In Which I Use 3 Hours of My Life and Nearly 5 Yards of Fabric

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:

Faye Dress From Fibre Mood Fall 2019
Line drawings of Faye

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.

  1. 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.
Front piece – tape together four traced pattern pieces !

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.

5 yards to go!

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:

Carpet makes a good cutting mat.

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.

Two fronts, pattern pieces complimenting each other if not exactly matching.

(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.

Sleeves, matched as a mirror image

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:

Pattern pieces

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.

Scraps

(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!

Fighting Against Fitting In

The moss is taking over the patio. And I love it.

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.

Thick lovely moss

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.

Spores spreading – and a bird visited recently.

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.

Purslane takes over

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.”

A pretty garden, if not for a mile of black hoses everywhere…

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.

Goldfinches have been filling up on seeds from these coneflowers.

Are You a Pattern Person or a Fabric Person?

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.)

Example of pants stash

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:

Wishlist for pants

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.

Album of fabric swatches arranged by fabric type, then by yardge


Any project that’s fully in hand goes into the “My Queue” feature on Pattern Review because I am ready to go.

Fall planning queue – tops and layering pieces/jackets.


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:

Magic quadrant of sewing projects

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.

Faye Dress from Fall 2019 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..

I also bought two patterns from venerable pattern companies. The Salsa Blouse is from The Sewing Workshop, while the Discover Something Novel Pants are from The Cutting Line. Both pattern companies have been around for many years and aim at the older sewist. I am eager to try them out. Since I am gray-haired and decrepit now.

This process may sound really complex, but it saves me a lot of time and money, and I seldom have unfinished projects this way.

What’s your approach? I’d be interested to hear any ideas!

Letting Gravity Do the Work

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!

Steamy…

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.

Press the red button for steam.

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.

White shoes after Labor Day? Of course!

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.

Shoe and pad

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.

Resting the iron flat takes getting used to

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.

Paging Doctor Steam Iron!

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.

New board pulls it all together

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.

Maiming Myself

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.

Yes, my hair is short. Yes, it’s getting gray. No makeup either! So sorry that an aging woman has invaded your view in her natural state.

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.”

Joan of Arc – historic patron saint of short-haired women who take no crap from anyone.

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.”

Judi Dench, today’s saint of short-haired women who don’t give a care.

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!”

Fairy, pixie – tomato, to-mah-to.

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!

So Then This Happened…

How’s your summer going? Things have been busy here. In no particular order:

  1. Sewed a summer wardrobe.

PatternReview.com had a summer contest to sew so-called “Endless Combinations” where each item has to go with two other items. I sewed eight things in all, built around my need for some professional-looking shirts for work videoconferences and quick comfy shorts and skirts for decent work-at-home looks.

I didn’t win the contest and didn’t try, which is a big step for me. Rather, I competed for fun and really enjoyed it as it fit with my plans and needs. I sewed 100% from stash too in summery hues of aqua and teal, white, black and gray. If you’re interested, the patterns are (left to right):

A: The Creative Cate Top from Style Arc in a poly knit that includes all my wardrobe’s colors, finished on the inside to help the cowl neck keep its shape.

B: Jalie Elonore pull-on shorts in black stretch twill – the slim fit goes with all the untucked tops in this collection and makes a great short for biking on my lunch break or after work.

C: A white poplin cotton top from McCall’s 2094 coordinates with anything! It includes pleated breast pockets from Butterick 5526, so that I can wear it with pocketless RTW skirts not part of this collection.

D: Style Arc’s Gorgeous Gore Skirt is in teal ponte. I added pockets that nestled into the gores to support whatever’s inside without stretching out.

E: MariaDenmark’s Edith Blouse in crisp white cotton with a black and teal retro print, is finished with a bias hem for extra structure and polish.

F: The Jalie Drop-Pocket Cardigan in drapey aqua rayon jersey – coordinates with all the tops and bottoms.

G: Sewaholic’s Alma Blouse, in white and teal cotton lawn, is finished with French seams. The sash can also be used as a belt with the shorts.

H: Mock-wrap shorts from Vogue 9246 in a charcoal gray linen-rayon blend. I added belt loops and rear pockets for polish and utility.

