Pre-washing Fabric

Prewashed fabric

I usually pre-wash cotton woven fabric in cold water and tumble dry low before I cut it. Pre-washing fabric ensures that your fabric will not shrink after you wash the completed garment. It would be really awful to spend a lot of time cutting and sewing something only to have it shrink after your first wash. If you want your fabric to last longer, then don’t put it in the dryer. You’ll also be saving energy by line drying.

Sometimes I’d rather skip pre-washing because I just want to start sewing. But I tell myself it’s better to pre-wash.

You can even pre-wash silk, as I learned from Steph at her 3 Hours Past blog here.

The only exception I make is wool, which I don’t typically pre-wash. However, I might consider dry cleaning it before cutting. For example, I decided to dry clean some wool crepe fabric because I’ve read that it shrinks.

You can certainly throw wool fabric in the washer. Then it’ll be machine washable when you’ve completed the garment. I wouldn’t put it in the dryer though. My guess is that it would shrink more in the dryer than in the washer.

If you have a more delicate wool or an expensive wool, you might not want to put it in the wash because you’ll be putting more stress on the fabric and the fabric may get worn out more quickly.

When you pre-wash your fabric, be sure to finish the cut edges by either pinking the edges or just sewing a zigzag stitch close to the edge.

I pinked the cut edges before prewashing my fabric.
I pinked the cut edges before prewashing my fabric.

This will prevent any unraveling of the fabric as it goes through the wash cycle. If you don’t do that, you’ll end up with a mess of tangled strings.

If you are washing a piece of fabric that’s more than two yards long, it’s a good idea to sew then ends together in one big loop. Then the fabric won’t get all tangled up with the other fabric you’re pre-washing.

I forgot to do that when I did a load of pre-washing earlier this month. I had two longer pieces of fabric – one was about three yards and the other four yards –  that I was washing along with other cotton prints that were one or two yards each. So when I took the load out of the washer and the dryer, the longer yardage was all tangled up with the rest of the fabric (as you can see in the photo above).

If you are using fusible interfacing in a project that you intend to put in the wash after you’ve finished the garment , you may want to pre-wash it in the washer or soak it in hot tap water for 15 minutes and letting it air dry (as mentioned on Fabricland’s site here). I haven’t experienced interfacing shrinking but I have read about other people having problems, such as in this post here.

Do you pre-wash your fabric before you sew?

Hand Sewing

Herringbone stretch stitch
Herringbone stretch stitch (photo by Chuleenan Svetvilas)

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 doing some embroidery and though I’ve been working on off and on since October, I can see my progress. So far, I’ve written two posts on my embroidered wrap, which was inspired by the one in the book  Alabama Studio Sewing + Design by Natalie Chanin of Alabama Chanin (my review). You can read about my embroidering experiences in this post “Getting Started on My Alabama Fur Wrap” and “The Embroidered Wrap.”

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 stitchesincluding 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!

Sewing Resolutions

My handsewn tunic with black ruffle.
My handsewn tunic with cretan stitch along the neckline and armholes.

This year I resolve to sew more clothes instead of buying them and sew down my fabric stash. I’m not sure how successful I’ll be at this endeavor but I think it’ll give me more incentive to make time to sew. This is also the first time I’ve made any sewing resolutions.

When you have a full-time job, it can be a challenge to find enough time to complete something (and my husband wants to spend time with me so I can’t spend all my free time sewing!).

So far I’ve made a handsewn skirt from red knit jersey and I just finished a tunic in the same fabric. I got the patterns from Alabama Studio Sewing + Design by Natalie Chanin of Alabama Chanin (reviewed here). I learned a couple stretch stitches from this book – a herringbone stitch and the cretan stitch. Until I read this book, I had no idea you could hand sew stretch stitches! Pretty cool.

Then to complete the outfit, I’ll use black jersey to make a short bolero jacket. I just cut out the pieces last weekend. I’ll start sewing it this week.

BurdaStyle Sewing Vintage Modern book coverAnd to give myself some incentive to get going, I’m contemplating entering the BurdaStyle Sewing Vintage Modern contest – make an outfit from the new book and post your results by February 8. I bought the book last month at a great launch party at San Francisco’s Britex Fabrics, which was attended by the author and designer Jamie Lau. (For more on the book, see my interview with Jamie.)

