Friday, September 7, 2012

National Sewing Month ¿Estamos Listos? Are We Ready?

(co-published with Me Encanta Coser)

Septiembre es el mes para nuestra nación a coser!
September is, of course, National Sewing Month

¿Pero estamos listos?
But, are we ready? 

1) Los suministros / Supplies
I have a goodly sized fabric, trim and pattern stash. (You guessed that didn't you?)

2) El Plan / The Plan
I've got a basket full of things cut out that I plan to sew in September

          - One pair of green shorts, the same pattern as I used for "The Lady Wears Shorts" (see my earlier posting)
          - A cloche style cap, like the one I now wear almost everyday (It needs break and a bath!) . Refer back to "Chewing a Bun with Tuppence" (an earlier posting)
          - A beige lingerie type camisole to go under a very pretty sheer, burnt-knit, dressy yellow tee shirt I finished recently. (No, I can't take a photo of me in it because it would only look appropriate in the kind of establishment I don't patronize! You probably drive by them too.) Believe me, I need a camisole under that tee.
           - One test pair of unmentionable nether garments!
           - A mostly sewn buttercup purse (See my "Do You Like Butter?" posting)

There a few other projects in my basket that I'm not committing to for September, but they could fill in any extra sewing time .... another buttercup purse in home dec roses and stripes fabrics (leftover from aprons I sewed for myself and my daughter about six months ago), a reconstructed tee shirt I'll likely use for testing binding techniques - but it will still see use in the garden, a pretty partially sewn silk wallet I started with my daughter about 4 years ago that needs heavy duty snaps installed - a skill I need to work on.... You know the kind of stuff you resurrect and put in your to do basket, but don't actually commit to

3) Estudio de costura/ Sewing Studio
I decided to get serious and  signed up for Cañada College Fashion 110 "Introduction to Sewing". I call myself a low intermediate level sewer (and I'm always willing to take a chance on an advanced pattern) but being primarily self-taught, there is so much I don't really know and so many things I can, and have been learning. For one thing I'm not naturally neat (something in the genes I think). I don't have a good sense of how closures and edge finishes should even look, much less how to do them in a standard way. Also I just do a lot of things the wrong way. In addition, I often find written instructions confusing. And don't get me started on youTube videos. Yes, I use and love them. But I've done some pretty odd things following them. (More on that another time)

             - Right now I'm working on the first tee shirt project for our Fashion 110 class. I hope to cut out a sample version of that tee this weekend before I cut into the good stuff in class next week. With the help of our wonderful teacher, Rhonda Cheney, I added a dart to the basic Stretch and Sew 333 pattern (Rhonda really did the dart. I traced over her work, but I wrote a lot of how-to notes while I watched her work). I'd like to test the basic front and back with dart on a couple of $2.50 tees -I use two of the same color for test garments-  before I cut into my good stuff in el estudio.

I also signed up for a 4 session Lingerie Sewing Class at Cañada. I'm looking forward to learning how to work with elastic better, for one thing.
National Sewing Month?
 ¡Soy muy listo! 
 I do feel ready!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Romancing the Dress 3: The Dress Comes to Life

I was sure I'd finally come to terms with my tendency  to romanticize the dress. How many times have I reminded myself how little use I tend to get out of the dresses I've sewn over the past few years? 

Compare frock sewing, I repeatedly chimed to fellow sewists, to the time invested in a flattering pair of shorts, pants or one of my every day  embroidered tee shirts. Just calculate the cost per wearing, the cost being based primarily on the best use of my free time. Frequently I reflected that  as a part time student and independent free-lance worker, it's only practical to accept that a dress is not a worthwhile investment of my sewing time.

And then along came Vogue pattern v8810, and once more I was hooked. Even when I created the toille, I argued with myself about the value of the project.  Right up until I cut it out of three yards of black and off-white houndstooth, home dec fabric.  (It used to be that I didn't admit to using home dec for fashion sewing, but since I saw it featured for clothing in a Vogue Sewing Magazine, I realized I'm not the only one.)

Yes, I made another dress, and I love it. Now I just need to prove my time was well spent by getting lots of wearing time in.

The technical details are in my review at

Button, Button, Who's Got the Button?

Do modern children play Button Button Who's Got the Button? We sure did. It's one of those simple large group activities where the kid who's It, has three guesses trying to read faces and hope that the face of their little chum who's got the elusive trinket, can't keep from giving away the secret of their prize. We still played it in our youth, probably because most households still had a button box or jar. Nowadays- not so much.

Faced with a desire for a nice crisp column of simple black buttons I envisioned marching antlike down the front of my recently sewn Vogue v8810 dress (Read more about it in my piece, Romancing the Dress: Part 3 ), I started looking for all the recent perfect buttonhole articles I'd been saving off. What happens to those guys? I could have sworn the Threads newsletter had a juicy one by Sandra Betzina sometime this year. Plus I was also pretty durn sure I had the same writeup in one of her books. Could I find either?

Not on your life. nor the probably ten other articles, both paper and digital, that I've saved somewhere. New rule for self, just read the gol durned techniques and think about the skill next time instead of squirreling it away for a rainy  day. Anyway, I'm pretty sure the squirrels lose just as many acorns as I do vital articles.

