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)

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Romancing the Dress Part 2: California Romantic Considers Realities of Life When It Comes to Sewing a Dress

Forever fantasizing about sewing the perfect dress
But do skirts really fit into my active and arty modern life?
I spent a lot of of my little girlhood playing with dolls. I also spent a lot of time drawing girls. Drawing girls merged into drawing paper dolls. The most important part of drawing paper dolls was creating their clothes. I particularly enjoyed creating patterns and textures for these outfits, which I made by rubbing my crayons over the paper atop a rough surface. Of course none of my paper dolls wore pants, trousers or slacks as bi-forcated womens clothing was called in the nineteen sixties.

If you werent around in that time, especially if you missed the early, pre-groovy part of the era, images from the time might lead you to think that American females wore mostly skirts or dresses. In fact, shorts and pants were nearly as much a part of our daily wear as they are today. However, when it came to creating artistic duds for dollies, I didnt see any point in designing the sort of togs I actually spent most of my own time in. On television, in magazines, coloring books and  movies, and in my favorite modern and historically themed stories, girls and women wore fluffy dresses and glamorous skirts. The clothes I created for my dolls were those I imagined Id wear myself as an adult, and they came from what I drank in from my culture. They came from images of traditionally skirted women.

As a sewist, Im still faced with the eternal challenge of an imaginary, idealized female lifestyle, versus the reality of my own activities. What I put on in the morning reflects what I'm expecting to do. Right now that involves walking or hiking, classes, study, a lot of computer time, and (unfortunately) a little housework. I'm usually pretty darn happy, and comfortable, wearing my most attractive tee shirt and a pair of long pants or shorts, both items that style up great with a pair of sturdy walking shoes or hiking boots.

Despite what I actually wear, when I plan time for my favorite hobby, I'm tempted to sew dresses. In point of fact, I've sewn only two within the last few years. I'm relatively happy with the way both of them turned out. Yet, Ive worn each of those frocks two or three times, both times to events, to which, I could easily have worn some of my most feminine pants with a lovely blouse, a rope of pearls and a scarf.

Still, when I open the pattern book, you know what section I turn to first.

This summer I just couldnt resist the how-to-style examples for Vogue pattern v8810 shown in the Vogue pattern magazine. You can just guess I imagined myself hurrying off to an important meeting with a friend in that denim dress with those lovely heels and the model's jewelry. I dont actually wear heels, and the jewelry she was wearing wasn't my style. In point of fact, I usually plan on fitting in a long walk or bike ride when I go to a meeting, but I still saw myself togged out like the gal in the spread.

Well, maybe I could still figure out a way to fit that duster style dress into my lifestyle

Earlier in the month I created a toile of this pattern. Some stained home dec ex-curtain fabric was the perfect muslin for the fit I was looking for. Ive also pulled a heavy black houndstooth print out of my stash, and I think theres enough for the short-sleeved version. Im imagining it as go-to summer and fall garment, in our temperate California San Francisco Bay Area climate. It could even extend into our mild winter as a kind of jumper over my pale pink quarter-sleeve tee or my petal pink cowl neck long sleeved tee shirt.

But when it comes down to it, even if the dress turns out exactly as I imagine it, will I really get much use out of another dress to keep the others company in their far end of my closet? I hope those girls have an active social life back there, because they rarely see the light of day.

In the meantime, I've sewn a nice new pair of shorts and another cute tee. 

But the black houndstooth print is eyeing me from the back of my sewing table.

You may also enjoy.... Romancing the Dress 1: Dainty

Monday, June 18, 2012

Part 2: Retro Polka Dots, Why I Don't Love Lucy

In my last blog post, I wrote about my recently sewn polka dot tee shirt. I’m a brand new convert when it comes to these retro-style spots, but I also knew there was some vaguely uncomfortable memory, that I associated them with. When I put on my new sleeveless tee, with it’s draped neckline,  I really liked what I saw in the mirror. The wisps of what I disliked were the the shades of a far-from-favorite old television show, in those vibrant polka dots.

Though I’ve come to love that tee shirt, what I still don’t love is the I Love Lucy television show, because Lucille Ball's portrayal of Lucy Ricardo was no role model for a budding, mid-twentieth century, feminist kid. In my modern-woman household, those polka dots represented some pretty old ideas of woman's place in our society. And they were ideas we were still fighting through in the sixties. In my mind, those old-style feminine behavior patterns were linked with images of the ubiquitous polka-dot dresses* that Lucy wore on the show.