I flipped through the book looking at the recommended fabrics listed to see if I had any fabric in my stash that would work, which also makes it easier to decide what to make. I immediately see three things from my stash that could work, whether I have the skills to make all of them is another story.

Shape Shape book coverIn addition, I recently got a copy of Shape Shape: Sewing Clothing Patterns to Wear Multiple Ways by Natsuno Hiraiwa, which has patterns for some unique and versatile clothes. The author was a graphic designer, which no doubt has influenced the cool clothes she designs. There’s an interesting vest that I think I’ll make. I bought some red gingham over the summer and haven’t done anything with it so now I can use it!

What are your sewing resolutions this year?


How Jamie Lau Launched Her Fashion Career

Jamie Lau in one of her designs, and a dress featured in the book BurdaStyle Sewing Vintage Modern
Jamie Lau in one of her designs, and a dress featured in the book BurdaStyle Sewing Vintage Modern

Jamie Lau, co-author of the new book BurdaStyle Sewing Vintage Modern, learned to sew on a sewing machine in 2007. Back then the self-described public policy wonk was working full-time for California’s judicial branch as a senior research analyst in San Francisco. (For more on the book, read my interview “Q&A with Jamie Lau….”)

“I worked primarily in family law doing research on child support and all the other things associated with that,” Jamie explains. “There was a federal program to provide services to self-represented litigants throughout the state.” She launched and implemented a statewide database to collect statistics on people who used the program.

After a friend gave her a sewing machine for her birthday in 2008, Jamie eventually began making reversible tote bags, which she made for friends and soon began selling bags and reusable fabric covered notebooks, yoga mat totes, and checkbook and passport covers at Indie Mart and Renegade Craft Fair.

In January 2010 Jamie began squeezing in as many fashion and textile classes as she could, beginning with courses at City College of San Francisco and Apparel Arts, and spending nearly every night and weekend in class or doing homework. “It was really hard doing that and working full-time,” says Jamie. Sometimes she’d spend her lunch breaks at the main library in San Francisco doing her pattern-making homework or gathering fabric swatches for a textile class.

In addition, whenever she traveled for vacation, Jamie took more classes and made a point of visiting local fabric stores. She took a textile design class in Portland called Summer of Making, at Pacific Northwest College of Art with Heather Ross.During one vacation, she participated in a week-long intensive fashion class at the London College of Fashion. All told she took about eight different classes at multiple schools that year.

After immersing herself in fashion classes, Jamie soon realized that she seriously wanted a career change but she didn’t want to go back to school full-time. After all, she already had a master’s degree in social work and public policy from Columbia University in New York and she didn’t want to invest more money into being a student again. So she decided to take a leave of absence from her job and find an apprenticeship to get more design experience. Clearly she’s an extraordinarily focused and talented individual. But her success didn’t happen overnight. Here’s what happened after she left San Francisco to embark on her fashion adventure. 

Chuleenan Svetvilas: How did you end up interning at BurdaStyle?

Jamie Lau: I learned about BurdaStyle through my friend Karen, who’s an architect in San Francisco. She came to my booth at Renegade Craft Fair one year and was wearing this dress with a nice sweetheart neckline and a gathered waist. I said, “Oh wow, where did you get that dress?” Karen told me she made it and I didn’t even know Karen sewed! She said it was a free member pattern on BurdaStyle and that I totally needed to check out the site. I probably went on the website that same night after the event.

I found their contact information online and submitted a very professional cover letter to talk about my transferable skills. [I mentioned that] I didn’t go to school for fashion traditionally, but that I had all these other great skills and knew how to sew. Someone wrote back to me about scheduling an interview and I was then offered an unpaid internship doing creative and editorial work. I took a leave of absence from my job and began my apprenticeship in November 2010. I learned how to sew in September 2007 and just kept teaching myself, but only started taking formal classes on a regular basis in January 2010, and then I started working at BurdaStyle. I was really excited to go back to New York and I knew that it would be really hard to find more opportunities like this in San Francisco. I thought, well time’s ticking and I just need to know if this is for me.

