Books I Liked in 2020

With plenty of time on my hands because of the pandemic, I expected I’d have read many more books than I did in 2020. Then I realized that I used to do most of my reading during my train commute!

Still, I recommend a few, mostly written by women:

“Vesper Flights” is a beautiful collection of essays by the British naturalist Helen Macdonald. The title essay is one of the best things I read all year – deep and powerful and inspiring. The book was my constant companion while reading in my garden this summer, with a pair of binoculars at my side in case any interesting birds stopped by.

Perfect summer garden reading

I also enjoyed reading the science-fiction short story collection “The Future Is Female,” which includes stories by famous and obscure writers, some of whom hid their gender from magazine publishers. One story in particular, “He Created Them,” by Alice Eleanor Jones, has haunted me. You can read it here.

In light of the Black Lives Matter movement, I wanted to educate myself more about racism and get ideas about what I could do. I read “White Fragility” by Robin DiAngelo after attending a lecture she gave about her research into racism and white people’s inability to discuss or reckon with their actions. This is pretty heavy book, but it’s also very approachable. DiAngelo is not trying to shame anyone, she’s just trying to encourage white people to be better.

I also wanted to read more books by nonwhite authors, so I read “The Fifth Season” by N.K. Jemisin – a science fiction novel about a society that enslaves and denigrates people who can save their society from ruin. I also recommend another science-fiction anthology, “Dark Matter,” stories written by Black authors. Science fiction works best when it shines a mirror on our society, and there are plenty of stories in this book that will make you think.

For pure escapism in books, I didn’t get far in 2020. (I guess reality was pretty strange enough). The closest I got was “Natural History” by Carlos Fonseca. The first half of the book was excellent – beautiful and strange with fabulous characters and atmosphere – but the second half was very disappointing. Boo.

Finally, to try to understand what is going on in American society and the power of Donald Trump, I thought it was important to look beyond the headlines. I recommend “Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism” by Anne Appelbaum. She lays out many examples of history where people get sucked into support for authoritarian regimes – most often not because they really agree with authoritarianism or hope to profit from it – but because they see no other choice, lack courage to fight, hope to use the system for “good,” or think they can work from within to defend their society from authoritarianism’s darkest impulses.

She also provides lots of examples of die-hard supporters of regimes, who suddenly see authoritarianism for what it is, and then work to defeat it. One good example is a man who was a devoted foot soldier of the Communist Party in the Soviet Union, who’d blindly followed and did anything asked of him. One day at party headquarters, he met a similar Communist foot soldier from another country, who was visiting to learn about the Soviet system. The visitor asked for directions to the cafeteria to get a meal. He was asked what kind of meal ticket he had – there was one cafeteria for the rank-and-file and another for the elites. The visitor was outraged at this system – are they not all brothers in Communism? Why do they not all eat together?

Good point, the Soviet party foot solider thought. Why is that? And with this little seed of doubt planted in his mind, this man would doubt more and more, and eventually go on to be a leader in the fall of the Soviet Union.

I end with this little story of hope in bleak times.

Looking forward to 2021, what do you recommend?

Work At Home Couture – Winter Edition

I’ve knocked off a few more garments for my winter work-at-home wardrobe – all designed to look good on videoconferences while being ease to sew, take care of, and comfy.

First up – the Harper Cardigan/Jacket from Style Arc.

Style Arc Harper Jacket in ponte with decorative edge finish

I bought this poly-rayon-spandex ponte some years ago, intending to make a dress for work with it. Then I realized I didn’t want to wear something so hot and heavy, not to mention raspberry pink, so the ponte went back into the stash.

I figured I could use 1.5 yards of it to try this simple jacket, which I got for free from Style Arc when I bought something else. Three pieces – what could go wrong?

Well…

Sometimes I feel like I am hypercritical of commercial sewing patterns. But there’s no overlooking the sheer number of odd things in this.

Issue #1 is the center-back seam, which you’re supposed to sew as a French seam since it can be seen from the outside.

Back view

Good luck sewing a French seam on a heavy fabric such as ponte. A flat-felled seam seemed more suitable, so that’s what I did (added .5 cm seam allowance to provide for a bit of extra room).

Then there’s the finishing issue. This has no facings or anything – in fact the pattern says you can leave the edges raw if you want to. I did not want to. I mean, that’s just dumb. So I dug out the manual for my serger and did a three-thread “rolled wave” treatment on the edges.