2. I got a haircut and went gray.

Covid-19 finally convinced me to break loose from the tyranny of chemical hair dyes and hair straighteners.

I had not been to the hairdresser since February. My roots grew out a few inches. My annual straightening could not be done because salons here are only allowed to do basic cuts and colors. I had been slicking my hair back into a ponytail each day ( see pictures above).

Finally I went to the salon and got this:

My husband hates it, but then I explained to him that this haircut literally and figuratively was a weight off my shoulders, and I think he got it. Or at least accepted it. Hey, it’s only hair, it grows, and I can always dye it and grow it out.

So those are the fun things around here.

Some not-fun things have included:

3. Activist activities.

I’ve read and attended lectures about racism. Learning about racism has taught me a few things I’d like to share. One big issue is the way white people tend to regard racism – they tend to think racism is only super obvious hatred for Black people -like Klan-level, cross-burning types of hatred – and ignore subtler racist acts. It’s all racism, people. If you don’t know what microaggressions are, for example, that’s a good place to start to learn, identify bad behavior and change your own.

White people also tend to ignore racism when they see other people or situations perpetuating it. We tend to think it’s not our job to speak up. Of course it is! Say something! A couple of recent examples from my life:

At the grocery store before the 4th of July, I saw a boxed fireworks kit that had obvious racist imagery under the name “Savage Fireworks”. I am not going to post a picture of it here, but trust me, it was disgusting. I called over the (white) store manager to complain. She thought I was complaining about selling fireworks at all, and I had to literally point to the box and say “That is disgustingly racist and you should remove it immediately.” The look on her face when she finally saw it was priceless. She got a shopping cart and starting loading up the boxes. I certainly hope she didn’t put them back on the floor later but I didn’t check to be sure.

At the physical therapy gym, there are a bunch of solar-paneled bobbleheads in a sunny window. There are animal figures, cartoon characters, holiday-themes, and, yes, a “hula girl” complete with grass skirt and coconut-shell bra. I asked the therapist, a young white woman, if she thought it was appropriate. “I think it’s kind of cute,” she said. I asked her if she thinks her Asian or Polynesian patients would find it cute. She just looked at me, uncomprehending. Then I said, “Would you still find it cute if it was a Black woman instead of a Polynesian woman, or would you then see that it’s offensive?” She looked at it again and said “oh, I see what you mean.” She put it in a desk drawer.

These are pretty small examples of the kind of casual racism I am talking about – certainly not on the scale of police murdering Black people in the street, but still harmful and perpetuating stereotypes.

Also, I wrote emails to La Mia Boutique and Burda Style, asking them why they don’t use nonwhite models and telling them I won’t buy any more issues or promote the patterns I have sewn until they do.

I also was going to email StyleArc, which uses illustrations, not models. The illustrations are always of white women. Don’t believe me? Here’s a screenshot of all their patterns. Can you find any nonwhite women in these illustrations?

But lo and behold, how did StyleArc promote its latest dress pattern?

So instead I sent a email commending Style Arc – saying it was “about time” and hoping to see many more Black models.

I have not received a reply from any of these companies, so we’ll see.

A sewing friend from Canada took issue with my emails, saying that it’s unfair that someone from the United States (me) expects sewing pattern companies from other countries (Italy, Germany, Australia) to confirm to what she called “American sensibilities.” Guess what? There’s racism and bigotry in other countries. There are nonwhite people and models in other countries. These companies have nonwhite customers. Nonwhite people are people and must be included, not pandered to with tokenism or dismissed with Continental shrugs. I also expect pattern companies to show models of different ages, body types, abilities and other dimensions of our human race. It’s the right thing to do.

4. Health crap.

My work to fix my shoulder and posture was really paying off earlier this summer. Through daily exercises and stretches, I had leveled off my shoulders quite a bit and was standing taller:

And then I started feeling pain in my right knee. I put off going to the doctor because of Covid-19, but finally I went, had an MRI, and found out that I have some gnarly arthritis in that knee. So then I got the shoe orthotics, the physical therapy and the dietary supplements “for joint health.”

