Quilting for Healing and Power

I haven’t made a quilt in years – about 15 years to be exact – when I made a baby quilt for my newborn niece. I had moved on long ago to home dec and then to apparel sewing, but every so often I would look through my quilting cotton stash and grow wistful at its possibilities.

That feeling grew stronger last week when I sewed up some stash to make masks for nurse friends of mine. I felt the pull to quilt again – partly to commemorate these homebody Covid-19 days, and partly to keep my hands busy, and partly because I had something to say in the fabric and colors and lines.

I heard about a Quilt-a-Long of this pattern by Denyse Schmidt, a quilt designer who lives nearby. I had bought this pattern years ago during a studio open house. While I loved it, the color choices and bias-cut edges daunted me. I thought, however, that with help I could do it.

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The quilt includes an alphabet of block letters done in a slightly rustic style. The letters are cleverly constructed to nest together with design options for the positive and negative space. And while some letters are quite complex, each piece is numbered so that it’s easy to sew them together, step by step.

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Letter T is an easy one
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The D is pretty complex – pieces D2, D5 and D6 are the negative space

So I had my pattern. But what to say? I thought of one friend who had started me on quilting more than 20 years ago but cannot sew any longer because of illness. I thought of another friend who I’d made a quilt for back when I had been a raw beginner – she lost that quilt and her other possessions in a fire last year. I had sewn pussyhats for them to wear to the 2016 Women’s March. I wanted to make them something else. Finally, I thought of my sister, who I also made a hat for and have marched with a few times.

So I hit on this idea:

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My quilt message and color scheme

The entire quote is “Nevertheless, she persisted.” The vile Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell uttered this sentence while moving to silence Senator Elizabeth Warren during a debate on the Senate floor. It became an instant rallying cry for women everywhere who are told to stay silent, be obedient, and defer to the patriarchy. (For the whole story see this excellent Washington Post article.)

The whole phrase would be a lot to quilt – the thing would be over 10 feet long – but the simple verb says it all anyway.

I designed this as four quilts that can be tied together to form the whole or used individually as wall hangings or other decoration. Each word uses lettering in one color and negative space in the color wheel’s opposite side to symbolize struggle and opposition. I don’t know yet if the background will be black or white – it’s more graphic in black, but I don’t think I have enough fabric in stash and I am using all stash materials to be sustainable. I’ll decide that later. In any event, the binding will be in the opposite color of the background.

I had plenty of fabric to choose from, for most colors:

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Stash – stash – stash – stash

I needed four fabrics for each of the eight colors. I didn’t have much orange or pink, but I have enough to go on with some creative use of “near enough” colors.

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Selected fabrics

The long piece at the bottom has elements of all the colors in it, so I will use it in all the letters as a way to tie them together.

The fabrics are mostly quilting cottons, some with metallic designs, but I am using some scraps of apparel fabrics too.

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The reds include silk and ultrasuede from jackets I’ve made, as well as red and gold cotton leftover from a Christmas project and some upholstery fabric in a dragonfly motif. The greens include some Irish linen scraps.

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I am using coral to fudge the oranges a bit. I also have some African Dutch wax with lilac and gold motifs. The blues include seersucker leftover from a bathrobe project from 20 years ago and velvet leftover from my husband’s smoking jacket.

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Yellows include some gold linen from a pair of pants, batik sunflowers from a quilt I made for my cousin’s wedding, and sunflowers from a vest I made my mother years ago. The purples include more leftover Christmas fabric and some brocade from a Halloween costume for my niece.

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Because I am using green opposite of red, I needed a grassy yellow-green to go opposite the pink. Some of this fabric is leftover from a quilt I made my nephew. The pinks include a red seersucker that reads pink.

In truth, the quilt is going to be kind of ugly – I mean, this is a metric fuckton of colors, textures and styles for one quilt. But that’s also the beauty of it. My friends, sister and I are all different people, after all, united in some things but with plenty of individuality.

Coronavirus Couture and Other Projects

So much for my “Sew Edgy Work Wardrobe” plans for spring and summer. For who knows how long, I will be working from home, like a lot of people who are fortunate enough to be able to.

The #1 rule of working from home for me is to have something to look forward to after the workday is done. For me, that means creative outlets like sewing, gardening and cooking.

My “home” wardrobe is much more normcore than my work wardrobe. Plus I was in the mood for spring colors and textues. First up was this top from Butterick 6388.

It’s a bit boxier and roomier than the technical drawings and pattern pictures would lead you to believe. I ended up taking in the arm and side seams about 1/2 inch, and I made 3/4 sleeves for a more springtime look. I also did the triangular side panels and back yoke on the crossgrain to add some interest.

