Thursday, June 30, 2011

Talk Back Thursday

Thank you so much to Mamafitz, Sarah, Debbie, Carla, Katherine, Summerset and Mary for talking back to my confession last week! I asked how much attention people pay to the grain line in their fabrics and got an interesting collection of responses – some areas of strong agreement and others not so much…

There are basically 2 issues:

First, are the horizontal threads and the vertical threads in the fabric actually perpendicular to one another? This tells you if your fabric is on-grain or not.

Second, do you take care to align the arrows printed on the pattern pieces with the grain (or the bias) of the fabric, as directed?

Most people (5 out of 7) reported that they do pay attention to the grain line of their fabric. In fact, every single person indicated that she aligns the pattern pieces along the fabric grain line as directed.

(I wish I could get my friend Ana to do this – she is so driven to use every single scrap of fabric, that she completely disregards the grainlines marked on the pattern pieces.)

Finally, when the fabric is not well squared up, no one puts much effort into trying to fix it – most people just move on to a different piece of fabric. Mamafitz, for example, explained that even if you can “fix” the fabric, it goes back to its original shape after it is washed.

The differences came up when people started talking about how they attend to the grain line. For example, 3 out of 6 will rip the edge of a piece of fabric (like a cotton print) to make sure that they are folding it along the grain. But, 3 out of 6 won’t. (And Debbie noted that this can distort the edges…)

Similarly, half the commenters will pull a single thread out of the fabric (near the edge) – again, to make sure that they have identified the grain line – and the other half won’t.

Those are the 2 most common (as far as I know) methods of finding the grainline of your fabric. Mamafitz uses a gridded cutting mat to make sure that everything is nice and square and lined up. Katherine will sometimes just eyeball the weave carefully and/or drape the fabric over her hand to see how well it hangs. She also tugs on her fabric at various angles to try to find the best bias line. And Debbie will mark a single rib in a knit fabric.

As for the “why?” of grainlines, several people mentioned that your clothes simply won’t look their best if you don’t pay attention to the fabric grain. But not everyone agreed that this will make a big difference.

In my sewing experience, the impact of paying attention to fabric grain is more likely to show up when I’m either (a) lining something or (b) making something reversible. I’ve found that, if I don’t make sure that each piece is on grain, those 2 fabrics fight each other and the garment really doesn’t hang well at all. For me, it’s much less obvious in single-layer garments.

See links embedded in the photo for reversible patterns & tutorials.

Thanks again to everyone who took the time to comment! You guys rock! :)

Photo credit: Patterns Only

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

In the Queue Wednesday

You know how I've been on a spring cleaning / organizational kick lately? Well, I've been perusing the web for ideas and I recently stumbled on this tutorial at The Mother Huddle for hanging fabric baskets.

Aren't they adorable? What a great way to use fabric scraps!

The walls in my sewing room are pretty full, but I just may have to rearrange things... I think these baskets have infiltrated my queue! :)

PS - As predicted, my friends at work liked my lanyard, and requests are pouring in... Here are the first four I made (the first 2 using scraps left over from the pencil rolls). (On a slightly sad note, none of them are scientific lanyards.)

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Tuesday's Torch Story

How do you solve a problem like Maria?
How do you catch a cloud and pin it down?
How do you find a word that means Maria?
How do you keep a wave upon the sand?
How do you solve a problem like Maria?
How do you hold a moonbeam in your hand?

~ Rodgers & Hammerstein, The Sound of Music

It was my weekend for luncheons with Marias. On Saturday, it was Maria from Nicaragua.

She confessed that she was nervous about having an English-only lunch one-on-one with me. She thought the restaurant was beautiful. She loved her album and told me that she'd remember this day forever.

We talked about her family - her 2 sons who are still living in Nicaragua, her pregnant daughter in Florida and her daughter living in France, who will soon be coming to visit with her new baby - a granddaughter that Maria hasn't met yet. We talked about her job and what life has been like as a widow for the last 3 years.

We had a very nice time! :)

Then, on Sunday, it was lunch with Maria from Venezuela.

She is my best student (not counting Ana, who isn't really an official student, but comes sometimes.) Truthfully, Maria didn't need to take my beginner class - she probably could have gone into the more advanced class. But she came with a friend who was a true beginner and they wanted to be together.

