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!

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!

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.

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:

IMG_20200528_173137

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!

 

 

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:

justine1
“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.

justine3
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.

First Entry into the Skirt Smackdown!

I sewed up the simplest skirt first for my five-skirt smackdownplan. And it nearly made me want to sew pants again.

Here’s the finished product:

IMG_20200505_110226
Bernina A-Line Skirt Crapfest

I realize this is a crappy picture. Crap project, crap picture.

Hey, it’s wearable…

This is the Bernina My Label A-Line Skirt. There was so much screwed up about this pattern I am not sure where to begin.

First, I should note that while the pattern photo shows a center-front seam, there isn’t one on the pattern – the front is cut on the fold. Next, I should tell you about all the errors and omissions on the pattern itself, such as:

  • No grainline marked on pocket pattern
  • You need to cut twice the waistband pieces as the pattern pieces call for (this is correct in the instructions but not on the pieces themselves).
  • No zipper placement marks.
  • No notches at all – not for the waistband, pockets, side seams – zip! (yet, there are some that have no use on the front piece).

Of course, I noticed these things after I did my fancy embroidery on the pockets. So I felt I was in for a penny, in for a pound with this thing.

IMG_20200505_110949
This is pretty anyway

The fabric came from Qi-Ja Fabrics in Hamilton, Bermuda – I picked it up on vacation last year. It’s a coral linen – a very pretty color but close to my face it tends to bring out blue undertones in my skin, so I thought a skirt was a better option.

The cutting phase revealed two more bits of fun:

  • This pattern uses about 1 yard of woven fabric, not 2, at least in the size I cut (10 waist, 12 hip).
  • The pattern calls for you to cut a very long back waistband so you can fold a loop out of it to make a “strap” at the back. Why? I have no idea – I guess if you want to hang your skirt on a hook, you might find it handy. But who does that? And even if that sounds great, do you really want a big loop of fabric hanging off your ass all the time?

We soldier on…

The instructions were just kind of garbled and vague. It’s a pretty simple skirt, so it’s not like I needed a lot of hand-holding, but still… sheesh.

* The pockets, while cute, are useless. Stuff falls out of them. Duh. I sewed then shut at the bottom.
* The sizing is off – easily two sizes larger than the sizing table indicates.
* The drafting is off – the hem oddly angles in in a jagged way instead of gently curves, as does the waistline. I had to smooth this out.
* I used an invisible zipper since I was sewing from stash and didn’t have a matching zipper handy.
* I chopped off that asinine strap and turned a bit of it into a tab button placket so I could better secure the waistline. The button is an antique from my stash.
* Interfaced the waistband (the pattern did not call for this ?!?)

 

Worst pattern ever. Beats this skirt sewed from a Japanese pattern book a few years ago.

Bernina should be ashamed of itself. I found out later that this “MyLabel” product was a short-lived software package for pattern drafting and design. As a friend of mine said when I recounted this tale of woe – “Bernina should stick to making sewing machines.”

Me May May Skirt Sew-Off! Sewing Up Freebie Skirt Patterns

My spring/summer “Sew Edgy” work wardrobe is out the window. I won’t head into my office in New York City anytime soon because of COVID-19. So suddenly I have downshifted all my plans to simple work-at-home staples, which don’t have to look edgy. Working at home, I don’t need to look like I eat nails for breakfast. Who am I going to intimidate – the dog?

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The dog is not impressed

May is shaping up to be a long month at home again, so why not be productive, in the spirit of MeMadeMay? I think I can manage a make an wear one skirt each of the five weekends in May.

I prefer skirts to shorts for summer – cooler, easier to fit my leg/hip/waist ratios, and adaptable as I continue to lose a few pounds. They also sew up quickly and use less fabric, as I am trying not to buy any new fabrics or other supplies for a while. I reached into my pattern stash and found five skirt patterns I’d received for free during the past couple of years. Looks like a perfect opportunity for a May Skirt Sew-Off! Anyone want to join me?

As usual, beware of the freebie patterns! Some are not worth the paper they’re printed on! And since you’re doing the printing for the .pdf type, double caution! Two of the five skirts I’m planning are not free downloads, but I got the patterns for free during promotions. The other three are free for the taking – links included below.