At BurdaStyle, I had to tile a pattern together on my very first day and start sewing a pinafore dress. It was another member pattern and within a week it was featured on the website’s homepage, which was really cool.

CS: You were a full-time volunteer intern?

JL: Yes, I was doing it full-time. I was like, I just have to do this, and saved up since I wasn’t getting a paycheck. I started teaching sewing and draping classes at the Textile Art Center a couple months later, which came naturally to me.

CS:How long were you interning at BurdaStyle?

JL: I interned from November 2010 to early May 2011 when the book project, BurdaStyle Sewing Vintage Modern, began and started working as a freelancer for BurdaStyle. I then came on full-time in February 2012 as the site’s editorial and e-commerce manager. Everything just kept evolving and I ended up with basically every single responsibility imaginable for this book. It was a super DIY effort. Everything from administrative stuff to casting the models to writing the instructions and picking out the fabric and designing the looks. (For more about the book, read my interview with Jamie here.)

CS: What do your parents think about your career change?

JL: I think they were shocked at first. They were like, “You have such a great job, you work for the state. Why? Why would you want to leave?” I was only 27 years old at the time and wanted to pursue my creative passion, so I decided to take a risk.

Then, when I was mentioned in the New York Times last year, they said, “Oh, you got into the New York Times! Twice in one year! That’s amazing.”

CS: Did you ever think you would end up in fashion?

JL: I always liked to shop. Even when I was in middle school, I didn’t want to wear a uniform. I wanted disposable income in high school so I could shop and buy things that were unique in order to express myself, which is why I always had a part-time job.

Even when I was working in public policy, I loved to shop. It was retail therapy, but that starts to get expensive after a while.

I had never really tried to do fashion illustrations. I didn’t study fashion in college. But then everything just kind of happened and I realized that I could be good at this even though I didn’t go to school for it. All you really have to do is be diligent and serious about it, work hard, but also have fun with it.

I sew almost every day. Except now during the holidays when I’m not quite near a sewing machine. It’s just part of my life – whether I’m teaching or writing this book or I’m writing about fashion.

CS: How do you find the time these days to design and sew for Jamie Lau Designs?

JL: Most of my friends know that I don’t really sleep very much. I don’t even drink coffee, I’m a tea drinker. I’ve just always been an energetic workaholic. Even in high school I was working while being a student with all these extracurricular activities. I even graduated from college a year early. I’m just always going, going, going.

I work full-time at BurdaStyle, but I also teach at 3rd Ward and Textile Arts Center. My design stuff happens as soon as I get home. On the weekends I’m basically sewing – whether it’s sewing a project that I’m making for BurdaStyle or doing a custom order for somebody or getting ready for a show.

The fabric selection process is my favorite part of sewing. I really like Japanese textiles because the prints are very interesting to me. I’m really into metallic brocades right now. I made a dress to wear to every single book launch event and I was sewing down to the last minute. I had my Brooklyn book launch party on a Thursday and was flying out at 7:30 a.m the next day to come to San Francisco for Renegade Craft Fair and more book promo events. I basically stayed up all night sewing because I had to finish one last dress for the San Francisco book launch party. My mom has a machine, but she doesn’t have a serger and I also didn’t want to have to bring my whole sewing kit with me. So I finished everything except for the hem right before my flight and when I did my book signing in Santa Cruz the day before the Britex event, I borrowed their machine (and even brought my thread and bobbin pre-wound) to put on the finishing touches.

CS: How would you describe your style?

JL: My style is very clean and minimal. I like very geometric, architectural things. For example, I like the work of ’60s designers such as Pierre Cardin and Courrèges, as well as ‘50s Balenciaga. It’s all very clean and I like that you can see the lines.

CS: Very distinct shapes.

JL: Yes, but even if it appears to be just a simple silhouette, you can still do it in a really interesting fabric or make some minor changes and treat it like a palette – like an art piece. I also really love color and  prints. I don’t really wear too much black, but if it’s something black then I would like it to have a little bit of texture.

