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 shitshow 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” shit. 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 experienced. 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 ther 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:

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!

 

 

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:

IMG_20200523_131857
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.

IMG_20200523_132840

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.

IMG_20200523_122440
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:

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!

IMG_20200520_202106
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).

IMG_20200520_200536
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.

“True Style Comes from Knowing Who You Are”

I will probably work at home through the end of the year. Without my job in New York City, I find myself adrift…

adrift

My “work” style and my “home” style are, well, two different styles. What’s why the same person who made this:

IMG_20200505_110226
At home

Also made this:

IMG_20200224_081321
At the office

Its’ said that true style comes from knowing who you are. So who am I?

I’ve never really felt that I fit in at the office, but I have played the game well enough. Everyone in New York dresses in black – often head to toe, year-round – so the “edgy work look” like the above was born. I needed to fit in and look tough. Eat broken glass and rusty nails for breakfast? You bet I do.

At home, though, I like more variety in color and style. I am not really an “edgy” person, though I like some edgy things. For home clothes, I like things that are clean and simple – hold the fripperies. I like nature, science, art – geeking out is a favorite past-time. Eat homemade yogurt and home-grown berries for breakfast? You bet I do.

I don’t know who I am.

I somehow am both of these people.

So I have two styles that don’t play well together.

I need a few things for spring and summer. Decided to make May “The Month of Bottoms” and June “The Month of Tops” for efficiency’s sake. A comb through my stash, however, revealed a problem. Most of the fabric was more in the “edgy” than “non-edgy” buckets.

I had three yards of these two fabrics earmarked for dresses. Don’t need dresses now – maybe skirts instead?

IMG_20200519_193729 (2)

IMG_20190403_174821 (1)

For tops, I guess I can make some black or white T-shirts or simple button-downs. That’s exciting.

And I need new shoes. Oy. And a haircut. Double-oy. My roots are grown out 2 inches, and I am very tempted to get a short haircut and stop dyeing it – that is the home “me” but definitely not the office “me.”

The longer-term issue is: how can I get a job and a life that better complement each other? Which of these people am I, really, or am I a third person who doesn’t show up in either? Is 50 too late to “find yourself?”

Persist! Persist! Persist! Persist!

I’ve finished my quilt. It’s a hot mess, just like the women’s movement I’m honoring – in a good way.

Persist Quilt

The quilt is made of four modules, each using only fabrics, threads, batting and other materials I had in my stash. Many letters were scraped together from scraps of projects as far back as 20 years ago. I chose colors for each that were opposites on the color wheel, both to symbolize conflict and to make the letters stand out more against the background. The pattern is “The Proverbial Quilt” by Denyse Schmidt.

The textiles are mostly quilting cottons, but there are scraps of ultrasuede, silk, linen, African wax print, brocade, batiks, denim, shirting and upholstery fabrics in there too. Each quilt contains some fabrics that have metallic accents, and each has a bit of an overall rainbow-gradient fabric to tie them together. I 100% used stash fabric, batting and thread – truly a sustainable project.  This meant that I had to compromise a bit on some fabrics and colors. Compromise is meaningful – some fabrics a teenage girl would like, some fabrics my grandmother would like, and all kinds in between. Kind of like the women’s movement. We don’t have to love every piece of it; we just need to love the overall message and the energy that sustains it.

I call the pink and green one “Preppy Is Forever,” because this color combo was big during the preppy fashion fad in high school. It’s for a friend who’s a bit preppy.

It was a little challenging to make this one because I didn’t have a lot of pink or bright green/lime fabrics in my stash. I resorted to some charm squares leftover from a quilt I made my nephew 14 years ago.Preppy Persist

You can see the echo quilting pretty well on this one  – I stitched in the ditch along the letters in lime green thread and then echoed those stitches out 1 cm to the end of the quilt.

I call the orange and blue one “Sunrise to Sunset.” It’s for a friend who’s had a lot of physical, emotional, financial and relationship challenges in her life – she works every day against some major obstacles to keep going.

Persist Sunrise to Sunset

The orange, gold and lilac African Dutch wax fabric in here is leftover from a quilt I made for her 20 years ago. She lost it in a fire at her house last year. I am happy I still had a bit to use again. I was short on orange fabrics so I had to use a bit of coral. And I didn’t have enough to do the binding all in one fabric, so it’s pieced.

The purple and gold one is the prettiest, I think. 

Family Persistence

It’s titled “Family Endures” because most of the fabric came from family sewing projects over the years – scraps from niece’s and nephew’s quilts and Halloween costumes, a vest I made my mother, a craft project for a great-aunt, a quilt I made a cousin for her wedding, a Hanukkah table runner I made for my in-laws, linen pants  made for myself, our Christmas tree skirt, fabric from kitchen curtains and placemats I made when I first was married. It’s a gift for my sister.

The final one, titled “Blow Through Stoplights” was for me:

Runthroughstoploghts

The color scheme matches my sewing room and I had planned to hang it on the wall above the shelf where I keep my threads, manuals, buttons and whatnot.

But then a friend called me and she was really down. So I decided to give it to her instead. I’ll miss it, but I can always make another for myself. I still have scraps to spare, but not as many!

 

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.”

Braving the Embroidery Unit Again

I was so glad that I finally busted the embroidery unit out of its box last year. I chose a simple, one-color design for my jeans pockets, and it came out perfectly.

IMG_20191109_172041
First embroidery project done!

Let’s try a more complex design for our first Summer Skirt Smackdown project, OK? I picked out some summery coral linen for the Bernina My Label A-Line Skirt. I scrolled through the preset designs on my machine and landed on this hummingbird design:

hummingbird

I attract these ruby-throated hummingbirds to my yard every summer with a feeder that looks like a flying saucer. The design requires 12 colors – go big or go home, I guess. I rifled through my threads, and while I didn’t have the exact colors I had enough that were close – both embroidery threads and regular threads – to give it a try. I lined them all up in order and got to it.

IMG_20200428_175825

Five tries later, I had it done!

IMG_20200429_192454

Top row (left to right):

  1. At first, I put the pocket piece in the hoop, but it wasn’t secure enough and tangled up. In trying to remove the tangle, I cut a hole in it.
  2. Next, I got the first color started just fine on a larger piece of fabric. The phone rang, so I went to answer it. I thought I had set the machine so it would stop and cut the threads when the color was done. Nope. I came back a few minutes later to see it had started sewing the design entirely in this dark green color.

Bottom row (left to right)

  1. The bobbin ran out. I wound a new bobbin but screwed it up somehow – got a thread nest again and again cut a whole in the project trying to fix it.
  2. Made it halfway before I encountered a mishap! I had reduced the size of the design by 15% so it would fit on the pocket nicely. I didn’t realize, however, that when you do this the design saves in the computer as a temporary new design. I took a break from the project to eat lunch, but when I returned the size display was showing 100% instead of 85% – because it was 100% of the temporary design – get it? I didn’t. I dialed it back to 85%, so now it was 85% of 85% (whatever that is). The design sewed askew and I could not fix it. I eventually gave up only to start yet again. I dumped the temporary design, unplugged the machine, plugged it back in, and started fresh.
  3. Finally, a perfect one! Only took about 4 hours!

One down, one to go. I flipped the design to a mirror image for the other pocket. Worked perfectly the first time – only about 25 minutes!

IMG_20200429_203838 (1)

Whew I am tired! And I didn’t have to do a stitch by hand.

 

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?

IMG_20200414_135226
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.