Friday, April 29, 2011

Friday Confession

My sewing machine offers 3 needle positions - offset left, centered and offset right. I almost always use the centered position. The exception is when I am sewing three rows of gathering stitches. Using the 3 different needle positions allows me to run the fabric through 3 times along the same measurement line on my sewing machine needle plate.

So I've been wondering if there are other times / good reasons to use the offset needle positions...

How about you? Does your machine offer 3 different needle positions? How often do you use the offset positions and why?

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Talk Back Thursday

Thank you so much to Becky, Julia, Mamafitz, Webfrau, Debbie, Carla, Sarah, Cindy and Shannon for talking back to my confession last week! I admitted that I have never gotten around to buying a sleeve ironing board, even though there are plenty of times when I wish I had one. I asked if others had some little thing like that - something they could use, but just don't have in their sewing room, even though there is no good reason not to...

Interestingly enough, over half of the items mentioned were related to ironing! I don't know if that's because my item got everyone thinking along the same lines, or if there is something about ironing...

The ironing related missing notions included:
- a sleeve ironing board (like me, 2 more votes)
- a clapper (2 votes - see picture above)
- a ham holder (2 votes)
- a larger ham (1 vote)
- a better iron (1 vote)

The remaining items called out can loosely be categorized into 2 groups - sewing notions and things for the sewing room.

Sarah called out 3 sewing notions - a point turner, a seam gauge and bias makers.

Shannon used to have an item in this category - for over 16 years she used (and kept ruining with her rotary cutter) cheap rulers - before she finally broke down and bought a strong quilting ruler.

Finally, two items are more generally for the sewing room. Webfrau's room needs a rubbish can and Sarah would love something to help her organize and store all her sewing stuff.

Now, a couple of people may have stretched the definition of "little thing" - there was one vote for a dress form and two votes for a cover stitch machine! Yikes! Wonderful things for a sewing room, but not the kind of thing you're going to pick up for under $10 at Joann's during their 50% off sale. ;)

Speaking of which, several people recommended waiting for this semi-annual sale at Joann's and then scooping up all those little notions. That's a great idea - especially when coupled with Carla's recommendation. She keeps a list! And she has ever since running out of a staple - black thread - in the middle of a project.

Why didn't I think of that? I'm going to go post a list (with sleeve ironing board as #1) on the bulletin board in my sewing room ASAP! :)

Thanks again, everyone!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

In the Queue Wednesday

Now that I've finally sent the materials for the men's version of The Original "How Much Fabric?" Reference cards off to my graphic designer, MissBlackPepper, I need to get serious about creating the children's version(s).

I think that I may need 2 sets - one for infants, toddlers and young children and one for older children and juniors. But I'll have to collect up the patterns and see how it all plays out. I'm also hoping that I can combine boys & girls into the same set - especially for the younger ones. I shouldn't really need separate cards for little boys pants and for little girls pants, should I?

So, I had hoped to have had these done a year ago - clearly I have fallen behind schedule! So, I don't want to predict when this project will actually get done. But don't worry, I will get to it! It's in the queue... :)

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Tuesday's Torch Story

The ESL class summer session starts next Tuesday. I think I've found a great reading to assign for the first night. It's called "Attention, People of Earth" and the first paragraph reads like this:

We are on our way to your planet. We will be there shortly. But in this, our first contact with you, our "headline" is: We do not want your gravel.

The aliens then go on to explain why they are coming to visit us on earth and to reiterate, over and over again, that our gravel is safe. Well, they might take a tiny little sample, just for scientific study, but it will be so little that we won't even notice. No need for alarm. ;)

If you'd like to read the whole short story, it's published on the New Yorker website here.

There are some cultural references (like Mork from Mork and Mindy - you know, the "... friendly, non-gravel wanting alien who visited Earth just to find out what was there, and not to harvest gravel.") that I'll have to think about. I might put together a glossary and/or do a little bit of editing to help them with those bits...

But I think it's very funny and should set us up to talk about lots of things - like whether or not they believe in extraterrestrial life and how you can tell when a person doesn't mean what he/she is saying...

