Projects for When You Don’t Feel Like Sewing

I haven’t felt like sewing much these past few weeks. I got into a funk and can’t get out of it. I have a lot of projects I want to try, but no energy to get started.

What to do?

Here are some ways I have passed the time while I wait for inspiration to return:

  1. Unpick It!

I made this Jalie Drop-Pocket Cardigan last January as an entry for the first round of the PatternReview Sewing Bee.

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Jalie Drop-pocket cardigan in linen knit, RTW dress – saggy pockets from beading and embroidery

I had earmarked the linen knit for the cardigan, so the contest fit my plans well (although it would be months before the weather was warm enough to wear it. But to ensure I got past the first round of the contest, I needed to bling the thing up a bit. So I did some split-stitch embroidery and bead work in the shape of a coral branch.

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This is supposed to look like a coral branch. Squint hard and maybe you can see it…

While it coordinated with the RTW dress and fit the “coral” theme of the contest, I didn’t love this. For one thing, it was heavy and tended to drag the pockets down. For another, it was an awkward color to coordinate with … pretty much my whole wardrobe.

So one night I turned on a Project Runway rerun and got to unpicking it:

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Now you see it…

The job left a couple of small holes and snags:

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Now you don’t (But holes holes holes)

But they mostly pressed out or were easily repaired.

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Ta – da!  Almost good as new!

Close inspection betrays a few goofs but who’s going to look that hard (except me, of course). I feel like I got a whole new garment for almost nothing!

2. Organize it!

I keep my fabric stash pretty well organized – I pin a note about the yardage,  fiber content and weave on each piece and catalog it all in a photo album. My scraps are another matter. I have been throwing them into a wicker hamper for a while. Time to go through it!

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Scraps hamper -all sorted

I decided to only keep pieces that were big enough to make a pocket out of. That may sound arbitrary, but I had to draw the line somewhere. I just can’t get too precious with a bunch of odd pieces and little bits of things. I am recycling the rest.

I also organized my pins, separating the fine pins from the regular ones, and throwing out any that were rusty, dulled or bent. Any that seemed salvageable took a couple of trips through the little strawberry-shaped sharpener on my pincushion.

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Strawberry pincushion sharpens pins and needles

Yes, my friends, that’s what the little strawberry is for! It’s not just a pal for the fat ol’ tomato. It has some grit in it that can file off little burrs and bits of rust on pins and needles. Try it!

Quite a few didn’t pass inspection! I realized I needed new pins.

Since was buying pins, I figured I might as well inventory other notions in stash. I was all set for needles and buttons. I needed more black lightweight interfacing, clear elastic and basic 1-inch elastic. I got a little shopping list started.

Finally, I took inventory of my zippers. I have some real oddballs in here. “Find a use for your weirdest stash zipper” would be fun challenge. As it is, I have a pretty good selection of basics that I bought cheap from a secondhand store a few years ago. Maybe someday the bronze zipper with the purple tape will inspire me. Until then, it can keep the ordinary zippers company.

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3. Take Stock from the Season

Summer’s O-V-E-R. And I realized I needed to say goodbye to some summer clothes – me-mades as well as RTW – that were pretty worn out. So long, my pretties! Anything decent I donated to Goodwill.

While I was at it, I asked my husband if he had anything to donate and he came back with a giant pile. So I made a big trip to the donation center.

4. Reap It!

A few things unsuitable for donation were going to be thrown out. This bra for instance:

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Sad old bra

Then I realized that the sliders, hooks and other findings were perfectly fine! A minute with the scissors and I had a good start on a new bra kit:

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Bra parts – ready for a project someday

I also cut buttons off a few of my husband’s old dress shirts and harvested a drawstring from a pair of old sweatpants. The textiles themselves will be recycled.

5. Clean Up!

Finally, I gave my whole sewing room a thorough cleaning. It looks pretty good, right?

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I am hoping to get inspired to sew again this weekend. I needed to finish a project and get started on a birthday gift for my mother (her birthday is in December). I also really want to get started on a winter sewing plan. I feel that these things are more doable when I have a clean, organized space to work in.

Finally, about my sewing funk… I went to a sewing retreat a few weeks back and I had a terrible time. The event itself was an action-packed, high-quality experience, and I am happy with the project I (almost) finished, but I found it very stressful. It was very much “not for me.” But I learned a lot about myself. Maybe I will write about it someday.

 

Quilting for the Birds

I used to be a quilter, and I have lots of scraps left around from those days. So when The People’s Sewing Army put out a call to sew for the wildlife rehabilitation program with the Audubon Society of Portland, Oregon, I had to sign up.

