Chic & Simple Sewing

As soon as I flipped through Chic & Simple Sewing by Christine Haynes, I knew I had to buy it. I immediately wanted to make many of the clothes in this book. There are great color photos of the clothes – always a plus. Sometimes a sketch just doesn’t quite do it. So it’s nice to see what the designs look like on a human body. And the attractive models are photographed is a variety of locations – on the street at night, near the beach, window walking down a path, sitting on a piano bench inside, and so on. The author’s fabric choices are excellent and one of the reasons the clothes look so lovely. Full-size patterns are included with the book (sizes: S, M, L).

The subtitle says, “Skirts, Dresses, Tops, and Jackets for the Modern Seamstress.” And that’s essentially what’s inside. Remarkably, none of the lovely designs have zippers or buttonholes! As a result, it’s a good book for a beginning seamstress. But not everything is necessarily easy to make so it’s probably best to at least know your way around a sewing machine and sew a straight seam before making some of these stylish clothes. Christine rates the difficulty level on a scale of 1 to 5 for each piece. For example, the more complicated wrap dress gets a 5 rating and the trench coat gets a 3.

Tie Jacket (w/o the tie)

WHAT’S INSIDE

Christine introduces each pattern, giving her take on the design and describing the fabric she recommends and the fabric on the version that the model’s wearing. She also dispenses advice on what to consider when buying fabric to make a particular piece of clothing. For example, for “The A-line Skirt,” she says: “What’s important is that you choose lightweight or medium weight fabric. If you pick something too heavy and thick, the skirt will stick out from the waist, which might be unflattering.” (Her polite way of saying, it really won’t look good with heavy fabric so don’t try it.)

The book is organized into five chapters, with the first one devoted to the usual sewing basics (tools, sewing machine, measurements, etc.)  and then a few pages covering fabric, colors, and notions as well as some sewing techniques (basic stitching, pressing, and finishing details). Each of the remaining chapters covers a season, beginning with Spring (Chapter 2) and ending with Winter (Chapter 5). So you can pick out designs according to the season in which you expect to wear them. It’s an interesting way to organize the book. There’s a range of clothes within each chapter. For example, Spring has instructions for three dresses, a baby doll top, a circle skirt, and a “trench” coat. I put quotes around that because that’s what Christine Haynes calls it in the book “The Trench.” But it’s not a traditional trench coat with a collar, lapels, shoulder straps, and long sleeves.

My version of "The Trench"

This is a coat with no collar, 3/4 length sleeves, and nice big patch pockets that can hold any number of things (gloves, pens, cell phones, small books). I love the design.

WHAT I’VE MADE SO FAR

Here’s my version of the coat (see photo at right). I used some dark grey wool fabric for the coat and some lightweight wool herringbone for the bias tape trim. However, the main fabric I chose was a little lighter weight than it should have been because it just flopped open at the top, which didn’t look so good. So I added a covered button and made a loop out of some corded elastic to hook it closed. To read about my experience making this coat and for detailed photos of the results (and how I solved my bias tape problem), see “The Trench.”

From the Summer chapter, I made “The Wrap Top,” which is like the top half of a wrap-around dress. The top has little cap sleeves and wide ties that  wrap around you. A simple design but I picked a fabric that didn’t quite work with the design. It kinda gapes open in front where the front bodice pieces overlap. My bosom is (a-hem) not exactly well endowed so a crisper fabric would have been a better choice. So when I wear it, I just pin the pieces together with a sterling silver leaf pin I have to keep it from sagging.

The Tie Jacket

I also made “The Tie Jacket,” from the Fall chapter. It uses the same pattern as “The Trench Coat,” but it’s shorter – the hem is hip length rather than mid-thigh and there are no pockets. I found a couple yards of this black-and-white corduroy fabric with teeny herringbone at the East Bay Creative Reuse Depot and thought it would be perfect for this jacket. I had never seen such a print on corduroy before (see detail photo below, a quarter is about an inch, which will give you an idea of just how small the herringbone is). I think I like it better on me without the tie though. (See the photos above and left.)

I’d also like to make some of the skirts in the book. Christine’s got a nice A-line skirt with a wide ruffle at the bottom and a cool wrap skirt. The next time I’m in a skirt-making mood, I’ll definitely make one or both of them.

I think the only (minor) quibble is that women who are larger than size 10-12 won’t be able to wear these clothes. There is no extra large size to cut out. This is one of my favorite books with sewing patterns. You can order a signed copy of the book on Christine’s Etsy page or get a copy from your local bookstore (support your indie stores!) or on Amazon.

