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Eulogy for a sewing companion

17 Sep

4 weeks ago today I lost my beloved HattieCattie. For almost 15 1/2 yrs she ruled my life with an iron paw only sometimes wrapped in velvet. I loved her so much.

From the very first day she graced my life, she was as fascinated and involved in sewing as I am. Countless hours sewing with her help, countless kilometres of seams supervised by her soon-competent eye. So many flimsy paper patterns strategically ripped and chewed to reflect her discerning style.

I had so much planned to write about her. How startlingly, unexpectedly graceful she grew from such a scruffy scrap of kittenhood. Explain how her (often scary, frequently blood-drawing) iron paw never once made me love her less. How I honestly don’t know how I would have gotten through the worst of the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder without her purrs and love. But I can’t write … the words are starting to swim on the screen.

HattieCattie, I love you so so so much.

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‘Well that didn’t work’

13 Nov

Let’s take a look at makes that didn’t work! I did a similar exercise years ago, and discovered every single make that didn’t work came down to either poor finishing or poor fitting, so I took some proper lessons. Best sewing thing I’ve done since actually learning to sew!

Ever since then I’ve keep a list of what I make and how it worked, but it’s good to take a specific look at what doesn’t work, to see what’s to be learnt. Feel free to comment honestly, whether to point out things I’ve missed, or just tell me I’m over-analysing 😛 (And please excuse the mirror-selfies. My christmas wish list is basically ‘GOOD CAMERA‘)

Oh noes! My beautiful jacket? I’m so pleased with myself for having pulled the jacket off, but not so pleased with the actual jacket. Important distinction!

The fit just … Not Happy! Too big in the waist, and I’m not sure I can actually fit it close enough to look good either. The huge waist is the pattern itself. What looks like an hourglass pattern from the line drawings …

Photo

is, when you look at the actual pattern pieces, a box with godets at the waist. And I’m not a box with hips. Look at these piccies  – boxes with godets (with apologies to the women who were so kind to do pattern reviews on it). Gah!

I also adjusted the neckline, the original long rectangular neckline was going to look awful when I wore it open.

The peplum-effect is off too. I based the shape on this Burdastyle top, that I’ve made before and found it quite pleasing, but I didn’t pull it off in the jacket. (May not be clear from the pictures.)

113_0812_b_large

Lessons – good

  • I can actually sew with cotton velveteen in this climate! Weehee!
  • A colour that suits me so beautifully draws attention away from poor fit and shape.

Lessons – bad

  • I’m mad at myself for not going with my gut instinct about the fit not being good for my body.
  • More than two major changes to a pattern (waist, peplum, neckline) … might be better looking for a pattern closer to what I actually want?

The A-line knit skirt in the jacket picture got chopped up to make t-shirt yarn. Why? The style was stupidly hard to style nicely on my figure, and the fabric faded badly.

Lesson:

Green dress with roses 

Disclaimer: I ADORE this dress. It’s easy to wear, cool, comfortable, pretty pretty fabric. Looks gorgeous irl, takes me anywhere.

It just isn’t what I intended! It was supposed to be a loose slouchy casual dress, but irl it’s rather dressy. The slouchy look on the pattern envelope isn’t the style, it’s that it doesn’t fit properly on the model. *sigh* Caught out.

I drafted the collar myself. The shoulders ended up too wide – I have to push my bra straps to the edge so they don’t show. (And if they show they look terrible) The collar doesn’t sit well over the buttons.

Lessons:

  • Pretty pretty fabric (especially poplin) is hard to make slouchy and casual! It is extra-important to use a casual pattern to pull it off. Or casual fabric. Perfectly matching hand-crochet trim and buttons aren’t gonna help either.
  • Duh, necklines duh. I made this one up myself, so it was my bad.

No idea about the collar. Use a proper pattern? Only extend the collar to the beginning of the button placket?

A fitting issue –

Guess what it is! (It isn’t the waist being too tight, trust me, these fit me in the waist.)

Lesson:

I still don’t know how to fit my little short back (or back waist?) properly! However, looking at other photos where it is fitted nicely they can be summed up in one word: Empire line.

I think it might be worth a post unto itself actually, comparing what is well-fitted, and what billows, and try to figure out WHY!

