Well, that’s not true. I like that .pdf patterns exist, I just hate the test printing, the messing around with the printer, the real printing, the cutting off of margins on two sides of the paper, the taping, the retaping when the first taping is cockeyed, and finally the folding and storage when the pattern is used. And I hate the additional cost of paper, ink, tape and storage envelope on top of the pattern I bought already.
As they say in ever infomerical ever: “There’s got to be a better way!”
I don’t know if this is a better way, but it’s a slightly less annoying way.
I started by laying out a cutting table’s worth of pieces. This pattern – the “Brasov Wrap Top” from Itch to Stitch, has 30 pieces of paper – thankfully with nested .pdf pages so I just printed out the sizes I needed. This is 18 pieces of paper:
I looked over these 18 pages and identified several pieces that had odd shapes – bits and pieces of larger pieces, like the tip of the shoulder or the edge of a hem, with a page that was otherwise blank, or that had other little bits. I cut those little pieces out, taped the little pieces to bigger pieces, and threw the excess paper in the recycling bin.
To cut I used my rotary cutter with an old blade that I’d saved especially for this purpose.
Many pieces are mostly pattern with little bits gone, so those are good to go and I tape as usual, but without trimming margins! Here’s how:
I printed this on cheap copier paper – I mean the cheapest stuff at the office supply store – the stuff that’s in a sad pile in the corner in a plain paper wrapper, as far away as possible from the glossy, bright white expensive stuff. This paper is kinda see-through. So, instead of trimming two edges of the paper, I just looked through the paper and lined up the margins. Hard to see in a photo, but here it is on a finished pattern piece on a dark fabric.
I needed less tape this way because I was just taping the piece, not the whole sheet of paper.
I think this 30-page top took 15 minutes to put together this way instead of at least 30-40 minutes with the old trim-tape-cut method. And it went together right the first time, without having to retape anything crooked.
I don’t know how well this would work – happy to say it did! I am not sure how well it would work with a multi-sized pattern, or with a very complex pattern.
I’ve been working on the “Faye” maxi shirtdress dress from last fall’s Fibre Mood magazine. I got it all together and left it for a week to hang so that the hem would relax. I had to jack up my dressform Ruby to 5’10” (I am 5’6″) so that there was plenty of room for gravity to do its thing.
When hemming time came, I stood on a stepstool while my husband pinned the hem to the desired length. The hem was pretty uneven – I didn’t get a picture of this on but it was doing that typical drapy thing where the most bias-y edge hung down quite a bit, almost like a handkerchief hem. I tried it on pinned up and it looked good, so I thought it was OK. I trimmed off the excess.
Then I pressed up and pinned the hem and prepared to sew it. But first I tried it Damn. Nope – it was very very uneven. Crap!
So we had to do it all over again. I wanted a LONG dress, but I figured I’d settle for a mid-calf dress. My husband repeated the pinning ritual. I again tried it on to be sure it was OK. It looked all right – shorter than I wanted but still OK. So I trimmed off uneven hem #2:
I pressed up and pinned the hem again and tried it on. DAMN! The skirt was just too short to be long, too long to be short – it hit at this awkward length, hitting at the fullest part of my calves and dowdy as anything.
There was a great deal of swearing and door-slamming and some tears.
Then I put on my Big Girl Pants and trimmed another 3 inches off them hem so that it would at least fall at a flattering length. I pressed it and pinned it yet again, then lost the will to do any more.
This dress started the day grazing the floor, and now it’s above my knee. Plus, the proportions are all off. This humungous print demands an equally humungous amount of drama and scale, but now it looks like every dress I had in the 1990s. Also the drop shoulders and wide cuffed sleeves look dowdy as heck. I am very tempted to throw it in the garbage.
I’m more of a separates sewist than a dressmaker. I’ve made a few dresses, sure, but I don’t love making them. When you’re pear-shaped, as I am, you run into fit challenges unless you stick to the old fit-and-flare look. And when your shoulders are uneven, as mine are, the calculus for the drape of a dress can be daunting.
The dress uses more than 4 yards of fabric – rayon challis in this case. I finished the body of the dress, including the hidden button placket, while on vacation. I just need to put on the sleeves, sew the side seams and pockets, make the buttonholes, and hem it. OK, so still a lot to do…
The bodice includes a flap that adds interest to the top. They went in pretty easily, and the pattern matching wasn’t bad. One flap is sort of a mirror image of the other rather than a match, but I decided to live with it.