Detail: Herringbone corduroy of the Tie Jacket I made

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fabric at the East Bay Depot

The East Bay Depot for Creative Reuse in Oakland, California, sells all sorts of things, including art supplies, fabric, notions, and sewing patterns. All items are donated to this cool nonprofit organization whose goal is to “divert waste materials from landfills” and to increase awareness about the benefits of reusing materials. Teachers get a discount for things they buy for their classes (paint, paper, etc.).

Toward the back is the section where you’ll find all sorts of fabric in varying lengths that people have donated. I’ve seen wool, cotton, brocade, knits, velvet, and vinyl rolled up in the cubby holes here. And sometimes rolls of fabric are donated. The price per yard? $3/yard for fabric on the bolt, $2/yard for fabric in bundles, regardless of the type of fabric. I’ve also spotted leather scraps and belt buckles here at one time or another.

Fabric section at the East Bay Depot

Sometimes the fabric selection isn’t so great but you never know when something new will turn up, such as a collection of home dec fabric donated by a furniture upholsterer.

And if you have too many fabric scraps and remnants, it’s an excellent place to donate some of your stash. Someone will put them to good use.

The Depot sells notions and patterns as well. They aren’t particularly well organized but if you’re willing to spend the time to hunt through the bins, you could be rewarded with something unique. I’ve found vintage patterns, zippers of all kinds, a vintage fabric belt kit, and buttons. Patterns are just 25 cents. Loose buttons are sold by weight – about $8/pound, which isn’t very much when you’re only getting a handful.

Happy hunting!

Notions at the East Bay Depot

 

 

 

 

 

 

Buttons are sold by weight
Patterns for sale at the Depo

Shopping for Fabric

My bias-cut skirt made with fabric from Britex Fabrics

Once I got sewing again, I wanted to make some skirts. I really like long swingy, skirts cut on the bias (or at the crossgrain), which means that it’s cut at a 45-degree angle to the warp and weft threads. The result is a garment that has more fluidity. (For a detailed explanation, see this Threads magazine page for Marcy Tilton’s “Bias 101.”)

I bought a McCall’s pattern (M4258, now discontinued) for a simple skirt with a side zipper and began looking for light cotton fabric that was 60′ wide. I needed a fabric with a design that would could be cut on the bias and I didn’t want to attempt matching stripes or one-way designs.

Luckily for me, I work only a few blocks away from Britex Fabrics in San Francisco. This place has three (!) floors of fabric and one floor of notions with a fabulous collection of ribbons, lace, and buttons. It’s fabric heaven – but it’s not cheap – not by a long shot. This is the first place where I saw fabric selling for more than $100/yard. Why so pricey? Well, Britex sells a lot of imported fabric – silk and wool from Italy, designer velvets from France, cashmere from the U.K. – you get the picture.

I grew up in upstate New York where Joann Fabric was the only place to buy fabric (this was back when the store had more fabric than crafts). But the SF Bay Area has places like Britex, Discount Fabrics (south of Market), the Fabric Outlet (Mission district), and Stone Mountain & Daughter Fabrics (Berkeley). Of course there are plenty of places to shop online for fabric but whenever possible I like to see it and touch it in person.

Cotton fabrics are on the second floor of Britex. The bolts are displayed on shelves on the walls and stacked on large tables. (The store posts signs saying that you can’t take photos so no photo.) The prices are discreetly placed on paper tags tucked in the bolt. You have to pull it out to see it.

Because the cottons I was interested in were on the wall, bolt-end out with only a few inches of visible fabric, I couldn’t tell which ones were 60′ wide. So I asked a sales person which bolts were the width I needed. She was very helpful and pulled out a few that were 60′ and could work with a bias cut. I really liked this black-and-white cotton print. It’s very lightweight. I made this skirt (above left) from it.

Discount Fabrics

A few weeks later I went to Discount Fabrics main store in San Francisco (they have three locations) and found this intriguing fabric. The design is kind of like someone swirled some black paint on a white surface (see photo below). The main SF store is located in a huge warehouse space south of Market St. Most of the bolts are on rolls and they’re stacked on top of each other on huge utility shelves.

Fabric detail

It’s a bit of a challenge shopping here because it’s not easy to see all the fabric. Many rolls are stacked one on top of the other and sometimes you have to pull out several rolls so you can see what’s underneath. So you need a lot of time to look. But the prices are pretty good. (I’ve seen plenty of fashion design students roaming the aisles here.) Each roll is marked with two prices – one indicating the discount price and the other the extra discounted price if you buy the entire roll.