Here's what I did that was new and different for me, using common sense and a couple of things I actually remembered reading.

First off I looked at where the pattern piece indicated the center of the buttonholes ought  to go (I admit there have been times I eyeballed that step and was really sorry later). After I marked the line with a lovely strip of super narrow postit tape*, I ran a line of basting down the front to mark the center of the buttonholes. Of course I made a sample strip the same thickness as my buttonhole edging to use for my test buttonholes. I just drew a center line on that with a marking pen, because it will not be going out on the town.

I remembered that more than one of those missing buttonhole articles talked about using stabilizer and it sounded like the same kind I use as a second layer when I do machine embroidery on my artistic tee shirts. I quickly learned, however, that although I put the wash-away stabalizer that looks like saran wrap ON TOP when I do machine embroidery, I definitely want to put it underneath when I stitch  buttonholes. (Do you hear the faint refrain of gummed up machine noises at this point?) Thank goodness for my test strip. My  several year old machine has several different buttonholes and I tried all of them that looked right, until I found one that worked pretty well.

I measured off and marked each potential hole with two pins. I am a little ashamed to admit that I can't figure out how to program repeated buttonholes on this machine. ** Still I was pretty happy with the results. I also machine stitched the standard four hole buttons down. Are you still tempted to hand sew them? I am, but I reminded myself I had two spares in case I messed up and broke one. Hummmm that reminds me that I didn't sew the spare buttons into the pockets. Where did I leave those girls? Machine sewing standard buttons sure saves a ton of time.

I was pretty happy with the results, though one hole is messed up. Think I'm gonna tell you which one? Not on the soul of my Great Aunt Mabel! That nice little black button pretty much covers up the extra long stitches on the goofy one. What's really important is how much I've been enjoying wearing my new dress, whether or not every buttonhole stitched out exactly so.

* I learned to use a couple of different sizes of postit tape in chorus. We use it to temporarily alter the lyrics. The tape has transitioned into the sewing room. I will have to do another posting on the marvels of that stuff.

**I could pull off programming repeated buttonholes on my old one machine but not on my newer one. Yup I do have the manual for the new gal! Yup I have turned to the appropriate page! I also can't figure out how to do things like getting my husband's name to stitch out. I bought this machine used and the dealer has since closed up shop. Oh well, another rainy day activity.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Well Bust My Buttons! A Sewist Visits Victoria British Columbia

My friend Marilyn told me, with a laugh, that her mother used to take the buttons off her fathers worn out shirts before she turned them into cleaning rags.

Can you believe women used to bother to do that?

I must have produced my best dolt look. Don't you save the buttons from your husband's shirts?

I hadn't realized until then, that I've kept a habit that others associate with Depression-era hardship. As far as I'm concerned a button in the hand is worth two on a card, especially when it comes to having to drive twenty plus minutes just to buy six or seven plain white blouse or shirt buttons. I say, bring me your old, your tired shirts with buttons burning to be freed from their old threads. Those, of course, are the practical buttons, the ones I recycle from Dave's old button-up-the-front standard men's shirts.

Then there are the dreamy buttons I drip through my fingers, for the sheer pleasure of feeling the sheen and admiring the gorgeous designs. Those buttons are the girls I sew onto bags and purses, stitch brooch-like  onto  the top neckline of a shirt or jacket, or affix to the pocket of a blouse for maximum effect.

On our family vacation into the Cascades and Canada we squeezed in one day in the capital city of British Colombia, Victoria. Could I miss some kind of sewing related activity there? Well, I almost did. I got lost looking for Gala Fabrics (There's always next time, right?) but then I found myself (almost) walking past the Button & Needlework Boutique. There I got to immerse myself in a gorgeous collection of pure dreamery'esque buttons. And it turned out to be a durn good thing that I missed out on Gala Fabrics, because I spent over 60 Canadian dollars on beautiful buttons in about ten minutes. We are talking major embellishment potential. It's amazing what they pack into a small store, and the merchandise bears very little resemblance to the cards on the racks at my local Joannes. Can't wait to decide what blouses, purses and vests are going to sport these delightful ladies.

If we have buttons like these in California, I've never found them.

Service Please!

While we went on our vacation, my sewing machine went on it's own little R&R to the Viking Sewing Center in San Jose. She does stellar service for me and she definitely deserves a tune up once a year, though I'm pretty sure she hasn't gotten one for about two. I have no idea because the last place I took her too has folded. Just like the place I took her to for maintenance (and bought her from) did a few years before that. I know there is supposed to be a sewing renaissance on. How come the sewing machine dealers aren't staying in business? Maybe it's just that Vikings aren't as popular where I live as other machines. I was inspired to plan this regular maintenance trip to coincide with our vacation, by one of Lori's, Sew Forth Now podcasts. (I'm not sure which one of her 'casts it was. I listen to those wonderful shows repeatedly, just like I reread favorite books.)