I'm also excited about launching my ESL Challenge Course. I've put together this bulletin board to display in the classroom:

There is one section per mission and the idea is that, each time a person completes a mission, I'll take a picture of her with her evidence and then post that picture in the appropriate section. (The white squares are the size of the photos - I wanted to make sure that I could fit 6 per section - and, no, Sammy did NOT complete one of the missions...) Hopefully this will add visible reminders to their growing sense of accomplishment. :)

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Weekend Project: Of Penguins and Men

It's practically impossible to look at a penguin and feel angry.
~ Joe Moore

Well, I've just about finished the first-year-birthday boy shirt. (Thank goodness, because the party is next weekend!) The only step left - buttons and buttonholes.

The mother - a good friend from work - loves penguins and so I tried to line them up everywhere that I could - on the pocket...

And both sleeves!

I also just about finished up another project that has been hanging over my head for a while - the men's version of the "How Much Fabric?" reference cards.

I ran into an interesting situation when I was selecting the images for the backs of the cards.

Several of the garment categories evoke a prototypical image. Say "jacket" for instance, and many people think of the work blazer. Say "pants" and again, a full length, work-appropriate pair of slacks comes to mind.

When I was making the women's cards, those prototypical images lined up nicely with the average pattern. So, for example, if you were thinking to make a blazer, the average amount of fabric that was listed on the card would be enough for many blazer patterns.

But this wasn't the case for men's clothes. Take a look at these images for men's pants:
An example of a pants pattern that calls for the actual average amount of fabric is cargo shorts. If you want to make slacks for work, you need somewhat more fabric... So if I stick with only putting on pictures of the minimum, average and maximum patterns, then some of the prototypical garments - work trousers, a blazer, etc. - are not pictured. I think that's not good...

So, that's the one thing I'm still thinking about. Other than that, everything is ready to be shipped off to my graphic artist and then the card printers! Yay! Finally! :)

I hope you had a wonderful weekend and are ready for the start of a new week. :)

Friday, April 22, 2011

Friday Confession

This is just the dumbest thing - but do you know the one little thing that I routinely need, but don't have in my sewing room?

Yup - a small ironing board for ironing sleeves and other narrow tubes...

Why don't I have one? I don't know! They aren't expensive. My local Joann's has them in stock. There's no good reason. I just never got around to buying one...

How about you? Is there some dumb little thing that you know you should have in your sewing room, something that you regularly wish that you did have, but something that you just never got around to buying?

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Talk Back Thursday

Thank you so much to Mamafitz, Gwen, Nicole, Alison, Lisa Laree, Julia, Carla and Patsijean for talking back to my confession last week! I asked about twin needles - something I've never used on my sewing machine.

People reported three uses for twin needles.

The least commonly mentioned use for twin-needles was top stitching (double row, obviously). Only 2 people called this out.

The second use of a twin needle mentioned by the commenters was for pintucks - and people were kind of divided on this one. Four people reported having tried this technique, while three people have never tried it - and not everyone likes the effect. Mamafitz, for example, prefers the look of traditional pintucks.

A couple of people mentioned that their machines provide specific pintuck feet to be used with the twin needle. Gwen's Berina, for example, actually has 4 different feet - each one designed to make pintucks of a different width.

She also passed along a tip - she pintucks a block of fabric first and only then lays down her pattern piece and cuts it out. This allows her to get the pintucks precisely where she wants them on the garment. What a great idea!

Alison provided a very specific recommendation regarding needle size - 1.7/70 or 2.0/80. And Mamafitz recommended the book pictured above,
Fine Machine Sewing by Carol Ahles, to learn more about using special machine needles like twin needles and wing needles. (Yikes! I've never even heard of a wing needle!)

Finally (saving the best for last) the most commonly called out use for a twin needle was hemming - with 6 people emphasizing knits and 1 additional person saying that really they can be used to hem lots of different fabrics.

Generally people seemed to like this approach to dealing with hems on knits, although Carla has had issues with tunneling (even with special thread) and Patsijean switched to using a cover stitch machine instead, once she had that option.