The only thing that gave me agita were the pleats – three on the bodice and three matching ones on the skirt. This was, frankly, a mess to do because here’s what the pattern looks like if you trace it from the magazine:
If you’re thinking of trying this at home, and you haven’t bought the magazine yet, I’d buy the printed pattern just to avoid this train wreck.
Moving on… I got the pleats in OK for the bodice and just estimated where the pleats should go for the skirt. But the pieces would not line up. The pleats for the skirt are supposed to be deeper, but I will be damned if I can figure out how. So there is an extra pleat on the skirt. With this busy print, I bet you can’t tell.
Trust me, it’s there. I am living with it and moving on…
The directions for the hidden button placket aren’t very intuitive. Luckily, I have made hidden plackets before. In fact, I love them and it’s a reason I wanted this dress.
Since this dress is such a fabric hog (4+ yards, people!) you could eliminate the hidden button placket in favor of a regular one, and also shorten or remove from fullness from the skirt to save a yard.
Then the bias neckline binding went on. The directions say to cut the bias binding on the fold. Do not do this. Sheesh! How hard is it to cut a straight 22-inch by 1.5 inch strip of fabric on the bias? Sometimes I scratch my head…
Hoping to finish this weekend. Not that I have anywhere to wear it, but I can dream…
I was on vacation last week, so in addition to sewing, painting, and other projects, I dedicated several hours to activism. There’s still time to get involved in efforts to defeat Trump and his Republican enablers, rally our side, and otherwise ensure a fair election, before the US election November 3.
Fighting voter suppression in Georgia. The Southern Poverty Law Center runs a phone tree every Thursday afternoon, where volunteers call Georgia registered voters to help them get absentee ballots for the election if they want them. Many people are worried about contracting Covid-19 at their polling places, especially if there are long lines. Georgia in particular showed horrible discriminatory election practices during the 2018 midterms and 2020 primary – voting systems broke down, people waited in line for hours, voting wards were consolidated and confused (especially in poor and nonwhite areas) and some voters found out after all this struggle that their names had been purged from the rolls.
I’ve made calls for three weeks for the SPLC, which is a group dedicated to fighting racism and teaching tolerance in the Deep South. The calls go to people age 50 and up – people who are most at risk of serious illness or death from Covid-19. Most of the time, the calls go to voicemail, and so I leave a message with the Web address of the absentee-ballot request system for Georgia. Once in a while, someone answers the phone, and I have had a few nice conversations with Georgians. Several people I spoke with already had their absentee ballots and were ready to use them. One man I spoke with said he would vote in person.
“I always believe in showing up at the polls and making my mark,” he said. Good for you!
Remembering Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg. I attended a conference call by the Black Women’s Health Imperative, a nonprofit group, that discussed the legacy of the Supreme Court justice and provided ideas for activism. One key takeaway was to have a plan for voting well in advance of the election. My husband and I decided to get up at 5:30 a.m. on Election Day, walk to our polling place (at a nearby fire station) and wait in line for as long as it takes.
Don’t wait until Election Day to figure out how you will cast your ballot.
Make a plan now.
The women at the BWHI call also reminded people of threats to women’s healthcare with yet another arch-conservative justice on the court. People think a lot about abortion rights, of course, and it’s poor women who are hurt when clinics close. Rich women can always travel – even to a foreign country if necessary – to get an abortion. Poor women don’t have that luxury. Also at stake is the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare, that tried to provide health care options for people who aren’t covered by employers or other government programs. And efforts to stamp our racism and sexism in the health care system also are at stake.
For the birds with the Sierra Club. A letter-writing campaign sponsored by the environmental group the Sierra Club aims to connect with voters through a personal touch. The letter-writing campaign targets voters in certain battleground states (that is, states that Biden needs to win to defeat Trump).
I chose to send my letters to voters in Florida. The Sierra Club provides names and addresses, and a form letter with space for a personal message. I’ve been doing a lot of backyard bird-watching this year (56 species and counting) and have been enjoying “Vesper Flights” by Helen Macdonald, so I decided to add a few sentences about projecting Florida’s beautiful bird habitats.