The fabric was from FabScrap, a charity in New York’s Garment District that sells scraps from fashion houses, schools, stores, tailor and upholstery shops etc. This scant 1.5-yard piece of very soft and comfy mystery poly knit cost $7.50. Sustainable to boot!

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The Fabulous Fab Scrap sign

Since I had white thread in the serger, next up was a basic white T-shirt. Boring, ok, but likely a wardrobe staple I will wear for years.

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Deer & Doe Plantain

I wanted to try the Deer & Doe Plantain t-shirt again. The one I made several years ago did not get much wear because the shirt was a little tight and the fabric didn’t have enough stretch. This time I sized up and used some really soft and lovely T-shirt fabric I got from the Portsmouth Fabric Company in New Hampshire while I was visiting my mom in January.

Unforch, this is a still bit tight. Grr. Maybe it will stretch out. Here’s hoping!

It should take no time at all to make a basic tee, right? So why does it take me forever? Faff about with the serger. Break a needle. Replace the needle. Untangle a nest of thread. Cut some clear elastic for the shoulder seams. Lose one piece of elastic. Hunt about on the floor for 10 minutes. Give up and cut a new piece of elastic. Then find the old piece, exactly where I left it in the first place:

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Where are you, clear elastic?

The coverstitch hem is still a bit wonky. Whatever.

Third up will be … drumroll… a white cardigan. Hey – the white thread is in the serger. That’s saving me like 15-20 minutes right off the bat.

I got some slubbed French terry last summer and earmarked it for a try at the Helen’s Closet Blackwood Cardigan. Once that’s done, I will be ready for some color!

Me-Made January and Late Winter Sewing Plans

It’s been fun to do a “Me-Made January” so I can use some winter garments that wouldn’t be suitable for Me-Made May. The exercise also shed light on what to sew up this winter that will carry me into spring.

I put every me-made garment and accessory into a Google Sheets file and noted what I wore every day, with the plan to wear or use at least one me-made item daily. Here’s the result for the month:

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Who doesn’t love a bar chart?

(I did not count anything out of season or dressy where I had no occasion to wear it – only things that were suitable for season and occasion made the cut.)

The top most-worn items were coats:

And sleepwear:

My new Claryville jeans:

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Jeans, bitches!

Oddly enough, this cardigan from the Japanese pattern book Happy Homemade Sew Chic, which is not chic and not my favorite garment in any way:

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I wore this more than intended because I had draped it over my office chair and kept shrugging it on and off all month if I got a bit chilly or warm. I’ll put another cardi in its place for February.

And lastly, lingerie and accessories:

I worked from home more often than usual in January, so my “Sew Edgy” office looks didn’t make more than one appearance for the month (if that). I am going to wear a few neglected items to the office this month.

I reckoned with a few garments I just don’t like. I tried them on and intended to wear them, but then I took them off. The fabric, fit or construction were just …  off. There may be no point in keeping them around. I’ll see how February goes.

Also, a few things don’t fit. I guess I’ve gained a few pounds this winter. Maybe the “no-sugar challenge” will help me take the pounds off.

This exercise has informed my plan for sewing this winter into spring. First up, another pair of Claryville jeans. And another bralette – I wear the Florence and another RTW one around the house more than I’d realized. And I should make another, nicer handbag. That Ethel tote was a tryout using leftover denim – I could use better fabric and interfacing on another. I also noted that I wore my few T-shirts pretty frequently, so at least one seems to be in order (and is easy to do).

I am all set with coats and sleepwear for now – but I’ll want another set of PJs come spring/summer. This plan should keep me busy for now.

Resolutions for 2020 – Distaff Style

Self-improvement plans – what else would we distaffers do on January 1?

A few quick resolutions then, before we get to work:

  1. Style: I did Me Made May for the whole month last year (even while on vacation) and for most of the year, really. Now that I have a reliable jeans pattern, there’s nothing stopping me from wearing Me Made Everyday. So I am going to go for it!

I got started this morning with a nice long walk in the park with the hubs and the dog in Me Made Jacket (Simplicity 8843), the Jasper Sweater from Paprika Patterns, and hat by Green Pepper Patterns.

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Me Made Cold-weather outfit

I made the sweater last week out of some poly-cotton blend sweatshirt fleece with a muted plaid design.

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Paprika Patterns Jasper Sweatshirt

To add interest, I did the cuffs, side panels and collar on the bias.