Turning 50 is a bitch.

Taking a Break, Then Taking Action

I took a break from all social media in June. I was so heartsick over everything – pervasive racism and discrimination, police brutality, the continuing death toll from Covid-19, the never-ending catastrophe of the Trump administration. It was too much to take. How could I spend my time sewing, gardening, and otherwise enjoying my life in the face of so much, pain, suffering and death?

I used the time instead to attend some rallies, read and attend lectures and talks about the issues, reckon with my own experiences with racism – times I have both done and said things I should not have, and have been silent when others did – reach out to friends and neighbors who are hurting, and planning sustainable actions for the future.

If you’re interested in these issues, here are a few steps you might want to take along with me.

  1. State clearly and often that Black Lives Matter. Don’t give me that “all lives matter” nonsense. If you don’t understand what Black Lives Matter means, guess what? It’s easy to learn. Start here.
  2. Call out people on their racism. I am tired of just ignoring crap I hear from other white people – those microaggressions, those little snide comments and “I’m not prejudiced, but…” statements. Guess what? You are prejudiced. And I am not taking it anymore.
  3. Learn about the long, long history of racism. As a starting point, I especially recommend “The 1619 Project” by The New York Times Sunday Magazine, as a primer to the history of slavery and how racism has poisoned all aspects of American life.
  4. Learn about conscious bias. All people have biases – it’s part of being human. But unconscious bias is what happens when we make snap judgments about people based on preconceived notions or prejudices. Unconscious bias is the quiet, nasty sibling of outright loudmouth bigotry. It affects how people judge one another based on their race, age, gender, sexual orientation, ability, nationality, religion or other factor. A useful tool is to “press the pause button” when I feel unconscious bias creeping in. Think – am I feeling this way because the other person is X and I am Y? Recognizing bias is the first key to stamping it out.
  5. Open your wallet. Instead of spending money to enjoy my white privileged life, I have been spending money to help others. There are many worthy causes. Here are a few national organizations I have supported – some longtime supporter, some new supporter: The NAACP, The Southern Poverty Law Center, The United Negro College Fund and The Black Women’s Health Imperative. Even better, support your local organizations. We love LEAP – a local educational program.
  6. Talk about it. Many white people – myself included – feel that they can’t talk about racism. They may think – “I don’t know what to say.” Or “If I say something it may come out wrong.” Or some other excuse. I encourage you to reckon with what the real reason is. For me, it was shame. I am ashamed that I have failed to see and fight racism in my daily life. I am ashamed of things I did in the past that seemed OK but now I know were not. Whatever your reason is, lean into it. Talk to your friends and family. Get them to understand your point of view, and get them to understand why it’s not OK to ignore it, or to say “it’s not my business” or whatever sorry excuses they may have. You are not going to get it right every time, but if you learn you will put yourself on the path to righteousness.
  7. Normalize Blackness in your life. This was a suggestion from a coworker who gave a presentation with others about racism in everyday life. By this, she meant that white people tend to view Black people as “others” – outside of their normal lives and experiences. Most white people, for example, will accept a Black person as an entertainer, or an athlete, or a servant in some way, as long as it’s on their terms and doesn’t make them uncomfortable. “Twelve Years a Slave” was a devastatingly powerful Best Picture Oscar winner movie few white people have seen. Too heavy for you? “Black-ish” is an award-winning sitcom about a wealthy black family that tackles racism head-on. about Do you read books? Shop at stores? Eat at restaurants? Are they all “white”? Seek out other perspectives of others.
  8. If they don’t get it, boycott. I have not been a strong advocate of sending a message through my wallet. Companies that do outrageous things – such as Hobby Lobby’s refusal to cover birth control for its employees – don’t get my business. But I have been less interested in policing the “rightness” of other things I consume. Now I realize that it’s not enough to plead ignorance or to claim I don’t notice, or not to care when, for example, a clothing designer never features a nonwhite model, or an older model, or a model who’s larger than a size 00. I need to pay more attention to what I buy and the message that sends. So, unless things change (and if they don’t after all the consciousness-raising that’s been going on, I am speechless) I won’t buy from businesses who fail to listen up. For me, that means some European sewing magazines and pattern companies are now on the “do not buy” list, along with companies that have a history of discrimination or pay lip service to racism in our society.

