Harley helps.

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

Monday, October 24, 2016


We said goodbye to him this weekend.

I miss him a lot. Hunkered down in the window, snoozing in the sewing room, stalking heating vents, chasing his tail... the house feels weird and empty without him.

Our other cat, Cinders, knows something's up, and she seems pretty unsettled. So am I.

I'm setting up a memorial space in his sleeping spot in the sewing room, with his blankets and a toy and the ridiculous baby t-shirt the vet asked us to make him wear (which he hated). It had some patriotic baseball thing on the front, and I wish I could have snapped a picture of his expression when we first put it on him. What the hell, person?

He was so funny -- the type of cat that took everything extremely seriously, until he didn't.

Going through my photos, it's amazing how many of them are sewing-related. He was always there! He loved sitting on fabric and paper patterns (especially PDFs, as I was trying to tape them up), and watching me thread needles. (String, person. STRING.)

The ridiculous baby t-shirt:

And my all-time favorite picture of him:

I'll miss you, buddy.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

V1510 progress, dyeing with purple basil, and other stuff


1. I'm making slow progress on view A of V1510. Slow because Harley the cat is still sick (his cancer is progressing, unfortunately), and this keeps happening:

Me: Hey Harley, want to go work on the dress?
Harley: I have a better idea. How about I curl up on your chest and go to sleep?

...or this?
I like the dress so far, though. (I'm doing the tunic version, but it's long enough to be a dress on me.) And how did I not know that Sandra Betzina's instructions are fantastic?

2. I'm totally drooling over Dries van Noten spring 2017, especially this coat:

I need this! Where can I find a giant floral print?

3. I dyed some fabric with purple basil. Did some cotton (including an overdye on a tansy/iron mix I wasn't crazy about), and then threw some wool and silk into the exhaust dyebath. I simmered each batch for several hours, then let it sit for 1 or 2 days.

Result: two totally different colors. Plants, you are so weird.

Purple basil, you smell SO GOOD

Soaking cotton
Final results

Left: Cotton, definitely purple. The bottom is the overdyed Alabama Chanin fabric. I might redye the cotton on the top to try and get a deeper color.
Right: Wool and silk in bright yellow bordering on chartreuse. WHAT.

4. We went to the Big E last weekend — New England's epic multi-state fair. It's so big that it takes two full days to see everything. My favorite building (well, aside from Vermont) is the New England Center, which has the the competition quilts, fiber projects and crafts. Some of my favorites this year:

RIP, Cecil
The Death Star quilt was really amazing up close.
A knitted electric guitar!
Hi, Amelia.
I had a fun conversation there with a woman who was hand-quilting some pieces from her brother-in-law's mother's (?) stash -- mostly pieces from the '40s and '50s. (I didn't get a picture; wish I would have asked.)

We were chatting about hand-sewing, and she said, "You know, those embroidery machines do a fabulous job, but why should the machine have all the fun?" My thoughts exactly.

Also, we saw someone making silk from cocoons — ! She had a little crockpot set up, and walked us through the process from beginning to end. She also had a shawl that she'd spun, dyed, and knitted herself. I really should have taken photos.

On Sunday, we went to one of my favorite fabric stores, Osgood Textile in West Springfield. I love Osgood -- it's enormous and I always find something interesting there.

When it's home dec, but you absolutely, positively must make a dress out of it.
That's about it for now. Time to go check on the cat!


Monday, September 12, 2016

I don't get it

Two things are kind of ticking me off this week:

1. Gwyneth Paltrow's extremely expensive GOOP "basics." Made in Italy, and she says they're "luxurious ready-to-wear at a direct-to-consumer price." The tagline is Buy Now, Wear Now, Keep Forever. Hahahahahaha. Let's take a quick look at the fabric content of that affordable $695 blazer:

37% wool, 29% acrylic, 22% polyester, 6% nylon, 5% silk, 1% elastane. I'm guessing that acrylic/poly/nylon isn't all in the lining. Which means it's going to pill like crazy, no?

(FWIW, I have a similar blazer from the Gap. It's ~10 years old (wait, no, it's around 20! holy shit, I am old), 100% wool, and still holding up great. It was also less than $695, I'm pretty sure.

2. This story's been making the rounds over the past few days, and the comments are driving me up the wall. I'm really tired of (presumably) well-off women instructing each other to buy less, by which they mean saving up and buying high-end designer clothes, because they last longer.


And steam comes out of my ears every time these same clueless people declare that those on a limited budget should "just save up and buy better clothes." I just don't even know what to say about that. (Wait, I do, but I'm not posting it here).

I'd sure love to know how many of those $695 blazers are going to be around in 5 years. (Answer: All of them, in a bale somewhere, because polyester takes decades to decompose!)

Thursday, September 1, 2016

fabric shopping in Amsterdam

The Seamworker's Guide to Amsterdam is up!

I found out that Amsterdam — like Antwerp — is a really great source for knits. Especially sweatshirt fabric. (I'm really regretting not buying some as I get ready for fall sewing!)

I loved Noordermarkt — it was like an open-air Mood, just stalls and stalls of every fabric you can imagine, lots of them organized by type: gingham, lace, etc.

