Harley helps.

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

Sunday, December 20, 2015

all righty!

I'm starting an Alabama Chanin dress.

It's based on a color scheme I saw at the AC workshop in New York this summer -- sand for the top layer, dark gray for the bottom layer, red for the thread color. It's not something I would have ordinarily picked — I gravitate toward blues and blacks most of the time — but the sample blew me away. I think I grabbed Natalie and said, "What...is...that?" and she was kind enough to look up the colors for me. I couldn't get it out of my head, and finally I just broke down and ordered two yards of each.

(Also, someone at the workshop noted that AC pieces are especially eye-catching when there's high contrast, which I totally agree with.)

I'm planning to do outside reverse appliqué, so with any luck the watered-down paint will be all or mostly gone. (It's my first time airbrushing! Learned my lesson: Don't water down the paint too much. Half and half is good.)

Can I be honest? The whole process is a little hairy-scary. Anything could so go wrong every step of the way, and then I'm out x amount of time and $$$$. Plus, you know that feeling of not wanting to ruin your gorgeous fabric? That.

Oh, the other interesting thing that came up: The official Alabama stencil doesn't cover the entire short fitted dress piece. I turned it sideways, but no dice. So I'm going to have to be careful when aligning the stencils on the other panels, I guess.

That's the news for now! Happy holidays, y'all.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

dyeing, UFOs, and Harley

Update one: I'm still making dye swatches for the PEM workshop.

Goldenrod with alum, l to r: cotton woven, cotton jersey, wool from Dharma Trading Co.,  wool from Weircrafts, and nubby silk

Black-eyed Susan (I think) with alum, also in woven cotton, nubby silk, two types of wool, and cotton jersey

I was surprised by the black-eyed Susans; you can't really tell from the photo (bad light, I guess), but they produced a fairly dark range of purple-greys. I totally expected them to make the usual yellows and oranges. I really like the results, especially the Alabama Chanin cotton jersey at bottom right. (All I want for Christmas, Santa, is a billion yards of white Alabama Chanin fabric.)

Also, I used the goldenrod to dye the base fabric for an experimental pillowcase:

Overnight soak on linen, no mordant. I made this for The Chalifour Collection at the Pickering Wharf antiques market in Salem, along with a few other pieces. (The back story on that: I was out yard-saling on my bike one Saturday morning—as one does—when the proprietor saw me looking at sewing stuff and said she was trying to find someone to redesign some vintage linens for her antiques booth. After a lot of hemming and hawing, I decided to give it a shot—although I still feel like I'm in beginner territory as far as sewing goes!) 

Anyway, the pillow above was made from two white linen napkins and a crocheted placemat. I'm actually really enjoying the process—some of the linens are hand-embroidered and really beautiful, dating from the '30s, '40s, and '50s, I'd guess. It's been fun trying to puzzle out what to do for each piece.

Update two: I AM making clothes. I swear. I got sidetracked by dyeing and pillow-making, but I have, like, four UFOs that just need finishing up. 

Update three: Harley the cat had surgery and is now in possession of a glamorous new accessory:

He doesn't much care for it. I can't understand why. It's very Gareth Pugh.

(Did you know that those things are called Elizabethan collars? I had no idea.) 

Saturday, August 15, 2015

it's a good day to dye, pt. 2

Red wine experiments: wool, cotton jersey (I think), and silk with an alum mordant.

I like them. Not sure how well they'd hold up after a wash, but I'm going to pretend that's not a problem.

(And it was bad wine! We were going to throw it out anyway. Really.)

Friday, August 14, 2015

it's a good day to dye

Experimental dyeing with tansy:

They're not quite dry and still a little blotchy.

I think I'm most excited about two in the middle, especially the lemon-yellow linen with an alum mordant and tin afterdip (third from left at the top), and the dark gray (looks black in the photo) cotton jersey with alum and an iron afterdip (fourth from the left at the top). Note to self: Iron darkens everything and tin brightens everything.

Also, the cotton jersey took the dye surprisingly well. I've always heard that cotton doesn't take natural dyes well at all, and my first dyeing experiments with your standard white Gildan t-shirts didn't really work...but this is Alabama Chanin jersey, so maybe the fact that it's organic had something to do with it. (It is awfully soft.)

I actually love the dark gray so much that I'm dyeing up an AC remnant with the tansy/iron mix right now. I hope there's enough to make a t-shirt.