Each week, I pledged to write 25 letters. There’s still time – they get mailed out in October.
I would love to get involved with other activism. I can’t do any specific fund-raising or campaigning for a candidate, but I can for a cause such as the environment and voter rights. Please drop me a line with any ideas. Thanks!
Earlier this year, a friend liked a photo of a sewing project and added a comment: “Too bad your neighbor’s ratty garage is in the background.”
Umm… that’s my ratty garage.
I guess a painting project was in order this summer. What else is there to do in our Covid-19 quarantine? Another job for the distaff side!
Here’s a close-up view of the rattiness.
Out house was built in 1908, which is pretty old for a house in the US, and we expect that the garage dates from the same time. The garage originally was a barn and carriage house. Long ago, for security reasons, we boarded up the window that the horses could look out of (bicycles and power equipment tend to disappear from garages in my neighborhood).
While we have dragged our house into the 21st century, we have let the garage lean into the ravages of time (literally – it leans a little). We hope that one day our neighbor’s sickly tree will fall on it. Until then, the garage is held together with spiderwebs and mildew. And now a new coat of latex paint.
Everyone believes there’s a right way and a wrong way to paint. Doubtless, that’s true. But there’s also the “get it done” way, which is my way. No need to get precious about it.
I began by scraping down bits of loose paint – a new occasion to wear a mask!
I had to get on a ladder to reach the top of the garage. My husband kept an eye on me, so that he could dial 911 if I fell. I was fine. It was exhausting. Now I know why people who work on ladders all day are so lean and fit – you keep your balance using muscles you never knew you had.
I primed the bare wood. (Did I sandpaper the surface first? Ha! Who are you kidding?!?) Then I painted the trim, in a charming color called “Puppy Paws.”
Then it was on to the clapboards, painted in the much-less-charming color “Tudor Brown.” It looks like melted milk chocolate. When I was done, I was jonesing for a Hershey bar.
Altogether, the job took about 10 hours, spread over three days. Each day I’d do as much as I could and I rested in between.
What unusual home-improvement projects have you tackled during quarantine?
Yesterday was blustery and cold – seriously it’s like someone flipped a switch on the Connecticut climate – so it was the perfect day for the time suck that is the “Faye” Dress from the Fall 2019 Fibre Mood magazine.
To review, here’s the dress:
The line drawings do a good job of showing the pleats and sweep of the dress, while the model photo shows the dress’ generous ease.
There are very few blogs or photos of this dress sewn up, and I think I know why.
The trace-off was a nightmare. The skirt’s sweep is so wide (and the pattern pages so small) that you have to piece the skirt pattern together. The fronts are made up of four large chunks. I was so confused I almost gave up. Finally I figured it out.
2. The dress is a massive fabric hog. My size calls for 400 cm of fabric that’s 140 cm wide. For those of us in the US, with our archaic measuring system, that’s 4.4 yards of 55 inch wide fabric. Oink indeeed!
3. The dress is massive overall – I am fortunate to have a big area to lay it out in. I don’t see how someone could manage with a small space.
Of course, I could not stop there. I had to buy this large-format print rayon challis because it was just so dramatic and edgy, with its asymmetical, animal-inspired, high-contrast look in my favorite colors.
I laid it out on the entry hall floor and got cutting in one layer. For such a big piece, a throw rug and a T-square are invaluable tools. Assuming your rug is straight, you can line up the selvage along its edge and use the T-square to line up the pattern’s grainline, like so:
It’s not possible to pattern match this fabric for the skirt – at least not without buying many more yards than I’d already invested in. So I followed the next-best strategy of matching dark area to dark area, light area to light area. That should be fine, especially since the skirt has so much volume and drape.
(Aside: At this point, you’re probably saying to yourself, “Gurl, you have a metric ton of Oriental carpets in your house.” Yes I do. I live in Connecticut. It’s the law.)
After the big skirt pieces were done, I could get fussy with pattern matching the sleeves and bodice pieces.
At the end of about 3 hours, was exhausted from crawling around on the floor. I had a pile of pattern pieces, safety-pinned to their paper templates:
And a bit of scraps along a selvage and a few bits here and there – but less than I could have imagined when I started this project.