Albert Cuypstraat was like a New York street fair, with off-brand socks and makeup, food trucks, and — unlike most New York street fairs — fabric stalls (and permanent fabric shops behind them).

Also, I stumbled onto a hippie restaurant with no set prices — at the end, the cashier told me to "pay what you feel or pay what you think."

I laughed, but the food was very good. And they had cucumber-lemon-orange infused water.

On the way back, I stumbled across an amazing shop called Sprmrkt. The entrance was filled with trees, so it felt like you were walking through a forest.

They carried men's and women's Vetements, Damir Doma, Rick Owens...OF COURSE I stumbled across this place at the end of our trip, when I was out of spending money. OF COURSE.

Still fun to browse, though.

But I think Tinctoria was my favorite place. The owner's been naturally dyeing fabrics for 25 years. I was completely gobmacked by the colors — they were rich and deep and changed with the light. It kind of spoiled me for all other fabric shopping, and made me want to use naturally dyed, sustainably produced fabrics from now on, whenever possible.

She knew so much about dyeing — especially chemistry and working with hard-to-use dyes — and I was kicking myself after I left because I really should have asked more questions. At one point, she said, "So of course I pretreated it with soy milk..." and I nodded and went "uh huh" as if I totally knew what she was talking about, and of course I totally didn't. I have so much to learn.

She also recommended Dominique Cardon's books and mentioned a conference that takes place every few years in France (I think). So there's my rabbit hole.

SO. Here's my final haul:

Top to bottom:

  • Ikat remnant from Capscium Natuurstoffen — destined for a skirt or maybe a fancy bag
  • Polka-dot oilcloth from Maastricht (oilcloth is all over the Netherlands too!)
  • My favorite piece: Madder-dyed orangey-red hemp from Tinctoria (or, as Leentje politely called it, "your brick.") Haven't quite decided what to do with it yet. Was thinking about a jacket; wish I knew how to make sneakers.
Additional bits and bobs from the remnant bin:

Two pieces of velvet (the one on the right was dyed with weld, I think), two pieces of hand-printed linen. She'd written her dyeing recipe on the blue one.

I could post more pictures (so, so many more pictures, you guys), but I'll stop here for now. :)

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Marcy Tilton sparklies

First, thank you for all the kind comments on my Alabama Chanin dress! I really appreciate it. Still mulling over whether to lengthen or shorten...I'm leaning toward shorten. Should be able to spare a couple of inches!

In next-make news: I requested some metallic linen swatches from Marcy Tilton for V1510.  They came super-fast -- I sent the request Friday and just got them today.

I kind of love them all: 

I can't decide which color to get. Leaning toward Hematite (in the middle), but I like the silver ones too.

I also asked about more metallic linen, and they sent this note:

MORE SPARKLIES. They know me!

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

completed: Alabama Chanin fitted dress

Yeah, I can't believe I'm saying that either! It's going to be a long post, so here we go.

Design choices

  • Size and alterations: Straight size medium, with neckline raised a few inches and made into a scoop neck; the original v-neck is really deep
  • Fabric and thread: Alabama Chanin medium-weight cotton jersey — top layer in Sand, bottom layer in Dark Grey (only Dark Grey is currently available on their site) — and red craft/button thread
  • Stencil: Anna's Garden
  • Paint: Tulip fabric paint in Black, watered down and applied with an airbrush
  • Embellishment: Outside reverse applique -- in which you stitch slightly outside each shape and then cut out the shape exactly on the lines
  • Stitch type: Straight stitch for outlining and construction, Cretan stitch for binding
Here's how it looks on me:

Hanging up:

I picked the color scheme after seeing it in a sample book at the two-hour workshop in New York last year. (Highly recommend either ordering the color cards or checking out their sample cards in person if you're interested in doing a big project.) Someone at the workshop pointed out that high-contrast colors tend to work really well in Alabama Chanin patterns; I tend to agree.

Once again, I need to sing the praises of Alabama Chanin's medium-weight organic cotton. It's by far the best cotton I've ever worked with — strong, stable, and extremely soft. I've bought cheaper cotton from other sources and nothing compares. Buy the cheapie stuff for muslins (or use old t-shirts) and save your hard-earned cashola for their 20% off sales.

The #1 question people ask: How long did it take?

Eight months, give or take. I started back in December 2015, with a deadline of MPB Day, and worked on it pretty steadily, except for a three-week trip to the Netherlands (where I was still able to knock out a few shapes). Each panel took four to six weeks; final construction and binding took just over a week.

I'll spare you the list of stuff we binge-watched while I worked on this, but let me say that we watched all seven seasons of Buffy just about twice. (We have long, boring winters in New England.)

The #2 question: Why would you hand-stitch an entire garment?

As I was telling Peter at MPB Day, my first thought when I first heard about the Alabama Chanin method of hand-stitching entire garments was, "Is she crazy? We have machines!"

But I fell in love with the aesthetic — hand-sewn garments look really different from machine-sewn. The seams are slightly puckered; the edges are raw; you'll wind up with lots and lots of imperfections. And that's okay!