Tweed Jacket with “Divine Details”

A few months after I started sewing again, I wanted to make a lined jacket, which I had never done before. I found a great Vogue pattern for a suit called “Divine Details” (V8543). The jacket has princess seams in the back.

Then I found a great fabric – a herringbone tweed remnant for less than $40 at a Britex Fabrics sale in San Francisco. The fourth floor of this store is where you’ll find remnants organized by type – wools, silks, cottons, knits, and so on.

Though the remnants are discounted, many of them are still quite pricey, such as $75 or more for a piece of imported Italian silk. But a couple times a year, Britex has a remnant sale and you get an additional 30 percent or maybe even 50 percent off. A ton of people come to these one-day remnant sales so get there early. (Bay Area readers: Go to Britex’s website to sign up for the store’s newsletter and get notified of sales.)

Back detail

Vogue rated this pattern “average” for sewing difficulty which I thought I could handle. After all, I could sew a straight seam and follow directions, right? And didn’t “average” mean “average sewing ability”?

Well, I just looked up how Vogue defines an “average” sewing rating on its website:

“These patterns are perfect if you have more time to sew, and more experience sewing. Look for challenging designer techniques, tailoring, unique construction details. Expect more fitting and inner construction. Find more variety in fabrics from the stretchiest knits to synthetic leathers and suedes.”

Hmmm. I think if I had read that before I made it, I might have thought I couldn’t make it. However, the instructions were clear and I didn’t run into any problems except when I didn’t pay attention to the interfacing part. This pattern used nylon fusible knit interfacing – which was new to me. It’s been a while since I used any interfacing (for an explanation of interfacing, go here). Fusible knit interfacing is very lightweight.

When I cut out the interfacing for the collar, I immediately steam ironed them to the tweed wool pieces. It was only after I ironed that I noticed that I was supposed to trim the corners in a couple areas to reduce bulk. Whoops. I didn’t have any extra fabric so I had to deal with my mistake. With such lightweight interfacing you’d think it wouldn’t make much of a difference but it did. The collar didn’t quite lay down the way it should have. I ended up tacking down one collar point to (sort of) fix it.

I hate ironing but I ironed every time the directions said to iron. It makes a huge difference in the finished product. So don’t skip it!

Here are a few more photos – just click on an image for a larger view.

Sleeve detail

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sleeve detail
Back detail

 

 

Fashion Details

Partly inspired by Bill Cunningham’s “On the Street” photo essays, I’ve been taking photos of people wearing things that  catch my eye. But unlike Bill, who tries to be invisible as he photographs people he sees on the streets of New York City, I just go up to people and ask them if I can take a photo. (See my post “Fashion Aficionado Bill Cunningham” of the documentary about this inspiring man.)

If they are moving too fast and I can’t stop them without feeling like some weird stalker, then I’ll snap a photo of them in motion. The photos are taken on the fly so the quality varies. I don’t want to impose too much, so I just whip out my iPhone or Canon Powershot and shoot fast. Here are the photos I’ve taken so far.

I just got off BART (train in the Bay Area) when I saw this striking black-and-white knit skirt with perfectly matched seams. But she was several steps ahead of me so I hustled to get this blurry photo.
At Yoshi's jazz club in San Francisco: The lace was on the front and the back of this dress.
The checkstand across from me at the grocery store: I liked the use of button as decorative details.
This young lady told me she got these pants from Thailand. I loved that the pockets were on the outside attached to the waistband.
Pocket detail

 

The Trench

The Trench

This coat is the first thing I made from Christine Haynes‘s book, Chic & Simple Sewing. It has only has five pattern pieces: jacket front, jacket back, sleeve, pocket, and bias tape. And the last two items are optional as you can make the coat without the pockets and you can buy bias tape rather than making your own. It’s pretty easy to make and looks great.

I had a few yards of this rich dark grey wool fabric that I got at the East Bay Depot for Creative Reuse, a cool nonprofit organization in Oakland which sells all kinds of things that people donate (art supplies, fabric, furniture, beads, yarn, baskets, small appliances, you name it). I only paid $2/yard for this fabric! I also found a yard of lightweight herringbone tweed wool fabric at the Depot. So when I was looking at my fabric stash, I thought those two fabrics would make a good combination – the dark grey for the coat and the herringbone for contrasting bias tape. (For more info, check out this post “Fabric at the East Bay Depot” by yours truly.)