Beautiful! But …

I even managed to fit the back nicely!

What’s wrong? The damned thing kept creeping up over my bust and towards the back. The front nearly choked me. And yes, the shoulder seam was supposedly in the right place.

Lesson:

I don’t know! Another top, from this pattern, did it too. (Yeah, vintage, from an op-shop, why do you ask? :-D)

What was happening with the above pattern was not enough fabric across the front shoulders, so it was ‘borrowing’ from the wider bust area, which of course was lower down, so the whole thing slid backwards. Is this what my lovely white top did? I don’t know. I just know I wish I did know to avoid it ever again! Because a similar thing happened with my ‘walkaway dress’ muslin which was actually a top.

That’s enough! I might do more in my sewing visual diary, see what I come up with. I think I’ll do the opposite next blog post and look at why things work!

ETA: Just saw this post on the Sew Sorry So Fat blog. I might use that template (being nice and asking first because I’m just a naturally courteous person so they ain’t got nothing to snark at ;-P )

A comfortable-sized stash

10 Oct

I’m officially on a Fabric Diet, after my er, being honest, delicious fabric binge while visiting Kerryn’s Fabric World. This was on top of my best friend going over to Bali with $50 of mine, and came back with a sizeable pile of gorgeous batiks and hand-woven cottons for me:

About half of them. Mmm!

AND my sister, in India for a friend’s wedding, sent me another sizeable pile of fabric (*drools at what she got me* No photos though. How terribly remiss of me *shakes head sadly*).

I’m overstashed!  It’s HUGE at the moment. Too huge. It isn’t fitting into little wooden chest it lives in that fits so well under my sewing table. (The chest takes a LOT more fabric than you’d think. In fact it may well be a TARDIS.) (And if the cat my faithful sewing companion, Madame Hat, looks grumpy, yes she is. She loves being grumpy! She adores parking herself right behind my sewing machine, swishing her tail grumpily as she gets covered in fabric and threads.)

My stash has overflowed into two linen cupboard shelves, fighting with the towels for space. It’s too big. I really can’t justify buying more fabric. Although I did fall off the wagon when I had to go to Spotlight to get some thread in a certain colour, and found these two delicious fabrics. Ah well, I’m human…

Cotton/lycra sateen floral on white, in the perfect dress-weight. And pure linen in a much nicer purple than it photographed as, vastly on special for $12pm.

 

Buy Nothing New Month thinks it has the answer. A few years ago I joined ‘Buy nothing new month’ which happens every October. I totally didn’t manage it, I felt restricted and, well, poor. Poverty isn’t nice. And I’ve been poor too much of my life to feel inspired by not buying things. I figure it’s like a friend of mine who was homeless as a kid, who can’t handle restricting her diet. Yeah if I had been homeless I would feel like that about food, too.

Luckily for me I’ve never been homeless. But poverty bites. I LIKE being able to buy something I need when I need it. I LIKE being able to get my hair cut when my fringe is getting too long, not having to save up for a few months to be able to afford it. I LIKE being able to replace old lingerie before it literally falls apart on me.

However, trying to follow the Buy Nothing New challenge that year, did help me see I don’t really over-consume. Apart from fabric! Seriously, some of the stories they linked to were of people having like 200 items of clothing in their closet O_O. Woah! totally not me.

I’m still getting emails about it though, and checking out a few links this year I came across this one about a guy who ‘donated 90%’ of his Stuff.

He suggests his readers ask themselves questions such as ‘Why did I buy this?’ ‘What could I have used the money for instead?‘ By this time I was considering my too-big stash. Next question ‘What would happen if I didn’t have this anymore?’

ARGH!!! I’d run off and buy every bit of nice fabric I could find asap!!!

And that has nothing to do with poverty. I LOVE fabric!

Why does the thought of no stash make me freak out? Well I think it’s a pretty basic creativity issue. If I had no lead pencils to draw with, I’d go out and buy them asap. I don’t draw often but when I do, it’s at the behest of a creative urge inside me to express something with lines, with shadow and light. I rarely play my violin anymore but I don’t sell it, because when I want to play it, I really want to play it.

