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.

 

Notes on Camp – Distaff Edition (and Apologies to Susan Sontag)

Camp. Hard to define, but like pornography, you know it when you see it.

How you do define “camp?”

A) It’s so bad, it’s good.

B) Failed seriousness.

C) A sincere effort at artistic expression that falls flat on its face.

D) You’re not making fun of it, you’re making fun out of it.

E) All of the above.

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CAMP – BITCHES!

Camp was the theme of the Met Gala this year. Some guests, such as Katy Perry (above) delivered. What makes this campy? Ultimately, it’s not the idea or the execution – it’s the fact that it both the idea and execution almost fell apart on the Red Carpet that gives her outfit the tang of Camp.

Here’s another example – Tiffany Haddish doing pimp drag:

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Again – it’s not the style or the execution. What you can’t see makes this camp – in her clutch she’s carrying a Ziploc bag full of chicken that she said she cooked herself and brought to the Met Gala because “there’s never enough food at these things.”

Which brings me to me. I am attending a sewing retreat at a YMCA camp this fall. We’re having a fashion show, “Camp at Camp, ” in homage to the Met Gala. People are encouraged to bring or make a campy outfit for the party. This idea has mystified some retreat attendees. They don’t get it, or they don’t want to get it (I don’t know which). But I get it. And I get why I get it. That’s because to years ago I sewed an outfit that could slide into camp easily.:

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CAMP … almost

This dress, made from New Look 6498, was a sincere effort at creativity that, for the most part, fails.

It has its sincere moments. I made this out of a sari I bought In Hyderabad, India.

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Washed sari drying in the sun

I saw many beautiful saris, but I chose this one because it’s the kind of sari made for selling to tourists. Few Indian women would wear such a thing, I was told by my Indian colleagues who helped me pick it out. For one thing, adult Indian women don’t go in for depictions of Indian motifs such as peacocks or elephants in such a juvenile cartoony way, I was told. (Of course, tasteful motifs are always in.) Also, the mixed motifs – peacocks, paisleys, the overall color scheme, were all “a bit much.” The sari itself was a bit campy.

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Campy sari?

I was told, as a western woman, if I wanted to cut it up to make something out of it, or to use as home dec or something, have at it. (I am expressing the opinions of some trusted colleagues and friends. I am sorry if you disagree.)

If you want to read about how I adapted this sari to make the dress, see my old blogs: Refashioning a Sari and Sari Refashion Completed!

I wore this dress once – when I was at a fancy dinner on vacation in Costa Rica. People stared at me. I realized that I looked ridiculous. So I never wore it again. It wasn’t campy, exactly, but it wasn’t “right” either.

To slide into camp, I needed two things. One – real peacock feathers, arrived from eBay this week:

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Actual peacock feathers… can you smell the camp yet?

I intend to make these into a headdress. I think I sense some quality time with Pinterest in my future.

Also, I need some campy-ass shoes. I was thinking gold platform heels. I need to find some. I guess a trawl of Zappos couldn’t hurt?

 

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.

Me Made May Week 3

Hi everyone – here are some quick Me Made May looks from week 3. So far, I have worn at least one Me-Made garment each day, sometimes head-to-toe looks. I am delighted that I have come this far, and I am confident I can finish out the month.

First, the rest of the looks from last week’s vacation, where the temperatures soared into the low 90s after starting the week in the 50s:

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Blouse from La Mia Boutique July/Aug 2018 and Maria Denmark Yasmin Yoke Skirt
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Lounging my the pool in the Tunic with Roll-up Sleeves from “Happy Homemade Sew Chic”
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Headed to a botanical garden in my poppy print top from Simplicity 1202 and Yasmin skirt
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The denim Yasmin skirt again, worn with an upcycled tablecloth top from Happy Homemade Sew Chic’s Tunic with Lace
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Dinner with my hubby in my Jalie drop-pocket cardigan and RTW dress

I went to the office yesterday and decided to dress up since I needed to get my head back in the game:

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Sewaholic Cordova jacket, Style Arc Creative Cate top and RTW pants in my office’s fancy elevator.