As usual, I got lots of good advice - considering hemming knits in particular, Alison recommended using twin needles designed for stretch fabrics and the size 4.0/75. (Apparently the twin needle in my photo - 6.0/100 - is a bit on the large side!) Lisa Laree recommended using wooly nylon bobbin thread for this, as it has more stretch and thus doesn't break as often. And Patsijean noted that you may have to loosen the top tension a bit and test your stitch on scrap fabric before sewing the real thing.

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

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Make Up Post: Talk Back Thursday

Thank you to Roseann for this photo of a unique way to use twill tape! ;)

I’m sorry this post is so late. But I think you’ll find that it was worth the wait!

Thank you so much to Nicole, Ivalyn, Corinne, Mamafitz, Patsijean, Stitchywitch, Sarah, Julia, Becky, Mary, Gwen, Faye, Rose, Katherine and Summerset for talking back to my confession a couple of weeks ago! I asked about stay tape, and wow, did I ever learn a lot from your comments!

First off, my original question was a bit misguided. I asked about “stay tape” as if it was this single, stand-alone thing. In fact, stay tape appears to be just one example of a broad category of materials that can all be used to accomplish basically the same effect.

“And what effect is that?” you politely ask. (A hypothetical question, as everyone who commented knew and agreed on this bit…) These materials are used to stabilize those seams in a garment that are susceptible to losing their shape through stretching. It protects against misshapen garments, ripples along seams and gaping.

Okay, so what else is in this broad category of materials besides the official “stay tape” and how often do people use these materials?

Well, almost everyone reported stabilizing sometimes – even if it is only on rare and special occasions, such as the low back (bias-seamed) wedding dress that Mamafitz made for her SIL. About 50% of the commenters reported doing some kind of stabilizing to their garments quite regularly. And there were a few diehard enthusiasts, like Gwen who “LOVE”s stay tape and Faye who keeps a stockpile of stay tape in the basic colors (black, white & beige) at all times. ;)

As for what they use – here is where the creativity and variety come into play. The three most common materials (each with 5 or 6 “votes”) mentioned were:

-- Stay tape

-- Twill tape

-- Strips (often the selvedge) of light weight fabric (such as light weight cottons, lining fabrics and silk organza)

As Summerset pointed out, each of the above can serve the same purpose, but they have different thicknesses and so are appropriate for different types of garments. For example, she would use twill tape on the armscye of a winter coat, but something lighter weight along the neckline of a delicate gown.

And there were other suggestions too - three people use strips of fusible interfacing when they want to stabilize a seam, and grosgrain ribbon and clear elastic each got 1 “shout out”.

I should note that, while most people seemed to be reporting favorably on this whole process, at least a couple of people said that certain materials didn’t always work for them… Becky, for example, has had mixed results with both the fusible interfacing and with twill tape.

Finally, the big question – when?

The single type of fabric called out most frequently (6 times) was: knits!

And the 2 seams called out most frequently (7 times each) were: shoulders and necklines!

After that: Two people called out bias seams in general as benefitting from stabilizing, and one person called out raglan sleeves, BECAUSE they are cut on the bias…

Crotch seams and waist bands were each called out twice.

The armscye and the inseam pocket opening were also called out (once each).

So, after digesting all of your excellent and informative comments, I feel like I’ve only gotten a glimpse of the tip of the stabilizing iceberg. This sounds like something that I need to start taking seriously. I did some quick google searches and, while I didn’t find the definitive tutorial that I had been secretly hoping for, I did find these helpful pages:

Gertie's New Blog for Better Sewing

I’ll look into this in my sewing books too, and maybe even add it to the neckline of the knit top I’m trying to re-do… I’ll keep you apprised of my progress. ;)

Thanks again to everyone who commented – I learn so much from you!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Tuesday's Torch Story

If I am not for myself, who will be for me?
If I am not for others, what am I?
And if not now, when?
~ Rabbi Hillel

I took advantage of the big 50% off sale (and the remnant aisle) at Joann's and packed up 2 more IBOLs over the weekend. The first box has about 5 yards each of a lightweight tweed suiting, a gauzy feminine print and a dark green silky fabric:

The second box had about 5 yards each of a light-colored print cotton shirting, a gauzy red and green feminine print and a corduroy-ish dark green fabric with textured dots.