There’s also a nice elegance to a lot of the ’50s cuts. While researching the ’30s and the ’40s for BurdaStyle Sewing Vintage Modern, I discovered some amazing stuff and found some really cool silhouettes, too. Like the peplum – it’s totally back now, you see it everywhere.



Q&A with Jamie Lau, author of BurdaStyle Sewing Vintage Modern

Jamie Lau at Britex Fabrics for book launch party (photo by Sarah Deragon)
Jamie Lau at Britex Fabrics for book launch party (photo by Sarah Deragon)

Fashion designer, sewing instructor, and BurdaStyle editorial and e-commerce manager, Jamie Lau is also the author of the new book BurdaStyle Sewing Vintage Modern: Mastering Iconic Looks from the 1920s to 1980s (Potter Craft). The book includes five master patterns from which you can create 19 different garments – including several dresses, tops, and two pairs of pants – that evoke the various styles of the decades. There are even a couple patterns for men.

From what I’ve flipped through so far, the book has very clear step-by-step instructions and plenty of nice technical illustrations to go along with nearly every step. After I’ve spent more time with it and made at least one garment, I’ll write about it in a separate post. BurdaStyle Sewing Vintage Modern book cover

Jamie, who’s based in Brooklyn, was in San Francisco last month for the Renegade Craft Fair and to attend the book launch party for Sewing Vintage Modern at Britex Fabrics (she also visited her family). While she was in town, she graciously agreed to meet with me at a cafe to discuss her book and her sewing experience. We chatted for nearly an hour so I’m breaking up the interview into two parts. This article will focus on the book and next week’s post will reveal how Jamie went from working full-time as a senior research analyst for the judicial branch in California to her fashion career in New York. —Chuleenan Svetvilas

Chuleenan Svetvilas: I noticed that you wore many hats for this book – co-author, lead designer, technical writer, art director –

Jamie Lau: Photo shoot producer. [Laughs]

CS: So can you tell me a little about each of those roles as you were putting the book together, how that worked out?

JL: Sure – starting with project manager, it was kind of like assembling your crew. We didn’t have a very large budget to work with, so a lot of my previous job experience came in handy. I had experience doing contract negotiations, understanding contracts and business, how to hire people, how to interview people and build a project management chart for a timeline and goals…

I was doing everything from finding a fashion illustrator, a technical illustrator, to handling the budget. It was like, “OK, this is how much we have left in the budget so let’s find a fabric partner to work with. B&J Fabrics, which is also very amazing just like Britex [Fabrics], was the primary fabric sponsor we worked with.

Jamie at the book launch party at Britex Fabrics in San Francisco (photo by Chuleenan Svetvilas)
Jamie at the book launch party at Britex Fabrics in San Francisco (photo by Chuleenan Svetvilas)

Sure – starting with project manager, it was kind of like assembling your crew. We didn’t have a very large budget to work with, so a lot of my previous job experience came in handy. I had experience doing contract negotiations, understanding contracts and business, how to hire people, how to interview people and build a project management chart for a timeline and goals…

I was doing everything from finding a fashion illustrator, a technical illustrator, to handling the budget. It was like, “OK, this is how much we have left in the budget so let’s find a fabric partner to work with. B&J Fabrics, which is also very amazing just like Britex [Fabrics], was the primary fabric sponsor we worked with.

As lead designer, a lot of my job was doing the research on what styles to include, so I spent a lot of time at the public library looking at image archives. They have stuff on everything including pets, airplanes and transportation, and then there are costumes. The costumes are broken into different time periods. What I liked best about it was that the collection didn’t only include couture fashions. There were actually a lot of clippings from old magazines and catalogs, so it gave a more realistic view of what people wore on a day-to-day basis. It wasn’t just editorial, it was also everyday wear.

I also looked at old patterns. Most vintage patterns featured fashion illustrations on the cover – no photography – and they mainly included flats, so you could really see the garment details. A lot of my design process was spent gathering information and editing what looks would fill up this book and what was the best of the best from these different time periods.

