Here are the things I wore from May 22 to May 31 for Me Made May 2013. I did repeat a couple items but I wore them with different things.
I wore 18 different hats on the first 21 days. I think over that next 10 days I wore maybe another four that I hadn’t worn in the previous weeks. I wasn’t paying close attention. But I do have more hats than what I wore over the past month. I guess you could say hats are my favorite accessory. ;o)
Thanks to all the folks at work who took photos of my outfits on various weekdays: Cailan, Diane, Donna, Jeffrey, Kari, Karmah, and Marsha. You’re all good sports – especially Donna, who took the most photos towards the end!
I really liked the clothes in Alabama Studio Sewing + Design so I bought it last fall. (See “Book Review: Alabama Studio Sewing + Design.”) This was my first experience with patterns that you had to trace, not cut out. The patterns were printed on both sides of the paper and some of them overlapped each other. Granted this saves paper and space but I was used to buying traditional patterns printed on tissue paper that you cut out. But I was game – this was a chance for me to use that Swedish tracing paper that had been sitting around for a couple years. (For more on the book see “Book Review: Alabama Studio Sewing + Design.”)
The patterns were very easy to trace because each size has very distinct lines and seam allowances are included. So all you needed to do was trace and cut (no darts!). I just traced these patterns freehand. All the garments use jersey fabric and are rather fitted because you’re using fabric that stretches.
I made a hand-sewn tunic, skirt, and bolero jacket from this book as well as an embroidered wrap, which I’ve posted about a few months ago (see “The Embroidered Wrap“). I haven’t written about the outfit yet but here’s a preview.
About a month after I bought Alabama Studio Sewing + Design, I ordered a copy of Shape Shape: Sewing Clothing Patterns to Wear Multiple Ways by Natsuno Hiraiwa, a graphic designer turned fashion designer. This was a bit of an impulse purchase. I liked the photos of the garments, lots of asymmetric cuts and of course, interesting shapes.
The patterns in this book are also printed on both sides but they are not that easy to trace – not only do many pattern lines overlap but the lines are all of the same skinny weight. It’s difficult to be sure you’re following the correct line for a particular piece and there is no differentiation among the pattern lines designated for each size. This means that the line is exactly the same for size small, medium and large. (Note: This pattern doesn’t include seam allowances so you must add them.)
I made one garment from the book (the Free-Style Curved Stole) but it was a little small (and I didn’t forget to add the seam allowance either!). I think I’ll give it to one my sisters who’s about 4 inches shorter. The garments in the book are sized for petite Japanese women, which means that at 5 feet 7 inches I’m a giantess for these clothes. There are only three sizes (S, M, and L) but I must be an XL or larger – something to bear in mind if you make anything from this book. (Of course, if I had read the reviews on Amazon, I would have realized that the sizes run pretty small, large is more like a medium.)
For my next adventure in pattern tracing, I turned to the dresses in BurdaStyle Sewing Vintage Modern. With this book, I got more serious about tracing and finally bought a few French curves. (See my post “Tips on Tracing Sewing Patterns” for more on the tools I use.)
The patterns in this book are very easy to trace — even when many pattern pieces overlap — because some pieces are printed in black ink and others in red, plus the lines for different sizes are very clear. Seam allowances are not included, which makes it easier to adjust and/or modify the patterns. For many of the garments in the book, you need to take one of the base patterns and modify it to create a new pattern.
Let me tell you, after Shape Shape, it was a relief to trace patterns from this book!
Last but not least, is the pattern I traced from a PDF. I few months ago, I bought Christine Haynes Sassy Librarian Blouse on Craftsy, which uses a PDF pattern that you download and print on letter-sized paper. The pattern uses more than 35 pieces of paper, which you then need to tape together, overlapping the edges to match the lines. By the time you’re done taping all the pieces together, the pattern is a bit bulky in some areas.
So I decided not to cut the PDF pattern and instead, trace my size on to pattern tracing paper. I’m used to those tissue-weight patterns. Seam allowances are included in this pattern. None of the pattern pieces overlap (yay!) and the sizes are clearly delineated.
I’m still working on this top. I traced the pattern pieces and cut the fabric and my woven interfacing. When I finish it, I’ll be sure to post about it! What have been your experiences tracing patterns?
Over the past few months I’ve been hand sewing, not machine sewing, which has a very different feel. When I’m sewing on a machine, I want to have blocks of time to work. I want an uninterrupted five or six hours minimum to sew, iron, snip, etc.
But when you sew with a needle and thread in hand, you have more flexibility. It’s a lot slower than a sewing machine but you can be interrupted and it’s not a big deal. You can work on your hand sewing for 20 or 30 minutes and still feel as if you got something done. And it’s very portable, you can just stuff it in a bag along with your needle and thread and work on it wherever you have decent light.
I’ve been making jersey garments from the book. If I were sewing this fabric on my sewing machine, I’d use a zig zag stitch or I’d use the built-in stretch stitch, which is a bit bulky and tedious because it goes over every stitch three times.
But as I discovered from Alabama Studio, there are many different hand stitches, including stretch stitches that you can use on jersey fabric and elastic. I had no idea.
I learned how to hand sew a herringbone stitch to attach the foldover elastic to the waistband of a skirt I made from the book. It’s a rather time-consuming stitch to so because there are sooooo many stitches to sew but I did it!
The cretan stitch is much faster to do because the individual stitches are further apart. I think I’ll use that stitch the next time I hand sew elastic!
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.
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.
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.
I love the public library. It’s a great source of free information for everyone. It’s also a wonderful place to check out new sewing books. Right now I’ve got five books out, four from the Berkeley Public Library and one from the San Francisco Public Library.