Also, I'm messing around with swatches in part to prepare for a natural dyeing workshop I'm giving at the Peabody Essex Museum in January or February. Super-excited about that -- it's for all ages, and if I can get little kids (and their parents) excited about plants and/or textiles, I'll be happy.

Monday, August 10, 2015

MPB Day 2015

MPB Day!

We (Peter, my husband Tom, Lisa, James, Kate, and a few others) met at Blue Dog Coffee in the morning. I love their iced coffee, but the dude forgot our orders! Also I don't have a picture of Lisa's dress this year. Sad.

At the flea market, I found this amazing Hussein Chalayan jacket at the flea market. (With attached hat!)

Full disclosure: I've been fascinated with Hussein Chalayan since I saw this article. It makes me want to get the basics down so I can make excellent modular clothing. He's amazing. (Did I already say that? I did. Well, there you go.)

I'm also totally enamored with this jacket because it's practical for New England weather. I can totally wear it to Old Sturbridge Village when it's chilly but sunny and flip the hat up. Or take it on the ferry. Win!

Lisa's find:

Man, I love that flea market.

Also, here's Peter and Enrique of Enrique Sews with their me-mades. I can't get over Enrique's tie and shirt! And Peter's polo! I'm so impressed with their shirtmaking skills, seriously. One of these days...

Then we went to the FIT museum. Here's Peter (with arm extended) welcoming everyone:

There was an exhibit on global fashion and I freaked out at the Belgians. Again.

L to R: Ann Demuelemeester, Walter van Beirondock, Dries van Noten, A.F.  Vandevorst

I freaked out especially at the A.F. Vandevorst (the one on the right) and the drape (or lack of it) constructed partly out of wire. Dang.

(Another full disclosure: When I was between work gigs a couple of years ago, I went to Antwerp, mostly for the fashion—okay, and the waffles and chocolate and beer—and it was amazing. I'll post pictures one of these days.)

Also I was impressed with this, from the South Korean section.

Especially the one on the left. (I need to look up the designer.) The cohesiveness of the entire outfit. Those tights!

Then we went to Panera for lunch. Where I admired James's (of Craft Space Continuum's) bag made out of a dog food bag:

Close-up (I love the placement):

And I acquired a shitload of patterns:

I especially loved the one on the right, a Vogue Individualist pattern, which is very '80s and voluminous in its original incarnation. But I love the cowl neck and the seamed belt. I spent the bus ride home trying to figure out how to work the cowl neck into a standalone top.

And then we went fabric shopping. I was a little sad because I blew most of my fabric shopping budget on the Hussein Chalayan jacket (totally worth it, though). But as it turned out, Paron's had a free remnant bin!

Everything except the fabric on the very far left was in the free bin! Most of it was half a yard or more. L to R: linen silk (which I stalked at Paron's last year on MPB Day), white linen, glittery lace, printed silk, green velvet, black poly (3 yards, or enough for at least one dress), two pieces of wool suiting, another silk print, and a poly print (two full panels, and I'm in love with the print).

For the printed silk, I'm thinking M6926. They're just about the right size to pair with a lace yoke. (I'm working on a M6926 now and wanted to have it done in time for MPB Day but I ran out of time.)

At Mood, I looked at, but did not buy, this neoprene:

I love the print, but it's a fairly small panel with a lot of white in between. I had interesting conversations with MPBers and a Mood staffer about possible ways of working with it (block it with  white, block it with black, etc.) but decided to hold off for now. I might still buy it online.

I also gawked at the pink donut neoprene, which I've been stalking online for like the last month— as well as this floral neoprene. Supposedly neoprene is on the way out (that's what Harper's Bazaar said, anyway), but I refuse to believe it.

Also I met a lot of lovely people and should have exchanged contact information! (If we met, please feel free to leave yours!)

On Sunday, Tom and I went to Bloomingdale's, because when we lived in NY, I worked part-time in the girls' department back when I was trying to make it in the extremely glamorous world of freelance copyediting.

Not much has changed (on the girls' floor, anyway).

Also, there's now a Magnolia Bakery outpost on the first floor, which is exciting.

We also ate a lot at the Japanese deli around the corner from our hotel. (No pictures, sadly.) I don't miss a lot about NY, but I sure do miss the food and the shopping.

