Harley helps.

Harley helps.
Harley, my hard-working sewing assistant.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

MPB Day 2014

Our router went bonkers this week, so: belated MPB Day recap!

This year, I went with my friend and former coworker Lisa. She wore her first make, a fabulous black-and-white floral dress made from (I think) a Simplicity pattern. She accidentally made it using scrubs fabric, which is kind of funny because we worked in a hospital. (I told her she should wear it down in the OR.)

I work my Alabama Chanin skirt. (People recognized it!)

We stayed at the Carlton Arms, my favorite almost-hostel. Front-desk kitty was disinclined to check us in.

On Saturday, we decided to head over early for flea-marketing. We had breakfast at a Whole Foods "city picnic" on the way (free samples, score), then joined Peter & co. for the Chelsea flea.

Lisa considered, but did not get, this Helmut Lang vest.

I considered, but did not get, this wacky coat.

I still have a minor case of not-buyer's remorse. When in doubt, always buy the wacky coat.

Then we headed over to FIT for the lingerie exhibit. On the way, I chatted with someone who actually  took one of Natalie Chanin's courses (!) and we talked about sourcing cotton jersey fabrics. (!!) (That's the thing I really love about MPB Day -- getting to meet and geek out with like-minded people.)

After lunch and the BEST PATTERN SWAP EVAR, fabric shopping! I didn't bring my camera, so no action shots, but I spent most of my time in Paron's taking advantage of their 40% off sale. Here's my haul:

Ha ha. I wish.

No, really, here's my haul.

L to R: Soft gray jersey, glazed linen, china silk, metallic gold-and-gray jersey (?), brown ultrasuede.

I guess I really go for the neutrals, eh? Unfortunately, my budget is sort of limited at the moment, so I had to go with what they had -- no crazy teal anything for me. That's okay, though; I really love everything I got, and the jerseys will make some nice basics (which I need; my poor three-year-old black t-shirts are definitely on their way out), and the other pieces are enough for two projects. So, yay.

I'm super-psyched about the glazed linen -- talk about something you only find in NY. I'm hoping the pattern I have in mind is a decent match.

So that's it. Peter was an extraordinarily kind and helpful host, and I honestly don't know how he has the energy to manage an all-day sewing meetup/tour. Someday I owe him the baked good/drink/other edible of his choice (and it looks like he wound up with quite a few leftover patterns from the swap; I wish I could take them off his hands). Thank you, Peter.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

also, and furthermore

Speaking of sewfails: This is a couple of years old, but here's what happens when you use a Burda pattern, not realizing that Burda doesn't provide seam allowances:

The world's smallest messenger bag. Whoops.

fail: Macbook Air case

After a lot of coaxing from friends and family, I finally broke down and bought an 11" Macbook Air. (Goodbye, ancient Dell laptop. I won't miss you and all of your various screens of death.)

I love it, but it needs a case. Or, rather, I'd feel better if it had a case -- something small and padded that just fits the laptop.

I really wanted something soft that didn't look like it came from Staples. I had visions of Alabama Chanin fabric and quilt batting and a picture of Antwerp's train station on the front.

(Did I mention that Antwerp's train station is gorgeous? I miss it. Wonder if they're hiring.)

(And yes, I need a new camera.)

I scanned the Antwerp picture and printed it out on a fabric inkjet sheet. Then I stitched it to a piece of scrap AC jersey, and then made the case using ye olde potholder method: 1) lay cover right side up, 2) lay lining right side down, 3) layer batting on both, 4) stitch around, leaving an opening on the bottom, 5) turn right side out and topstitch.

I lined it and made ties with leftover sweater knit from Fabric Mart, and I made the pocket from a test-stenciled scrap of AC fabric and backed it with more sweater fabric. All good, right? Right??

Uh. Slight problem. (Okay, big problem.)

It's too big. Way too big for my poor little 11-inch Macbook. AND

the Antwerp picture isn't centered. Which is going to drive me nuts until it's fixed.

I test-drove the new case once or twice, and it's padded well enough, but the size isn't really working -- the laptop slides around all over the place. That's what I get for half-assing the size (aka: "Hey, I think this scrap is big enough").

So I think there's no other way around it: Either I cut it all completely open and redo the case, or cut it partly open and make a tote bag and start totally over on the case. Leaning toward option #2.

Note to self: Next time, MEASURE TWICE, CUT ONCE. Sheesh.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

new fall Vogues!

I'm SO SO SO excited about the new Vogue patterns, but I keep squeeing over cute work clothes and then remembering that I'm funemplo-- er, "transitioned." But still!

These are on my shortlist:

V1419: Super-awesome Ralph Rucci space-age coatdress. Those sleeves! That collar! Those lines! I've never made a RR or advanced pattern ever, but I'd give this a shot. I can't decide on the color, though. For maximum space-ageosity, maybe a winter white.

