More Sewing Cake Hummingbird Tops!

So far I’ve finished three Sewing Cake Hummingbird tops, green version! My first two were knit jersey fabrics with 5 percent lycra in solid colors, which I got at Stonemountain & Daughter Fabrics in Berkeley: a blue lightweight cotton knit and a red heavyweight cotton knit; and my third a striped black-and-white cotton knit with lycra (percentage unknown because I got it from San Francisco’s Discount Fabrics, which doesn’t list much fabric info on the bolts).

Blue Hummingbird-mural1

This pattern is so flattering (love the peplum!) and it’s easy to fit to your figure because you customize the pattern based on your own measurements. All you need are three numbers: your full bust, front waist (measurement from your shoulder to your waist), and waist. I stood in front of a mirror to make sure I got the correct front waist measurement – in my case 17 inches. Then you pick the size closest to your bust measurement. My bust is 37.5 inches but I went with size 35 for a closer fit. I figured that the knit would stretch enough so it would still be comfortable. For a looser fit, I could have picked size 40.

For more on my blue top, see my earlier post “My First Sewalong – Hummingbird 30 Minutes a Day.” You can buy the pattern on Etsy at Cake Patterns by SewingCake.

Hummingbird top pattern

The pattern paper has a nice weight to it. It’s not the tissue-thin paper that some patterns are printed on. The patterns lines are easy to trace, which is great. I drew a line from the “dot” for size 35 to my waist measurement marking (triangle).

Once you’ve traced and cut out the pattern, it doesn’t take very long to put it together. There are only six pattern pieces (front, back, peplum, neck and arm binding. But you do need to do some pressing in between certain steps.

Striped Hummingbird pieces2

In case you’re wondering, the peplum is one piece (cut on the fold), which looks really cool when you use a striped fabric. (As you can see from the photo above, I cut my sleeve and neck binding for my striped top on the bias.) You can also opt to cut a four-seamed peplum on the bias, which would look quite striking.

I used bias fusible stay tape on the hem. I wasn’t sure how it would fare in the washing maching but the blue and red versions have been through one wash and look fine.

My Materials

1 3/8 yards of jersey fabric for each top

All-purpose polyester thread (Gutterman 430 for the red top, Coats and Clark blue thread for the blue top, and Coats and Clark white thread for the striped top)

Fusible stay tape (I used 3/8 inch Design Plus bias fusible stay tape for knit shoulders)

Schmetz 70/10 jersey needle

Fabric cost: The red and blue knits were between $9 and $10/yard. I can’t remember what I paid for the striped knit. It’s been sitting in my stash for a while. My guess is less than $10/yard. It has a nice weight to it. So I’d say it’s about $15 a top.

The Hummingbird top is versatile.

Striped Hummingbird - standing2

It looks good with pants and can be dressed up, like with this silk polka dot skirt.

Red Hummingbird peplum

It’s a very nice staple to add to your wardrobe and very comfy to wear. I’m sure I’ll be making more!

Striped h-bird - handStriped h-bird-window

Blue h-bird-benchBlue h-bird - akimbo

Striped h-bird-adjustingStriped h-bird - red rail

The Embroidered Wrap

In October I began embroidering a wrap featured in Natalie Chanin’s book Alabama Studio Sewing + Design (see my post “Getting Started on My “Alabama Fur” Wrap“). After a few evenings and about 15 hours of stitching spirals on this black jersey knit fabric, I realized that I was making spirals on the so-called wrong side of t fabric. Ack!

How did this happen? Well, I was sewing in the bedroom where the light isn’t so great – and I probably need to get reading glasses sometime soon. The weave on this fabric was rather tight and frankly I couldn’t really see much difference from one side to the other. The right side was supposed to have fine ribs and the other loops but it really wasn’t obvious.

So I just picked a side and began embroidering. Then one day when I was stitching again, I thought, hmmm, let me see what else people say about the wrong side/right side of jersey knit fabric. I found something saying that jersey fabric curls up toward the right side on the cross grain. So I looked at my wrap and realized “Oh, no, crap – I’ve been stitching my spirals on the wrong side!”

I felt my face get hot and I just there in a slight stupor. I’d already put in 15 hours on those spirals. What to do? I’d only covered about ten percent of the wrap, which meant I had many more hours to go. So should I rip out all the spirals I’d already completed?

I put it away for about a week. Then I looked at it and thought, well, the weave is tight, it doesn’t really look like the “wrong” side; I don’t want to rip out those stitches; I can live with the mistake; having the wrap curl up on the ends of the wrap is OK because that part will be over my arms.

I took a long break from it. I didn’t work on it for about a month (and I haven’t written new post since then). Also I really had no idea how slow embroidering can be. I haven’t embroidered anything since I was a kid. It takes a few minutes to stitch each spiral – and that’s not counting separating the strands of floss and threading needles.

I’ve got a system now: Cut several lengths of floss; separate strands; thread two strands per needle; knot strands. I usually thread about a dozen needles and then start stitching. My hubby and I have been reading aloud some nonfiction books to each other and when he reads, I stitch. He’ll read about 15 to 20 minutes and then it’s my turn.

I started embroidering again last week and now I’m a little more than halfway across the wrap. I’m not putting the spirals so close together anymore. Also, I’m not following the stencil provided by the book. I’m improvising and just embroidering spirals wherever I feel like it. I’m spacing them out because I don’t have the patience for more than that.