I flip through the books to see how many things I’d like to make and whether I’d learn any new techniques and ideas. Oftentimes I stick post-it notes on the pages of things I’d like to make or ideas that inspire me. If there are a lot of post-its, then I’ll very likely buy the book, which is what happened with Alabama Sewing + Design, reviewed here.
Here’s my roundup of the other books I’m reading:
Sew Retro: A Stylish History of the Sewing Revolution + 25 Vintage‐Inspired Projects for the Modern Girl by Judi Ketteler ($24.99). This is a fun book – a brief romp through fashion history (1880s to today) interspersed with profiles or interviews with women designers of the decades – from the 19th century’s Ellen Curtis Demorest to today’s Amy Butler. Alongside those pages, the author has projects (and patterns for them) that are supposed to be reminiscent of each time period. It’s a bit of a hybrid book with more pages devoted to history and people rather than sewing projects.
The projects were pretty basic, ranging from bags and purses to pillows and coasters – all things a beginning seamstress could easily handle. I’m not really interested in making most of the things in the book because I don’t need any more potholders, aprons, bags, etc. But I did like the needlecase – a nice design to store your hand sewing needles and thread snips.
Chic on a Shoestring: Simple to Sew Vintage-Style Accessories by Mary Jane Baxter ($22.95). This 2011 book has many ideas for embellishing tops and shoes – adding buttons, lace, rickrack, you name it – to refresh or refashion your existing wardrobe. Some of Baxter’s ideas aren’t really my style though. For example, I wouldn’t trim a hat with small pom poms or put lace doilies on a top. The author is a milliner.
The book also has several ideas for making accessories: belts from old neckties and necklaces as wells as detachable collars from a variety of materials — shoelaces, ribbon, fabric, beads and lace. I liked her idea for making flowers using Petersham ribbon that I made a few last month (see photo). I’ve attached clips to the back so I can wear them in my hair. She put several flowers on a purse, which looked quite elegant.
Sewn by Hand: Two Dozen Projects Stitched with Needle & Thread by Susan Wasinger ($19.95). This book has nice photos and illustrations on hand stitching, covering how to make knots (the single-hand, tangled knot vs. the two-hand knot) and a variety of hand stitches (running stitch, back stitch, stem stitch, blanket stitch, slipstich, overcast stitch, and so on). The book’s projects are all very nicely designed and photographed. Some of the usual things featured in sewing books are here: a tote bag and potholders. But the author gives them unique touches, such as the covered buttons and rope strap on the tote bag and the potholders with smocking.
Improv Sewing: 101 Fast, Fun, and Fearless Projects: Dresses, Tunics, Scarves, Skirts, Accessories, Pillows, Curtains, and More by Nicole Blum and Debra Immergut ($19.95). I put a slew of post-its on the pages of this book, which means that this one’s a keeper and I’ll definitely buy my own copy.
The book is full of simple designs for clothes (dresses, skirts, and tops), home projects, accessories and gifts. You make your own pattern for tops using your own shirt (or one you get from a thrift store if you don’t want to cut one up) as pattern pieces. Once you have your torso pattern piece, you reuse it again and again for the other designs
The majority of the book is devoted to clothes that you can make fairly quickly because they don’t have very many pattern pieces – and they look good! Some of the skirts use jersey knit fabric with foldover elastic over the waistband (no hemming necessary). How easy is that?
Sometimes I’m really impatient with sewing so it’ll be great to make something that I can finish in an afternoon. At more than 300 pages and with clear instructions and plenty of photos, it’s well worth the cover price. Oh, and the authors share a blog Improv Diary (in addition to their individual blogs) and they have an Improv Sewing Flickr group for folks to share what they’ve made.
I recently checked out this great book on hand sewing from the public library: Alabama Studio Sewing + Design: A Guide to Hand-Sewing an Alabama Chanin Wardrobe by Natalie Chanin. It focuses on creating a hand-sewn wardrobe – yes, everything from bolero jackets and wraps to dresses and skirts of varying lengths – from cotton jersey fabric. The various pieces can be layered for a striking appearance or worn with a pair of jeans for a more casual look.
These are all designs from Alabama Chanin, where a hand-sewn and hand-embroidered tank top retails for more than $1,000. But you can make your own versions with this book!
The photos of the models wearing the clothes in this book are gorgeous. And there are nice illustrations of the various stretch stitches you can use when you are hand sewing.
The author recommends using button craft thread for hand sewing because it’s one of the strongest threads. It’s made “with a polyester core surrounded by vary finely spun cotton yarn,” writes Chanin.
I was so enamored of the clothes in this library book that I went ahead and ordered it from Amazon (and paid sales tax for the first time on an Amazon-purchased book – yes, California’s online sales tax law went into effect last weekend). I can’t cut into the patterns that come with a library book because other people will be checking it out. So I just had to buy it.
What makes the clothes unique is the appliqué work, beading, stencils, and embroidering. The stencils and various designs for embroidering and beading are all provided in the book along with patterns for the various clothes. You can also purchase the stencils from Alabama Chanin’s store. Cutting out the stencils yourself is certainly time-consuming so you may want to spring for a stencil if you intend to reuse it or just want to spare yourself the tediousness of cutting out the designs.
I was so inspired that when I saw that the Fabric Outlet in San Francisco was having a sale this week (everything 40 percent off!), I went shopping for some black cotton jersey. I also picked up several spools of button thread. I’m not sure if I’m going to hand sew the entire thing – my zigzag stitch on my sewing machine may be employed for this endeavor. But I’m certainly going to give it serious consideration.
I’ll be sure to post about what I make from this book. Though it may take a l-o-o-o-ng time because of the hand sewing!