From there I then had to consider what would be the five patterns that come with the book. What five garments can give us another garment? That was the major challenge because we can want all these things like a cool asymmetrical blazer dress for the ‘80s. But you also have to think about which pattern will it come from and how much work will the reader have to do to change that from point A to point B.

CS: That’s how you eliminated some designs as well, right?

'50s dress from BurdaStyle Sewing Vintage Modern on display at the book launch party at Britex Fabrics in San Francisco (photo by Chuleenan Svetvilas)
’50s dress from BurdaStyle Sewing Vintage Modern at the book launch party at Britex Fabrics in San Francisco (photo by Chuleenan Svetvilas)

JL: Yes. And I did a survey [of BurdaStyle members] for this book to find out what time periods people were most interested in and what garment types people were most likely to sew. Dresses and tops were the top two answers. Then we also asked, “Are you interested in men’s projects?” because we have male sewers on the site, too. We also have women who sew men’s garments, so we didn’t want to exclude that population.

The first BurdaStyle book [The BurdaStyle Sewing Handbook] didn’t have any men’s projects. It had a unisex bag. So the results from the survey also informed the final decision. I also looked at member projects because there’s new content every day that’s posted on BurdaStyle. I looked at what patterns people were buying, too. Dresses, of course, are super popular.

Then it was on to level of difficulty and having a good range of things. A shift dress is great. I use a lot of shift dresses in my collection. I think it’s comfortable and easy to sew and you can wear it all year round in different fabric ways. So I was looking at different [skill] levels, but I also didn’t want to alienate people who are experienced sewers with excellent tailoring skills who may want a challenge.

CS: Did you pick all the fabrics of all the garments?

JL: Yes. David Leon Morgan assisted with some of the male designs, too. He used to be BurdaStyle’s community manager. I primarily worked on the looks from the ’20s to the ’60s and ‘80s and focused a lot on the dresses. This was the fun part. And then there was the photo shoot, and I held model castings with many different agencies.

We looked for diversity in body types and were looking for “real” people. We also had a girl who was a fuller model. Model casting took a really long time in order to get the look we were going for. We also wanted to find someone who had a good personality to work with.

Jackie Dress from BurdaStyle Sewing Vintage Modern (photo by Chuleenan Svetvilas)
Jackie Dress from BurdaStyle Sewing Vintage Modern (photo by Chuleenan Svetvilas)

CS: And then you had to make the clothes to fit the models.

JL: Right. We had a sample maker help us who had worked with BurdaStyle before. She’s an experienced seamstress who’s very talented. Getting the fabric and sample garments done was the fun part about working on the book and I really wanted to have a good photo shoot. And then came the writing of the book…

I had already drafted some of the sewing and patternmaking instructions by the time of the photo shoot, but there was so much emphasis on getting the photo shoot done by deadline that it was really hard to do all of these tasks at the same time. Once the shoot was finished, I was finally able to focus on the instructions again. And I’m very detailed oriented, so I was checking everything down to what direction people needed to press.

Our technical illustrator, Rachel Rymar, is amazing. She and I worked very closely together and she was with me until the very end. The writing of the instructions was extremely laborious, and there were certain points in the process where I just felt so alone. We checked everything together closely, like if an illustration had to be serged because the garment was already serged in a previous step. There had to be consistency and I had a lot of project management experience from other jobs and was accustomed to being detailed and analytical, so I was noticing everything.

I decided to add more technical illustrations compared to the first book because a beginner, for instance, may not even know what a certain term is when reading the written description. I think it’s important not to intimidate the reader. So I wanted more pictures, more visuals.

We also had a fashion illustrator, Sarah Jung. We were brainstorming some initial ideas around the time of the photo shoot. I made a lot of mood boards in the beginning, too, as part of the lead designer role. I wanted to give her a feel for the mood of the book so we could really nail down the right illustration style.

CS: So what was the biggest challenge in putting the book together?