What are you going to do?

Last Entry in the Summer Skirt Sewing Smackdown

After two tries at “free” skirt sewing patterns for the summer skirt sewing smackdown, I decided I’m dome with free patterns for a while. They can be fun, low-stakes projects, and you can get to know some cool indie pattern companies this way, but you also can end up with problems. Sooooo, time to sew up the most well-reviewed skirt in my five-skirt plan: the Gorgeous Gore Skirt from StyleArc.

StyleArc skirt 1
StyleArc Gorgeous Gore Skirt

This is not, strictly speaking, a free pattern. It was free to me, since StyleArc often gives away an older pattern when you buy a newer one. This is a very simple pattern – a gore piece you cut six times, and a waistband, which you cut four times. It doesn’t get much easier! And since it’s made of knit fabric, you an whip it up on the serger in a a couple hours or so.

My fabric was this crazy large-format geometric print in a heavier poly knit – not a jersey but not a double-knit or ponte either.

IMG_20190403_174821 (1)I had intended to make a dress with it. I must have been drunk or sleepy when I bought 3.5 yards of the stuff. A dress would be overwhelming to wear in this print, and it also would be kind of hot for a summer look. I figured a skirt was the answer:

StyleArc skirt 3

I’m glad I did this! The final result looks great and will coordinate well with other items in my wardrobe.

I ordinarily don’t go for elastic waists because that cinched-in elastic waist look doesn’t flatter me. No worries this time! This pattern has a clever solution to the waistband elastic situation. The casing sits on the waistband facing so it can’t be seen from the outside. To look at it, you’d think an invisible zipper on the side was in play. Nope!

Here’s a close-up of how it looks:

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Basically, you sew the waistbands and waistband facings together at the top and understitch. Then you sew 1/4 inch elastic in the round to your measurements and tuck it up against the understitching in between the waistband and facing. Then sew the casing on the facing only. The elastic is probably unnecessary for me, but I suppose it’s extra insurance.

I hemmed this to finish just above the knee (it’s designed as a below-knee skirt). I used the coverstitch setting on the serger and kind of screwed it up. My serger does not like bulk. I really to need to figure this out. Any flaws probably won’t attract the eye of anyone but me anyway.

StyleArc skirt 2
Back view

Because it’s a higher-waist design, the skirt flares out to skim but not settle on my hips, (unlike some skirts that shall remain nameless).

Now that I can declare victory, I am taking a break from skirts!

 

 

Do’s and Don’ts for Sewing Buttons by Machine

While I am working on my simple summer skirt sewing smackdown, I figured I’d work on some new techniques. I mean, a gal’s gotta keep up with her skillz, yes?

The Justine skirt has eleven buttons – nine up the front and one on each pocket. That’s a lotta buttons. I usually sew buttons by hand, but this seemed like a good opportunity to try sewing on the buttons by machine.

Eleven buttons later, here are some tips from me to you:

  1. Don’t use your best needle. You’re going to break a needle, or at least bang it up a bit, unless you are very very careful. Use a needle that has a few miles on it, so you won’t feel so bad if when you break it. Also, have an extra button on hand in case you really mess up:

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Oops – good thing it wasn’t a fresh needle, and good thing I had spare buttons on hand

2. Skip the fancy button-foot. If you have one, by all means use it, but I don’t and I was unwilling to pay $65 for one. Guess what? A piece of clear tape works just as well to hold the button in place.

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Since these were larger buttons, I used a wide-set embroidery foot so I could see both button holes clearly. A regular foot also works fine. Sew through the tape – it doesn’t leave residue on the needle, and it tears easily to remove cleanly when done.

3. Set stitch width and length. My machine has a button-sewing stitch – basically a wide zig-zag stitch with zero length. If your machine doesn’t have such an option, you can try out different zig-zag widths until you find what works. Set the length to zero.