Anyways, she wasn't nervous - she was looking forward to having a chance to practice her English and it was very easy to have a conversation with her. I learned about her family - including her daughter who is a special nurse in a hospital ward for premature babies and her grandchildren, 2 of whom are off to college next year.

She thought the restaurant was beautiful and appreciated the album, although the missions weren't exactly challenging for her, so I don't think it had the same meaning that it has (I think & hope) for some of the other students.

Did you notice that the restaurant is seating me at the same table with all my students? No one has asked yet what I'm up to, but the hostess and waitress definitely recognize me. ;)

Next weekend is a break, because we're having out-of-town company. But then it's back to this "business" - I still have 4 students left to go... At this rate, the gain around my waist is more than making up for the loss of size in my wallet! ;)

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Weekend Project: Going A Bit Overboard...

I am ashamed to tell you to how many figures I carried these computations,

having no other business at the time.

Okay, so maybe I get carried away sometimes... Apparently I’m in good company! ;)

There are people out there who can design beautiful patchwork lanyards in their sleep - they have an intuitive sense of how to combine different lengths of different colors and patterns of fabric to create an overall pattern that is visually interesting and appealing.

I am not one of those. I'm a person who needs a scheme... a system.

For my first lanyard, I used the ever-so-sophisticated scheme of cutting equal length strips of fabric. ;)

But I did get to thinking about other possible structures. And, having completed a degree in Math many years ago (when dinosaurs roamed the Earth), I remembered the Fibonacci series, in which you get each successive number by adding the 2 previous numbers. (There is a bit of cheating to get started.) It looks like this:

0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34...

I thought to myself, "Hey, I could use that to dictate the lengths of each fabric strip in a row..."

From there, I started thinking of other meaningful scientific numbers that could serve as a guide for the lengths of the strips in a lanyard. For example, consider Pi. It begins: 3.1415. I could make a 14 inch strip of fabric that represents Pi like this:

It was a slippery slope, and before I knew it, I was past the point of no return... ;)

I set up a spreadsheet that will allow you to represent any one of 7 meaningful scientific numbers and mathematical series to different levels of precision in a lanyard of any length.

Continuing with the Pi example, if you wanted to make a lanyard approximately 40 inches long, using 7 strips of fabric and representing Pi, here are the lengths (in inches) of each of those strips:

Instead of using 1 inch as a base, you have to use 1 5/8ths of an inch as a base, so that you can get to 40 inches with only the first 7 digits of Pi. But the proportions are maintained - the first strip (representing the "3") is 4 7/8ths inch long, which is 3 times the base length (1 5/8ths).

I hope that makes sense.

Anyways, I didn't even stop there! I found this software add-on that automatically converts spreadsheets to html & java, so that I could convert my spreadsheet to a web page and post it on the internet! Now YOU can use it to design your own scientific lanyards! :)

Check it out here.

If there are some other scientific numbers and/or mathematical series that you'd like me to add to my spreadsheet, just let me know.

So, here is my first scientific lanyard - made for a friend at work, with his favorite number - the golden ratio:

Notice that I added a small black strip for the zero.

If you make a scientific lanyard, send me a picture (or a link to a picture) and I'll post it!

So, go out there and have some systematic, scientific fun! ;)

Friday, June 24, 2011

Friday Confession

I think I mentioned that I've been ripping fabric strips for my lanyards, rather than cutting them, in order to make sure that the pieces are lined up along the grain lines. And this got me thinking about fabric grain in general...

I pay moderate attention to the grain of my fabric. If it's possible (say, a cotton print), I rip both edges of the fabric before folding it in half and laying down the pattern pieces. And I do make sure to align the pattern pieces with the grainline as directed. For example, I cut out the waistband of the circle skirt that I am making along the bias, as directed.

But if I can't rip the edges, then I don't do that thread pulling thing. And I've never tried to fix fabric that was off grain. (You do it with a steam iron, I think...)

So, how about you? How much attention do you pay to grain line in your fabric? Do you make sure to align your pattern pieces along the grain line as specified? Do you check to see if your fabric is on grain? Do you rip edges and/or pull threads to find the grain line? If your fabric is off grain do you try to fix it? How do you fix it?