And really, the same with fabric. I need a stash of fabrics I love, that I want to work with, that I want to wear, so that when my creative mind comes up with the absolutely perfect ‘make’ for it, I have the stuff needed to sew it up.

As for too much fabric, well the obvious answer is to sew some of it up. I’ve been cutting out (my least fave bit of sewing, the bit that tends to stall me on a project) all those ‘Icing’ projects I’ve been putting off till I make some more BORING cake. *happy sigh* So much delicious sweet, buttery icingy sewing to do!

 

What is intermediate sewing anyway?

14 Sep

The recent discussions round the place on beginner vs intermediate sewing information have gotten me thinking too. What IS intermediate or even advanced sewing anyway?

I don’t think it’s about advanced sewing techniques or couture techniques. Not for me, anyway. These are just technical sewing skills, some harder than others. A good instruction book (of the many I’ve found in op-shops) will teach me what I need for these skills.

For me, advanced sewing involves something completely different than learning yet another sewing technique. It is about harnessing and applying creativity to my sewing. About understanding how I create, why I create and how to do so most effectively apply it to my sewing. It’s also about utilising skills of maths, proportion, size, an understanding of the properties of the materials you are using, (does it sound like I come from a scientific and engineering family?!) and applying these to the creative mix as well. Not a lot of activities so neatly combine two very differing ways of using your brain like technical and maths skills with creativity. I think the way it does is what makes it so immensely satisfying.

I find almost all the beginner sewing things online irrelevant to me. Sure, there are gaps in my skills, but most of them are because I just don’t enjoy a certain kind of sewing that requires those skills. Learning them would be pointless for me unless I branch out into sewing something unusual to me, like my recent velvet jacket make. I found all I needed in instructions to make it successfully online, and by reading the pattern instructions, and delving into my sewing technique book collection.

The reason why that jacket was challenge for me wasn’t the technicality of the sewing, it was coming up with a design that appealed, that fitted my jacket-needs. I then sought a pattern that seemed the best suited to being adjusted to fit the vision I had. I looked for and found some fabric that would work with it, having ‘auditioned’ quite a lot of different kinds of fabrics. I started sewing, I found a few problems with my original concept that I hadn’t forseen, and used my experience and knowledge of patterns and fabric to solve the problems, and eventually came up with a jacket that was 95% close to the vision I had originally had. (Minus 5 % due to the fit not being quite what I wanted but only 5% because it’s very fixable!)

As I’ve just shown, I am sewing with a different focus than beginners and even slightly more experienced sewers have. They seem to be focussed on sewing skill acquisition. (It’s been a loooong time since I’ve been a sewing beginner, so I’m only going on what seems to be popular online for beginners.) I also seem to be sewing with a different focus to the supposedly ‘advanced’ sewing information, such as couture techniques.  In the end, to me, they are just yet more fancy techniques.

For me the techniques themselves long ago took on less focus. They are simply tools to help me translate my creative concepts into reality. What’s important now, and has been since my late teens are things like how to interpret the fabric, interpret the personal style (for whoever you’re sewing for), the pattern, fit (not in a beginner way of making measurements fit and doing FBA’s but as a more fluid and creative concept of how the garment is going to behave on the wearer as they wear it, doing the things they are going to do while wearing it), finding ways round issues like the desired fabric being so expensive you could only afford half a metre of it, or that the perfect zip colour doesn’t come in the zip style you want.

It becomes about creativity, and creativity has its own dynamics – and a creative person needs to work out how to maximise their own creativity, how they personally get from start to finish of a creative project, how they maintain the enthusiasm that will help carry them through the boring bits of a project. Fundamentally it’s about getting the most satisfaction out of their creativity. It’s also as important to know how to not stifle their creativity it in some way, and conversely, manage the outflow of creative ideas so they don’t overwhelm the person to the point of stalling them entirely.

Sewing has taught me SO much about creativity generally and my own personal creativity. Having sewn steadily since about age 8, I’ve gone on to learn how transferable those skills are to other creative pursuits, eg dance, music, writing. And most of life really.