I like the space though. And I could always add more later if I really want the full “Alabama fur” effect. I’ll post an update when I’m finally finished with this embroidered wrap!

Note on photos: My Macbook Pro died last month (wah!) so I’m stuck using my iPhone for photos. I’m using a Chromebook until I can figure out what I’m going to get as my replacement laptop. 

Getting Started on My “Alabama Fur” Wrap

Photo of Alabama “fur” from Alabama Studio Sewing + Design

When I got my copy of Natalie Chanin’s Alabama Studio Sewing + Design, which I reviewed in September, I was all fired up to make a wrap embroidered with spirals, or what designer Natalie Chanin calls “Alabama fur.”

The “fur” is created by leaving one-inch tails of embroidery floss on the right side of your fabric. You knot the thread and leave a tail at the beginning and end of each spiral. It’s an amazing look, isn’t it? This is a photo from the book.

The Fabric Outlet in San Francisco was having a 40 percent off sale that week so I was determined to find some jersey fabric and embroidery thread and get going. All of the clothes in the book are made from organic cotton jersey.

I really haven’t made very many things using jersey fabric so I as I browsed, I just kept in mind what I’d read about knits: jersey curls up on the ends, interlock and ribbed knit stays flat.

I found some black jersey and it seemed like it was cotton (or maybe it was a blend). But hey, it was $9.99/yard and it was on sale (40 percent off!). (Yes, I am a sucker for a fabric sale.) It had a nice medium weight so I bought a few yards.

Then I hunted for embroidery floss and got several skeins of black, very light grey (DMC 3024), and dark grey (DMC ultra dark beaver grey). My spirals could be stitched using those three colors.

Next I had to enlarge by 342 percent, the spiral stencil pictured in the book. I did a test page on 11 “x 17″ paper but that only got one small part of the stencil on the page. So I went to a copy place in San Francisco that did large-scale enlargements. The finished printout was poster-size 24″ x 36”. Whoa – I didn’t know it was going to be that big. It cost about $11 for the enlargement.

Now I had all my materials and was ready to get underway. I used freezer paper to create the pattern and cut out two pieces of fabric 21″ x 30 inches. The books says if you are going to add embellishment, to use a double layer of fabric.

But how was I supposed to get that spiral stencil on the fabric?

There was no way I was going to cut out the spirals with an exacto black and then trace them on the fabric. I could see that that could take f-o-r-e-v-e-r.  So should I use tracing paper? I really didn’t know what I was supposed to do and the book didn’t really address this as it referred to all the designs in the book as stencils, which mean cut them out. Ha.

I posted a photo of the stencil on Instagram and Twitter and said: “OK I enlarged the @AlabamaChanin spiral design. Now how shd I transfer it to #fabric?”

Lo and behold! I got an answer from Alabama Chanin via Instagram! “We use textile paint but you can also use a marker or a pencil and trace them.” I was thrilled to get a response. (Yay for social media!)

However, I couldn’t see myself tracing all those spirals. I’m impatient and that just seemed really tedious. So I put the fabric on top of the photocopy of the spirals and started drawing the spirals in marking pencil on my fabric. But before I began doing that, I had to figure out what was the so-called “right side” of the jersey fabric.

The book had close-up photos illustrating what the wrong and right side looked like but I couldn’t really tell from my fabric because it was a rather tightly woven jersey and there really didn’t seem to be much of a difference so I just picked a side and began. Also it really hot that week because we were in the midst of an unseasonable fall heat wave and I didn’t have any bright (hot) lights on. Plus I just wanted to get started. (Did I mention I’m impatient?)

I was essentially freehand drawing – looking at the spirals and trying to draw them as they appeared on the photocopy. I drew spirals on one corner and then I began embroidering using two strands of embroidery floss doubled, which meant that each stitch would have four strands.

This is a backstitch endeavor, per the book. (If you don’t know what a backstitch is, here’s a nice explanation “How-to: Back Stitch” from Sublime Stiching.)

I knew it was going to be slow going but I didn’t realize how slow until I began making the stitches. After a couple hours, I hadn’t finished very many spirals. I stitched for a few hours every evening for three days straight. But I quickly realized after I made one black spiral, that black wasn’t going to work because it completely disappeared against the black knit fabric. Duh.

I don’t know why I thought black would work. I thought I would at least see a texture but it’s like those spirals aren’t even there (see spirals circled in red). Darn it!

So I stuck with the greys. By the second day, I was more efficient at making the spirals and I had my own assembly line going – I threaded six needles so I didn’t have to keep stopping to separate the strands and thread the needle. I just used the grey, threading needles with two strands of dark grey, two strands of very light grey and then one strand each of dark and very light grey. I tried a strand of black and a strand of grey but the black still disappeared so I just stopped using black altogether.

Then I decided I needed another color, maybe a grey that was in between the dark grey and black. So I went to Lacis in Berkeley, which carries many embroidery flosses, including every single DMC color available. I looked at all the colors but didn’t see a really dark grey.

Then helpful store clerk pointed out DMC 399, very dark pewter grey (right). It’s a grey with more blue in it. It still wasn’t as dark as I would have liked but it was subtly different from the other dark grey.

My Alabama fur wrap is underway! When I’m further along, I’ll write another post about it.

Three days of embroidering