A spread from BurdaStyle Sewing Vintage Modern (photo by Chuleenan Svetvilas)
A spread from BurdaStyle Sewing Vintage Modern (photo by Chuleenan Svetvilas)

JL: I held all the responsibilities and oftentimes felt like I was being tugged in multiple directions for various tasks though I’m only one person. I honestly think the hardest part was writing the instructions. The creative fun stuff happened early on in the process (picking the fabric, selecting the designs, and producing the photo shoot). But no one can make a project unless there’s a good set of instructions. It was getting that part down and perfect and making sure that things were consistent throughout the book. For instance, if I’m saying you sew a zipper one way that it’s the same in another chapter.

CS: Do you think that this book would be good for people who have never drafted a pattern themselves? You’re giving people a basic set of patterns and then you’re telling them where to make adjustments in the shoulders or whether to adjust the patterns for different designs.

JL: Absolutely. I’ve looked through many patternmaking books before, obviously, and sometimes I just want to give up when I get lost and wish there were more pictures. Sometimes you don’t have another visual until five steps later, and you couldn’t even complete the previous steps to get you to that point.

This book is so visual and a lot of the adjustments are pretty subtle, such as changing a neckline, lengthening or shortening a hem, or adding a button placket.

I think the pattern manipulations are pretty easy for some of the projects while others may be a little more challenging, like the tuxedo shirt for men because there’s a lot of stuff going on such as the ruffled layers. The geometric top is easy to adjust because you’re just adding style lines on the bodice. You’re basically making a big X to color block!

CS: What would be your advice to somebody who wants to start designing their own patterns?

JL: Well, definitely have a dedicated workspace for yourself and try to be as organized as possible. Ergonomics are very important especially when you’re drafting and sewing. Also, do a little research and look into what your personal style is. Think about who you are dressing.

A lot of people say, “I can’t draw, I can’t sketch.” I was one of those people. You don’t have to be a fantastic illustrator necessarily. You can also collage images together. You can compose mood boards and gather fabric swatches. Do little naive sketches so you can at least document what your idea was.

Fashion inspiration for me isn’t just in clothing or literal fashion objects.  I really like color photography like William Eggleston, for instance. The bold colors in his work really inspire me. When I’m planning a photo shoot, I’m not just thinking about the garment but also the mood I want to convey.

Visit C Sews next week for more of my interview with Jamie Lau.

Snip! Thread Snips Scissors Tip

I use my embroidery scissors as my thread snips scissors and I used to hang them from a ribbon around by neck. But it was always a little bit awkward because I didn’t want to keep taking the ribbon off to use them, which meant the scissors had to hang around waist height. However, at that length the scissors would occasionally jab me in the stomach.

So I shortened the ribbon but this meant I’d have to lean forward to use them at the sewing machine or bring the fabric closer to me to cut the thread or embroidery floss. (This did not encourage good posture.)

Then I got the idea of attaching my scissors to a badge reel. In the office building  where I work, tenants must wave a proximity card in front of a sensor in the elevator to make it stop on your floor. I noticed that some people attach their prox card to a retractable cord.

You attach it to your waistband, pocket, lanyard, or something else, and when you need it, you just pull it out wave it in front of the card reader and then it retracts.

I went to an office supply store and found a variety of badge reels and decided on red and blue two-pack. The retractable cord is 28″ long, plenty of length to pull out and snip.

I snapped the badge holder part around my embroidery scissors. Then I slipped the metal clip to my left pocket. I’m right-handed so it’s easier for me to reach over and pull the scissors from that side and snip. It was awkward to reach back and pull out the scissors from the right side.

Pulling out scissors

The result? My scissors are out of the way but handy whenever I need them, which is a good thing when I’m working on this embroidered wrap!  (Note: Badge reels are designed to hold a lightweight badge so a full-size pair of scissors would be too heavy.)






Sewing Books at the Library: Improv Sewing, Sew Retro and More

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.

Flowers I made from Petersham ribbon

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.

Book Review: ‘Alabama Studio Sewing + Design’ by Natalie Chanin

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.

A couple pages from ‘Alabama Studio Sewing + Design’

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.

Featured in the book & available to buy on Alabama Chanin’s website

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!

Chuleenan Svetvilas

Making Colette Patterns Jasmine Top – Part 2

My finished Jasmine top (photo by Kofi Natambu)

For this post, I pick up where I left off in Part 1 — I had sewed the front and back pieces together and attached the collar.