And then a couple of work-at-home days with suitably casual looks:

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The tunic top again, this time with the Seamwork Moji pants
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Planting spring flowers in a top from New Look 6330.

I notice that a few of my me-made items are nearing their expiration dates. This New Look top, for example, didn’t come out right and hasn’t worn well. The neckline is ripply and the hem is wonky. I wear it for things like exercising and working outdoors. Also, let’s face it, my upcycled tablecloth-turned-top is pretty funky (as was intended) but not a great look for me.

Likewise, that Cordova jacket is on its last legs. The zipper area is all rippled – I am not sure why but I suspect that the interfacing shrank when I had the jacket cleaned. It was always a little big, but it seems to be getting bigger as the years go by. I really need to make a new jacket for work.

 

Dying to Try Dyeing? Me too!

As a child, I grew up with lots of stories about dyeing. My French-Canadian great-grandmother, who lived to 106, used to make her own dyes. Her daughters worked in woolen textile mills in town, and would secret away scraps that my great-grandmother would dye for use in rugs and other home furnishings. I am lucky enough to have one of the rugs my grandmother made, using some of her mother’s homemade dyes in addition to upcycled wool from clothes and other uses.

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Wedding present from my grandmother, made of hand-dyed wool and other upcycled wool textiles.

The mint green wool in this rug comes from a suit my grandmother wore in 1945 when she took a train across the US to see my grandfather, whose ship came in to Seattle after World War II was over.

Dyeing is not a lost art, but it’s not exactly thriving either. I have no idea how my great-grandmother did what she did.

I experimented with RIT in high school – we made tie-dyed T-shirts and felt like hippies for about 15 minutes. We had no idea what we were doing. The dye came out in the wash and ruined other clothes. Fun times!

So when I saw a shibori dyeing class at the Creative Arts Workshop in New Haven, Conn. I had to sign up. The class was making four cotton napkins using different dyeing techniques. The instructor also allowed me to bring two yards of other fabric to dye for a top to other use. I was excited at the chance!

This was not a traditional class using real indigo dyes and twine and other techniques, but it was fun to try.

Here are the napkins I made:

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Shibori dyed napkins using four diffetent dyeing techniques

The triangle motif at the upper right is my favorite of these four. It’s made by folding the fabric over twice and then folding it into triangles. The trick is your first triangle fold is actually a half triangle – necessary to get the triangles to align properly. We practiced on paper first:

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Triangle motif folding practice

The one at bottom right is made by making narrow pleats and then rolling the fabric into a bundle, like so:

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Rolling technique for dyeing

The napkin at bottom left used a typical tie-dye technique of wrapping objects such as marbles within a fold of fabric and tying it off.

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Marble inside – pretty design outside

I covered the napkin with these little bundles – sometimes three marbles inside. The result came out like this fresh from the dye and rinse pots:

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Typical tie dye

The fourth napkin did not come out well. This is what it looked like when it went into the die pot:

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Popsicle sticks were supposed to make a zig zag pattern

I think my popsicle sticks came loose or something, because the end is a bit blotchy. Oh well.

Finally, here’s my cotton poplin, to be a blouse for summer:

I had to break it into two one-yard cuts so it would fit in the dye pot. Also it was the end of the day so the color is a bit faded. I need to find a pattern that will allow me to use the dye pattern to best advantage.

Ski Jacket Muslin

Here’s one of those “I’m glad I made a muslin” stories.

Last winter, I planned to make a cross-country ski jacket. I bought a pattern – the Fairbanks Pullover from Green Pepper Patterns, an indie pattern company for high-quality outdoor gear . They’ve been around since the 1970s, and I sewed a similar anorak from a Green Pepper pattern back in the 80s.

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Green Pepper Fairbanks Pullover

OK, enough for the Memory Lane detour.

At the same time I bought the pattern, I also bought some PolarTec Power Shield fabric – pricey but since it’s a sandwich of a fleecy insulating layer and a water-resistant and wind-resistant outer layer, I figured it would be worth it in the end, and certainly easier than working with those two textiles separately. I bought zippers. I bought drawstring cord and cord stoppers. I read up on waterproof seam tape.