2. Gardening: My vegetable garden really put out this year. Amending the soil in my two raised beds helped so much. I found a reliable set of tomato plants and other veggies to grow from now on. I was kicking myself for not doing a better job of tending to the plants and harvesting. So I am planning to do less, but put more effort into what I have and not let anything go to the bugs or go bad on the vine.

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Tomatoes anyone?

3. Fitness: Seek out a real posture plan. I played around with various posture exercises and finally found something that seemed to work. I need to hire the trainer who did this workshop for some private sessions, to make this a regular thing. I am hopeful that I can stop my hunchback development and maybe even undo some of the damage I’ve done.

4. Housework: I have one simple goal. Keep the kitchen floor clean! With a dog around, it’s a chore. I always feel like my home is at its best when the kitchen floor is vacuumed and scrubbed. So that’s the big goal here. Exciting, right?

5. Sewing: For sure, I am going to continue with my “sew edgy” look for the office. I need to find a simple dress that I can make a TNT. I also need a few blouses, and I really need to make a proper suit. For casual wear, I will perfect the jeans. I realize that while I have been playing around with a lot of indie pattern companies, I have been disappointed with some results compared with results from Big 4 (although there are exceptions), so I am going to focus more on Big 4. I have plenty of fabric and patterns at this point – so I am going on a “fast” at least for the first half of the year.

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Sew Edgy office outfit – a favorite

6. Sustainability: A friend who’s a sustainability consultant really made me think about the nature of consumption and waste. I am proud that I don’t do fast fashion and that I will mend and alter clothing. I take public transportation, walk or bike most places. I have a few “upcycle” and “refashion” sewing projects in my head for this year. I feel I could do more, however, when it comes to food. We are doing Meatless Mondays as a family, and on my own I will do more meatless meals (my husband will be challenged to do Mondays as it is). I also am going to buy fewer prepared things in plastic containers – I am talking to you, deli soups and salads! Seriously, it’s not hard to make soup. I’ll probably save $100 a year! I sewed up some simple reusable bags for produce, and I always use tote bags at the store. And I am going to stop buying the occasional to-go coffee unless I can get it in a reusable insulated mug. I already do this with water – why not with coffee?

7. Diet: I just gotta kick sugar. I feel that very badly. I can go for weeks without any, and then I have some, and it’s just a spiral from there. I am not sure how to tackle this one, except to go cold turkey. I need to research more, but it’s happening.

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The last pie, for a while anyway

8. Career: I started last year doing a weekly work reflection on Friday mornings. I’d write down a few accomplishments, networking wins, personal achievements and other notable events from the week. This is a great idea because at work, weeks turn into months, turn into years, and then you have to get a new job, and you go to update the resume and you can’t think of what to say! This exercise takes 5 minutes and it really helps. I am getting started by updating my LinkedIn profile and resume with key accomplishments from 2019. Also, I am trying to network more. I need to be “heads down” at work and more collaborative and social.

9. Family: This is a tough one. I feel that I have neglected my husband and family at times, especially my in-laws. There’s no excuse – we live so nearby – but weeks go by without a word to or from anyone. Even with my husband, we have well-established routines that make it tough to break out. So I am going to make more of an effort on all fronts. Sometimes a simple call to say “hi” or an impromptu date night is all we need to get out of the rut. I will take care of my mother when she has knee surgery later this month, so I can use that time to visit a bit with others to get the year started off well.

10. Reading: I have done well with reading more female authors, but I feel I need to do more to read writers from different nationalities and races. I got a Barnes & Noble gift card for Christmas, so I plan to pick up a few things to get started. I general, I am going to try to read more and do less “faffing about on the mobile” while on my train commute. Now that my grad school is done, I will have time to open my mind more in other directions.

11. Giving back: We made an effort  in 2019 to give more to charities, and we succeeded in increasing our contributions by a thousand dollars over the course of the year. I also have done a bit more charity work with groups I support by in-kind contributions of time and expertise. In fact, I won an award from one charity I support with weekly editing and coaching of college students. I miss volunteering with local groups, though – I managed one event in 2019 – a bike-a-thon – so I am going to try to do two events in 2020.

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Biking for charity – $500 raised

12. Activism. I will admit it: I dread 2020. I am terrified that Trump will get re-elected. I have little confidence that the Democrats will get their shit together. I worry that the economy will thank, and while that would hurt Trump, it’s going to hurt a lot of other people too, so I don’t exactly wish it. After he was elected, I made a plan to so something once a week to #resist. I wrote letters to Congress. I attended rallies. I got educated on the issues. I sewed a shitload of pussyhats. I donated money to groups under siege – Planned Parenthood, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Anti-Defamation League – I could go on. I have kept up some of these activities but have let others slide. This is a do-or-die year. I need to step it up.

