The trip is off to a rocky start...

Thanks to a super-human dash through the Newark airport, I made my connecting flight to Edinburgh.

My luggage, on the other hand... Not so much.

On the plus side, I did get to ride a double-decker bus to the hotel this morning! :)

Oh, and I forgot that the UK has different power outlets than the US. So the 257 assorted power cords that I'm carrying are pretty much worthless.

Hmmmm.... Maybe I can drape them gracefully over some ancient piece of statuary and take a deeply meaningful and artsy photo? ;)

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Long Kiss Goodbye

And by "long", I mean an hour and a half delay due to bad weather in the NE...

Isn't modern travel fun? ;)

By the way, most everyone guessed correctly - I'm off (well, in theory, anyways) to Edinburgh, Scotland. I'll try to post a picture most every day. :)

Friday, March 4, 2011

Friday Confession

I'm sorry, no real confession for you today. I'm about to go abroad for a week on a business trip. I'll try to put up an "exotic, on-location" picture most days while I'm gone. This picture gives you a hint about where I'm going. Can you figure it out? ;)

If you think you know, leave a comment with your guess. :)

PS - Make sure you check back next Friday - I'll be having a big give-away for my 3rd year blog birthday. (hint: 3 years = 3 winners!).

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Talk Back Thursday

Last Friday I announced a give-away in honor of my 600th blog post - a $60 gift certificate to the online sewing-related store of your choice - to be given to one randomly drawn commenter.

And the randomly selected wiener - oops, I mean "winner" - is:

!!! Rose !!!

Congratulations! Please email me at: and we'll see about getting your gift certificate to you. :)

If you didn't win this time, don't despair - I'll have another give-away in a week, in honor of my 3rd year blogoversary. :)

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

In the Queue Wednesday

I know I'm supposed to be focusing on the projects that are sitting in my sewing room - fabric snuggling up with a pattern - patiently waiting for my attention. But the March issue of Burda Style showed up and I fell in love with this dress.

It's flowy yet simple and clean...

It's romantic yet casual...

It's the way I like to picture myself in my head.

Of course, there may be a small1 gap between the picture in my head and real life! ;)

Anyways, it's quite low on my list of priorities, but someday I just might get around to making this romantic fantasy. It's in my queue...

1think "Grand Canyon"

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Tuesday's Torch Story

Q. Is there any difference between "happen'' and "transpire''?

A. Grammatically, "happen'' is a collaborating inductive that should be used in predatory conjunctions such as: "Me and Norm here would like to buy you two happening mommas a drink.'' Whereas "transpire'' is a suppository verb that should always be used to indicate that an event of some kind has transpired.

WRONG: "Lester got one of them electric worm stunners.''

RIGHT: "What transpired was, Lester got one of them electric worm stunners.''

~ Ask Mr. Language Person (a.k.a. Dave Barry)

Great news! I've found a new resource to help me prepare grammar lessons for my ESL class! ;)