Both boxes included 5 zippers (white, black, cream & 2 greens), 3 spools of thread (white, black & green), 2 bags of mixed colors buttons (both including various shades of greens), 2 packets of elastic (different widths) and 2 packages of bias tape (shades of green).

Oh, in case you didn't notice, the theme was "green". ;)

Sorry that last picture is sideways - Blogger decided to do this on its own and I can't fix it.

I've also been busy preparing for the May start date for my ESL class summer session - stay tuned to hear how the mini-challenges go!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Friday Confession

One embellishment that I really like on a blouse or the bodice of a dress is pin tucks, and I saw recently that one method of making them is with a twin needle. I've never tried to use a twin needle. How about you? Do you use a twin needle? If so, how/why do you use it (i.e., for what types of projects and techniques)? And, is it difficult to use? If not, any particular reason why not, or it just hasn't come up?

Oh, I'm sorry I didn't get my "Talk Back Thursday" post up yesterday - I received so much excellent information on last week's confession that I haven't had time to process it all and turn it into a coherent post. I'll get it written and posted over the weekend.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

In the Queue Wednesday

I have GOT to stop shopping for new projects! Either that, or I need to take a six month leave of absence from my job and lock myself up in my sewing room... Just cut a small slit in the door so that my husband can pass food in to me... ;)

But, when I took Oliver to see the vet recently, she just raved about how much she loved the baby bubbles that I had made for her infant daughter, and how her daughter practically wore them out, etc...

What could I do? I was helpless under that kind of appreciation... Surely you can see how I HAD to run out to Joann's to pick up a pattern and fabric to make her almost-two-year-old daughter a new dress, right?

The pattern is a simple one that I've made before (for a niece) with great success. I'm going to go a little crazy this time and combine the 2 views for a dress that has the ruffle AND the pocket. ;)

Actually, where I really went a bit crazy was with the fabrics. I'm going to use the yellow lady-bug print for the main dress, and the red puppy dog paw print for the ruffle and pocket. Possibly a bit "out there" (or maybe I'm just normally super boring & conservative) - but the daughter apparently loves yellow and the mom is a vet, so I'm hoping that this will work for them.

And didn't I find just the perfect white button?

This should really only be a 2 hour project - it shouldn't be that hard to fit it in to my life... I don't know when (or how), but don't worry, I'll get to it. It's in the queue.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Tuesday's Torch Story

If we are growing, we're always going to be out of our comfort zone.

~ John Maxwell

We had a board meeting on Saturday to discuss plans for the upcoming summer session of ESL. One issue that came up was the difference between trying your English skills in the classroom - a safe environment full of encouraging (and equally struggling) friends - and trying it out in the "real world" with strangers.

We brainstormed about different ways to try to help our students with this, and I came up with the idea of offering my students a "Challenge Course", loosely modeled after the televsion show "The Amazing Race."

Every week or so, I'll give my "contestants" (i.e., students) a new challenge that requires them to interact in the local, English-speaking community. And I'll define the evidence that they need to bring back to class in order to pass each challenge.

I'll probably do it up all fancy - with special envelopes, written instructions, maybe some photos and other materials to help them prepare for the challenge. Even money, when the task involves buying something... (We're talking under $5, of course.)

Some of my ideas so far include:

1. Go to the post office and buy a postcard stamp. I would provide the postcard, and after they showed me the stamp, they could write a message and send it to someone...

2. Buy a $1 lottery scratch-off card - note that our state has LOTS of different ones, so there would be some choosing among options involved (i.e., more language practice).

3. Go to the local Super Walmart and ask an employee to help you find a _____ . I haven't decided what yet, but it would be something unusual, so that it was unlikely that they already know the location. Bring the object and the receipt to class.

4. Go back to Walmart and return that object and get the money back.

5. Go to the local library, apply for a library card and check out a book.

For the "Grand Finale" I thought I'd have a restaurant meal with each student individually. They would have to call and make the reservation. And then they would have to order from a menu in English. Of course, I'd try to keep our meal-time conversation in English as well. ;)

At the dinner (or lunch) I would give each student his/her Certificate of Completion of the ESL Challenge Course.