I’m the first to admit there are things to admire about the television and movie comedienne whose career in film, television, stage and radio spanned a period of over forty years. No pawn for the film moguls, Lucille Ball was a hard-working woman, driven to succeed on her own terms. For those of you gals who weren’t around in the fifties and sixties, I can tell you that wasn’t an absolutely stellar time to stand up for yourself if you were born female.

Lucy made the most of her unusual looks. Instead of fitting into a standard style, she created her own. Her personal-style sense back then, is an example for us sewists who are always working to create fashions that make the most of what we were born with.

Besides that she was the first obviously pregnant woman on television. Before that, maternity was considered not very nice. Children were great, but the evidence of where they came from, and the affects of gestation on the body of a stylish woman, were something that weren't on display on the box.

My problem with the show is Lucy Ricardo's relationship with her husband. As a television star, Ms. Ball was in the role-model business, and the model of married womanhood that she represented was one that made irrational, dependent, subterfuge looked cute. Lucy, as the center point of the show, was always doing something silly because, apparently, she didn’t have any wits. The show made it clear that husbands really adored a lack of brain in their women. Cute, huh? 

Almost as cute as the fact that Lucy needed to wheedle money out of her man whenever she went beyond the financial parameters he laid out. Another great life lesson for the sixties-era female, particularly those like more than a few of the adult women in my extended family and town, who were married to somebody who were physically or emotional controlling. 

There’s also nothing cute about fooling your spouse to get what you want (instead of discussing important issues and finding ways to compromise on the priorities for a joint partnership) Pretty much every episode played up this amusing angle.

So what does Lucy’s story leave me with?  

Just fashion.

The women I see around me these days have come far enough from the dependent, ditsy, second class role that we saw on the screen back then, that we can begin to have a little fun with Lucy's style.

Nowadays, when I think of Lucille Ball, I'm just going to see spots - polka dotted spots that is. 

And I’m not the only one. In an article in “Flaunt” (“A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE POLKA DOT), Jake Levy says that a polka-dot dress was a staple wardrobe item in the “I Love Lucy” show. I would go so far as to say that Lucy was the Queen of polka-dots.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Part 1: Retro Inspires Sewing with Polka Dots

Associating Them with Skin Problems,
LR Shimer's Never Been A Fan of Polka Dots Before
Until She Picked Out the Wrong Fabric and Decided it  was So Right
A couple of months back, I was searching for a tee shirt knit with a print of white pin dots on a black background. I was so happy to find my black with white dotted cotton interlock material at, that I didn’t think to check the online sample image that showed the size of my dots. So I was disappointed when my order showed up, to realize that my pin dots were polka dots. I also wasn’t crazy about the fabrics hand, that tactile response we sewists get to the heft and feel of our yard goods.

How is a pin dot different than a polka dot? For me, the individual spots in a pin dot print are about the size of the head of the basic little flat, metal pins I use for marrying a couple of yards of cotton to it’s tissue paper pattern. The tiny points on a piece of stiff dotted swiss are about the right size. (Does anybody sew with dotted swiss these days? When I was a child, that was a real glamour material.)

On the other hand, I would say that a polka dot is a bigger spot. Anything the size of the rubber eraser on the back of a yellow number 2 pencil and beyond, qualifies as a polka dot in my book.

And what I had ended up with were four yards of polka dots, a print I wasn’t at all fond of, because they reminded me of the story about moucheron, the tiny patches that historical ladies like Marie Antoinette and her court wore as a fashion statement, a practice that originated in times even before those stylish gals came along, as a way to cover pimples. (Talk about making lemonade when you’re handed a lemon!)

Polka dots also reminded me of some of some aspect of my childhood I didn’t like, but couldn’t really identify. I just didn’t like them. What's the story there?