So that's it. I have to thank Peter for being such a fantastic host -- I look forward to MPB every year and it's so much fun. Thanks, Peter!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Sewaholic Renfrew

I jumped on the bandwagon (finally) and made two Renfrews.

This is a wearable muslin in performance fabric:

I've started using performance fabric (the kind you can wash in the sink and hang up to dry overnight)  for t-shirt experiments in an attempt to build up my travel wardrobe. I think this is from Osgood Textile in Springfield; it's fairly thick and substantial (and comfortable), and much better quality than the stuff I got at Jo-Ann. (Sorry, Jo-Ann.) It's the same fabric I used to make the Beginner's Dressmaking boatneck shirt.

Side rant: I'm really tired of travel clothing companies that seem to think that a woman's travel wardrobe needs to consist of pastel-pink button-down short-sleeved shirts. SO MUCH PASTEL. Soooo many short sleeves. Because apparently traveling is only for warm outdoorsy things and not, like, cities in cold climates in the off-season or anything.

Related: Last week I was at Kittery Trading Post and ran across a scoop-neck, princess-seamed, quick-dry travel shirt from a company I like, and would have pounced on it...except it was neon orange. Because that sure won't make you look like a tourist.

Second version, in the abstract bicycle knit from Grey's Fabrics:

I kind of hyperventilated the whole time I was making this, because I really like this print and didn't want to screw it up.

About the pattern, well, there's not much to say that hasn't already been said. I sewed a straight size 10, and it was a relatively quick sew (3-4 hours, but I'm slow). I like the mix-and-matchability; I combined the scoopneck from view A and the short sleeves from view B, which worked great. I don't have a serger, so reinforced just about every seam with zigzag stitching. The only difficult part was easing the neckband; no matter what I did, it was much shorter than the neckline. I did what I could, but it still doesn't quite lie flat.

But it's wearable. I think. I hope, because I wore it and the muslin to Quebec City and they're both coming with me to Orlando if we go in August.

Me and the shirt and my favorite form of transportation:

"Put on the helmet," Tom said. All righty. Don't take the pic while I'm cracking up, though.

Thanks, Tom.
I have one worry about this shirt's future: I've washed it once and hung it up to dry, and the black is already fading. :( DON'T LEAVE ME YET, ABSTRACT BICYCLES.

The pattern, though, is great. I plan on making it again, and using the scoop neck and neck band on  other t-shirt patterns. Now if I could just find some good easing instructions!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015


The Alabama Chanin jacket that I saw at the workshop is now for sale on their site as a one-off.

You can't see it, but I'm drooling over here. Put down the credit card and back away slowly...

Monday, June 22, 2015

three things make a post

1. I went to Staples and printed 7 patterns from the new Alabama Chanin book. Total cost: $50. Here's Harley, guarding them for me on the guest bed.

I plan to spend the week tracing and muslining (especially the A-line and tank dress patterns, as well as the fitted dress pattern from the previous book) so I can compare the fit and figure out which  version to make.

There seems to be an error in the A-line pattern -- the back piece shows the hemlines for the top, tunic, dress and long dress, but the front piece only shows the hemline for the top. It's an easy fix (I just laid the back piece over the front piece and traced the hemline), but still weird.

I'm sort of mulling over the idea of making an Alabama capsule wardrobe -- a dress or two, a jacket to wear as a cardigan (I've tried on an actual AC cardigan and it was too short for me), and maybe a skirt.

2. I went to Quebec City last weekend! And it was great!

Not a lot of sewing/crafting stuff to report, but I saw these reverse appliquéd dresses in a gift shop and thought they were really cute.

The neon-green-and-orange one especially.

It was actually pretty well-constructed, with two rows of stitching around the neckline. Also cute!

I also bought a ridiculous par of shoes from the best shoe store on earth.

And on the way home, we stopped by Johnson, Vermont, to see...

3) Johnson Woolen Mills!

I've had a minor obsession with this place ever since I bought a flannel-lined winter coat (OK, two) from them at the Big E a few years ago. They're one of the few woolen mills—if not the last—in New England. They also make excellent bags and blankets and stuff. And their wool wears like iron.

Pics are bad because the lighting was bright, sorry.


The mill itself wasn't open to the public (wahhhh), but I consoled myself with some fabric shopping.

I bought two yards of a gray-and-purple houndstooth. I couldn't resist taking a picture of the cutting table.

Now I need to learn how to make a coat!