Now I tried on the top to see how it fit. I was swimming in it. It was way too wide. I think I was overcompensating on the size because the instruction booklet says, “Colette Patterns have less ease than other patterns to provide a closer, more tailored fit.” I didn’t want the top to be too small so I opted for the larger size. It fit well in the shoulders but everything from the bust and below was too wide. I was swimming in it.

So I went back to the my machine to sew another seam about a half-inch from the current seam to see how that would work. I left the bust darts as is.

Adjusting the sleeve

I made these adjustments on the fly. I didn’t mark where the new seam would go. I just looked in the mirror, pinched the fabric where I thought the seam should go and then went to the machine to sew the new seam.

I tried it on again and the fit was good. Then I looked at the top to see how this adjustment would affect the sleeves. I needed to adjust the sleeve width or the sleeve would be wider than the armhole.

My down-and-dirty adjustment? I basted the sleeve seam to match the width I adjusted on the top. Then I pinned that sleeve to the opening to see if that would fit and luckily it did.

My next step was to pin, baste, and sew the sleeves in place. (Note: The sleeves are slightly gathered at the top, a very nice detail.) Once the sleeves are attached, you hang the shirt up overnight. In a bias cut piece of clothing, you need to let the fabric settle so you’ll have a straight hem.

The following day — as you can see from the photo below — the hem really needed to be trimmed. I took my Gingher rotary cutter and sliced off the excess fabric. Then I was ready to iron and sew the hem!

The hemming instructions said to “[t]urn the lower edge under 1/4″ and press”; then “Turn again 3/8″ and stitch. ” With narrow hems, I like to baste them in place before sewing with a machine. This helps prevent the fabric from getting slightly off as you’re sewing and then you have either too much or too little fabric as you  get to the end of the seam.

Though the pattern says that any lightweight fabric will work (silk crepe, silk twill, cotton shirting, etc.), the pattern likely works best with fabric that has a soft hand. The shirting I used didn’t drape  very much, even with a bias cut — as a result, I felt like I needed to wear a belt with the shirt to make it work.

Pining sleeve in place


Trimming the hem


Basting hem in place

Repairing a Tear

When I saw this skirt by Comtoir Des Cotonniers on sale last year at A Miner Miracle Shop in San Francisco, I just had to buy it. I loved the print. Plus the proceeds go to A Miner Miracle, – a nonprofit organization that “provides professional clothing and image counseling to low-income people seeking employment.”

Everything at the shop is sold at a discount and this skirt was marked down even further. It was the last one and I think I paid about $15 for it (whatta steal!). The waist was a little big, which explains why it was still on the rack. However, it was easy to take it in a little – on either side of the six inches of elastic in the back.

But I digress – after I wore the skirt, I noticed a small tear in the back. Actually, it was more like a slice. OMG! What to do? I had already worn it and altered it so I had to fix it.

The first thing I did was use some Fray Block to prevent it from tearing any further. (Note: Fray Block is thinner than Fray Check – though you do have to run the tube under hot water before you use it.)

I was a bit sloppy with my application of Fray Block, which is indeed thin but it didn’t make the fabric really stiff, which was good.

Fusible interfacing cut into an oval

I didn’t think it would be a good idea to sew the tear because what ever stitches I made would be really obvious. So I decided to use some fusible interfacing over the tear. I had two fairly lightweight fusibles on hand and decided to go with something that was more medium weight. A really lightweight fusible could just start to rub off. The tear was in the bottom third of the skirt so my legs would be brushing up against it, especially when I sit down.

Then I cut an oval of interfacing to go over the tear.  You don’t want a rectangle because you may be able to see the corners in the  interfacing.

Ironing the fusible interfacing
The repaired tear

I turned the skirt inside out so I could steam iron the interfacing over the tear. It wasn’t perfect but it fixed the tear. And lucky for me, the pattern on the fabric is busy and bright enough that I doubt anyone will notice my repair job!

You can barely see the repair.

Mother’s Day Gifts – Sewing Books!

