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. 

Hello Summer!

Summer is here! For me, the arrival of summer means it’s time to catch up on the sewing that during the school year I only have time to dream about. This is the kind of to-do list that I look forward to making and tackling! Here’s a glimpse at what’s on my summer sewing agenda:

1. Catch up on blogging. I have at least four posts to write for projects that I completed during May and didn’t have time to photograph or write about. Among those projects are two versions of Colette Patterns’ new Laurel, the veil I made for my sister’s wedding and my projects from TGIT at Urban Threads Studio.

2. Finish UFOs (unfinished objects) from the past year. I have a pair of breezy linen pants that I didn’t bother to finish once cool weather set in last fall. These should take me no more than one afternoon to finish up. I also have a tweed Chanel-style jacket that has been languishing for over a year because I have been a little intimidated by the project. It’s time now to dive into that project and face my sewing fears. (I’m not really afraid of the project, but it’s the kind of project that I don’t want to rush.)

3. Home sewing projects. I have a few home sewing projects that I want to complete this summer. First up is a set of cushions for my wooden rocking chair. After that I would like to make some kitchen items like dish towels, oven mitts and produce bags. My mom has also requested some pillows to match her living room curtains.

4. Dresses! It seems like there is always a dress I want to make and I have at least three in mind right now. The three I have in mind span from a casual sundress to a somewhat fancy party dress. I have fabric and a pattern picked out and purchased for the fancy dress, but no fabrics chosen for the others. That’s bound to change soon though.

Sorry I don’t have any pictures to go with this post. Hopefully describing my own summer sewing plans has given you a good mental picture of what you hope to accomplish this summer. I’d love to hear what you have planned!

How To: Corner Pocket Hot Pads

IMG_0066To go with my sister’s new fabric napkins, I also decided to use the scraps to make a set of hot pads. Here’s how I did it!

Gather your materials:

  • fabric scraps
  • 1 terry kitchen towel
  • thread

Take out your tools:

  • ruler
  • iron
  • pins
  • sewing machine
  • scissors

1. Cut two 5 inch fabric squares from your scrap fabric for the corner pockets. (Photos of each step appear after the written instruction.)

IMG_00572. Cut 2 inch wide fabric strips. You will need an approximately 40 inch long strip. The easiest way to do this is to make a snip into the selvedge and tear across the width of the fabric. Do this once at the very edge of the fabric to be sure you’re fabric grain is straight. Do this again 2 inches below the first snip. You can piece strips together to achieve enough length or even use purchased bias tape. (Sorry for the weird coloring of this picture. I’m not sure what happened and did the best I could to edit the coloring.)

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3. Cut your kitchen towel. I found that two 7 inch squares worked well for the size of my hand, but you could cut a larger or smaller square. I also, after trial and error, found that it was easiest to sew the binding if you trim off the towel’s edges because they are thicker than the terry cloth body of the towel.

IMG_00564. Fold your pocket squares in half to form triangles. Press and then edgestitch along the fold.

IMG_00595. Press the long edges of your strips to meet in the center to form binding. Use a pin to create nice, even-width binding. Stick a long pin into your ironing board cover, slide your fabric strip underneath with the folds in position, stick the other end of the pin into your ironing board cover on the other side of the fabric strip. Pull the fabric strip underneath the pin as you press it. (I recently read about this tip somewhere and have forgotten where. I used it for the first time with this project and found it easier and less fiddly than using a bias tape maker. I have a feeling that this technique will be my new favorite method of making binding.)

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6. Place the pocket triangles in two opposite corner of your towel squares; the stitched edges should be parallel to one another. Pin the binding strips around the towel/hot pad body. Tip: Be sure that a tiny bit more fabric extends to the bottom side of the towel/hot pad body so that as you stitch you are catching the top and bottom of the binding. At the corners, overlap the excess created by turning the corner. Leave extra binding extending.

IMG_00627. Stitch around all four sides, about 1/8 inch from the inner edge of the binding, to secure the binding around the hot pad. Start stitching about 2 inches from the beginning of the fabric binding (you’ll need the ends loose so you can sew them together a little later). At the corners, I found it somewhat difficult to be sure that I was catching both sides of the binding. This tip made it easier: Stitch past each corner by one or two stitches, then backstitch to where you want to turn your corner. Make sure your needle is down in the fabric, then lift the presser foot and turn your fabric. Stitch to the next corner and repeat for the remaining sides. Stop stitching an inch or so before you reach your starting point.

IMG_00638. Twist the excess at the beginning and end of your binding strips so that they are right sides together. Determine where they should meet to complete the trip around the hot pad and place a pin in that spot. Sew the strips together where you pinned. Trim the excess and finish sewing the binding.

IMG_00649. You’re done! Give your hot pad a try as you make something delicious.

Some ideas for variations:

  • make the hot pad a circle or other shape instead of a square
  •  use matching thread instead of contrasting colored thread, especially if you are less confident of sewing the binding on straight
  • use purchased bias tape instead of making your own strips
  • add an extra loop of fabric at one corner so that you can hang up your hot pad

Bi-color Cloth Napkins

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My sister is getting married in May, so I threw her a shower. I had a great time planning all aspects of the shower, but it wouldn’t have been complete without something I had sewn. I chose a set of cloth napkins as the inspiration for her gift and made this pretty set.