Photo credit:

(For more grainline related sites, check out the links embedded in the photo.)

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Talk Back Thursday

Thank you so much to Julia, Lisa Laree, Mamafitz, Carla, Debbie, Becky, Patsijean and Summerset for talking back to my confession last week. I asked about plaids - specifically, how much extra fabric do you buy if you want to match the plaids.

While we had one person who avoids plaids like the plague for this very reason (the difficulties inherent in matching them), the other commenters converged on a small set of points and a couple of rules of thumb.

Point #1: There's no single, perfect rule for determining how much extra fabric to buy.

Point #2: The extra amount of fabric you'll need to buy will depend on several factors, including:

1) the size of the plaid repeat,

2) the width of the fabric,

3) the number of pattern pieces, and

4) the width of the pattern pieces.

For people who want to be as precise as possible in their estimations, Lisa Laree recommends adding enough extra fabric to give yourself one full repeat of the plaid pattern for each pattern piece that you'll be laying down lengthwise and want to be able to shift to achieve a match.

So, for example, if you the plaid repeats itself every 6 inches and you want to match up the front, back and sleeves of the shirt, you would want to add 18 inches, or 3 repeats of the plaid pattern. This would allow you to lay each of those 3 major pattern pieces anywhere along that plaid repeat pattern. (Maybe you could get away with 2 repeats or 12 inches.)

For a simpler rule of thumb, people generally agreed on this system:

1) The really brave ones add 1/2 yard to the amount of fabric recommended on the pattern envelope.

2) The "better safe than sorry" folks add 1 yard to the amount of fabric recommended on the pattern envelope.

3) And the middle-of-the-roaders add 1/2 yard when the plaid repeat is a small pattern and 1 yard when the plaid repeat is a larger pattern.

I thought that all of the advice made a lot of sense and will be easy to remember. Thanks again to everyone!

I hope you enjoyed these pictures from the Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History series entitled "American Ingenuity: Sportswear, 1930s - 1970s."

To learn more about any particular garment, click on the embedded links. To see more outfits from this series, go here:

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

In the Queue Wednesday

Now, don't ask me how I managed this, because I don't know. I think the stars must have been aligned or something - and I should have run out and bought a lottery ticket - but somehow I caught my husband in a weak moment and got him to agree to take some swing dancing lessons with me...

We've had 2 lessons so far and we are both really enjoying it! (And we haven't broken anything yet...) This coming Saturday, as part of our "homework", we are attending a dance hosted by the studio where we take lessons.

Well, I think everyone will agree with me that you can't go to your first official swing dance without a new circle skirt, right?

So, everything else in my queue has been pushed to the back burner while I put together this circle skirt (a link to the pattern is embedded in the photo).

It's a simple 2 piece pattern - a waistband and a quarter-circle skirt piece - of which you cut 4 in each of 2 fabrics.

Not only is this puppy in my queue, but she's half-way done. Keep your fingers crossed for us, that our lucky streak (of not breaking anything) continues this Saturday night! :)

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Tuesday's Torch Story

It is one thing to photograph people. It is another to make others care about them by revealing the core of their humanness.
~ Paul Strand

Well, I had my first "Mission #6" meal with one of my ESL students. We had a really nice time! She called in the reservation ahead of time and checked in with the hostess when we got to the restaurant. She ordered in English and most of our lunch conversation was in English. (I embedded a link to the restaurant in the photo.)

As a small surprise, I've been making photo albums for each student. I found these small binders that hold (among other things) photo inserts. Each photo insert can hold 12 pictures. There were 6 missions, so it worked out perfectly. On one side of each page I have a 4x6 piece of cardstock with a printed mission description and on the other side of the page I put a photo of the student holding his/her evidence of mission success.

I added a title page with a saying along the lines of, "When facing challenges in the future, let memories of your past successes give you confidence."

I gave the first one to this student at our luncheon and she was very touched and really liked it. I took the picture you see above at our luncheon and we added it to the album together after lunch - the last picture, completing the album. :)

Because I'm doing one student at a time, and can only do it on weekends, these meals are going to drag on into mid-July (even though our last class is next week). But I like it this way - I get to spend some "quality" time with each person.