This was the first time I made my own bias tape. Before I bought Christine’s book, I had been reading about bias tape in Anna Maria Horner‘s beautiful book Seams to Me. Her instructions and diagram on making bias tape were very clear and easy to follow. (For an online tutorial, see Coletterie’s “How to make Bias Tape”.) I hadn’t thought about making my own bias tape before and Anna Marie’s book used bias tape tohttps://csews.com/clothes/the-trench such lovely effect, I was hooked. I went out and bought a couple different sizes of bias tape makers. I really wanted to make something with my own bias tape. And then I saw this coat in Christine’s book and realized this would be the perfect thing.

Like the title of Christine’s book, this coat is simple to sew. After you cut out the pieces, you sew each front piece to a sleeve piece and then the back edge of the sleeve to the back piece. It has raglan sleeves as you can see from this photo below.

The Trench has raglan sleeves.

It only became slightly tricky when I wasn’t quite sure which side was the “right” side because the fabric I was using was the same on both sides.

Once I sewed the main coat pieces, it was on to the bias tape along the front opening of the coat and then around the collar. At this point in my sewing life, I had not used things like Steam-a-Seam or other fusible webs, which make it easier to get nice looking seams. So I blithely sewed the bias tape to the front edge and soon realized that the lightweight herringbone I was using for my bias tape didn’t look so good. The seam didn’t quite lay flat and was a little puckered in some areas (darn it). My solution? Rick rack to the rescue! I bought some black rick rack that I sewed right over the seam, which made a nice transition between the herringbone bias tape and the dark grey of the main fabric.

Then I had another problem. The coat flopped open instead of staying upright like the one in the book. It was the fault of the fabric I choose plus the bias tape and rick rack added a little more weight that made it “flop.” So I decided that I needed a covered button to keep it together at the top. I put the button on one side and made a loop out of black corded elastic for the other. Click on the photos below to see larger versions of the rick rack and button. (Christine chose a medium-weight cotton fabric for her coat. I’ll be making another version of the coat using a heavier weight purple cotton fabric and striped bias tape.)

Bias tape, rick rack detail
Covered button detail

 

 

 

 

 

 

The last step was to hem the bottom and sew on the patch pockets, which are really useful. I love big pockets. The Trench has pockets large enough to stow your cell phone, a paperback book, wallet, and keys. I wear this coat a lot in the Bay Area. It’s perfect for cool weather here. But when it gets a little chillier, your arms will get cold because the sleeves are 3/4 length. So heave some arm warmers ready or wear a sweater underneath.

If you make this coat, you’ll be sure to get compliments on it. Thanks for a great pattern, Christine!

How I Began Sewing Again

A few years ago I mentioned to my mom that it would be fun to sew again. Most of the sewing I’d done since college was by hand – reattaching buttons, repairing seams, and darning socks. I hadn’t done any serious sewing on a machine since college.

My Kenmore sewing machine and pocket organizer

My mom was the one who taught me to sew on her Singer Golden Touch years ago when I was in grade school. And she made most of our clothes when my three sisters and I (yep, no brothers) were growing up. Mom didn’t always read the directions of the sewing patterns, partly because English is her second language, but she used the pictures in the directions as her main guide. Looking back on that now, I think it’s pretty amazing that she was able to make so many clothes that way. Go Mom!

In 2009 I got a sewing machine from my parents for Christmas, nothing fancy – a Kenmore machine from Sears. So I was excited to make something and thought I’d start with a small project. I went to my local Joann Fabrics and looked at the pattern books and saw a McCall’s pattern for sewing organizers (M4274, now out of print but you may be able to find it on eBay). All you needed were some fat quarters, interfacing, and thread. I hadn’t done any quilting before so fat quarters were new to me. Joann’s had plenty to choose from. I decided to go with a violet theme as you can see from the photo (at left).

I figured it’d be good practice sewing straight seams. Plus I’d get to organize my growing collection of sewing things. Whenever there was a notions sale, I was snapping up pins, needles, snaps, tailor’s chalk, you name it.

(click for larger image)

The first thing I made was the pocket organizer that my sewing machine sits on. I made it with two fat quarters and some bias tape, which perfectly matched the solid violet fabric I chose.

Now I have a place to stash at least two pairs of scissors – my fabric cutters and my small thread-snipping one. And I could stick my various marking pens and sewing machine needles in there too. I was ready to go!