Monday, June 1, 2015

addendum and outtakes: Boston city guide

My Boston city guide is up in this month's issue of Seamwork.

Disclaimer: I revisited most of the places on the list (and went to a few new ones) to get the most up-to-date information. I didn't revisit the museums—we go a couple of times a year, and they don't change, really. And I have to admit I've never been to O Ya—although it shows up A LOT on Best of Boston lists and it's the place to go if you want to get fancy, so I had to include it. I hear the fish is especially good. 

I also met a ton of really nice people (hi, proprietor at Newbury Yarns! I need to learn to knit now) and added to my stash. (Shocking, I know.)

Also, I didn't include some of the usual Boston sights like Fanueil Hall, the Freedom Trail, Fenway, etc., because you can find that stuff anywhere. If you have questions, though, feel free to ask, and I'll answer if I can.

AND I should thank my husband Tom for driving to some of the out-of-the-way places and coming with me on the SoWA trip. You know it's love when you say, "Hey, want to go fabric shopping?" and he says yes. 

Okay, enough disclaiming. Outtakes/fun stuff that happened along the way:
  • Discovering December Thieves. I visited both shops—in SoWa (by Grey's Fabrics and the other crafty shops) and in Beacon Hill. I loved the clothing in particular—it's very AllSaints/Rundholz/Marcy Tilton, if that's your thing. 
  • My husband at Marie Galvin: "This is awesome." Weeks later, out of all the places we visited, he's still talking about it. (Which is understandable. Her hats and headbands are amazing. If you're looking for one nice souvenir to take home, you could do worse.)
  • Going to Fabric Place Basement for the first time. At least three locals have recommended it to me over the years (quilting lady at Topsfield Fair: "You HAVE to go there. It's FABULOUS."), and they were right. It's enormous and there's a ton of apparel fabric, including flannel-lined denim, which I've never ever seen in a fabric store.
  • Guy at Fabric Place Basement: "You should see the Monique Lhullier I just got in! It's three hundred dollars a yard!" (I chickened out.)
  • The button table at Fabric Place Basement. (I cannot say enough good things about Fabric Place Basement.)

  • Important note about Fabric Place Basement directions: It's in a strip mall, and you have to drive around the back to get there. It's next to Guitar Center.
  • Finding this abstract bicycle knit at Grey's. I got the last yard and a half.

  • Finding this wacky satin-ish-with-polka-dots fabric at Winmil. It needs to be a dress; I just need to find the right pattern.

  • Fine, I'll show you what I got at Fabric Place Basement. It'll be a work shirt. Yes, I like polka dots.
Luckily, Seamwork has a whole story on how to print polka dots on knits.

Good Lord, I do go on.

Okay, I wanted to mention a few places that got cut for one reason or another (mostly for space).
  • Peabody Essex Museum, Salem: Asian, maritime, and contemporary art. (I volunteer there.)
  • Made in Fort Point: Looks like they moved, and I wasn't able to visit the new location in time...so it got cut. :(
  • Louis Boston: Ye olde famous high-end Boston department store. It's been around for 80 years...AND IT'S CLOSING. I am sadpants.
  • Viola Lovely: Near Grey's and the other SoWA shops. 
  • Priemlov: Local designer who's a friend of a friend. I like her stuff a lot.
  • MIT Press Bookstore: For the science nerds among us. I didn't have time to revisit it, but it's one of my favorite secret bookstores. 
  • Seed Stitch Fine Yarns: Also closing. :(
I think that's it for now, but I'll add more stuff as it comes up.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Alabama Chanin workshop

We were already planning to go to NY over Memorial Day weekend, mostly to visit some old haunts that were closing (you'll be missed, Pearl River Mart and Salvor Kiosk). Then I found out that Natalie Chanin was hosting two sewing workshops and a book signing...on Thursday, two days before we were supposed to leave. So I exchanged my train tickets and found a hotel and arranged to work remotely for two days. I mean, what else could I do?

The workshop was held at LF8, a nifty boutique in the East Village.

There's not much you can do in two hours (and we didn't sew much, just a bit in the end), but it was a great introduction to AC materials and methods. Natalie talked about the physics of sewing, the properties of various textiles (did you know that silk from silkworms is perfectly triangular? I didn't), and the basics of hand-sewing. We practiced stitching on swatches and she walked us through the process of reverse appliquéing the projects in our DIY kits, included with the workshop.