The material’s price had been right, why not use some of it to make a test garment out of my new McCalls pattern, M6078?  I fashioned view B, a sleeveless tee with stitched front pleats, neck drape and shaped sides.  That test garment changed my entire attitude about polka dots. When I put on my new tee shirt I felt suddenly glamorous and pulled together. The shirt cried out for some earrings that mirrored the dot shapes and a string of pearls. I have twice worn my pearls with the tee shirt to parties, but for my usual walks and school work they stay at home in my jewelry box and I just pop on some dropped, jiggly multi-pearl earrings that echo the shapes on my tee. The top goes with my black capri jeans and my straight legged black pants. It would go great with a slim-fitting black skirt if I possessed one (or indeed ever wore skirts) . 

Despite the fact that I intend to make a new version of the tee with some of the remaining fabric, (see Planned Alterations* below ) my polka-dotted tee shirt has really worked out for me. It's become what sewists with a plan call a '... go to wardrobe item'. And oddly enough the fabric's hand feels fine to me now. I've gotten used to the slightly stiff fabric that doesn’t stretch unexpectedly over time, like some of my other knits. It also seems to breathe just fine on a warm day. It’s not what I was used to but I’ve grown to like the feel of it and the way it works.

But what was the story from my childhood that affected my attitude about polka dots? More on that in my next blog piece, Why I Don’t Love Lucy

* Planned Alterations

I like this tee so much, I'm going to sew up a new and improved version from my remaining fabric. Next time:

• I will definitely not use a white fold over elastic to cover the armhole edge. I plan to try a self-fabric band using the same techniques as I use for self-fabric tee neckline bands. I learned how to do this from Lori (of Sew Forth Now fame). Here is her tutorial for neckbands. I sew it out of a slightly stretched cross-grain strip and I always, always baste these first, and test it folded down with pins in place, as every knit stretches differently. 

• I'm going to add 1 -2 inches to the torso length because I'm long waisted.

• I'm going to cut a deeper (higher) self-lining part on the top of the front piece. The entire front is one piece and the top part falls back and lines the drape. But the drape wasn't quite long enough to hide a glimpse of the wrong side of the fabric at the neckline. I added a strip of selvage and it could still use a bit more inner lining. I will probably add another 1-2 inches to that curve.

• I will add more to the sides and make it a tiny bit less fitted. I have a rectangular figure (I don't go in much at the waist or out much at the hips) and the shaping on this top fakes a waistline. More curvaceous ladies wouldn't need to do that.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Caps Off: Chewing a Bun with Tuppence

Laurel (L.R.) Shimer wearing her new cap
Inspired by a time travel jaunt back to visit with Tuppence
Using a pattern in the book, One Yard Wonders (first book)
My all-time favorite Agatha Christie book is the first Tommy and Tuppence story, The Secret Adversary.* So you can just imagine my pleasure when I had a chance to travel back through time recently to chew a bun with that romantic young girl. It was, of course, shortly after the war (WWI that is) and Tuppence was still pretty down on her luck. I mean, you could tell by the hole in her stockings, the one she had darned a good few times. Still, the plucky girl filled me in on some big plans she's been making with her old chum, Tommy Beresford. Golly, I hope something comes of them.

In case you're wondering, my time portal was an old blue willow tea cup that belonged to my grandmother. You've heard of reading tea leaves I'm sure. I've found that reading them through grandpa's old magnifying glass, provided exactly the second necessary ingredient to assist me in heading back to the time just after what was then referred to as the Great War.

When I popped-off back home I remembered that I'd been particularly struck by Tuppence's rakish close-fitting cloche hat. Those of you who've followed her other adventures, as penned by Mrs. Christie, probably recall that Tuppence was extremely partial to hats. I'm not a slavish follower of historical fashion, preferring to take my inspiration from styles of the times I visit, and apply them to my modern life style. However a good hat  is as important to me as the next plucky dame. As a regular hiker and walker I always need something to keep the sun out of my eyes and protect my skin. I found the pattern for the low-browed, cloche style cap I used, in the first One Yard Wonders book (my public library has both the first and second volume) and it worked like a charm. I particularly liked the fact that the author directed me in the techniques for measuring my head and indicated how much to add for those of us who tend to tuck up our hair. As a hiker, that's particularly important. I have quite a large head and can never find hats that fit, except for adjustable baseball-style caps. They can usually be made to fit, but they don't offer a great deal of protection. This one does. I think I've worn it every single day since I first finished it, about two months ago.

