I’ve been working on the “Faye” maxi shirtdress dress from last fall’s Fibre Mood magazine. I got it all together and left it for a week to hang so that the hem would relax. I had to jack up my dressform Ruby to 5’10” (I am 5’6″) so that there was plenty of room for gravity to do its thing.
When hemming time came, I stood on a stepstool while my husband pinned the hem to the desired length. The hem was pretty uneven – I didn’t get a picture of this on but it was doing that typical drapy thing where the most bias-y edge hung down quite a bit, almost like a handkerchief hem. I tried it on pinned up and it looked good, so I thought it was OK. I trimmed off the excess.
Then I pressed up and pinned the hem and prepared to sew it. But first I tried it Damn. Nope – it was very very uneven. Crap!
So we had to do it all over again. I wanted a LONG dress, but I figured I’d settle for a mid-calf dress. My husband repeated the pinning ritual. I again tried it on to be sure it was OK. It looked all right – shorter than I wanted but still OK. So I trimmed off uneven hem #2:
I pressed up and pinned the hem again and tried it on. DAMN! The skirt was just too short to be long, too long to be short – it hit at this awkward length, hitting at the fullest part of my calves and dowdy as anything.
There was a great deal of swearing and door-slamming and some tears.
Then I put on my Big Girl Pants and trimmed another 3 inches off them hem so that it would at least fall at a flattering length. I pressed it and pinned it yet again, then lost the will to do any more.
This dress started the day grazing the floor, and now it’s above my knee. Plus, the proportions are all off. This humungous print demands an equally humungous amount of drama and scale, but now it looks like every dress I had in the 1990s. Also the drop shoulders and wide cuffed sleeves look dowdy as heck. I am very tempted to throw it in the garbage.
I like to lie on a chaise and stroke the moss with the tips of my fingers, like how you’d pet a tiny sleeping kitten.
I like to watch the way the spores spread and bloom and thicken throughout the summer. I like visit places where something – probably a skunk or opossum – has dug up the moss in the night, in search of fat moist invertebrates to eat. During the day, in spring, birds strip off pieces, springy and green, to line their nests and cushion their eggs.
But moss is one of those things that don’t fit in. One of those things we’re supposed to strip away from the bricks, so carefully and expensively laid in the garden. So we have to find ways to argue against the desire to make every bit of nature conform to our expectations.
Why can’t we resist the urge to remove whatever doesn’t fit in? How badly do we want to have things our way?
Things start easily enough. Let’s have a nice garden, we say. Let’s have a lawn, some flower beds, a vegetable plot, a patio. So we hire someone to do the bits we can’t or don’t want to do, and we take on the rest of the work. We plan, shop, dig, plant, water, fertilize – and then we expect to enjoy.
Nature laughs at our plans.
Our property is overrun with the native weed purslane this summer. It’s been very hot and dry hardly any rain all summer – and the purslane took full advantage of its opportunity.
Mile-a-minute weed also spread. And crabgrass. And then we had lots of bare patches of dirt where everything died and nothing replaced it.
So now we have planted grass seeds. Which means we have to water. The lawn is crisscrossed with hoses to golf course sprinklers that need to run daily for an hour. Stop watering, we have wasted time and money. And then will come the pressure – or the expectation – to apply the crabgrass killer, the grub killer, the other chemicals to remove whatever doesn’t fit in with our concept of “lawn.”
I needed to arm myself with a lot of information to fight the urge to slide down this slippery slope. Lawns are a waste of water. In the future there will be water shortages anyway, so the effort will be wasted. We will have to mow all the time. These chemicals are irresponsible to use, bad for the environment. Harmful to birds. The annual maintenance of a perfect lawn will cost thousands of dollars.
Lawns are stupid.
So we agreed to seed and water, and water more next summer, if needed – if the hot dry conditions continue. And why won’t they? The Pacific Northwest, California, the Amazon, Australia – all in flames. Surely we will be next.
Once we accept a less-than-perfect lawn, how freeing! Let the moss stay! Leave the spent perennials as they are – the goldfinches and siskins will pick them clean in no time.
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.)
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:
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.
Any project that’s fully in hand goes into the “My Queue” feature on Pattern Review because I am ready to go.
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:
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.
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..
When you turn 50, as I did earlier this year, you start understanding the effect of gravity on your bod. Your ass be dragging. Your boobs be sagging. Your jowls be flapping.
Let’s turn this around and get gravity to work for us!
Ta-da! A gravity-fed iron!
This iron is a basic version of what you might see in a drycleaner’s or even a garment factory. The bottle at the top, which must be filled either with distilled or demineralized water, feeds slowly down the blue silicone tubing into the solenoid valve – that round thing sticking out of the left side of the iron.
Unlike a regular iron, which will produce steam as long as there’s water in the reservoir, a gravity-fed iron only releases steam when the steam button is pressed – that’s the red button on the handle.
The solenoid valve opens, water rushes in to the heat plates – and voila – lots of steam.
The iron has an aluminum “shoe” and a felted pad that wedges very firmly between the soleplate and the shoe, to diffuse the steam. The shoe attaches to the iron with the spring seen above.
The shoe has many many tiny holes for the steam – way more than a regular iron. It’s coated with a nonstick substance to prevent it from leaving scorch marks or shiny spots on fabrics. I bought two shoes, so that I can swap one out if it gets gunked up from interfacing or whatnot – but that hasn’t happened so far.