What do you think? Would these mini-challenges be a good way to help my students take those first scary steps of using their English in the real world and build some success-based confidence? Do you have any ideas for other mini-challenges I could present to them?

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Weekend Project: Paying the Piper

The difference between death and taxes is
death doesn't get worse every time Congress meets.
~ Will Rogers

Most of the weekend was spent working on our taxes... Although, I felt less pressure than I expected, thanks to Lois letting me know that we all have a small extension this year - to April 18th. Thanks, Lois! I'm not sure how I missed that bit of information, but it was welcome news! ;)

I didn't get to any actual sewing, but I did do some research in preparation for a second attempt on copying my RTW top. There were 2 issues that kept my first attempt from being a true success.

The first - which I mentioned in last weekend's post - was the neckline. You may remember that the neck band didn't lay nicely. (Picture here - scroll down to bottom of post.) Thank you to Debbie, Katherine and Barbara for the advice on fixing this problem - their suggestions matched the information that I was able to find in my assorted sewing books.

Basically, depending on the source of information (and presumably on the type of material you are working with and possibly the phase of the moon - although none of my books explained the exact "whys") you can cut the neck band anywhere from the same length as the opening to one third shorter than the opening.

Next time, I think I'm going to split the difference between the 2 extremes and go for about 12-15% shorter. OR, I may follow Barbara's advice and just fold the neckline under and skip the neck band... We'll see...

There was a second issue with my first version that I didn't mention last week - too much sleeve fabric bunched up under the arms.

At first I thought I'd just re-stitch the underarm seam and take in some of the fabric. But then I thought that I probably should look into it, to make sure that this was a reasonable thing to do...

Turns out, it may be a bit more complicated than that. It looks like the steepness of the sleeve cap is the controlling variable - and the "no such thing as a free lunch" variable is your ability to lift your arm up freely.

This appears to be the relationship:

1. Steep sleeve cap = little fabric bunched up under the arms = restricted movement
2. Flat sleeve cap = a lot of fabric bunched up under the arms = free movement

I confirmed this bit of wisdom (at least, to my satisfaction) by comparing the sleeve pattern I copied from my RTW top (below) to the sleeve pattern from a commercial t-shirt pattern (above) that I have sewn.

See the difference in the steepness of the sleeve cap? Sure enough, the commercial pattern sleeves have no excess fabric under the arms, and do not allow for free arm movement overhead.

So, I think that my second version is going to include a happy medium between these 2 extremes. I may have to modify the arm holes a bit to work with the new sleeve cap. We'll see...

Hopefully I'll get to version #2 next weekend, and if so, I'll definitely post some pictures to show you how my modifications work out. Keep your fingers crossed for me!

It's funny how a "fast and easy" project is turning out to be such a learning experience for me. Funny and kind of cool... ;)

I hope you had a wonderful sewing weekend!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Friday Confession

My recent neckline issues (when I tried to copy a RTW knit top) reminded me of something that I've vaguely heard about, but have kind of been ignoring - stay tape. I've never used stay tape, and I'm kind of fuzzy about what it does, how and when to use it, etc. But maybe it's something I need to add to my sewing repertoire...

So, how about you? Do you use stay tape? If no, why not? If yes, can you say a few words about how and when and why you use it? Thanks! :)

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Talk Back Thursday

Thank you so much to Lori, Mamafitz, Becky, Sarah E., Nicole and Carla for talking back to my confession last week! I asked about favorite fabric designers and, in case you can't tell from the picture above, googling all those designers left me drooling! ;)

Hmmm... Does that mean I was "droogling"? Drooling over google results? Quick! Somebody call Miriam-Webster! ;)

Okay, where was I?

So, let's get the "negative" stuff out of the way first, so that we can concentrate on the gorgeous images! Three people pointed out that (a) many designers focus on quilting cottons that have limited use in garment sewing and (b) "name brand" fabric is often pretty expensive. I completely agree with both points.