I chose Kona cotton in four colors and used a project from the Purl Bee as my guide. It was a very simple, but gratifying project that I put a lot of love into. Best wishes for my big sister and her fiancé!

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A Peace Offering (Otherwise known as Winter Squash Flatbreads)

Since starting a new job in August, I have had to take a hiatus from blogging because I’ve also had to take a break from sewing. It would be an understatement to say that adjusting to my new job responsibilities has kept me busy. It is likely to keep me equally busy after the new year too, but I hope that I will be able to return to keeping up the space a little more regularly. I still feel like there are many things I’d like to share with you in regards to my creative doings. Please be patient and stick around as I try to figure out how to balance the new with the slightly old.

As a peace offering/bribe, here is a wonderful recipe that was inspired by a dish I once ordered in a restaurant. It’s perfect for the days between Thanksgiving and Christmas when you want something that tastes hearty, without being too filling. It makes great party fare too. Just make all the parts a few hours or days ahead and keep in the refrigerator. Assemble and finish baking right before the party.

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Winter Squash Topped Flatbreads

This recipe basically consists of three layers—an easy to make flatbread, a creamy herb-seasoned ricotta and toasty bits of pancetta and winter squash. They make a delicious light meal or can be cut into bite-sized pieces to serve as appetizers.

Make Flatbread:

1 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup water

1/3 cup olive oil plus more for brushing

Preheat oven to 450°F with a heavy baking sheet on rack in middle.

Stir together flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. Make a well in center, then add water and oil and gradually stir into flour with a wooden spoon until a dough forms. Knead dough gently on a work surface 4 or 5 times.

Divide dough into 2 or 3 pieces and roll out each piece on a sheet of parchment paper or silicone mat until it is less than ¼ inch thick. Transfer dough with parchment/mat onto a baking sheet.

Partially bake the flatbreads for about 5 minutes. Remove from the oven to be topped.

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Make Herb Seasoned Ricotta:

1 cup ricotta

2 tablespoons fresh thyme, rosemary or sage, finely chopped (all three taste great, so choose your favorite or a combination)

1 clove of garlic, finely minced

salt & pepper to taste

Mix all the ingredients above.

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Make Pancetta and Winter Squash:

¼ lb. pancetta (find in the deli; bacon is a great substitute if you can’t find it)

1 small acorn squash, half of a butternut squash or other winter squash, peeled diced into ¼ inch cubes (approximately 2 cups of diced squash)

Put pancetta into a hot frying pan and cook until crisp. Remove pancetta from the pan and let drain on paper towels. When slightly cooled, break or cut pancetta into little bits. (If there is an excessive amount of fat in the pan, drain some off before continuing.) In the same pan, add diced winter squash. Cook until tender, 7-10 minutes.

Assemble the Flatbreads:

Divide the seasoned ricotta between the flatbreads and spread it out evenly. Sprinkle pancetta and squash over the top.

Put topped flatbreads back into the oven to crisp up, about 5 more minutes at 450 degrees.

Corduroy Chevron Skirt

I’ve completed another piece of my 2012 Transition Wardrobe. It’s a navy blue corduroy skirt that plays with the direction of the cords as part of the design and forms a subtle chevron in the center front and back. This is my first time using the fabric’s direction as a design element, and I think it has been mostly successful. (The photo below is a good example of how the nap of the fabric affects how light hits the fabric and changes its appearance. It makes the chevron affect more visible in this fabric, actually.)

I cut the main front and back pieces on the bias, whereas I cut the waistband and hem band on the straight grain. The way the fabric lays on the bias makes the back of the skirt lay a little funny, but it’s something I can live with. Mostly, I just wonder whether a different fabric would behave the same way or if this is something particular to the corduroy fabric I used.

Design/Pattern: I adapted the Meringue skirt pattern from the Colette Sewing Handbook. I did a lot of adapting–my finished skirt doesn’t look much like the original design! I used this pattern as my template because I was confident that the pattern was well made, the fit would be good and that the instructions would be easy to adapt to my design.

Materials:

  • blue stretch corduroy
  • interfacing
  • invisible zipper
  • thread

Techniques:

  • mock flat-fell seams (tutorial here)
  • stitched in the ditch to finish hem band
  • inserted invisible zipper using invisible zipper foot
  • top stitched

Alterations/Changes: These are the changes I made to the Meringue skirt pattern.

  • Added center-front and center-back seam allowances
  • Cut skirt front & back on the bias
  • Omitted the scalloped hem
  • Added a waistband and omitted the facings by using this tutorial
  • Sewed the waistband by following this tutorial
  • Added a horizontal band at the hem

This skirt is a B+, I think. It gets high marks for the attention to detail (the directional design and top stitching). This skirt will also fit really well into my existing wardrobe. It will be easy to find tops to wear with this skirt. The overall skirt has a lot of positive attributes, but I can’t completely ignore the funny way it lays in the back. I am pleased with final result and the sewing process was also pleasant. It was enjoyable to focus on the finer details, without having to worry about too much complexity.