V1404: Hard to see the lines with that fabric, but I love the quilted hem and pockets and it looks like it'd work on a short person like me. Now, if I can just find a job to wear it to.

(Or not!)

V1410: Lynn Mizono. I'm intrigued by this -- especially the 3 lengths -- but not sure it would work on my body type. Either way, I'd like to try it because I love modular clothes. (More modular patterns, Vogue!)

 V9037: I overlooked this the first time, until I read Communing With Fabric's review and realized that it's perfect for my beer gut body type. Also good for lounging around watching QVC and eating bonbons.

V1408: DKNY. Hard to see from the fabric, but I love the lines and potential for colorblocking (thinking black/gray or black/red). Wondering what it would look like in Alabama Chanin cotton jersey, along the lines of this other DKNY pattern.

So that's the plan. Clearly, I need to budget some cashola for patterns (and fabric).

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

two Alabama Chanin skirts

Once upon a time, I had a really long commute. 3-4 hours a day on the train, longer in the wintertime.

Luckily, I also had a copy of Alabama Studio Sewing + Design: A Guide to Hand-Sewing an Alabama Chanin Wardrobe and a used Bloomers stencil and fabric scraps from one of AC's online garage sales.

I started the Short Fitted Skirt in January and finished it in late April.

From the side:

I decided to go with reverse appliqué and keep the knots on the inside. I used AC's organic medium-weight cotton jersey in red for the top layer (it's darker than it looks in the pic), AC's organic medium-weight cotton jersey in black for the bottom, Tulip fabric spray paint in Asphalt for the design, black craft thread to outline the shapes, and black fold-over elastic for the waistline. 

This is a size small, believe it or not, which was still way too big -- I had to take in each side by a half-inch or so before sewing on the FOE. (Partly because the fabric was incredibly stretchy compared to the jersey bedsheet I used as a muslin.)

Here's the inside -- as you can see, I didn't have quite enough black fabric, so I left a few shapes uncut at the top, figuring that they'd be covered up most of the time anyway: 

A closeup of the design (I swear, the bottom layer is really black):

A closeup of the reverse (again with the color -- dang, I need a new camera):

AC says to leave the hem raw, but I decided to have it finished, thinking I could wear it to work someday. (Ha.)

Some thoughts:
  1. I love the design. Not totally thrilled with my execution (man, it looks puckery in that photo), but I'll wear it. :)
  2. Two layers of medium-weight cotton jersey are fairly heavy -- this feels like a fall or winter skirt (I'll probably wear it with boots). Next time, I'll either back it with lightweight cotton jersey or use two layers of lightweight jersey.
  3. I'm not sold on the FOE. It seems easy and wearable in theory, but I feel like I'm constantly on the verge of tearing it. Part of the issue may be the red fabric, which is pretty unravelly as well as super-stretchy. Maybe an elastic waistband next time?
  4. The techniques were relatively easy to learn, but I'm so glad I bought AC's Craftsy course. Until I watched Natalie sew, I had no idea she used such long stitches, or that she took two or even three stitches at once, or that she clipped into the top layer horizontally instead of vertically. Actually watching her do everything made a huge difference.
After I finished the red skirt, I made a second one out of one layer of AC medium-weight teal cotton jersey. I used black FOE, black craft thread, and flat-felled the seams. Here it is on me:

This time, I left the edges raw. :)

And here's a close-up of the flat-felled seams on the reverse:

I. Love. This.  Color. I want, like, a zillion yards of it.

Compared to the red skirt, this was a piece of cake. I think it took, oh, three nights. Maybe two. Hooray for almost-instant gratification. 

So that's the news. I'm playing around with other AC patterns (currently trying to extend the t-shirt into a dress; we'll see), and I'll post them here when they're done.


I'm here! I'm here.

It's been an action-packed few months. The big news, I guess, is that I got laid off in May as part of a department restructuring. (Which is fine! More time to sew, right?) I have finished projects, but that and some other life stuff got in the way of posting.

Before I post projects, though...right after I got laid off, we spent a couple of weeks in Wales and Scotland. (I know, I know, but I really needed a couple of weeks to clear my head, and we'd booked and prepaid everything before I found out. So.)

I didn't buy much, but here's the haul:

Left: Linen with bird print from 
Wheeler Fabrics in Machynlleth, Wales; right: Merchant & Mills Sewing Book

Crepe de chine from Liberty. Just enough to make a shell/camisole, maybe.
Wheeler Fabrics is really fantastic -- still regretting not buying a couple meters of organic sweatshirt fabric. I might use the linen to try and eke out a dress, although it's a little late in the season.

Okay, on to projects. (Also, I'm sad about not being able to make MPB Day this year. I want to go!)