(Another Oriental carpet aside – we chose this carpet for the entry hall and staircase in part for its roasted-chicken motif. Here’s a closeup:
This twin bird motif is supposed to be pair of peacocks, but they look like roasted chickens. If we were an aristocratic family, the roasted chicken would feature prominently in our heraldry. This is second-best.)
Then I had a gin and tonic and lay in a coma for much of the evening. Cheers!
I like to lie on a chaise and stroke the moss with the tips of my fingers, like how you’d pet a tiny sleeping kitten.
I like to watch the way the spores spread and bloom and thicken throughout the summer. I like visit places where something – probably a skunk or opossum – has dug up the moss in the night, in search of fat moist invertebrates to eat. During the day, in spring, birds strip off pieces, springy and green, to line their nests and cushion their eggs.
But moss is one of those things that don’t fit in. One of those things we’re supposed to strip away from the bricks, so carefully and expensively laid in the garden. So we have to find ways to argue against the desire to make every bit of nature conform to our expectations.
Why can’t we resist the urge to remove whatever doesn’t fit in? How badly do we want to have things our way?
Things start easily enough. Let’s have a nice garden, we say. Let’s have a lawn, some flower beds, a vegetable plot, a patio. So we hire someone to do the bits we can’t or don’t want to do, and we take on the rest of the work. We plan, shop, dig, plant, water, fertilize – and then we expect to enjoy.
Nature laughs at our plans.
Our property is overrun with the native weed purslane this summer. It’s been very hot and dry hardly any rain all summer – and the purslane took full advantage of its opportunity.
Mile-a-minute weed also spread. And crabgrass. And then we had lots of bare patches of dirt where everything died and nothing replaced it.
So now we have planted grass seeds. Which means we have to water. The lawn is crisscrossed with hoses to golf course sprinklers that need to run daily for an hour. Stop watering, we have wasted time and money. And then will come the pressure – or the expectation – to apply the crabgrass killer, the grub killer, the other chemicals to remove whatever doesn’t fit in with our concept of “lawn.”
I needed to arm myself with a lot of information to fight the urge to slide down this slippery slope. Lawns are a waste of water. In the future there will be water shortages anyway, so the effort will be wasted. We will have to mow all the time. These chemicals are irresponsible to use, bad for the environment. Harmful to birds. The annual maintenance of a perfect lawn will cost thousands of dollars.
Lawns are stupid.
So we agreed to seed and water, and water more next summer, if needed – if the hot dry conditions continue. And why won’t they? The Pacific Northwest, California, the Amazon, Australia – all in flames. Surely we will be next.
Once we accept a less-than-perfect lawn, how freeing! Let the moss stay! Leave the spent perennials as they are – the goldfinches and siskins will pick them clean in no time.
I’ve noticed that garment sewists tend to fall into two camps – your “pattern people” and your “fabric people.” That is, sewists tend to be attracted to either a pattern or to a fabric, and then they seek either a complementary fabric or a pattern that would work to make the garment.
How about you? Do you gravitate FIRST either to a pattern or to a fabric?
Whichever hits you first – fabric or pattern – it can provide a good jumping-off point for organizing projects that satisfy you, without wasting time or money. I thought I’d share my fall 2020 sewing plans by way of example.
Personally, I am a pattern-first type, because I tend to sew what I need rather than be inspired by a certain look or textile. Here’s my system, which can be reversed to a fabric-first approach easily enough:
I start each spring and fall season with a list of what I need – pants, shirts, coat, whatever. I go through my patterns to see what fits the bill. I am a paying member of PatternReview.com, so I catalog all my patterns using the site’s “pattern stash” feature, which allows you to sort and organize all the different pattern formats in one place. (Screenshot of part of my pants stash below.)
Yes, I only have 10 pants patterns. I also have some pants under Big 4 wardrobe coordinates patterns – those are filed separately (I don’t love this feature, but them’s the breaks). I am not a big stash person in any event – I prefer to buy what I need. Of these eight pants patterns listed above, I have sewn up five of them. The Claryville Jeans and Style Arc Jasmine pants are TNTs. I’ve sewn the Jalie stretch Eleonores, McCall’s 7726 and Vogue 9181 once each and have not yet tried the Ginger Jeans, Vogue 9155 or the MariaDenmark Sysiden pants.