The contenders are:

The  (free download) Bernina My Label Easy A-Line Skirt   woven pattern with back zip and cute front pockets. It calls for denim or linen.

Bernina Easy A-line skirt
Bernina My Label Easy A-Line Skirt

Next up is the StyleArc Gorgeous Gore Skirt, which I got for free when I bought the Jasmine Trousers pattern (this is not a free download, sorry). It uses knit fabric and has an elastic waist – two design details I don’t normally go for in a skirt, but it’s easy enough to be worth a try. Also, I will need to add pockets, if I can figure out how to do that in a knit without the fabric distorting or pulling on the side seams.

Gorgeous Gore Skirt
StyleArc Gorgeous Gore Skirt

Next up is the Justine Skirt from Ready to Sew, a French pattern company offering the skirt as a free download. Love the pockets on this! It’s a below-the-knee length with waist gathers, and buttons up the front. It calls for lighter linens, cotton lawn or poplins and such.

Justine skirt
Justine Skirt from Ready to Sew.

Then we have the Felicity Skirt from Jennifer Lauren Handmade, which is offered as a free download on PatternReview.com. (I don’t think it’s a freebie on the Jennifer Lauren site.) This is basically the skirt portion of a dress, and it’s a free so-called “expansion pack” from that pattern.  Again, gotta love those pockets! This also uses woven fabric with a zip back, and offers two views – a gathered waist for lighter fabrics or a fuller circle shape for heavier fabrics, both above the knee.

Felicity skirt

Finally, I have the Deer & Doe Azara Skirt.  I got a voucher to get this for free when I went to PatternReview.com weekend in Canada two years ago. It’s not a free download, sorry.

Azara skirt

This is the nicest of the patterns, using woven fabric, a button-up front or zip back, below the knee length. It has interesting seam details and a lining. I will make this up in fabric suitable for work, if I ever go to the office again.

Persisting with a Quilt

My “Persist” quilt gas been on Hiatus while I sewed coronavirus masks. I have made 92 – mostly for nurse friends to take to work at a hospital and a nursing home. I also made many for friends and relatives, and donated a dozen to our neighborhood food pantry for whomever needs them. A sampling of those that I remembered to photograph before they went out the door:

I have a little elastic left that I will save for now, in case more masks are needed.

On to the quilt! The first of four rows is done:

IMG_20200412_103247 (2)

Here’s a close-up of how each letter is made, using the “R” as an example:

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The “R” in “The Proverbial Quilt” by Denyse Schmidt

I made cardboard templates of the letters and marked the positive and negative spaces (R for positive and G for negative, since my first row used red and green fabrics).

I got a but fussy with the cutting – with only six letters, and one word repeated four times, every piece needs to count, and I strive to find harmony in the chaos of colors, shades and prints. Or so I tell myself. I am working only with stash fabrics, so the look is not ideal, even if it is sustainable. I wish I had a solid orange, for example, but I don’t, so I’ve made do.

I cut the fabrics then lay them out to assess the look. Here’s the R with a mock-up of fabrics:

IMG_20200411_144049
Template with mock-up of fabrics

I am using mostly quilting cottons, plus a few other bits and bobs – the orange-and-blue line fabrics include some African Dutch wax with a metallic element, some plaid shirting and some denim leftover from the jeans I made last fall. Other parts of the quilt have bits of linen, silk, upholstery fabrics and ultrasuede.

To assemble each letter, sew the pieces in order; 1 to 2, then 2 to 3 and so on.

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Quilt letter assembly

The pieces include several bias-cut bits, so it’s s challenge not to stretch them while sewing and pressing.

Here are the modules ready for final assembly. I found that I needed to add 1/2 inch more seam allowance to long pieces that run the length of the letters, such as the left piece of the R, to get them to fit. Then I trim any excess.

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Occasionally the pieces need a bit of trimming too, such as the R crosspiece above. I am not the world’s most accurate quilter. Who cares? The little goofs add interest to the design in this case, which is intentionally a bit freeform in its vibe.

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PER-chance is this working out?

Here are the first three letters in the orange and blue colorway. The E is quite large and I don’t love it. The quilt includes two designs for vowels so that you can mix and match a bit, but I using just one here. I think I may trim down the E’s a bit – I will leave them as-is for now.

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!