After lunch, I took her home (this particular student doesn't drive) and she made me the best cup of coffee I have ever had! It was real Cuban coffee. (She is Cuban.)

Of course, I raved over it, and told her that the only downside is that, if she ever comes to my house, I couldn't possibly serve her my coffee... ;)

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Weekend Project: Enough Rope to Hang Myself

Question: Why did the chicken cross the mobius strip?
Answer: To get to the same side.
~Sheldon, The Big Bang Theory

As predicted, after seeing this tutorial, I couldn't resist trying to make my own lanyard! I started with scraps from my Amy Butler laptop case and threw in one additional fabric. This was my first layout:

I used 6 inch long strips and I tore them, rather than cut them, to make sure they were on the grain.

The lanyard came together very easily, but I wasn't happy with my design choices. The strips were too long and the colors too "matchy-matchy."

I decided to try shorter strips (4 inches) and fabrics with more contrast. This was my second layout:

This time I did something smart - before any sewing, I pinned the pieces together and put it around my neck and - drum roll, please! - didn't like the sequencing.

So, I tried a couple of combinations in this manner (rearranging the strips and pinning them together) until I found one that I thought looked good. ;)

The actual sewing is quite easy. First you stitch all your pieces together to make a single long strip. Then you iron it in half length-wise, open it up and fold the edges to the middle crease, and iron it again.

Before stitching it along the pressed folds, I opened up the 2 ends and closed it into a circle. I did remember to insert the metal loop before stitching it closed...

However, simply by not paying attention to the orientation of the fabric when I made the loop, I was able to create this impressive Mobius strip lanyard - as you know, if you trace one edge with your finger, you go 'round and 'round forever! Cool, huh? ;)

Of course, I'm a professional (something, not sure what...) and I wouldn't recommend this variation to anyone else. So, I suggest that you make sure that your fabric strip is straight and flat before connecting the ends to make a loop. ;)

Other than that little hiccup, I was pretty happy with my 2nd lanyard. I'm going to wear it to work on Monday and I wouldn't be surprised if I end up with orders for lots more!

I hope you had a good sewing weekend and are ready for Monday! :)

Friday, June 17, 2011

Friday Confession

I don't sew with plaid very often - mostly just to make flannel shirts for my Grandmother. But I know that you're supposed to buy extra fabric to allow for matching the stripes in assorted locations - across the front of the shirt, etc.

I don't really have a good sense of how much extra to buy - I imagine that it would depend on things like the size of the stripe.

How about you? Do you sew very often with plaids and other fabric designs that need to be carefully aligned? If so, how do you decide how much extra fabric to buy?

Photo credit: GLAMCHIC

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Talk Back Thursday

Thank you so much to Summerset, Sarah, Stitchywitch, Katherine, Patsijean, Carla and Becky for talking back to my confession last week!

I admitted that I own 2 Japanese pattern books, but have never made any of the patterns, and asked if others had experience with these pattern books and/or other non-Big4 pattern companies.

It was interesting to see how much people converged on 2 opinions. First, that these pattern books are lovely. Second, that the range of styles is somewhat limited and not well suited to a variety of body types.

I returned to my 2 books and looked through the patterns with a new eye, and saw that (as usual!), you guys have a good point!

I'm including scanned images of almost half of the styles in one of my books, so that everyone can judge for themselves. There are quite a few (not all, but quite a few) relatively straight-cut styles that probably work best on a small, waif-like figure (i.e., not me!).

In fact, while everyone loves experimenting with new pattern companies (although Sarah pointed out that they can be quite pricey sometimes), and everyone was familiar with these Japanese pattern books, only 1 person had actually made anything from one of them. Katherine has made a couple of things for her daughter, and wasn't ecstatic over the final fit. She reported that she gets a better fit with Burda and Ottobre children's patterns.

Now, Stitchywitch has used other Japanese craft books (knitting, etc.) and really likes those. She also likes the Mrs Stylebook series, although she warns that you have to draft your own patterns, so they can be quite challenging!

