Category Archives: I sew

Me Made May Report

I learned a couple of things from participating in Me Made May this year: It’s pretty easy for me to wear something that I made every day for a month, but photographing myself every one of those days is pretty hard, though I managed it most of the time (evidence here). The project was further complicated by the fact that I broke my toe early in the month and had to spend a couple of weeks wearing running shoes, which ruled out a lot of my skirts and dresses. So it’s a little hard to know what I would have worn otherwise, but the pieces that I reached for over and over again were my Endless Sumer Tunics and Staple Dresses.

chambray Endless Summer Tunic

silk/cotton Staple Dress

It was an interesting exercise to see which handmade items I reached for most often and which ones I felt most comfortable in. I’m a big fan of making multiples of the same garment; I love the idea of a uniform. I wish I had half a dozen of those silk/cotton Staple Dresses. I wear it most often like that, over slim jeans with a cardigan, but it’s long enough that I’m comfortable wearing it as a dress, especially with tights. I had bought the fabric years ago and can’t find more of it, but this rayon might be a decent substitute. The version with the high-low hem needs fabric with a lot of drape; I make it with a straight hem when the fabric doesn’t move as well. It’s also easy and pleasant to sew. If I leave off the pockets, I can do the whole thing with French seams, which I find extremely satisfying. I actually hate sewing the Endless Summer Tunic, since it involves a number of things I’m bad at—gathering evenly, sewing down facings tidily, hemming a sharp curve—but I love the finished garment so much I’m willing to grit my teeth and get through it.

The piece I got the most compliments on, though, was my navy leopard Hollyburn Skirt. It’s a flattering shape and shows off prints really well. I’m really looking forward to Erin Dollar‘s fabric collection this summer; I think there may be one of these skirts in one of her prints in my future. (I do wish they were doing her prints on more than one substrate—Essex isn’t my favorite—but I’ll take what I can get.)

pre-toe break

Bento tee prototype

I have nothing but good things to say about Liesl + Co’s new(ish) pattern the Bento tee, but I’m not really crazy about this iteration of it. Partly that’s because I made it out of some cheap jersey I had on hand and the fabric was thin and stretchy and hard to control. This silhouette benefits from fabric that has just a smidge of heft to it, I think. The boxiness is a big part of the appeal and fabric that’s too drapey doesn’t work; the way it falls into pleats off my bust points is all wrong with the shape and the higher neckline. I have some really nice, more substantial bamboo jersey washed and ready to cut out for the next one that should work better. Also, I need to add at least an inch to the body; this is unhemmed and it’s even a little short for my comfort level here. I just ran a line of zigzag stitches along the lower edge to keep it from unraveling. I haven’t tacked up the cuffs on the sleeves here, though I will do that when I make for-real versions.
unnamedMade in better fabric, it’ll look chic and modern with full skirts and culottes and slouchy pants this summer. The instructions are easy to follow, as always, and I really admire Liesl’s attention to detail, thoughtful construction, and consideration of trends while designing garments that can be worn for years. This was my first time sewing knits on my new machine and my first time using a stretch stitch at all. I hadn’t realized how slow it would be—stretch stitches do two forward, one back and it cuts sewing speed in half somehow—but it really does produce a stretchy, unbreakable line of stitching.

Sewing for spring

It’s been more than two years since a repair guy told me my sewing machine (an entry-level Kenmore I’ve had since 1998) would cost more to fix than it was worth and since then I’ve developed workarounds for the things it had stopped doing two years ago (zigzag stitch) and all the new things it quit (sewing in reverse, winding bobbins evenly), but it stopped maintaining any semblance of even tension whatsoever over the weekend and there’s really no workaround for that. So I’ve spent the last few days reading reviews all over the internet to pick out a new one. I decided on a Janome Sewist 500—I’m looking for a solid workhorse garment-sewing machine (even though I make a quilt every couple of years or so, I don’t need the kind of features that serious quilters want) and I couldn’t find a single negative review of it anywhere. It’s supposed to get here today, so I’ll be able to play with it a little this weekend.

Naturally, this is making me antsy for new patterns and new fabric. For Christmas, I asked my mom to do some sewing for me, so I have several really nice pieces coming my way from her, but I’d like to tackle at least some of these myself:

Girl Friday Culottes from Liesl & Co.

I love these unreservedly. They’re chic and practical and manage to be both on-trend and classic. I also really love the styling suggestions and inspiration photos Liesl shows when she introduces a pattern, as well as her How I Wear It series.  I was ordering some notions from JoAnn earlier this week and noticed that they had what looked like some perfectly nice linen on sale, so that’ll be my first pair.
1299338I also like Liesl’s Bento Tee. I like the proportions of it with the culottes and I like that it looks like a pretty simple introduction to sewing with knits.