(I got the A. Chanin v-neck t-shirt, and let me tell you, it's the softest thing ever. I never want to take it off.)

I loved having the chance to ask questions, and I loved her anti-perfectionism rants. ("Sometimes, when I look down at the skirt I'm wearing, I'll see a stitch I messed up and say, 'Hello, old friend.'") It's a nice change from Absolute Perfection Copyeditorland, where I currently spend most of my time. I will screw up garments! And that's OK!

Also, she had a bunch of test swatches on hand, so you could see the various techniques close-up. They also had several AC garments for sale, including this jacket, which kept calling to me from across the room. (Pardon the glare; there was a bright light right over the rack.)

Parallel whipstitch and felled seams
Let me tell you, that thing was heavy-duty. It felt like it was made to last decades.

I also fell in love with this blazer with a double collar, appliqué, and ruffles.

The ruffle was attached with cross-stitching. 

I will attempt to make that at some point, someday, in my dreams.

Aside from that, I spent the weekend doing epic amounts of walking, shopping, and eating (SO MUCH GOOD FOOD—I had a $12 egg sandwich and didn't even mind; it was delicious). Visited Salvor Kiosk one last time, since they're closing in July.

Of all the random little boutiques in New York, this is my favorite. It carries anonymously designed practical things from different countries, like grocery bags from Germany and metal clips from Japan. I bought a small Japanese carpenter's knife and I regret nothing.

One more Alabama thing: I spent the train ride back practicing various stitches and stuff on my swatch, and decided to go with outside reverse appliqué for the next project. (And, yes, I ordered more fabric when I got home. I regret nothing.)

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

adventures in t-shirt making (and my new favorite book)

At the Worcester Sewing Expo a few weeks ago, I bought a book called The Beginner's Guide to Dressmaking on impulse, as well as a ton of bamboo knit from Vogue Fabrics. The haul:

How could I pass up an Animal appliqué? 
The book's t-shirt pattern caught my eye because I'm perpetually on the lookout for a decent not-too-fitted, not-too-loose t-shirt with interesting details. (Which is hard to find. As much as I love Alabama Chanin, their fitted tops are a little tight—and the Vogue top I just muslined is enormous.) This one is just drapey enough, with a boatneck and sleeve bands. And only two pattern pieces!

I loved the variations, too.

In fact, the variations on every project (there's an asymmetrical moto jacket, as well as skirts and a shift dress) are pretty great. You can make the dress with or without sleeves and add collars and/or pockets to just about everything.

And I couldn't pass up the fabric; I'm a sucker for stripes and polka dots and thought it might be fun to get a yard or two of each to mix and match. Still working on the fitting, but overall, I like it! I also made a version in navy performance fabric as a wearable muslin.


Navy wearable muslin. I need a haircut.
Red polka dot with striped sleeves

Striped with polka-dot sleeves (neckline not quite cleaned up the way it should be)
You know what I really love about this book? The pattern pieces are so easy to read. Everything is color-coded and the font is huge. The t-shirt pattern is a little hard to see—it's light gray—but, overall, kudos for accessibility!

I'm definitely trying every pattern in this book (except maybe the fishtail skirt pattern—not really my thing).

PR review for posterity:

Pattern Description:

The Beginner's Guide to Dressmaking boatneck t-shirt.

Pattern Sizing: 

1-5 (1 is an extra-small, I'm assuming). I made the 3 based on my measurements.

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


Were the instructions easy to follow?

Yes, mostly. (I'm thrown by any book that instructs you to "machine" instead of "stitch.") It does instruct you to use different seam allowances for each piece, which is a little confusing.

What did you particularly like or dislike about the pattern?

Love the drapey fit, the boatneck, the sleeve bands, and love that it's only two pattern pieces. TWO!

Dislike the different seam allowances, and I think there might be an error. The overall instructions say to use a 5/8 inch allowance for everything, except 3/8 inch around the armhole. But then they tell you to sew the sleeve bands together using a 3/8 inch allowance. (Which I did, and it worked out fine.)

Fabric Used:

Bamboo knit from Vogue Fabrics in Evanston, IL, purchased at the Worcester Sewing Expo.

Pattern alterations or any design changes you made:

No fitting changes, but I half-assed the seam allowances on the neckline and hem (just turned them up/down till they looked right).

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



The t-shirt I've been looking for. Will definitely make again!