Harley helps.

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

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!

Friday, May 1, 2015

addendum: dyeing with plants

So my article on dyeing with plants is in the latest issue of Seamwork, and I thought I'd post some pictures and stuff from my own projects (because I think Colette Patterns is using their own artwork).

Here's what coreopsis tinctoria (aka dyer's coreopsis) looks like in the garden. I plant this every year from Old Sturbridge Village seeds; they package their own, and they grow fan-freaking-tastically in our backyard. OSV also has a dye garden, if you're ever in Massachusetts and want to see some plants up close and personal-like. They also have a couple of great textile exhibits and do a Textile Days weekend every year.

I love these guys. They're so cheery.

And I always wind up with a ton of them, so I don't mind harvesting a bunch for the dyepot. ;)

I used a camp stove with a propane tank in the backyard for awhile, which was pretty fun.

Fabric dyeing in progress, using wool from Weircrafts.com, a dollmaking supplies site. (As I mentioned in the article, lots of people dye yarn, but I don't knit...yet...so I use lengths of fabric instead.) Coreopsis makes a really strong dyebath. I've messed around with different mordants and only ever seem to get orange and yellow from it.

Here's the finished dyed wool, rinsed and drying on my fence. The color lightens a bit as it dries.

That looks...ugly. What can I say?

And here's a finished project, Cation Designs' All-Purpose Plushie. The left critter uses wool dyed using purple basil, the right with coreopsis.

Purple basil is a giant pain in the butt to dye with -- you have to use a lot of plants and the color comes out fairly faint -- but I do love the color, so I'm trying it again this year. (Speaking of which: I'm planning to post dye experiments here and over on my Pinterest board.)

So that's it! Thanks for reading, and if you have any questions, let me know in the comments. I'll answer if I can.