Sewing Room Reflection: Beginnings

For many people, spring is the time of year when they think most of new beginnings and fresh starts as the world turns from shades of white, gray and brown to greens, pinks and blues. For others, January first and New Year’s Resolutions trigger thoughts of starting afresh. For me, August says, “clean slate”. The new school year is always a time for me to begin with my best foot forward. Blank notebooks, a head full of ideas, a fresh routine, and new students all make me feel so positive about the year to come.

On a smaller scale, I feel the same way when I start a new sewing project. Instead of class rosters and sharpened pencils, I have yards of fabric and stylish patterns to represent this beginning. The sense of anticipation and openness is similar though. I get excited about diving into this experience, leaving behind any past disappointments or failures.

Sometimes I get in such a rush to get going on a new sewing project that I don’t stop to notice or savor the feeling. With limited sewing time, I get more caught up in making progress or sewing quickly. Instead I would like to slow myself down just enough to enjoy each step. I would prefer to be deliberate in my making, noticing how each step takes skill and brings me closer to my goal. I want to pause to appreciate the process of going from raw materials to finished garment. 

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Better than Basic Black Tee

Do you ever make up a sewing pattern in a knit even though it’s meant for woven, non-stretch fabrics? I have started to notice that I have a habit of doing that! (Here’s one example of where I did that in the past.) It has worked well for me, which must be why I keep doing it, but I find it’s a substitute that is best suited for certain types of knits and certain types of patterns. These are the guidelines that I generally follow:

  • Patterns: Most patterns can be adapted to work with a knit fabric, but I would not try to make a pattern that needs a lot of structure from a knit fabric. Also, you may need to make the pattern in a different, probably smaller, size than you normally would because you need less ease with knits.
  • Fabrics: I gravitate towards using medium to heavy weight knits, such as ponte and double knits, because they more closely mimic the way woven fabrics hold their shape.
  • Adaptations: It’s important to do a little advance planning when you decide to use a different fabric than what’s recommended. Often, it’s possible to leave off closures like zippers. Or it might be necessary to use a different type of interfacing or seam finishes than the pattern instructions recommend. It’s a good idea to test these things out first.

Here’s a recent project where making the switch from woven to knit fabric worked beautifully.

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When I bought this black knit off the remnant table, I wasn’t sure what it would become, but I think I picked a good style for the drape and weight of this fabric. The pattern is Simplicity 1879, view B, from the Lisette collection. (If you’ve ever seen the Oliver & S pattern line design by Liesl Gibson, you should check out this line of patterns from Simplicity. I want to make them all!) I did have to shorten the sleeves because I was short on fabric, but other than that I made no changes. I made my usual size and followed all the instructions, which were well written. I love how the neckline yoke and the sleeves connect to the bodice. It’s very flattering.

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Design/Pattern: Simplicity 1879, view B

Materials: black mystery knit, black bias tape, matching thread

Techniques:

  • serged seams
  • gathered bodice
  • double-stitched hems
  • raglan sleeves

Alterations/Changes: shortened the sleeve length

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I’ve called this top “better than basic” because it’s just as comfortable and simple to throw on with anything as a black t-shirt is, but it’s got a more unique style. It goes great with jeans for an everyday, casual look or with a skirt and scarf for a more dressed up look. I’ve wanted to wear this top immediately after it’s been washed, which is a good sign it fits perfectly into my wardrobe. I’m looking forward to coming up with great outfits centered around this new black tee.

Sewing Room Reflection: Quiet

I’ve been reading the book Quiet by Susan Cain. It’s about being an introvert, what that means in our culture and the strengths as well as the challenges that come with this personality type. It’s been a very interesting read; I highly recommend that introverts and extroverts alike pick up this book.

What does this have to do with sewing? Well, it started me wondering how many of us sewers are introverts and how we can use our personality type, whether quiet or outgoing, to enjoy our sewing time more.