A couple of other pattern companies were mentioned. Carla has some Colette patterns that she is looking forward to trying. And Katherine brought up Marfy, an Italian pattern company. Like many European patterns, they don't have seam allowances; but, good news, it doesn't matter if you don't speak Italian because... there are no instructions anyways! (Can I put a positive spin on things, or what?)

Actually, Summerset made a really good point about foreign language instructions. She said that not being able to read foreign language instructions is often not a big problem. By the time you've been sewing a while, you usually have a pretty good idea of how things are put together. Plus, there are so many resources available for help - reference books, web sites and you can always look at an English-language pattern for a garment that is similar in the particular component that is troublesome...

Well, I hope you've enjoyed these pictures!

And thanks again to everyone who left a comment! You're always helping me see things in a new light...

Today's lesson: buy patterns for garments that will actually look good on me, not patterns for garments that I wish I looked good in! ;)

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

In the Queue Wednesday

I just stumbled across this tutorial for making fabric lanyards - aren't they great? I have to wear a badge at work and have gone through several of your standard, boring, commercial lanyards.

I can't wait to raid my scrap stash and whip up some of these! I think they would make great gifts for my co-workers too!

I've embedded links to other lanyard tutorials in the photo. There are a ton of lanyard tutorials out there! Across most of them, the 2 main differences appear to be:
1. Whether they have you sewing a tube and turning it inside-out OR folding inward twice like bias tape.
2. How you finish the end - how much and what type of hardware, how you close it up, etc.

I'm not sure when I'll get to this, but as quick and easy as it looks, I bet it happens soon. In any event, don't worry, I WILL get to it. It's in the queue...

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Tuesday's Torch Story

Celebrate what you want to see more of.
~ Thomas J. Peters

I hope you aren't TOO tired of seeing pictures of this bulletin board - but I wanted to show you how I had to rearrange it to accommodate 7 student pictures per mission. I moved the title placard to the bottom to free up space and ended up with non-rectangular sections because I have an odd number of photos (the yellow lines separate the sections).

In fact, all 7 students have completed the first 3 missions - one just didn't make it to class this week for her photos, so the board is not completely up-to-date.

I embedded 2 links in the photo - one is a funny take on the English language...

For the last assignment, I'll be taking each one of my students to brunch at a nice restaurant. Their assignment is to make the reservation on the phone, order in English and then talk with me in English over the meal. I'm looking forward to getting to know each of them a little bit better, and to celebrating everything they've accomplished this year!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Gratuitous Florality

Happy Monday! :)

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Weekend Project: If I Only Knew Then What I Know Now...

Hindsight is an exact science.
~ Guy Bellamy

How did I not know this?

I went back to my TNT Hawaiian shirt pattern for my husband - you know, the one I've made about 30 times already - and applied my newfound knowledge of using the feed dogs to help ease different sized pattern pieces together for the first time.

First, the shoulder seams. The back shoulder has always been just a smidge longer than the front shoulder, and I always assumed that it was due to a lack of cutting precision on my part. This time, I lined up the 2 pieces of fabric on one edge and put the longer piece on the bottom (next to the feed dogs).

Then, as I sewed, I pulled a bit on the top layer of fabric.

Sure, enough, they came out perfectly evenly matched!

Next up, the sleeves. This pattern has a flat sleeve cap, so it is put in before the side seams are completed. Usually I pin the heck out of the 2 pieces. This time, I only used 2 pins - one at the beginning and one at the center.

Then I put the sleeve (the longer piece of fabric) against the feed dogs and kind of stitched it in 2 phases. First I focused on the first half, and gently pulled the top layer of fabric (shirt body) as I stitched. I worked it so that the 2 pieces were aligned perfectly at the pinned center point.

Then I did the second half, this time stretching the top layer so that the 2 pieces ended up aligned at the end of the seam.

When I say that I did it in 2 phases, I didn't take it out of the machine or anything. I just focused on one half at a time.

I will say that it was slow going. (It may get faster with practice.) But they came out perfectly! No bubbles or tucks and perfectly aligned! No fabric hanging over that needed to be trimmed!