Bare Bones Basics: I made the cap in a simple 100% cotten denim with a faint etched print of roses. The pattern indicated that I should form the band out of  three strips (lined with 3 more strips). After sewing two strips together the cap was plenty long enough. Maybe that's because I made the top of the cap good and wide. I used a total of 4 strips outside and in. The main circle/top of the hat is also self-fabric lined. I hand-stiched the circle on top to the bands. I used Peltex interfacing for the brim, which is also self-fabric lined/backed. The project didn't take a great deal of time, though I spent some careful time double checking my measurements and calculations when I first planned the project.

All I can say is that I love it and it works great. I plan to make another soon.

* Though I'm also quite partial to other Tommy and Tuppence books, my second favorite Christie is her autobiography.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

1001 Nights: Scheherazade's Peacock Purse

Scherazade's Purse Sewn by L.R. Shimer
Hot Patterns Vintage HotPatterns Hangbag Heaven Nairobi Handbag
Iman Home Fabrics, Punjab Peacock Radicchio
Do you laugh when people ask you... "But where do you get your ideas?" Ideas are not our problem, are they? I know that my head is tumbling full of them, and I bet yours is too. It's completing the projects inspired by these thousand and one ideas that's the challenge!

Our sewing stories are like the thousand and one stories that Scherazade told her husband. There's always another one waiting to be imagined. Still, I thought it would be fun, perhaps for the sake of the people who don't think the way many of us do*, to think about where the inspiration for each of my sewing stories comes from.

Do you recall that it was Scherazade's own idea to be married to the shahryar who was infamous for having already married and beheaded a 1001 wives? To my mind the man sounds like a power-mad brute, but Scherazade saw him as a challenge. She believed that he was just one crazy, mixed-up dude who, having been betrayed by one woman, had gone mad by love. Her plan was to keep him entertained by telling him story after story. Of course she told him that the stories were for her little sister, Dinazade. As the light of morning broke after a dramatic story filled night, Scherazade always managed to leave her most recent story hanging. Her version of story-telling therapy worked. After a thousand and one stories, the shahryar was cured. The couple went on to a happy life together.

Who'd a thunk it? Well, I guess marriage is always a chancy business.

I can fit four dvd boxes to go back to the library in my bag. I like to envision Scherazade, perhaps with help from Dinazade, packing her toothbrush and nightie in a bag much like mine, when she went off to take her chances on marriage. When I walk off to the library, or downtown to buy a box of bandaids, with my Scherazade-inspired purse hanging over my shoulder, the beautiful Rimsky-Korsakov symphony runs through my head. You can listen to it here.

Sewing Details: I finished creating Scheherazade's peacock purse last week. Bare Bones: It's made using a "Vintage HotPatterns Hangbag Heaven Nairobi Handbag" pattern. The material is designed by Iman Home Fabrics and is called "Punjab Peacock Radicchio". I bought my fabric on line. I'm not sure if I managed to cut it out of the half a yard the pattern suggests, because I had bought two half yard pieces. I sewed a simple tote for my daughter out of some of it. Also I wanted to have a lot of peacock eyes nicely displayed so I'm sure I used more fabric than I normally would, laying out the pattern pieces just so.

I also quilted, in the ditch, along the seam lines, using scraps of some type of cotton heirloom quilt type batting that I happened to have on time. It gives it a nice shape and heft. The lining is a jade green poly/satin I recycled from an old bridesmaid dress I found for free. Instead of the pocket included in the pattern, I cut off a small poofy sleeve from the dress and stitched it down inside. The sleeve had elastic at top and bottom. It works great as an inner pocket.

*Hey some of us are network/web thinkers and others are more focused and linear, right?

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Romancing The Dress Part 1: Dainty

Though I was only five when this photo was taken, I remember standing on the porch of the rental house in Lansing Michigan posing for it. I remember telling my mother that I "...looked dainty". And I remember her laughing at me and asking me where I had learned that word.

We're not a 'dainty' family. We're midwestern stock - large and robust, arty, and folksy. But I can recall just how delightfully feminine and romantic this much beruffled dress made me feel. Despite her somewhat sarcastic response to my words, my mother had absolutely filled the pale blue bodice with those ruffles when she sewed it for me. And despite the black and white-ness of the photo, I remembered the exact soft shade of blue of the dress, when I was photoshopping the old snapshot.

Whenever I've sewn a dress, I've been just a little bit influenced by the memory of that dainty blue frock.