(As Natalie said during the two-hour workshop, at some point in the reverse appliqué process, you will screw up and cut through the back layer of fabric. What should you do to fix it? "I don't know," she said, "call attention to it. Sew a bead on it or something." Words to live by.)

I'm gonna fix that hem, though.
Also, I found hand-stitching garments to be really mellow and relaxing. I missed it when I wasn't able to do it (I'm missing it now that this project is done!), and it's portable entertainment on planes/trains/buses. And when keeping an eye on convalescing cats.


If you've read the books, you know there are five steps to the process:
  • Prepping/cutting
  • Stenciling
  • Embellishing
  • Construction
  • Binding
I found Natalie's Craftsy class to be really helpful when it came to stitching and cutting. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to be available anymore, so I've included some of her tips below.


I made a muslin first in a size medium to check the fit. To cut the final dress pieces, I laid the top-layer piece on top of the bottom-layer piece to make sure they matched up and used my trusty magnifying glass to check the grain. I then chalked around the pattern pieces, removed them, and then cut out each fabric piece with scissors.

The book recommends basting around the neckline and armholes. I suggest basting (or at least pinning) at the sides too, because the fabric tends to shift as you work your way down.


Whoo, this was tough. I did some test swatches (and even a test dress), but had a really hard time keeping the paint from bleeding outside the lines. Eventually I figured out that the best ratio was half fabric paint to half water — but it still came out blotchy and uneven. Maybe real airbrush paint is the way to go.

What I learned:
  • Tape the stencil on top of the fabric with just a few pieces of painter's tape, and use something very flat (like kraft paper) underneath. That way it's easy to pull up when you're done.
  • Push down on the airbrush trigger (not up, jeez)
  • After airbrushing, blot the excess paint with a paper towel, then immediately (gently) pull the stencil up and away from the fabric. Hang it right away on a towel rack.


In her Craftsy class, Natalie recommends using longer stitches, taking them two at a time. That saved my sanity! I also found that if the thread is twisted when you first pull it through, you can tug on the knotted end to straighten it out.

I found it really difficult to stitch outside the lines of each shape without stitching really close to (or on top of) other shapes. Haven't figured out how to address this yet. Also, the top layer seemed to pucker and contract a bit as I went. (It looks this way in some pieces in the books too, though.) This could affect the sizing, I imagine.

Cutting the shapes out was the most difficult part. I used a brand-new pair of Fiskars embroidery scissors and still had trouble getting really clean edges, especially on corners. I welcome any tips — I might email Alabama to see if they have any! Also, Natalie had one great tip from the Craftsy class: Don't go in with the scissor tips down. Hold the fabric horizontally and slightly pull the two layers of fabric apart before making a small snip horizontally in the top layer. You're less likely to cut through the bottom layer of fabric that way.



Pretty straightforward. As with all AC projects, I did two rows of straight stitching on each seam to close up any gaps, taking as small stitches as possible.

Because the top layer contracted a bit as I went, I first outlined the seam edge of the "real" top layer with pins, then used that as a guide to pin the two top layers right sides together before stitching. (I wish I had a picture so that would make more sense!)


I used this tutorial for the Cretan stitch. Almost have the hang of it!


After construction, I pressed the whole thing — especially the binding — then washed it on the delicate cycle in a washbag. I don't know if the pressing did anything, but I thought I read somewhere that it "sets" the thread? Even on knit fabric? Y/N?

I've washed it twice now and so far it seems to be holding up. It dries pretty much overnight!

What it's like to wear

The book suggests going with a snug fit, because over time the jersey will relax and conform to your body. I agree — at first it felt too snug, but it's already loosened up a lot. I might even need to do some restitching because it feels too loose up top!

I've seen some reviewers on PR say that it's not comfortable having the knots against their skin. It doesn't really bother me, but you can feel it. I guess you could always wear a slip or a tank top underneath.

I found it to be surprisingly comfortable in hot weather (even in a NY heatwave), but it's heavy enough that I think it would work for fall or winter, too.

My favorite comment so far was from a guy at Mood who yelled at me halfway down the aisle, "Excuse me! Is that Alabama Chanin?" I said, "Yes," and he said, "That's what I thought! Nice work." :)

Final thoughts

I'm not totally thrilled with my paint and stitching on this first dress, but overall, I think I like it.

I might make a couple of additional edits (cutting or lengthening the uneven bottom, tightening the center seam a bit, and fixing the left shoulder, which is a bit loose — that means undoing and then redoing the binding, though).

The finished piece feels really solid and substantial. Strong fabric + strong thread = strong dress. This is not something I'm going to need to donate in a year — it feels like it'll really hold up.

I want to keep going, expand my skill set and improve my hand-stitching and cutting. Eventually I'd like to make an Alabama Chanin capsule wardrobe — I'm thinking two more dresses (one for summer, so not fully embellished), leggings, a light underskirt and a blazer. I wish they had a blazer pattern, but I've found a Vogue pattern that I think will work.

My hands are already missing this project. I need to start the next one!

Please feel free to comment if you have any questions or tips!