I know that I can get totally absorbed in a sewing project and be totally content working by myself for hours on end. I also tend to start on one project and stick with it until it is finished. I very rarely have simultaneous sewing projects going on. These are typical work habits of an introvert.

(I don’t want to speak on behalf of extroverted sewers to say what kind of work habits they have. If you are an extrovert, please feel welcome to comment about how being an extrovert affects your sewing hobby.)

Taking the time to think about my introverted side has made me realize that some of my favorite sewing projects are ones where I really took my time to plan the project out and didn’t take any shortcuts on the construction. I was absorbed in and enjoyed the whole process of sewing, rather than just wanting to skip ahead to the finished product.

As I move toward the beginning of a new school year and have less time to devote to my hobbies, I want to remember what I’ve learned about myself from reading this book. First of all, I need to give myself the time and space to sew. I need a quiet hobby that recharges me after a day or week of teaching teenagers because teaching, while I enjoy it because of how much I value education and its power to transform lives, uses all of my energy since I have to exude more and be more outgoing than I am naturally inclined to be. There’s not a lot of quiet, individual work time during a typical school day!

Secondly, I ought to plan out my sewing projects and sewing time so that I can enjoy the process fully without feeling like I have to accomplish a project in a certain time frame. I could maximize my enjoyment if I have all the supplies I need ready and waiting for when I have some sewing time. Doing my preparation for the next couple projects I have in mind will allow me to simply sit down and allow myself to become absorbed in the sound of my sewing machine.

Are you an introverted or extroverted sewer? How do you see your personality type come out in your sewing?

Stadium Purse

There is a baseball stadium in my neighborhood. My husband is a fan of the team (I am slowly learning to love baseball) and we often go to the games. For outings like this, I prefer to carry a bag that securely closes at the top so that nothing accidentally falls out when I put my purse under my seat. I also prefer to have a cross body strap so that I can easily keep track of where my purse is and also have my hands free. This little project does just the trick!

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This purse is basically a simple tote that I adjusted until it had all the features I wanted: zippered top, cross body strap, outer and inner pockets, simple but cute design, sturdiness, just big enough for the essentials plus my husband’s score book. I started out with two 12 inch squares, added a pocket to the front and inside, and made it stand out with some navy blue and red trim. The strap is cotton webbing that I sewed the same trim over. A zipper at the top, some lobster claw clasps to attach the strap and it was done!

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Design/Pattern: My own

Materials: heavy weight cotton canvas, 12″ zipper, 3 yards trim, 2 lobster claw clasps, two small rings, 1 yard cotton webbing

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Techniques:

  • double stitched seams for strength
  • pinked seam allowances
  • installed zipper
  • decorative trim
  • darted bag bottom

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When I first made this purse, I figured I would mostly just use it to go to baseball games or other outings where I want the things in my bag to be secure, but I have used it pretty consistently all summer. I have actually used it so much that it’s sitting on my washing machine right now waiting to be cleaned! Since making a couple canvas bags in the last year or so, that is quickly becoming my go-to fabric for bag-making. Canvas seems to look good and wear well no matter the style or size of the bag.

Pillows for Mom

I’m just popping in here today to show off what I made for my mom’s birthday gift. She had leftover fabric from having her living room curtains made and wanted some matching pillows. I had different amounts of each fabric to play with as I designed and made these, so I wanted each one to be unique.

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The top pillow has a covered button in coordinating fabric, giving the pillow a tufted effect. The middle pillow uses a striped fabric in different directions. The last pillow simply has a contrasting color band around the middle.

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This was just an easy little summer project that was fun to give to my mom. I know they are her style and will fit well in her home. Happy Birthday, Mom!

Sewing Room Reflection: Sharing Joy

Sewing is usually a solo activity for me. I get my sewing room set up for whatever project I’m working on, turn on the music I’m in the mood for, and I start creating. The vast majority of the time I’m sewing by myself because, out of my husband and I, I’m the only one who sews. To be perfectly honest, I like it this way. I don’t have to share my sewing machines, notions or fabric stash with anyone else.