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

see my vest

One of my New Year's resolutions (and yes, it's already the end of February, I know, I know) was to try to make practical and interesting office clothes. By "interesting," I mean clothes that don't make me want to stab my eyes out with a rusty fork. Because if I have to wear one more pair of polyester black pants and black cardigan...

Anyway. I saw this on the cover of Drape Drape 2:

I wish the Drape Drape models would wear pants occasionally.

and went HOLY PRACTICAL THING, BATMAN. A vest/scarf combo (it's cold here) with deep pockets, to throw over office dresses? HELL YES.

(I somehow keep buying office dresses that don't have any pockets. Which is a problem, when you have to clip a keycard somewhere because you're running up and down stairs delivering stuff to clients. I'm just saying.)

Here's my version.

I suppose it's hard to see in this photo, but it's over a Standard Black Pocketless Office Dress and my favorite polka-dot leggings. It's made from purple-and-black-striped lightweight sweater knit from Fabric Mart. Loved the color, but the fabric was less than ideal; it got holes if I so much as breathed on it wrong. (My other New Year's resolution: Do not buy fabric online, unless it's Alabama Chanin.)

I won't post the whole pattern review here, but a few things you should know, if you're interested in making this:
  1. It's very long. I'm 5'0" and it hit just a few inches above my knee.
  2. The pockets are seriously deep -- about 14 inches, give or take. (I messed with the facings a bit).
  3. The back is also pretty long -- about 21 inches from the middle of my back, give or take:
My butt. Enjoy.
The back is the only part I have reservations about. After seeing it on me, I can't help thinking it would look better on someone taller and skinnier. Like, say, a pantsless Drape Drape model.


The neckline. (That crappy fabric. Sigh.)
What the book calls the "back neckline."  This is the only section that's turned right sides together, like a tube. The seams around the back neckline are finished first.

Very, very deep pockets. 14 inches!

Construction was interesting. Drape Drape is notorious for being a little light on the details ("attach the pocket," "sew the back section of the neckline" ...ooookay), but if you compare the written instructions to the diagrams, it's figure-outable. 

A couple of tricky parts, though:
  1.  You have to finish the seam allowance around the neckline (from just above the pocket, called "pocket end," to the top of the neck, called "seam end"), and then finish the armholes before turning the back neckline right sides together and stitching. (The book calls for a threefold edge-stitched seam, but I just did a basic straight stitch and it worked out fine.)
  2. After finishing the back neckline, turn it right side out before continuing. Really basic, but the instructions don't tell you this.
I like this -- and it IS practical (I've worn it to work several times already) -- but next time I'll make it in sturdier sweater fabric or jersey.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Alabama Chanin t-shirts

I've been experimenting with making plain t-shirts lately, preparing for the day when my beloved Esprit t-shirts finally kick the bucket. (Why did you have to close all your US stores, Esprit, why, why, whyyyyyy...?) 

I made a size medium short-sleeved shirt from Alabama Studio Sewing + Design, using black rib knit from Jo-Ann. (Used my machine. Sorry, Natalie.)

Love this fabric, although I get '90s Banana Republic flashbacks when I use it.

My super-fancy sewing blog pose. Guess I need to work on that.
It's got a bit more ease than this long-sleeved version, also size medium, using Alabama Chanin medium-weight cotton jersey fabric from one of their garage sales:

Although I do love the bell sleeves:

And my husband says, "Woo, I like that," every time I wear the Alabama Chanin version. 

Let me just put in a plug here for the Alabama Chanin fabric, though -- it sews like a dream, and it's really soft, especially the lightweight cotton jersey.

The pattern itself is super-simple, just front, back, and sleeve pieces. I'm not a huge fan of bias binding, which the book calls for, so I didn't use it -- just tucked the neckline under on both and stitched. I hemmed the short-sleeved version and didn't bother on the long-sleeved version (which is what the pattern calls for, actually -- you leave the sleeves and hem unfinished, so they roll). I like the unhemmed version a lot, but at some point I'm going to have to practice binding and/or finishing hems so I can make shirts to wear to work.

It took a grand total of 45 minutes to an hour to make each one. Low cost, low stress, instant gratification...I think I'll just make t-shirts from now on. (Although I'll always miss you, Esprit.)


PR review for posterity:

Pattern Description:

Alabama Studio Sewing + Design short-sleeved and long-sleeved tops. It's the same top pattern with different sleeve variations -- you can also make sleeveless and cap-sleeved versions.

Pattern Sizing: 

XS-XL. I made the medium.

Did it look like the photo/drawing on the pattern envelope once you were done sewing with it?

I think so, except I didn't use bias binding and I'm, er, not quite as skinny as the girls in the photos.

Were the instructions easy to follow?

Yes, absolutely. They were for hand-sewing, though, and I machine-stitched mine.