From there, finishing was a snap. As usual, I had fun with the pocket alignment. My husband calls this his stealth pocket:

He loves the shirt and looks (IMO) irresistible in it! ;)

He's not sure if he can tell the difference in the fit, but I am super happy with it and I just can't believe that I've been making this shirt pattern for 8 years and only now really getting it right! Thanks everyone!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Friday Confession

I've had this cool book of Japanese patterns for a couple of years, but I haven't gotten around to trying any of them. The book is kind of like pattern magazines like Burda World of Fashion, in that the pattern pieces are printed on top of each other and you have to trace off the pieces that you want. But the instructions are mostly illustrations, instead of words.

So, have any of you ever made something from one of these Japanese pattern books? If so, how did it go? Or from any Asian pattern? Do you like to explore patterns from all around the world? Do you mostly prefer American patterns with American styles and instructions in English? Do you like to try new independent designers? Where do you look for your patterns?

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Talk Back Thursday

Thank you so much to Summerset, Lisa Laree, Katherine, Debbie, Mary, Mamafitz, Patsijean, Alison, Julie and Becky for talking back to my confession last Friday!

The topic was darts, and in particular I asked if people had experience with the couture technique illustrated above - of padding the dart.

I'm just going to come right out and say it - I've got bad news for the padded dart. :(

While it is true that almost everyone has HEARD of it (8 out of 10 commenters) - many from Claire Schaeffer's couture book - NO ONE reported ever having voluntarily doing this.

In fact, it sounds like almost everyone presses darts to the side in almost every garment.

The exception, called out by 8 people, is that very bulky darts sometimes get "slashed" along the fold line and pressed open. Examples given were darts put in heavy weight fabrics like wool, underlined fabric, and projects like bags that use heavy interfacing.

Patsijean brought up something I have never heard of before - a special treatment for curved darts. Sometimes she clips the center of the curve at an angle. I guess I do that on curved seams, but I never thought to try it on a curved dart - very cool.

If you would like to see more about the padded dart, I've embedded a link to a photo tutorial in the picture above. I've also embedded a link to a funny variation on the "You know you're a redneck if..." series. This one is, "You know you're a couture aficionado if..." and, not surprisingly, darts are mentioned! ;)

Well, I may be over-generalizing from the comments, but I'm getting the feeling that my husband's (yoke-less and single-layer collar) short-sleeved Hawaiian shirts and my cotton-print sundresses are not going to rise up out of the closet and demand padded darts. (Especially not the shirts, as they don't have any darts to begin with!)

So I'll turn my attention back to improving more basic skills, such as using the feed dogs to help ease the sleeve caps of those shirts and the princess seams on those sundresses! ;)

Thanks again to everyone who took the time to leave a comment! :)

In the Queue Wednesday

Last week I showed you the dress that Carolyn picked out for her baptism. Brandon, her brother, didn't have quite the number of options, but he did select this pattern, Simplicity 4760, for his shirt. He wants short sleeves and, of course, it has to be in white.

This pattern looks unusual, as it has no yoke in the back, but it does have flaps on the front of the shoulders...

Now it looks like the ceremony may not be for several months, so we aren't in such a big hurry to get started sewing, but Ana and I will get to these projects! They are in the queue... :)

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Tuesday's Torch Story

Medicine for the soul.
Inscription over the door at the Library of Thebes

It's official - all 7 of the students in my class are doing the Challenge Course!

I'm going to have to re-work the bulletin board, because I only set it up with enough space for 6 pictures per mission...

Oh well, I guess there are worse problems to have! ;)

This week I'm sending them off to the public library to get a library card and check out a book. Ana uses the word "library" and so I assumed that she understood the basic concept. But she was truly surprised and amazed recently when I told her that the library card was free and, once you had it, you could borrow books and DVDs for free. She just could not get over it. FREE?!?

I did point out the relationship to paying taxes, but, bottom line - it's a lot harder to take this country for granted when you have friends who grew up somewhere else.

P.S. - Thanks to everyone for all the kind words about Milly. We feel the hole in our lives without her here, but are getting by...

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Saying Goodbye...

True love doesn't have a happy ending, because true love never ends.
Letting go is one way of saying I love you.
~ Author Unknown

We had to let Milly go today. She was only 5 years old, but developed a fatal infection after an oral surgery last Thursday.

Dear Milly, we love you and will miss you very much. I hope you have been reunited with your buddy, Jackson, and the 2 of you are happy together again.