The Trench – pattern by Christine Haynes

Last weekend my older sister showed my blog to my Mom on an iPad. A couple days later I spoke to my Mom on the phone (she lives on the East Coast and I live in California) and she said she liked the purple trench coat featured on this page of my blog. This is the coat I made from Christine Haynes book Chic & Simple Sewing, which I reviewed here.  She asked me if it was easy to make and I told her yes, she could certainly make one.

Yesterday I realized that time was running out on getting my Mom something for Mother’s Day. Then I thought – hey, I’ll get her a copy of Christine’s book! So I immediately ordered a copy on Amazon – I did check with a local independent bookstore first but they didn’t have one in stock – and I got an email today saying that it had shipped and would likely arrive on Saturday. Yay.

So if you’re racking your brain about what to get your Mom for Mother’s Day, consider a sewing book. Two lovely options:

Chic & Simply Sewing, which you can get on Christine’s website (or on Amazon) – This includes many patterns for a variety of clothes (see my review for more info).


Colette Sewing Handbook, available on Colette Patterns website (or on Amazon) – This book is about Sarai Mitnick’s approach to sewing and it includes five patterns. I will be reviewing it soon.


Sewing Another Trench Coat

The Trench - in purple

I made my first version of this coat a couple years ago. (You can read about it in this post The Trench.”) The pattern is from Christine Haynes aptly named book Chic & Simple Sewing, which I reviewed here.

I found this handwoven heavyweight cotton purple fabric at the East Bay Depot for Creative Reuse. I thought it would do nicely for this coat. The Depot sells cut fabric (not on the bolt) for $2/yard, fabric on the bolt is $3/yard. (For more info, see my post, Fabric at the East Bay Depot.)

Then I had to decide what I would use for the bias tape. I found a lovely remnant of striped silk at Discount Fabrics in San Francisco. I liked the idea of having diagonally striped bias tape.

After I started sewing the coat and attached the sleeves, I wondered about using more of the silk fabric as an additional accent to the coat. Eventually, I decided to put some of the silk fabric along the bottom edge of the sleeves. These pieces would be sort of like cuffs but I would just be placing a piece of fabric over the sleeve ends.

If I had figured this out earlier, I could have sewed the silk on to the sleeve before I attached the sleeves. It would be a pain to rip out the seams so I ended up hand sewing the silk to the sleeves (see photos below).

I actually made the bias tape last year and finally got around to finishing The Trench this past weekend. The big difference between this version and my previous one, is fusible tape. When I made this coat the first time around, I hadn’t used any fusible tape for sewing seams. It would have made my seams on the bias tape look significantly better. The bias tape didn’t lay flat so I hid that unevenness by sewing rick rack on top of the seam line. You can see that version here.

For the purple trench, I used a double-sided fusible tape –  Design Plus Ulta-soft Double Sided Fusible (3/8″) – which I read about in the an issue of Threads magazine. It is an excellent stabilizer for lightweight fabrics. Back in 2009, I ordered of two rolls of it from LJ Designs. At that time it was $9.99 for a 27-yard roll. (The price has gone up a dollar.) My first roll is nearly depleted but I still have one roll that’s unused.

It was a very tedious process ironing the fusible to the bias tape because I had to first iron it on one side and then the other. The good thing was that there was just a little edge of fusible at the center fold of the bias tape. So I could then put the bias tape over the unfinished coat edges and iron it in place. This meant I didn’t have to pin the bias tape. Yay.

The fabric I used was rather thick so I hand sewed the hem. Also, because this particular cotton has a tendency to unravel, I sewed bias tape over all the seams, which is a nice detail on an unlined jacket.

Below are many photos of preparing and attaching the bias tape, making the pockets and cuffs, and other details.

Ironing fusible to one side of bias tape
Peeling the paper from the fusible tape
Ironing the bias tape
Ironing fusible to opposite side
Ironing bias tape in place
Sewing on bias tape
Front edge and neckline
Bias tape along front edge. Neckline bias tape ironed in place
Pinning the cuff in place for hand sewing
Finished cuff
Notches cut into pocket corner curves
Ironing the pocket


Pinning the pocket
Sewing the pocket to The Trench
Inside view of the bottom hem and seam covered with bias tape