What did you particularly like or dislike about the pattern?

I like the length (long enough to cover my big ol' beer belly). And I loved the bell sleeves on the long-sleeved version.

Not a fan of bias binding -- it just seems overly fussy to me. It's also fairly fitted (as you can see!) Alabama Chanin midweight cotton jersey fabric doesn't have a lot of give -- although I have faith that, as the book says, it will stretch out over time to conform to my body.

Fabric Used:

Short-sleeved version: Black rib knit from Jo-Ann (cotton/spandex, I think).

Long-sleeved version: Alabama Chanin midweight cotton jersey from one of their garage sales.

Pattern alterations or any design changes you made:

I machine-stitched mine instead of hand-sewing and left them plain/non-embellished. 

The book calls for bias binding around the neck of each shirt and the sleeves of the short-sleeved version. It also calls for leaving the sleeves and bottom of the long-sleeved version unfinished. For mine, I just tucked the neckline under on both and stitched. On the short-sleeved version, I hemmed the sleeves and bottom; on the long-sleeved version, I left the sleeves and bottom unhemmed.

Would you sew it again? Would you recommend it to others?

Oh yeah. Already planning more (and saving up for the next garage sale).


Practical, comfortable, easy to sew, and I love the variations. Definitely making this again.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

holiday sewing recap

Catch-up post!

(And I made some ACTUAL GARMENTS and they turned out OK, so I'll post about those later. Very exciting. But first, gifts!)

I made Cation Designs' awesome all-purpose plushie pattern in Very Serious Bunny and Stoic Doggie as Christmas presents for my niece and nephew.

Serious! Stoic!

Bun bun and doggie tail.
I absolutely love this pattern. It's ingeniously drafted: One body pattern + various switchable ears, paws, and expressions = 7 different animals. It took an afternoon to make each, mostly because I couldn't get the hang of the ladder stitch -- lame, I know. After several tries, I wound up just topstitching the opening closed with matching thread.

To the review:

Pattern Description:  

Cation Designs' free All-Purpose Plushie Pattern, downloadable as a PDF.

Pattern Sizing: 

One size with switchable parts

Did it look like the photo/drawing on the pattern envelope once you were done sewing with it?

They looked more or less like the pictures on her blog, so I was happy.

Were the instructions easy to follow? 

Yes, absolutely.

What did you particularly like or dislike about the pattern? 

It's a really simple, quick make with lots of options -- one body pattern + ears, paws, tails and noses to make 7 different animals. Easy to sew, adorable, and small enough to make with scraps.

If I could do one thing over again, I'd splay the ears and paws a bit wider before sewing everything together -- they tended to tighten up when I stitched (as you can see from Mr. Bunny's legs -- although I don't think the recipient minded).

Fabric Used: 

Bunny: Wool dyed with purple basil

Doggie: Wool dyed with dyer's coreopsis

Pattern alterations or any design changes you made: 

I topstitched the opening with matching thread instead of using a ladder stitch.

Would you sew it again? Would you recommend it to others? 

Yes, absolutely; it's a quick, easy, fun make, and perfect for gifts.


Mr. Bunny went to live with my niece; his new official title is Dora-the-Explorer Watcher. Mr. Doggie went to live with my eight-month-old nephew, who named him Baa.


I also made this pencil roll for my mother-in-law.

She's in assisted living and uses a wheelchair. A couple of years ago I made her a Kindle cover (just a padded envelope, with a snap), but when we went to visit, she was using it as a sort of clutch to carry around pens and pencils and change and stuff.

So I thought I'd make her an actual pencil roll. I used quilting fabric and batting, stitched three pockets and added two long pieces of ribbon at one end so she could roll it up and tie it.

Not the best picture, I know, but here's how it looks when it's tied.

She does a lot of journal-writing, crossword puzzles, and Sudoku, so I added a small blank book, pens and pencils, a pencil sharpener and eraser.

She liked it (that's the word, anyway), so yay. I hope she can use it.


And also, finally, I made catnip fleecy blankets for the kitties at our local shelter. No pictures, but they're super-simple:
  1. Acquire fleecy blanket remnant from Jo-Ann's.
  2. Cut into rectangles.
  3. Sew right sides together, leaving opening at one end.
  4. Trim and clip corners and turn out
  5. Add a little dried catnip. How much depends on the size of your blankie; probably not more than 1/8 cup.
  6. Tuck opening edges under and topstitch all the way around, using a short stitch and clipping loose threads so kitty isn't inclined to pull them out. (5a: Watch kitty FREAK OUT when s/he realizes you're sewing with catnip.)
  7. Place on any available surface. Watch kitty go nuts/nap.

Next up -- I made stuff by Alabama Chanin! And Drape Drape! Which should be interesting, because I just spilled coffee on my keyboard and the p doesn't work anymore.