I’ve also recently come across the patterns from Verb for Keeping Warm. I’d love to make a couple of this tunic, maybe one in chambray and one in double gauze. It’d be perfect on its own in warm weather and under cardigans in the spring and fall.

And this bias-cut linen dress looks like something I’d wear weekly until it fell apart:
Plus, after seeing Fancy Tiger Crafts’ version of the Bess Top, I’m plotting one or two of those.

More sewing

20140728-082334.jpgI worked on my bat dress this weekend, and it went pretty smoothly until I set the sleeves in, mostly because of my lack of experience with setting in sleeve caps with woven fabrics but also because sewing is stupid and I hate it.

No, not really. But maybe a little?

Doing things you’re not good at frequently enough to become good at them is really hard and disheartening and also the only way to get good at anything. Ugh. Everything is just the worst.

Washi II

20140724-074608.jpgThis is the exact same pattern as this Washi dress, but worked up in Nani Iro cotton double gauze. The fabric is a dream to sew, especially after that nasty poly satin, which slithered all over the place and promptly sprung back from any attempts to press hems up and whatnot. Double gauze holds pressed folds like a dream and gripped itself quite obligingly–I barely needed pins–and is soft and lightweight and just altogether lovely. Most of the patterns and colorways are a little sweet for my taste, but these floral rings are both pretty and geometric and the background is my favorite shade of purple-gray. The yardage is narrow though; I didn’t have enough of it for the pockets and ended up using some lavender cotton scraps.

Next up: the hidden bats dress.

Five for Friday

1. Current projects on the needles: a Cobblestone pullover in some gorgeous Blue Sky Alpaca melange I was lucky enough to get when a friend was cleaning out her stash. I think it’ll make a really great knockaround sweater for this fall. I’m making the smallest size and my gauge is a little tighter, so it won’t be as loose-fitting, but the drape of the alpaca is so fluid and dreamy, I think it’ll still read as a relatively flowy garment. And my Stripe Study is back on track. I tried a few different cream yarns, but preferred my original selection (Swan’s Island merino/silk) in the end. It’s a little lighter weight than the gray, but I don’t have anything in the stash that’s the right color and the exact right grist; the Blackberry Ridge wool/silk I tried was a little heavier and that looked inelegant and clunky, while a couple of other wedding-dress-option yarns whose labels are lost were even lighter than this. I think it’ll even out pretty nicely when it’s blocked, anyway.

20140718-090442.jpg2. I really like Colette’s new pattern, Myrtle, and the face that it can be made in either knit or woven fabric. I’ve been keeping an eye out for a pattern to use with this fabric and I think Myrtle might be it. I’ve been picturing it used in a dress or skirt that was ankle-length and sweeping to show off the gorgeous pattern and take advantage of how well that fabric will move. It’s 58″ wide, so there should be plenty of room to lengthen the skirt and make sure it’s very full at the lower edge

3. I know it’s hot and humid and so very, very July out there, but I have fall knitting on the brain already. Partly, I think it’s because I’ve been dipping my toes into Project 333, which really deserves a post of its own–I think I’ve mentioned it before, but the idea here is that you choose 33 items, excluding underwear, workout clothes, and sleepwear, and that’s what you wear for the next three months–and I’ve been thinking about what sweaters I’d want in a very limited wardrobe. When my friend Rachael did Project 333, she didn’t count handknits at all toward the 33 items, but I already give myself so many outs, I’d like to reign myself in a little if I can. So for fall, I’d really like to have a black Baby Cables and Big Ones Too. It’s patterned enough to be interesting, but not so much so that it would look weird with patterned clothing. And I’d like a fair isle cardigan in a relatively small gauge with small geometric patterns in natural sheep shades of gray, white, and black and raglan sleeves. I haven’t been able to find one that meets my specifications, so I’ll have to come up with one. This is the closest I’ve come across, but the gauge is too big and it has drop shoulders and while I love the cross motifs, I’m not wild about the floral ones. I have the cable pattern and some gorgeous black Italian finewool on cones that’ll be perfect for it, so should start that sooner rather than later.

4. A few things I’ve enjoyed lately: Rosamund Hodge’s debut novel, Cruel Beauty, which mixes Greek mythology and the Beauty and the Beast story in very smart, well-crafted story. Happy hour at Maison Premiere in Williamsburg, where I enjoyed some $1 oysters and a couple of French 75s yesterday while sitting at a marble bar with my husband in one of the prettiest spaces in New York City. And I finally watched Frozen, which is thoroughly charming. I was struck by the fact that Elsa has gotten so much attention when it’s really Anna’s story–she’s the one who meets new people and goes on the quest and makes things happen. Elsa spends most of her time shut away, either in her room or in her fancy ice castle.

5. My office is moving this weekend from west SoHo to the Financial District. I don’t really know that part of town very well and am looking forward to exploring a bit. I know about Les Halles and The Dead Rabbit, but any other leads on good places for lunch/after work/interesting things in the neighborhood would be much appreciated.