If I’m not really feeling anything in my stash, I check out websites and reviews. PatternReview has a “wishlist” feature where you can tag a pattern you might want to buy later. If I see a great review or just want to remember a promising pattern, I throw it in the wishlist. Here’s what I have for pants at the moment:
Any pattern I would need to buy goes into a “maybe” pile for the moment, with a note about the cost.
Next, I go through my fabrics and other stash items (zippers, buttons, etc) to see what I have and what I need to buy to fulfill the plan for patterns I have on hand already. I keep a photo album with fabric swatches stapled to index cards that note the yardage length and width, composition, where and when I bought it, prices, etc. I intentionally keep a small stash and prefer to buy what I need when I need it.
Any project that’s fully in hand goes into the “My Queue” feature on Pattern Review because I am ready to go.
If I need to buy fabric, that project also goes into the “maybe” pile (with notes about the cost).
Now comes the reckoning. <<Cue dramatic music>>>
What do I really need vs. want?
How much do I have to spend, and how should I spend it?
If I have $100 to spend, would I rather buy that new pattern and less fabric, or buy more fabric and sew up patterns I already own?
How much time to I really have to sew for the upcoming season?
How much effort do these projects require – complex things like jeans? New patterns that require fitting and fussing? TNTs that go together easily?
I settled on these items for the plan:
I am fond of plotting out my projects on a grid based on cost vs. effort. Here;s what that looks like:
These are mostly “needs” and mostly stash fabric and patterns. Because I was being thrifty for most items, I realized I could spring for a few new patterns and one indulgence project. The upper-right corner is the indulgence – the “Faye” Dress from last fall’s Fibre Mood magazine.
Do I need this dress? No. Is it going to be a lot of work? Yes. Will it cost a lot of money? Yes (it takes 4+ yards of fabric). But I wanted it the moment I saw it, and I still want it. It has been on my mind for a year. I think it’s worth the time and trouble.
Armed with a solid plan, I was ready to shop! I made a trip to my local fabric store and scored this gorgeous rayon challis for the dress, which scores high for hitting several requirements for an “edgy” work wardrobe with its high-contrast, high-drama, animal-inspired print.
I bought 5 yards because I may need some pattern-matching. It’s a nice weight though, so I won’t need a lining. I also picked up zippers, buttons and other items I needed. For other items, I waited until there was a good sale and placed my order. The planning phase saved me money and time – one in-person shopping trip, one online shopping session, and I was done..
When you turn 50, as I did earlier this year, you start understanding the effect of gravity on your bod. Your ass be dragging. Your boobs be sagging. Your jowls be flapping.
Let’s turn this around and get gravity to work for us!
Ta-da! A gravity-fed iron!
This iron is a basic version of what you might see in a drycleaner’s or even a garment factory. The bottle at the top, which must be filled either with distilled or demineralized water, feeds slowly down the blue silicone tubing into the solenoid valve – that round thing sticking out of the left side of the iron.
Unlike a regular iron, which will produce steam as long as there’s water in the reservoir, a gravity-fed iron only releases steam when the steam button is pressed – that’s the red button on the handle.
The solenoid valve opens, water rushes in to the heat plates – and voila – lots of steam.
The iron has an aluminum “shoe” and a felted pad that wedges very firmly between the soleplate and the shoe, to diffuse the steam. The shoe attaches to the iron with the spring seen above.
The shoe has many many tiny holes for the steam – way more than a regular iron. It’s coated with a nonstick substance to prevent it from leaving scorch marks or shiny spots on fabrics. I bought two shoes, so that I can swap one out if it gets gunked up from interfacing or whatnot – but that hasn’t happened so far.
The iron takes some getting used to. For one, it’s pretty heavy. It’s also smaller than most regular household irons, so while it’s more precise it also takes a little longer to iron things.
For another, you don’t ever turn it on its end between uses – it lies flat on a silicone heat pad. Also, unlike modern household irons, there’s no automatic shut-off safety feature. It’s on until you turn it off. I like this – the auto shut-off ALWAYS used to kick in at the most inconvenient times. But it means that you have to watch it every minute and shut it off when you’re done. You know, like a responsible adult.