But, for some reason, I still love to feast my eyes on brightly colored, richly patterned fabrics... And last week's commenters provided enough suggestions to last a lifetime! Here, in no particular order, are their recommendations:

The names of the designers and links to websites are after each image:

Jay McCarroll (from Season 1 of Project Runway)

Finally, we got three excellent suggestions for fabric websites that feature great designers:

Thanks again, everyone! Now, please excuse me - I need to go wipe my chin... ;)

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

In the Queue Wednesday

So, brace yourself for a horrible shock. I've been looking into it, and it turns out that "I was busy sewing" is NOT considered an acceptable excuse for submitting your taxes late! Can you believe it? I know I was caught totally off-guard by this unreasonable stance on the part of the U.S. Government...

Therefore, sadly, the "project" that has moved to the top of my queue is doing our taxes... Sigh... There's much less room for creativity with this project - at least, the way I do them. I can't vouch for everyone... ;)

For once, I can pretty much give you a date on a queue project - these are due on April 15th and you don't have to worry, I WILL get to them... ;)

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Weekend Project: Copy Cat

Bad artists copy. Good artists steal.
~ Pablo Picasso

I finally managed to squeeze in some sewing time this weekend! (At the expense of doing our taxes - Uncle Sam will understand, won't he?)

I decided to try to copy this knit top. Step one was to cut up the old, stained and worn top to create the pattern pieces. I've never done this before, and was mildly proud of myself for thinking to mark the front and back of the sleeve pieces (with slits), just in case they were not symmetrical.

Here are the 4 pieces - one front, one back and two sleeves:

Then I folded the front and back pieces in half, to create my pattern pieces on tracing paper. The back lined up nicely when folded:

Sammy served as my paper weight as I traced the fabric:

But when I pulled out the magic marker to add the seam allowances, he left...

I don't think he liked the smell. Or maybe he just thought that the new fabric needed to be put in its place...

I didn't fold the sleeve:

Everything was going peachy keen until I went to make the front piece. Take a look at what happened when I doubled that:

Yikes! I guess years of wear can do that to a garment... I spent quite a bit of time debating how to deal with this asymmetry. Notice the ribs in the texture of the fabric? I finally decided to use those to identify the original and true center line. (The alternative was to start by aligning one pair of seams - the shoulder seams or the side seams.)

I had a scary moment, after cutting out the front and back pattern pieces and then lining them up on my cutting board:

What the...? I couldn't believe that I had messed up that badly! I started to put the 2 cut-up shirt pieces together to see if they were off this badly, when I realized that the 2 center lines of the front and back pieces aren't necessarily supposed to line up. It's the side seams that are supposed to line up!

Ahhh! That's better! :) (Phew!)

My new fabric is a beautiful, rich purple knit.

The majority of the top went together in less time than it took for me to thread the serger! Shoulder seams, attach sleeve caps, and then extended side seams (including underarm seams). Hemming the bottom and sleeves (with a cover stitch) was also a breeze.

The neckline, however, was where not having a pattern got me into trouble. I just cut a strip (not on the bias, as I figured the knit material would stretch), attached it around the outside of the top (right sides together) and then folded it to the inside and went around with another cover stitch.

The problem is that the neckline is too large for the top - it stands up (instead of lying flat) and is wavy. I am guessing that I should have cut the binding strip shorter and then stretched it as I sewed it on. Although, how much shorter is a mystery to me...

It was a bit of a disappointment. :(

Poor Oliver was really worried about it too!

(He just knows how to hide his emotions - brave little fellow...)

I'm going to wash it and see if that helps. If not, I may have to take it off and try again... Oh well, live and learn! ;)

Friday, April 1, 2011

Friday Confession

We've talked about fashion designers before, but how about FABRIC designers? I'm actually starting to recognize some names and some styles...

There's Amy Butler, of course:

And Alexander Henry:

And Robert Kaufman:

These are some of the fabric designers that I like. How about you? Do you have any favorite fabric designers? Have you recently stumbled across someone new that you think we should know about? Do you browse sites like Spoonflower or Etsy for fresh new fabric designs? Have you ever tried your hand at designing fabric? I'm looking forward to learning about new fabric designers and new sites for fabric! :)