The iron takes some getting used to. For one, it’s pretty heavy. It’s also smaller than most regular household irons, so while it’s more precise it also takes a little longer to iron things.
For another, you don’t ever turn it on its end between uses – it lies flat on a silicone heat pad. Also, unlike modern household irons, there’s no automatic shut-off safety feature. It’s on until you turn it off. I like this – the auto shut-off ALWAYS used to kick in at the most inconvenient times. But it means that you have to watch it every minute and shut it off when you’re done. You know, like a responsible adult.
Also, you only get steam when you push the button, so you have to get used to pushing it and holding it down for a second or two. If you hold it down too long, water floods the iron and will spurt out. So in sum, yes, this iron can be dangerous.
The water bottle must hang at least 1 yard above the ironing surface. I hung it from a wall-mounted IV hook so it can move freely and stand away from the wall. I suppose you also could hang it from the ceiling if yours is low enough. To keep the power cord out of the way, the iron comes with clips that attach it to the water hose. I also used a conduit kit that attaches to a standard household outlet to plug the iron in up higher.
The bottle has a little spigot to control the water flow – you only turn it a tiny bit – about 1/8th of its full rotation – so that enough water gets to the iron. Too much water, and the iron may leak. The water hose is plenty long enough to cover my board’s area, but you can buy extra-long hoses if you want.
Speaking of the ironing board, I bought a heavy-duty one to go along with the iron. It’s as long and quite a bit wider than a regular ironing board and includes an iron rest at one end. It’s very sturdy and stable – as much a safety thing as a convenience. It came with a nice pad and a wire shelf, which is handy for storing pressing supplies. I keep my old board around for those times when I need to iron yardage or other big pieces.
In sum, I am really happy with this set-up. It wasn’t cheap – the iron, board, shoes and hardware for installation set me back about $400. But it was a great investment and much more convenient than a regular iron. I blow through an= regular iron ever year or two, so this ought to last a lot longer.
I intentionally maimed myself last week. At least, that’s what you’d think based on my decision to cut my hair short and go gray.
Some feedback on my new look and my snarky internal monologue in response:
Them: “What did you do that for?” Me: “Just to mess with you.”
Them: “I didn’t recognize you.” Me: “I am an international woman of mystery.”
Them: “You look older.” Me: “This is what 50 looks like.”
Them: “You look younger.” Me: “Stop lying.”
Them: “You look like a totally different person.” Me: “Still just me. Sorry to disappoint.”
Them: “You’re so brave.” Me: “This is some serious Joan of Arc action up in here.”
Them: “You’ll need a strong lip now.” Me: “Is GET LOST enough lip for ya?”
Them: “It’s…. cute…” Me: “You’re… full… of… it…”
Them: “Wow.” Me: “Yup.”
Them: “It’s good you have something on your forehead.” Me: “I’m glad I covered up enough of my head for you.”
Them: “It’s a mature look.” Me: “It’s Judi Dench drag.”
Them: “You have the bone structure for it.” Me: “Yes. I have bones in my face.”
Them: “Are you going to keep this or let it grow?” Me: “I think I’ll go shorter next time.”
Them: “You are just as pretty.” Me: “Just wait until I get my skull tattoos.”
Them: “Are you all right?” Me: “Short haircuts aren’t just for cancer survivors and brain tumor sufferers anymore!”
Them: “You’ll have to get trims more often now.” Me: “YAY!”
Them: “You’re like a pixie now.” Me (clapping my hands): “I DO believe in fairies!”
Them: “Men hate short hair on women.” Me: “My dream of repelling men finally comes to fruition!”
I suppose I could unpack all this, but really I can sum up my decision in two words – and you can quote me on this – “Screw it.”
Many people, in the United States anyway, have come to believe that women and men are equals. Most people would deny they are sexist. Women are no longer widely scoffed at for wearing pants, or playing sports, or having “manly” jobs, or many other things once viewed solely in the domain of men.
But get a short haircut? The sexism flag flies free!
To be fair, many people said they liked it. So that’s nice. But here’s the thing – I don’t care if you like it or not. I didn’t get this haircut for you. I got it for me.
From the moment females are born, they are conditioned to believe that their looks are the most important thing – more important than intelligence, character, personality, drive, empathy – anything. Pretty is paramount. Don’t believe me? Watch how people behave around little girls – always commenting on their hair, bodies, dresses, grace – anything that can be seen and judged will be seen and judged. People will try to “fix” what they think is lacking. And that “fixing” never goes away. Ever. The beauty and fashion industries churn it up nonstop.
An interesting thing happens after 40, though. The conversation subtly starts to shift from “looking your best” to “not looking old.” Because old is the worst. Old is unforgivable. Old is a reminder of death. Look old? Jump into your coffin, already. I’ll see you there!
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.
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.
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:
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:
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.
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:
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
(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!
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).
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.
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.
I will probably work at home through the end of the year. Without my job in New York City, I find myself adrift…
My “work” style and my “home” style are, well, two different styles. What’s why the same person who made this:
Also made this:
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?
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?”
I’ve finished my quilt. It’s a hot mess, just like the women’s movement I’m honoring – in a good way.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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!