I’m figuring it’s people who are very creative that are likely to be the ones who want to sew at more than beginner level. They also probably have creative skills already that they could learn to apply to sewing – and vice versa. I think seeing sewing in this context could also help people who feel guilty about the size of their fabric and pattern stashes (There’s SO much of that on the sewing blogosphere), to feel less like they’re being Naughty somehow, and more like they’re simply making sure as creative beings that they have the tools with which to be creative. It may even help them work out ways to create stashes full of things that DO inspire them, and that they DO want to sew, rather than filled with the latest pretty fabric they couldn’t resist buying (I may or may not be refering to myself too, in this ;-P)

Sewing also requires some very technical, engineery and mathematical skills that are not of the ‘traditional woman’s skills’ type. Looking at what those are and how they apply – and if it isn’t something you’re good at, how to work around your own ‘weaknesses’ and get that part of the job done anyway (though from what I’ve observed, most serious sewers are strong in technical engineery skills too.) The same skills for harnessing your creativity also apply to the engineery things. For eg, figuring out the best way to do an SBA for a particular pattern style you’ve never worked with before.

And working with the two different things, creativity and engineery together has an entire new set of lessons to learn, like when is it best to get all technical to the last millimetre or when to go with your creative wild impulse and throw measuring to the winds.

Some of the blogs I enjoy the most are ones that show these elements of the sewist’s process. Less with the how, and more with the why and the inspiration and the struggles and triumphs as they grapple the reality of fabric and pattern and body that is or isn’t living up to their original vision.

 

Yes, intermediate sewing skills are very different to beginners! And not in the obvious ways. It becomes more about the experience of sewing and wearing your own sewn clothes, why you choose to do what you do with fabric, thread, patterns and stitches and less about how to do ‘perfect bound buttonholes’ or ‘how to set in the perfect placket zip.’

Do I sound like I think I could write an intermediate sewing book myself? YES! Do I have the health to do so? No 😦 Would I like someone who has the health and ability, to actually write it? Hell yeah!

There IS a gap in the market. I’m really hoping someone will write one, or more! One that satisfies a lot more than a book made up of more ‘advanced’ sewing techniques would.

 

Setting in 200 zips?

29 Jun

Well it was only 5 this weekend. But it reminded me of when I was about 11 or 12, shopping for fabric with my mum at a very fondly-remembered fabric store in Parap, one of the older suburbs of Darwin – and home to the wonderful Parap Markets. The fabric shop woman taught me a lot about sewing simply by giving me good customer service. She also sewed professionally, as well as running the fabric store, her little workshop up the back behind the back rack of fabrics, but open to customers.

This particular day, she was setting is a zip as we came in. I said to her ‘oh, zips are so hard to set in!’ She gave me an ever so slightly stern look over the top of her sewing glasses and said ‘Not after you’ve set in 200 of them.’

One of the most important lessons I’ve learnt, not just for sewing but dancing, and music and pretty much everything else in my life. Do it enough times and it’s no longer hard or intimidating. Except Pilates, where the moment it gets easy, the teacher makes it harder.

However 5 zips in one afternoon was a lot, even though I ‘m sure I hit the 200 zips mark long ago.

Why was I sewing 5 zips up all at once?

Well I’d been working on these items of clothing and kinda crawled to a stop with each of  them because I had to set the zip in. In the end, after they’d all been sitting there unzippered and unsewn for a while, I collected them all up, set up the iron, got out all the zips, found all the colours of threads I needed along with their matching bobbins, dug out the zip interfacing from the bottom of the interfacing draw, and set them all in!

And look! Here’s the proof! They’re all done! Woohoooooo!

Here’s what they all are…

The red one’s the skirt from this retro pattern:

Simplicity 4044

The light blue chambray is a pair of shorts and dark blue chambray a pair of trousers, both for my mother from Simplicity 2700. It’s her latest TNT trouser pattern. She’s totally in love with it. So am I, because the fit for the curvy figure trousers was almost perfect for her straight out of the packet.

Photo

 

Speaking of chambray, I looked it up to check I had the right spelling and found some interesting stuff on it in Wiki. I had thought it was the same as cambrik, as in the Simon and Garfunkle song. But I was half right and half wrong.