Also, you only get steam when you push the button, so you have to get used to pushing it and holding it down for a second or two. If you hold it down too long, water floods the iron and will spurt out. So in sum, yes, this iron can be dangerous.
The water bottle must hang at least 1 yard above the ironing surface. I hung it from a wall-mounted IV hook so it can move freely and stand away from the wall. I suppose you also could hang it from the ceiling if yours is low enough. To keep the power cord out of the way, the iron comes with clips that attach it to the water hose. I also used a conduit kit that attaches to a standard household outlet to plug the iron in up higher.
The bottle has a little spigot to control the water flow – you only turn it a tiny bit – about 1/8th of its full rotation – so that enough water gets to the iron. Too much water, and the iron may leak. The water hose is plenty long enough to cover my board’s area, but you can buy extra-long hoses if you want.
Speaking of the ironing board, I bought a heavy-duty one to go along with the iron. It’s as long and quite a bit wider than a regular ironing board and includes an iron rest at one end. It’s very sturdy and stable – as much a safety thing as a convenience. It came with a nice pad and a wire shelf, which is handy for storing pressing supplies. I keep my old board around for those times when I need to iron yardage or other big pieces.
In sum, I am really happy with this set-up. It wasn’t cheap – the iron, board, shoes and hardware for installation set me back about $400. But it was a great investment and much more convenient than a regular iron. I blow through an= regular iron ever year or two, so this ought to last a lot longer.
I intentionally maimed myself last week. At least, that’s what you’d think based on my decision to cut my hair short and go gray.
Some feedback on my new look and my snarky internal monologue in response:
Them: “What did you do that for?” Me: “Just to mess with you.”
Them: “I didn’t recognize you.” Me: “I am an international woman of mystery.”
Them: “You look older.” Me: “This is what 50 looks like.”
Them: “You look younger.” Me: “Stop lying.”
Them: “You look like a totally different person.” Me: “Still just me. Sorry to disappoint.”
Them: “You’re so brave.” Me: “This is some serious Joan of Arc action up in here.”
Them: “You’ll need a strong lip now.” Me: “Is GET LOST enough lip for ya?”
Them: “It’s…. cute…” Me: “You’re… full… of… it…”
Them: “Wow.” Me: “Yup.”
Them: “It’s good you have something on your forehead.” Me: “I’m glad I covered up enough of my head for you.”
Them: “It’s a mature look.” Me: “It’s Judi Dench drag.”
Them: “You have the bone structure for it.” Me: “Yes. I have bones in my face.”
Them: “Are you going to keep this or let it grow?” Me: “I think I’ll go shorter next time.”
Them: “You are just as pretty.” Me: “Just wait until I get my skull tattoos.”
Them: “Are you all right?” Me: “Short haircuts aren’t just for cancer survivors and brain tumor sufferers anymore!”
Them: “You’ll have to get trims more often now.” Me: “YAY!”
Them: “You’re like a pixie now.” Me (clapping my hands): “I DO believe in fairies!”
Them: “Men hate short hair on women.” Me: “My dream of repelling men finally comes to fruition!”
I suppose I could unpack all this, but really I can sum up my decision in two words – and you can quote me on this – “Screw it.”
Many people, in the United States anyway, have come to believe that women and men are equals. Most people would deny they are sexist. Women are no longer widely scoffed at for wearing pants, or playing sports, or having “manly” jobs, or many other things once viewed solely in the domain of men.
But get a short haircut? The sexism flag flies free!
To be fair, many people said they liked it. So that’s nice. But here’s the thing – I don’t care if you like it or not. I didn’t get this haircut for you. I got it for me.
From the moment females are born, they are conditioned to believe that their looks are the most important thing – more important than intelligence, character, personality, drive, empathy – anything. Pretty is paramount. Don’t believe me? Watch how people behave around little girls – always commenting on their hair, bodies, dresses, grace – anything that can be seen and judged will be seen and judged. People will try to “fix” what they think is lacking. And that “fixing” never goes away. Ever. The beauty and fashion industries churn it up nonstop.
An interesting thing happens after 40, though. The conversation subtly starts to shift from “looking your best” to “not looking old.” Because old is the worst. Old is unforgivable. Old is a reminder of death. Look old? Jump into your coffin, already. I’ll see you there!