Thank you for reading! I wish you all a happy healthy 2020! (Except Trump.)

A Suit for Work – Sort Of

I really need a suit for work. So I made one. Sort of. While this is okaaaaaayyyyy… it’s not really a suit and not really suitable for work.

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Kinda sorta suit

I suppose this is a suit in that it’s a two-piece outfit made of the same fabric. The black is a ponte knit and the gray is faux suede. Somehow, although both fabrics have been treated the same way, the jacket fabric looks darker and more luxe than the skirt fabric. Hmm.

The jacket is Lekala 4114, which has a drop-shoulder yoke and bell sleeves.

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Wingspan courtesy of Lekala 4114

The jacket was a pain in the ass to make. In brief:

  • It’s a lined jacket, but there are no lining pattern pieces provided. Draft your own, sucker!
  • The square sleeves and armholes make for an adventure in geometry as you finagle four right angles together. Bulky mess!

There are other goofy things – like the technical drawing doesn’t show the back yoke – but I don’t want to bore you. To sum up: I think I’ve had it with Lekala.

I also made my own trouble with this jacket. I wanted suede cuffs, but I couldn’t work it out. They came out very bulky and crappy looking. So I left half the cuff as a facing just so I wouldn’t feel that it was a total waste.

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My hand stitching sucks though. So I guess it’s for the best that the facings don’t really show. You can get a peek at them here:

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Side view – with suede sleeve facings

The back gives a capelike appearance to the jacket.

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Rear view – yikes!

I didn’t adjust for my uneven shoulder, because I had no idea how to do that with the yoke. Oh well.

The skirt, as I have mentioned before, is the Osaka wrap skirt from Seamwork magazine. In this picture you can really see how the two-tone seam cuts right across the widest part of my legs and butt, making them look wider.

Also, looking at this picture, I notice that I was wearing brown – not black – tights. Sheesh.

Anyway, this is not a great suit, by even the most generous definition. Sew edgy? Meh. It meets some definitions but misses the mark overall. At least I tried. I think the pieces are wearable, but definitely not together. And I think I will add a zipper to the jacket so it sits better.

Best and Worst of 2019

I am happy that I met all my sewing goals for 2019 and ended up with quite a few useful and well-made pieces!

My single biggest achievement (and #1 garment for 2018) was actually a three-fer. I made jeans! And I used the embroidery attachment of my machine for the first time! And I went to a sewing retreat!

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Jeans, bitches!

The jeans are Workroom Social’s Claryville Jeans. I can’t say enough awesome things about this pattern. LOVE. And as the jeans have worn (I have worn them a ton since I made them in September) they have conformed nicely to my bod.

Here’s another look at the embroidery on the back pockets:

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While the sewing retreat part of the jeans-making experience wasn’t for me, I am glad I did it. I learned a lot about myself and I have been thinking about how to apply that learning to next year.

Another goal was to make a garment for my mother. I made her a top from Lekala patterns, and she liked it so much, she asked for another one, in fancier fabric that she can wear for Christmas/New Year’s events. I sewed this up for her birthday in December.

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Lekala 4114

She picked out this gold polyester satin. Not the best, but I made it work. It looks better on than in this photo (I promise). I used the fancy buttons I got at LouLou in the Garment District in NYC.

I took the “RTW Fast Pledge” and made a goal to not buy any clothing except for things like socks and tights. I would have made it, too, if not for my vacation in May! It was so cold (unseasonably and unexpectedly) that I bought a few things on an emergency basis. I donated both jackets to a charity that provides coats to the poor, and I have worn the sweater a few times. So…. I am going to call this “a win!”

On the positive side, I truly did “Me Made May” this year – wearing at least one me- made garment daily for the whole month of May. Yay!

Here’s my biggest swing-and-miss from 2019: I didn’t do so well in my resolve to participate in fewer sewalongs and sewing contests. I get swept up in the excitement and camaraderie. I also hope to make new friends this way. It doesn’t seem to work out that way.

On the bright side, I won the January 2019 PatternReview contest with this ski jacket:

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Ski Jacket from Simplicity 8843

I had planned to enter this contest – and this contest only – but then I went on a binge of other sewalongs, contests and such. What happens when I do this? Let’s just call it a mixed bag:

I mean, there are no disasters here, but also not much that plays well with “sew edgy” looks. I did some stuff for charity (napkins and scrap quilts center top) and I passed the first round of the PatternReview Sewing Bee with that blue cardigan before bowing out voluntarily when the second round didn’t inspire me.