The problem is, though, when you enjoy something as much as I enjoy sewing, you naturally want to share that joy with others. It’s probably best not to call something this positive a problem! It may be a challenge to find opportunities for sharing the love of creating through sewing, especially if you’re like me and mostly gravitate towards sewing items for your own wardrobe.

I was very fortunate to have one such opportunity this past week when my good friend, Katie, was in town. When we were planning her visit, I threw out a few different ideas for ways to spend time together and, on a whim, suggested doing a sewing project together. I was so glad when she liked that idea! From going to the fabric store to snipping the final thread, Katie and I had a wonderful day.

Katie chose to make a simple camisole top. Here’s her finished shirt:

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(I made a project too, but I’ll do a full post on that soon.)

The best part of choosing to spend her visit doing a project together was seeing the happiness on Katie’s face when she had her camisole finished. I have sewn so many different things in the past that the joy of seeing what I’ve made is muted, but Katie’s joy became my own when I saw how excited she was about what she’d made. My enjoyment of sewing was multiplied by sharing it with a friend.

This is a beautiful cycle, I think, and it can apply to almost any area of interest. Share or give away what you love and it always seems to come back to you in a greater measure. How do you share your enjoyment of sewing? When have you experienced something similar?

How to: Draft a Half-Circle Wrap Skirt

One of my most popular posts has been my half-circle wrap skirt. Maybe you’ve seen it and were secretly hoping for a how-to? Well, today would be your lucky day! I have prepared instructions for how to make your own half-circle wrap skirt pattern based on your own measurements. Once you have the pattern made, the sewing process is very simple. Add waistband ties, hem the edges and you’re done.

A couple notes:

  • These are only directions for how to make the pattern. Sewing instructions are not included, but I’d be happy to answer any sewing questions in the comments.
  • I didn’t include fabric requirements because you’re basing the pattern off of your personal measurements. However, two yards of 60 inch wide fabric is a good starting point for a knee length skirt.
  • This style works well with a variety of fabric types and will really play up the natural characteristics of the fabric you choose.
  • Since the skirt is a half circle most of it will hang on the bias, (diagonal from the selvedges) so it’s a good idea to let the skirt hang for a day before you hem it. This will allow the fabric to relax and then you can straighten up your hem before you stitch it. The bias cut also means it will look great on any body.
  • Hemming a curve can be tricky. I recommend using a very narrow hem allowance or using bias tape or hem tape to help you control the fullness.

Without further ado…how to draft a half-circle wrap skirt.

Draft a Half Circle Wrap Skirt

Sewing Room Reflection: Almost There

My mind this week has been preoccupied with how it feels to be almost there. You know what I mean. It can happen near the end of a long car ride. It happens in the sewing room when all that’s left is stitching the hem. It’s happening in my “garden” right now as I wait for tomatoes to ripen. You can just about see, taste, hear, smell and feel your reward. It’s a good feeling; one of anticipation and excitement.

I’ve been more concerned lately with what it’s like to have this feeling of being almost there interrupted. There’s a detour. A seam needs unpicked and re-sewn or the bobbin runs out. A storm breaks the heavy branches full of green fruit. What does being interrupted at this point in the process feel like? My gut reaction to this situation is to feel the opposite of anticipation and excitement; I feel disappointment and regret.

Once the sting of my initial reaction has faded, how do I move forward? There are certainly two paths laid out in front of me. I can keep driving, sewing or waiting. The alternative is to let the circumstances that were out of my control get the best of me. It can be very hard to hold on to those feelings of hope and enthusiasm that I started with, but I think that’s the better path.

I try to think of how my enjoyment of the final result will be multiplied by the struggle, how my patience will be rewarded, if I stay the course. But there’s no reward for giving in to the feelings of frustration. It’s, of course, okay to stop the car or take a break when the disappoint occurs, but I encourage everyone to keep the end in mind when you are stopped by something you can’t control.