I wore out the motor on my last machine, even though it was a Viking and the dealer I bought it from told me that it should last me a lifetime. (That was around 1985 and that dealer went out of business too. This is the fourth dealer I've had to switch to. They are getting farther and farther away from my house.)  I think that kaput motor was because I  wasn't as virtuous about cleaning out lint as I ought to have been. Also the last mechanic who fixed it told me there was something that somebody should have been checking regularly during servicing, that wasn't checked. Wouldn't it be great if I remembered, or at least wrote down, what that thing was, so that I could ask for it to be done regularly on my current machine? Hummmmm.....

I did benefit from this expensive little life lesson. I have gotten much, much better about cleaning out the lint. I do it when I put in new bobbins or change thread, even though it's a bit harder on my current machine. I got a little help as to how to do that, when I took my machine in for servicing this time, so that sure ought to help. Apparently I'm supposed to lower the feed dogs when I do it.  You're right, I didn't get lessons with this machine. It was used. Otherwise, I'm sure I would have learned that when I bought it.

Also I did a major debris overhaul of the table where I sew (yes, I share it with the family printer). I couldn't bear to photograph this area before I cleaned it up.

Doesn't that power pedal (I can't remember the official name for that pedal) and all the machine's little bits and pieces look sad waiting for their mother to come home?

The most important part of the cleanup was that I took all the gunk that has been piled up behind the machine, and I do mean piled up, and organized it into the wheel'y plastic unit shown below, that I found in amongst some of the stuff my daughter sent home with us, when we moved her from her last college digs into her current place. That unit is doing stellar work for me now, and I can just slide it over to the printer/sewing machine desk when I sit down for a visit with my favorite lady.

Can you believe all this goop was in one big plastic tub? No wonder I couldn't find those trouser hooks!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Sewing Inspired by Marie Antoinette (Part 2)

Sewing Project Inspired by a visit back to 1779
You might enjoy catching up on the first part of this article at Sewing Inspired by Marie Antoinette: Part 1

In my last posting, I made a slight reference to one of my recent trips back through time to Marie Antoinette's court at Versailles. So...wouldn't you like to hear more about this particular trip? 

When I first started taking these little jaunts my biggest bit of culture shock involved the state of royal sanitation. But, I'm not sure you really want the down-and-dirty on the suspicious puddles that kept turning up in unexpected corners of the palace's wood parquet floors. Let's just leave it that I manage to avoid tripping or slipping in the you-know-what and go on from there, OK?

In this particular case, I had elected a visit back to 1779, nine years after Antonia first arrived at court as a gentle, demur, Austrian archduchess. It's hard not to feel for a teenaged girl in her circumstances, even one with that bucks and standing of the entire Hapsburg empire behind her, isn't it?

Not being well-connected at court, and also not wanting to put in the way-beyond dawn to dusk travail of servitude, my Period Pilots guide recommended that I adopt the persona of an artist. After all if  Anne Vallayer-Coster could make it, why not me? I was please to find that the very accessible public galleries at the palace made it easy to establish myself at a little table among the fruit sellers, ribbon-merchants and other hawkers. I must admit, though, that I sadly missed having access to a digital camera during my time in the galleries. And oh, what I could have done with Photoshop and a few jpeg's to capture the joi-de-vivre and bustle of the thousands of vendors and visitors that thronged that incredibly accessible royal community. I mean...Mademoiselle Vallayer-Coster's Still Life with Ham would have been nothing to what I could have come up with. 

I like to say that one of my little peintures caused la Reine to gasp in excitement and send off a billet to one of her Buds at  the Royal Académie, but no such luck. Still, I got a chance to see her more than once as she promenaded by on her way to visit her little Mousseline

And you can just bet what this sewist was doing... That's right, checking out Madame Deficit's frocks. 

To Be Continued.. 

This Resource Might Come in Handy for your Own Travels
Marie Antoinette and the French Revolution 

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Sewing Inspired By Marie Antoinette (Part 1)

I'm pretty sure I'm not the only sewist with an enduring fascination for the ill-fated youngest daughter of Austrian Empress Maria Theresa. 

Thanks to Babylon Baroque for posting this lovely image of Marie Antoinette in one of her Court Dresses
Marie Antoinette had the goods when it came to wardrobing. Any gal would feel like  Cinderella in one of those bow-bedecked, lace-trimmed confections. Of course the hairdo has got to go, and those pannier-enhanced court dresses were a real pain to learn to walk in, in little Antonia's case she had to learn to do the Versaille glide before she left home. Then there were the challenges of breathing in seventeenth-century corsets, something that the queen herself tried to avoid. In fact her Mama the Empress sent her daughter more than one scolding in regards to the letters she had received back in Austria, complaining about her daughter's abandonment of her hated corset.

Still, every time I've tripped back in time (those Period Pilots weekend specials are just too good a deal to pass up!) and spy Marie Antoinette in one of those luxurious rich fabrics, I head straight for my fabric stash when I get home. Surely I could pull off that heavily embroidered satin'y look in a nicely fitted blouse. Wouldn't it look great over  jeans? I know I've got a $6.99 a yard brocade somewhere in here...

(To Be Continued)