Rolled hem – black in upper looper, white in lower looper, and matching thread in the needle
Rolled wave hem – ready for its close-up

Then there’s the closure issue. This pattern originally came with some jumbo hook-and-eyes – you set the hooks in the shoulders and the eyes on the tips of the fronts. Since there’s no facing or anything to hide the hooks, the pattern provides a postage-stamp sized patch you’re meant to sew on to cover where the hooks are sewn on.

This is the laziest things I ever heard of. The design could have benefitted from a rethink – maybe a button and loop or a decorative tie would have made more sense? I played around with various fixes before saying the heck with it and sewing on ordinary hook and eyes.

Closed view

Here it is closed, and you can see how the front pulls against the hook and eye on my shoulder. I will buy some larger hook and eyes when I get around to it – maybe – and try it again.

The next garment is a simple t-shirt out of a lovely rayon/spandex blend. This is Jalie 2805 – a pattern pack of four T-shirt options (jewel neck, V neck, mock turtleneck or Henley).

Jalie 2805

I like this pattern for the fit and ease of construction. I plan to whip up a few more this winter.

Finally, I made a pair of the Jalie Eleonore Jeans – a pull-on style made out of woven fabric with at least 20% stretch. These don’t take a lot of fabric, so I had plenty left over from my shorts project this summer to try a full-length pair.

The shorts were tight at the knee so I thought I’d made flares for my full-length pair. This is a simple change – just slash up the center to just above the knee, cut into each side to create a hinge for the leg, and spread.

Pattern jeggings to flare adjustment
Fill in with paper, true up the bottom, and mark the changes.

I added length at the hem also. No picture of the finished project, sorry, but they are comfortable and look nicer than a pair of yoga pants for working at home.

I now have half of my six projects done! (Well, technically that dress is not done but I just cannot with it right now).

Green checkmarks – completed projects!

What should I do next?

So Visible!

The fall and winter sewing pattern magazines and catalogs got a lot more colorful this year.

I almost dropped my tea when I saw this Burda cover:

November 2020 Burda cover

I don’t ever remember seeing a nonwhite model on a Burda cover – you Burda fans out there tell me if I am wrong, but isn’t this a major development? Anyway, I promised I wouldn’t buy Burda until they diversified their cover models, and now I feel I can buy this. It will take more than one issue, though, to convince me that Burda is committed to diversity.

If that’s surprising, how about a whole seasonal catalog full of nonwhite models? Check out the Winter 2020 Simplicity catalog:

Simplicity Winter 2020 Catalog

I have been buying Simplicity patterns since the 1980s and I don’t ever recall seeing a whole catalog like this devoted to so many nonwhite faces.

Not to be outdone, Butterick offered this catalog. Butterick is aiming for the older sewist, so we get older and nonwhite models:

Butterick catalog

Even Joann got on the diversity train. Its sale circular this week was almost exclusively nonwhite models, and some of them are older, too:

Montage of pictures from this week’s Joann circular.

It’s not as if these modeling gigs will end racism – in the sewing community or anywhere else – but I think it’s a start and a demonstration that large corporate interests in the US and abroad are listening to the desire for diversity.

Maxi to Mini in Five Infuriating Steps

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.

Maxi indeed

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.

Uneven hemming trim job number one.

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!

Crap uneven hem is way shorter in the front.

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:

All these crazy uneven hem scraps!

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.

Well, this is awkward…

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.

Final length? Who knows?

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.

Fighting Against Fitting In

The moss is taking over the patio. And I love it.

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.

Thick lovely moss

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.

Spores spreading – and a bird visited recently.

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.

Purslane takes over

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.”

A pretty garden, if not for a mile of black hoses everywhere…

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.

Goldfinches have been filling up on seeds from these coneflowers.

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!

Letting Gravity Do the Work

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!

Steamy…

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.

Press the red button for steam.

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.

White shoes after Labor Day? Of course!

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.

Shoe and pad

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.

Resting the iron flat takes getting used to

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.

Paging Doctor Steam Iron!

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.

New board pulls it all together

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.

Maiming Myself

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.

Yes, my hair is short. Yes, it’s getting gray. No makeup either! So sorry that an aging woman has invaded your view in her natural state.

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.”

Joan of Arc – historic patron saint of short-haired women who take no crap from anyone.

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.”

Judi Dench, today’s saint of short-haired women who don’t give a care.

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!”

Fairy, pixie – tomato, to-mah-to.

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!

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.