Zip Top Lunch Bag

My husband and I both pack our lunches everyday. As school teachers we can’t leave the building to get lunch and the cafeteria offerings barely qualify as food. The only option we have for eating healthy, tasty food during our work day is if we bring it ourselves. Having a unique lunch bag that is the perfect size to fit inside our larger messenger bag (Peter) or tote bag (me) and that fits a balanced lunch and snack makes the habit more enjoyable and sustainable. This is Peter’s new lunch bag.

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As I was planning his new lunch bag, these were the goals I was trying to achieve:

  • quick & easy to make
  • interesting, yet masculine design
  • large enough to hold a couple small to medium size containers
  • sturdy, but softly structured so it could be folded up when empty

I think this fits those requirements quite well. It took me one afternoon to complete from cutting the canvas to snipping the last thread. The longest part of the process was probably making the decorative lines of stitching. I like the stitched lines detail a lot. I chose the colors because they are Peter’s school colors. This bag is also the perfect size for holding a container with a 2-3 cup capacity with enough room to add an apple or a baggie holding a snack. I made it from a heavy weight canvas. I didn’t line the bag because I didn’t think it would be necessary from a structural point of view, and it saved me quite a bit of time too.

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Design/Pattern: My own (it started out as two 12″ x 12″ rectangles of canvas; pretty simple stuff)

Materials: heavy weight cotton canvas, 12″ zipper, matching and contrasting thread

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Techniques:

  • double stitched seams for strength
  • pinked seam allowances
  • installed zipper
  • decorative top stitching
  • gusseted bag bottom

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I know I’m not quite ready to think about going back to school yet, but fun projects like this one make the transition a little easier. I also enjoy making things for my husband that I know he can use and enjoy. As others who sew for men know, there are fewer sewing project options that appeal to a male sense of style. It can be difficult to make a sewn gift for a man. Unless Peter is being too nice to say something, I think this one was a success.

Sewing Room Reflection: Personal Style

As a sewer and an avid reader, I spend a fair chunk of time reading others’ sewing websites, getting ideas and learning new things. One thing that gets me hooked on a particular site is the author’s personal style. Since most of what I sew is clothing, this aspect tends to draw me in first. As a reader though, it’s the writing that keeps me coming back.

I read and love blogs with varied writing styles, but one thing they all have in common is that the voice of the writer seems to accurately portray the author’s personal style. I think it adds to the sense of community and camaraderie that there is in the online sewing world.

This realization led me to think about my own writing style. What is my personal writing style? Does it match my real life personality? Does it match my sewing style?  I started to think about whether I was good at conveying my personality through my writing as well as through my sewing.

While I think my writing style is an accurate portrayal of my thoughts and style, I can’t help but compare myself to other bloggers and feel a bit of self-doubt. I feel that my writing style is rather different from the style favored by some very popular sewing bloggers. They write in a very bubbly, colloquial style that uses the second personal perspective a lot. I had to ask myself whether writing in a style more like theirs would help my blog gain readers.

I ultimately have decided that this wouldn’t be a good plan. Just like wearing clothing that doesn’t fit wouldn’t be comfortable, writing in a style that doesn’t suit me wouldn’t put me at ease.  My writing style is more bookish and formal than what might be popular. But that matches who I am.

I am a bookish person who gathers information about things that interest me and stashes it away like a chipmunk stuffing her cheeks. In large group conversations, I often realize late in the conversation that I’ve just been listening to everyone, yet I still feel like I was involved in the discussion. I make friends slowly and I don’t enjoy being the center of attention.

So I’ve decided that I’m going to let my writing style evolve naturally rather than try to mimic what’s trendy. It might mean that I gain online sewing friends more slowly or that I’m rarely the center of blogland’s attention. But I think it’s better this way. I’d rather have a smaller audience that is genuinely interested in what I have to say than a large audience that I have to try to keep entertained by putting on an act.

What do you think? Do you have a favorite blog that you like because of the writing style? Do you struggle with finding a comfortable writing style? How did you find a writing style that matched your personal style?