The white top was not what I wanted. I entered a contest to make an outfit, so made a nice pair of black wool pants and planned a button-down shirt to go with it out of this pretty white striped shirting I bought. But, I had a problem with my sewing machine’s computer and it was in the shop for a couple of weeks, so I needed instead to do a top that I could construct on the serger or by hand. This top is the result. It looks really awful untucked, better tucked in. I am kicking myself that I used that shirting for something I don’t love.

I joined two Sewcialists sewalongs – one where I drew the color “coral” and other where I drew the word “funky.” I ended up with a wrap skirt (top right) and a top upcycled from a tablecloth (bottom left). Since these sewalongs really run on Instagram, and I am not an Instagram person, I miss out on the whole thing. Likewise for the charity projects for The People’s Sewing Army – if you’re not an Instagrammer, you get left out.

Finally, in my effort to stop making so damn many mistakes, I claim a partial victory. I have made my peace with the fact that I need to just baste a lot more. Basting does things that pinning does not (at least for me). So I resolve to baste even more in 2020!

Sew Edgy Winter Sewing Plan 2019 Edition

Instead of making new fall/winter “sew edgy” sewing plans, I am trying to still deliver on my plan from last year. When I make a plan, I expect I will accomplish about half of it. So, I planned for 10 projects, expecting to make about five. As it turns out, I did six.

Anyway, here’s the fall/winter “Edgy Wardrobe” plan from 2018 and how it shook out – I ended up with six items which can mix and match for outfits:

2018 fall sewing plan update

I ended up finishing heavy on the “cheap and easy” side of the grid and focused on  “needs” over “wants.” The one “want” – that goofy Japanese-style top – was the one fail in the bunch. The rest all have been great additions to my wardrobe.

Anything that didn’t happen probably died on the drawing board for a good reason – maybe I was iffy on the pattern, or I didn’t have the right fabric, or I lacked the time/energy/interest to get the thing done. I was also kind of indecisive about a few projects, but the fullness of time has sharpened my eyes.

Here’s why the plans fizzled out:

  • The navy wool fabric I’d earmarked for either McCall’s 6464 or Deer & Doe’s Arum is too heavy for a fall/winter dress. During the past year I’ve developed much more sensitivity to temperatures with the menopause hot flashes and whatnot. The fabric’s better suited for a jacket or maybe even a light coat. So it will sit in the stash a while longer.
  • I need a simple ponte jacket, but the Oki Style pattern is not going to play well with it. The Lekala one is the way to go.
  • The New Look skirt gave me trouble in muslin form. I found a true wrap skirt pattern that gives the same effect and is much easier to sew, so that’s the new direction (see below for more on that).
  • I still like that Burda dress, but the fabric I had earmarked for it is way too heavy and stretchy. Jersey dresses are not for me. I may have to forget about this one.

So… what does that leave me for this winter? I feel like my needs for work clothes are simple and few.

  1. I need a suit, so I am going to make one – but I am going to take shortcuts. I have some high-quality ponte in stash that will get me the look of a suit for less work and less fabric, and a lot fewer fitting headaches. I may jazz it up with faux leather to work on the “sew edgy” plan some more.
  2. I need a good workaday dress. The RTW ones I’ve worn to work for a few years are pretty worn out. So I am going to make one – but something simple and unlined. Maybe use some faux leather here, too.
  3. I also need a work blouse – something simple, again, but in a print for a bit of color and texture.

I started with the suit skirt – again taking the “cheap and easy” route. This is the Osaka skirt from Seamwork magazine (a Colette publication).

The two-tone look allows for some stash-busting fun. I had about 3/4 yard of stretch faux suede, which I used on the top. The bottom is black ponte. This is a bit bulky, truth be told. I am styling it with my black wool batwing sleeve sweater to even out the proportions.

The pattern calls for a reversible skirt, but I didn’t want any more bulk at this party, so instead I drafted a waist facing out of leftover wool twill from my Style Arc Jasmine pants. I tried a few stash hardware pieces on as a closure for this but nothing really worked well. Then I remembered that I’d picked up this vintage covered button set at my favorite second-hand store:

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Vintage covered button set – oooh

I gave it a whirl with a scrap of the faux suede. It barely worked, but …. success! (The fabric’s a bit bulky. Did I mention that already. Oh yeah, I did.)

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Covered button

It’s a cute look. I plan to do the same with the Lekala 4114 jacket – using scraps of suede for the yoke and cuffs (if I have enough). I also plan to add a zipper for a bit of bling.

Lekala 4114
Lekala 4114