The coral butterflies (which didn’t photograph too well, it’s way nicer in reality) are to be a pair of shorts from some trousers in a Burda magazine that is over 10 yrs old.

And the green and black shot fabric (Although I’ve just learnt, presuming the Wiki article on them is accurate, it could also be called a chambray!) is for a pair of 3/4 length trousers based on this pattern (Previously blogged about here)

 

However I adjusted the pattern by basically cutting it as wide as I could, trying to approximate this recent burdastyle pattern. Although now I look at it again, I think my green ones are going to be a whooooole lot wider than these 😀 :

120_0514_b_large burdastyle cullotes

 

Well, now the zips are all set in, I’d better go sew the rest of the clothes, right?

Oops! I accidentally stifled my creativity.

10 Oct

Well, I thought it was a good idea to put aside sewing clothes for myself for a bit. You would have thought so too if you’d seen how full my wardrobe was!

I have Other Projects to do. Like some christmas presents. (Yep, I am organised, I’m working on christmas presents and it’s only early October. But the thing is, you see, I sew or otherwise craft my christmas pressies, so I need time to get them made. And most of my family is overseas or elsewhere in Australia so I need to get them in the mail early.)

I also promised my mum I’d make her some new dresses, her wardrobe, unlike mine was, resembling Old Mother Hubbard’s cupboard.

I also need a new handbag. Of course, I could just go buy one. *chokes* and indeed it was starting to seem likely I’d have to, until… I found this pattern on Etsy. *dies in delight* in the shop Charlie’s Aunt. An independent pattern designer selling bags and accessory patterns with a retro 1940’s-1950’s flavour. Go check it out. It’s awesome!

Sewing pattern to make the Kitchen Garden Bag - PDF pattern INSTANT DOWNLOAD

Miserable thoughts of having to buy a new bag went straight out of my head. Clearly, I needed to make this bag!

Then I saw this bag pattern in the same shop:

Sewing pattern to make the Brideshead Bag - PDF pattern INSTANT DOWNLOAD

omg *drools* I’m sure I need two new handbags, right? Right! Of course I do! Especially as there was this promotion:

2 PDF sewing patterns of your choice

All in all, I thought it would be good to stop sewing clothes for myself, and sew and craft non-clothing stuff (like a new handbag!) for a bit.

That was about 3 weeks ago. And since then a very strange thing has happened. I’ve just stopped making anything. Ok so I’ve been sick, (nasty virus) but that usually only slows me down, not stops me completely.

And my overlocker has been on the blink. But it just needed a good clean and re-thread, which I’d usually do without it even registering I’d done it.

So why the lack of creative crafty sewing-y goodness?

After much thought the past few days, I’ve come to the conclusion I’ve simply put a damper on my creative energy. I just love making clothes for myself so much I’m almost never out of ideas, or out of enthusiasm for it. (Or fabric, actually, but The Stash is another story!) I also do heaps of other crafting things alongside the clothes sewing, like decoupage, crochet, craft sewing. They get swept up in my overall creativity.

But putting those dressmaking ideas aside for a month or two has just cut my creative verve totally dead.

Weird feeling.

I also took a good hard look at the clothes in my wardrobe and decided very sadly that about 6 or 7 of them (OUCH!) were so faded and worn they needed to be consigned to the rag bin 😦 Clothes just don’t last long in this climate. Now my wardrobe is resembling Mother Hubbard’s cupboard a bit too!

I think I need to go sew some clothes for myself…

😀

Heartwrench

11 Jun

For my 23th birthday my Granny gave me a sewing machine. Janome 18W. She wanted one that was a real solid workhorse that would not only go the distance sewing-wise, but solid enough to keep up with my, at that time, often quite transient lifestyle. And that’s what my sewing machine has been. That was 14 yrs ago.  I made her an apron as a thankyou present, blue seersucker with lovely little flowers on it, which she used when washing up each day. Then I kept going and have sewn with it most days ever since.

My Granny died 6 months later.

Last night while sewing, a whirring sound suddenly started up in the motor area. I’ve had enough experience with sewing machines and overlockers to know it was the motor. I talked to the sewing machine mechanic today and yup, the motor is going.

Which is the death-knell. Especially in a 14 yr old machine.

I’m gutted.

 

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