4. Handwheel dress rehearsal. Before sewing on each button, use the handwheel to slowly crank the needle through its paces to be certain the needle lands where you want it. Does this get tiresome, 7 or 8 buttons in? Yes. Is it necessary? See step #1 and its carnage above. (Literally – this was the last button and I was like, “I don’t need to do a test run!”)

5. Knot by hand. My machine-sewn buttons were a bit messy with thread tails on the underside. I realized I needed to clean them up a bit. So I knotted by hand, by pulling the bobbin thread tails until the top thread could be picked through with a pin.

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A bit messy under there, are we?

All told, I don’t think I saved much time sewing the buttons by machine vs. by hand. The buttons are definitely on more securely, however, and at least now I know how to do it, if the mood strikes again.

Summer Skirt Sewing Smackdown Part II

Here’s my next two entry in my Summer Skirt Sewing Smackdown. The Justine skirt, a free pattern from Ready to Sew:

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“Justine” skirt

This is one of those “You Get What You Pay For” deals with free sewing patterns. The instructions are messed up and the sizing is off. I need to take it in at the waist about 3 inches. Yes, it was a majorly rookie mistake not to wrap the damn waistband around my bod to check for the sizing before I sewed it on, so I have no one to blame but myself.

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Back view – not a pretty picture

It looks OK from the front, but in the back, you can really see how the skirt sits low on my waist and the fabric pools at center-back into a pleat. The whole look says “wide load.”

This is supposed to be a high-waisted skirt, with the gathers falling attractively instead of settling and fanning out along the hips. Looking again at the model, you may notice how she has no waist or hips to speak of. I neglected to pay much attention. My mistake!

justine model
Justine skirt pattern photo

(Also, gurl, not for nothing, but what are you doing keeping the selvage on that skirt fabric? Let me know how it wears after you wash the skirt a few times.)

The instructions skirt is nearly a zero-waste design – the panels are big rectangles that gather into a straight-cut waistband, and the patch pockets are straight-cut along three sides.

The directions had one big problem and several small ones. The big problem: the instructions are out of order for gathering the skirt. You cannot gather the skirt until you know how much to gather it!

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Gathering in progress

The waistband pattern piece has no notches. You mark your own according to how long your waistband is. This is no big deal, but the waistband’s written instructions to mark the notches are wrong. You want to start at the ends, marking the seam allowances, then the button plackets, then center back, and then the side seams, which are equidistant between center back and the button plackets. The diagram is right but the written instructions have you “split the rest in four equal parts.”

Once you notch the waistband, you then can line up the skirt pieces to gather them the correct amount. It worked out to almost a 2x gather, in my size.

I wanted to try out techniques in the Threads July 2020 article “Couture Gathering” by Susan Khalje, so I made these changes:
* Made the skirt waist seam allowance 1 inch, not 1 cm.
* Ran three lines of gathering stitches, not 2.
* Ran gathering stitches the entire length of the skirt, not breaking at the side seams (Khalje says it’s easier to get even gathers this way, and having now done it, I agree).

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Gathering audition

I tried out a few lengths for the gathering stitches. A 5-mm regular basting stitch – sample on the right – left gathers that were too loose. The sample on the left is 4 mm – just right for this fabric – a cotton poplin I’ve had in my stash several years. I had bought it to make a shirtdress, without realizing it was only 47 inches wide – not enough for most dress patterns. A skirt was a good second-chance project for it. (BTW the pattern calls for fabric 140 cm wide (55 inches) but at least in my size a narrower fabric worked fine. This also would probably be suitable for quilting cotton.)

Other smaller errors and omissions with this pattern, if you decide to make your own:
* Assembling the .pdf, some pieces lacked the center heart shape for lining up the paper sheets.
* Some pieces lacked grainlines or cutting lines (this may be the fault of the nested .pdf format or just an error – I can’t tell).
* Sew the pockets right sides together not wrong sides together and turn out.

I did two lines of topstitching along the button plackets for extra stability, and I made the pocket buttons functional, not just decorative.

justine2

I am quite proud of my pattern-matching skills anyway. I think this will be a fun skirt – after I get over the unpleasantness of  unpicking the waistband, shortening it, then redoing the gathers and sewing the stupid thing back on. Actually, that sounds like a lot of work. Oy.