And then I thought – better make a muslin.

This pattern ticked several “yes” boxes in my “Make a Muslin or Wing It” checklist:

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While I am familiar with Green Pepper patterns and admire their quality and attention to detail, it had been a loooong time since I sewed that anorak. So I am not really familiar.

Another “make a muslin” clue was that I could find no reviews of this pattern online – nothing on PatternReview.com, no blogs, no photos even. So I’d have no one’s advice to rely on.

Finally, there was the expense question. The PolarTec Power Shield – plus shipping – was $65, not to mention the trims and hardware.

Make a muslin, dammit!

I am glad I mocked up the jacket out of an old bedsheet. It was disappointing. The fit – although for a woman’s shape – was very boxy and too tight in the hips. It also was a little small in the shoulders and arms – OK for a casual jacket but not for skiing. Finally, the style with the big front pocket was awkward – I could imagine it flapping around with my phone and keys inside while I was skiing.

I gave it a pass and remained on the lookout for something else to try. I considered the Closet Case Files Kelly Anorak, which looks like a high-quality and well-reviewed pattern.

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But, it seemed too dressy and close-fitting for my purposes, and it used a lot of fabric – I’d be out at least another $30 for supplies. So I put it out of my mind.

This winter, I tried again, this time with the newly issued Simplicity 8843. I made a muslin this time, too, because I was not sure that the drop shoulder would work well.

It does! I’ve decided to lengthen it an inch at the waist and an inch at the hem. Also at the sleeves. And I did a high round back adjustment so the collar sits better.

I’m glad I took the time to plan this out.

Do you make muslins?

A Few Footsoldiers for The People’s Sewing Army

Let me start off by saying that sewing toys and little fiddly things is not my jam. I have little patience, for one thing, and I find that no matter how I try, something store-bought is going to look 100 times better than what I can make.

That said, when I heard about The People’s Sewing Army on Instagram, I signed up. It’s a group that aims to use scraps of fabric and other stashed items to sew for good causes. The December challenge was to sew items for homeless children in Oregon. I happened to have some suitable scrap fabric, leftover polyfill and one stuffed animal pattern in my possession, so I signed up.

I feel that these stuffed animals are sad to look at. I am reminded, however, that my most-loved toys as a child were things my great-aunt and grandmother made for me – a little lumpy and bumpy, asymmetrical and awkward, but loved literally to pieces. I hope that’s the case for these.

The pattern came from an issue of Simply Sewing magazine. It’s supposed to be a dachshund. I think it looks more like a mouse or a rabbit or a mammal from some fever dream in 1975. Anyway, I did the best I could, using leftover chambray from these pants, cotton shirting from this shirt, and gingham from a bathrobe I made back in the 90s. The polyfill is leftover from Halloween costumes I made for my niece and nephew when they were little (they’re teenagers now). And the buttons ribbons and trims have all been hanging around for years.

I made these in one day, then switched gears to something for older kids. They often get left out of charity drives because it’s easier and more fun to buy or make for little ones. I had some Harry Potter-themed flannel left over from a PJ project many years ago, so I had the idea to make them into little tags the older kids could put on a bag or jacket.

The fabric had these Houses of Hogwarts shields on them, so I made one for each house. I cut out each shield piece with a 1 cm seam allowance, then cut a frame out of other bits of the fabric. To the frame pieces I sewed some clear hard yet flexible plastic that I salvaged from a box of Christmas ribbons and bows. I made paper tags that the kids can remove to write whatever they want, and finished them off with ribbon ties.

That’s all I had time to do, so I boxed the lot up for shipping to Oregon. Of course, the damn post office was closed by the time I got there yesterday. I’ll try again this week.

Looking at other people’s contributions on Instagram, I felt pretty lousy. I mean, many sewists are more talented than I am at this type of thing. Still, I tried. I feel good about trying. This is not exactly what I had in mind when I was seeking sewing projects outside my comfort zone, but I learned something anyway. And I hope someone will love or at least use these things.