The wildlife rehabbers needed small quilts for songbird cages and larger quilts for cages of raptors and other large birds. I had fun sewing these up:

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Scrap quilts for the birds
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Scrap quilts – other side

Fabric scraps are such a trip down memory lane for me. There were lots of scraps from a cat-themed quilt I made my mother years ago, and more from a garden-themed quilt I made for a friend. I sewed up some scraps from quilts made for my nieces and nephews (the oldest of whom is now in college) and from a batik dolphin quilt I made as a wedding present for dear friends.

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I also had some library-themed fabric leftover from pillows I made my brother-in-law. And then there were scraps left over from various apparel sewing projects, such as these:

The Audubon Society also asked for cloth napkins for its volunteers, so I raided my stash of linen scraps. Whenever you make pants, you end up with long, skinny scraps left over, so they were perfect for making napkins:

The fabric came from these projects (it cracks me up how inefficient I was with that yellow linen when I made the clamdiggers – live and learn!):

I took apart this muslin I sewed a couple of years ago out of some damaged linen and added that to the project also, saving the buttons to use again:

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Muslin of a skirt I drafted based on the Maria Denmark Yasmin Yoke Skirt

In the end, I made 18 napkins of various sizes. They were simple to construct – I just cut squares and finished the ends with a rolled hem on my serger.

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I used up some thread I didn’t need, too. The bright blue serger thread wasn’t great quality, but it was fine for a rolled-hem project like the napkins. I also used up sewing machine threads on spools and  bobbins of lesser quality in colors that I probably won’t need again.

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And I used up some odds and ends of premade bias bindings, including a few thrift-store finds. And I didn’t sweat these – they’re not perfectly rectangular, and the quilting is a bit wavy in places. I don’t think the birds will mind:

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Altogether, I used up 1 pound, 10 ounces of scrap fabric and quilt batting, oddball threads and leftover bindings – all getting a new and much needed life, instead of going to waste in my stash.

I get a lot of satisfaction about sewing for others from time to time. If you’re interested in helping out in the future, follow the link to The People’s Sewing Army or see my previous blog post.

Breaking the RTW Fast

My “RTW fast” lasted until May 12. Then I binged. Sort of.

The idea behind a RTW fast is to refrain from buying any ready-to-wear clothing except for lingerie, hosiery, shoes, and belts, and garments that you’re required to wear for some reason, such as a work uniform or a bridesmaid’s dress.

I thought this would be a great challenge to up my game and to force me to sew a few projects to stretch my abilities, such as jeans and a suit. So I signed up.

And then I hit a bad combination of vacation, poor packing decisions and unseasonable weather. It was much colder in Kentucky last week than it should have been. I mean, 20-30 degrees colder. It was also rainy. And I did not pack a raincoat.

I suffered through the first day of vacation, shivering under me-made tops and sweaters. On the second day, I caved in. We were headed to Churchill Downs to watch the horse races, which normally calls for an outfit like this:

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“Run for the Roses” dress, pattern is Tunic Dress with Lace from “Happy Homemade Sew Chic”

It was 50 degrees and drizzly. I ended up looking like this:

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(Look away from this hideous jacket – focus on the mint julep instead.)

I had a mint julep anyway and ended the day up about $4.

I bought this hideous Army green jacket at J.C. Penney. I had tried to buy a jacket at any of the independent downtown Louisville clothing stores, but all they all only had summer clothes on offer. The morning of the races I Googled “shopping mall near me” and drove 15 minutes to a suburban sprawl shopping center.

I hadn’t been to a mall in a few years, and I hadn’t been to a J.C. Penney since… who knows? My mother gave me a gift certificate once, many years ago, and I spent it on socks, underwear and undershirts for me and my husband.

Anyway… the pickings were slim. It took me 10 minutes to hunt down a saleswoman, and she had no idea where I might find a raincoat or jacket. I figured my best chance was the sale rack, where bereft out-of-season clothes hung in a jumbled display.

This jacket was literally the only thing for sale that would be warm enough and remotely fit me. It originally cost $64 but was marked down to $28.79. It had nice heavy copper zippers and some quality details like zippered double-welt pockets and proper facings, but only half of the snaps on the placket would snap and some of the topstitching was wonky. 100% cotton, made in China. Oh well. I cursed myself yet again for not bringing a coat, but I resigned myself to buying it and prepared to leave.

And then it happened. What happens to lots of people when they go shopping, I imagine.

The lure of cheap, fast fashion took hold.

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Shopping – grab it all!

I browsed the rest of the sale rack and identified other “bargains”:

  • A black V-neck sweater in a cotton-rayon-nylon blend, made in Indonesia. I already had packed a me-made black cardigan for the trip, but I thought I also might need this heavier pull-on style. Originally $32, marked down to $7.99.
  • A black lightweight nylon and mesh windbreaker, made in China. I convinced myself that since the Army green jacket was on the heavier side, I might also need a lightweight jacket for warmer rainy days on this trip. Originally $54, marked down to $26.99.

I drifted to another sale rack and started looking at tops and pants because, well, everything was so cheap. Then I remembered that I didn’t need anything else. Then I remembered I was trying not to buy RTW, especially cheap, foreign-made fast fashion. I slunk off to the register instead. In all, I spent maybe 5 minutes choosing, trying on, and deciding to buy these garments.

The black sweater was probably a good buy – it fits well and the fabric seems nice (we’ll see how it washes and wears over time). I wore it a few times on vacation because it remained chilly and my me-made cardigan was pretty lightweight.

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RTW sweater of shame, worn with a me-made Maria Denmark Yasmin Yoke Skirt

The windbreaker is really a sad thing. I’m sure I will wear it, someday. But I did not need it and I should not have bought it. Because I sew my own clothes, I have certain… let’s say… standards. While my me-made apparel is not perfect, I would never do something like this:

 

Yep, that’s a serged seam in the center of the hood that can be seen from the right side if the hood is worn down. The edge of the hood was serged with exposed threads instead of a clean turn-and-topstitch finish. Seriously. How hard would it have been to draft a flat-fell for that one seam and properly finish the edge? Also, the elastic was inserted into cuff  by sandwiching it into a turn-and-topstitch cuff that was serged closed, instead of inserting the elastic into a casing so that the edge is clean. You can see not only the serging from the right side, but also the edge of the elastic!

I would like to know what goes into these fast-fashion RTW designs. Yes, they are meant to be cheap and quick, but how much cheaper and quicker is it to do something so crappy vs. something decent? Without these two gross finishes, this would be a nice little jacket instead of an embarrassment.

My main takeaway from this experience is that I spent about a minute buying this jacket. That’s the dirty little secret of fast fashion that no one talks about. This stuff is designed fast, made fast and bought fast. I was a little astonished at the sale price and didn’t think further. If I had looked at this jacket with a critical eye for 30 seconds more, I would have noticed these big flaws and would have passed it by. Part of the blame rides with the consumer, too.

Anyway, I will reinstate my RTW fast for the rest of the year and finish Me Made May. And next time I go on vacation, I will definitely check the weather forecast before I leave, and pack a coat!

Four Strategies for Sustainable Sewing

Home sewers typically waste 30% of their fabric. Shocking, right? That’s according to Patrick Grant, judge of the Great British Sewing Bee. As the Saville Row sort, I imagine he knows what he’s talking about.

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Patrick Grant, voice of authority

Still, 30%? Surely we home sewers can do better than that! Here are my top tips for sustainable sewing with minimal waste:

  1. Piece it together. Many projects have you cut on the fold to avoid a seam. That’s important for the line of the garment in the front, but less so in the back. Projects such as my recent Vogue 9246 top could be easily pieced in the back to save fabric.
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Pieced in the back – who cares?2.

2. Avoid cutting in two layers. A lot of cutting layouts expect you to fold the fabrics selvage to selvage and cut, so you get two of everything in one go. Except that the cutting layout can get wasteful that way. In my experience you can often cut a few things on the fold and other things single-layer, to get the most out of your fabric. For my recent Vogue 9246 top, the pattern called for 2 yards but I squeezed it out of 1 1/3 yards.

Here are the leftover scraps from some creative cutting.  As long as you follow the grainline, you should be fine. And remember to flip over the pattern pieces if they’re meant to be cut in a double layer!

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Scrappy!

3. Try kinda-sorta bias. Bias-cut facings and other details can sure hog fabric. If you cut on the true 45-degree angle, you can go through a lot of fabric quickly. But sometimes you don’t need true bias. You can get away with kinda-sorta bias on a lot of fabrics, as long as they provide decent stretch.

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Play around stretching the fabric at various angles until you see something that you think might work. Try it! Baste it in place to see if it works before you commit. It beats buying and wasting a lot of fabric. Out of the scrap pile above I was able to fashion the neckline facing and two sleeve facings for my top.

4. Stash with care. The biggest waster of fabric, in my opinion, is fabric that never gets sewn but rather sits in stashes forever. It may get ruined in storage. Tastes may change, and you may regret buying it. You may forget you even have it, and buy more fabric when you didn’t need it. Or you may choose the fabric for a project, only to realize that you have too much – you may make a top when you have enough yardage for a dress, for example, and the leftover never gets used.

What’s worse, you sew up stash fabric because you feel bad about it lying around, but the project is crappy because you were using oddball stash fabric, and you never use the item…

A few unfortunate “stash” projects that wasted fabric and time:

Treat your fabric like the precious commodity it is! It used up water, plus animal or plant matter, or petroleum products if it’s polyester. It also used up your precious time to buy, treat and store.