On taking your time when fabric shopping

Earlier this summer, I stopped by B+J Fabrics and picked up a few yards of this cotton for a summer dress. I was in a hurry and when I a bolt in the cotton prints section that was still mostly wrapped in paper caught my eye, I grabbed it.  I liked the purple-y gray and black colorway, I liked what I could see of the somewhat abstract geometric/mountain pattern, and I figured it would make a great dress.
20140711-093220.jpgThen I got it home and unfolded the yardage to put it in the laundry:20140711-093228.jpgI had accidentally bought three yards of novelty bat-patterned Halloween fabric.

I actually wasn’t especially bothered by it, though, and thought the whole situation was pretty funny. Plus, I like bats and I wouldn’t not wear a bat dress, even when it isn’t Halloween. Still, I had a really hard time deciding whether to use the fabric bat-side-up or bat-side-down. On one hand, if you HAVE novelty fabric, you might as well commit to it. I think a bat dress could be thoroughly charming. But on the other hand, I’ve been working pretty hard to edit down my closet and get rid of things I only wear occasionally (I’m thinking about doing Project 333—have any of you ever tried it?) and novelty dresses don’t really fit the direction I’d like my wardrobe to be going in.

I waffled and waffled and waffled some more, but last night I finally cut out a dress with the fabric positioned so it’ll read as mountains to passersby. But every time I look down at the dress, I’ll see the bats and crack myself up all over again.

Sunday morning


Not where I am right now

I’m up early today and sitting out on the deck listening to the birds and watching lovesick squirrels chase each other around the trees. A collection of old rusty rain gutters are leaning over the fence from our neighbor’s yard and the peaches on the tree next to them are the size of ping-pong balls and sparser than I remember them being the last few summers.

I got a few plants again this year; the best thing I can say is that none of them seem to be dead yet. Apparently plants like sunshine? And being watered regularly? I’d like to have a real garden someday, but it won’t happen at this place.

I’m thinking about sewing projects and what I’d like to make for the summer and fall. Another Washi Dress or two, at least one of those Simplicity dresses I fit on myself in Liesl’s workshop. I’m out of range of our wifi out here and don’t feel like checking. I sorted fabric yesterday and rehoused it. There isn’t much of it, relatively–a small plastic bin of old sheets and pillowcases and black and charcoal prints for a quilt idea I’ve been noodling around with; a small bin of [the alarm on my phone went off just now; there’s something so ensmuggening about being up with coffee before one’s alarm] leftover fabric from completed projects, nothing big enough for a whole garment on its own, plus muslins [what do you do with completed muslins? I’m tempted to take them to the fabric recycler at the greenmarket today, but feel like I should keep them for reference or something]; and one small bin of fabric that’s enough to use for garments, whether it’s earmarked for anything yet or not. I don’t want to start hoarding/stashing/stockpiling fabric. I want everything that comes in to be assigned to a project and used quickly. I’d like to be smart about sewing.

That cabled sweater I just finished needs to be ripped out. I probably should have taken a picture, but I got started on that last night. I’d done a sizable gauge swatch before I started and figured out all of my numbers to account for the fact that the fabric would grow a fair bit in width but not much in length after it was washed. Turns out: not so much. The garment behaved exactly the opposite as the swatch and left me with too-tight sleeves and a too-long armscye and neckline that was just plain peculiar. It happens sometimes and it’s inexplicable and discouraging and there’s nothing to be done about it except start over.  It’s lovely yarn; I’ll enjoy working with it again, I guess.

These squirrels must have been this spring’s crop of babies. They’re awfully scrawny compared to the well-fed monsters that I usually see waddling around the neighborhood, the ones that are barely able to scramble up a tree when the landlady’s cats are in the yard. And too energetic. Squirrel life seems like it’d be pretty easy around here; it breeds lethargy.

The best summer dress

I’ve written before about how much I love the no-longer-being-produced Mociun tie-front dress and how happy I was to realize that one of the Washi Dress expansion pack variations is a dead ringer for it. I finally finished a version of it this weekend and I love it unreservedly.

I wore it Friday night with heels to go out to dinner with Rob, then with sandals on Saturday when I was going to be meeting a bunch of new people and just pulled it on today with silver clogs, knowing that I’m going to be seeing a couple of my most stylish ladyfriends tonight, so I think it may officially be my new favorite dress.
10464061_10202672659312536_4493005448547722768_nIf I’d known how much I was going to like it, I would have done a better job putting it together though. I was really just thinking of this as a test run. I’m out of muslin so decided to try the pattern out using some cheap poly satin I had a fair bit of yardage of. Years ago, my mom and I had bought all of it that was left on the bolt, getting a big discount, and split it. I’ve never really known what to do with it though since the pattern is attractive but the fabric itself is so shiny and cheap looking. I figured I’d get it rid of it by testing the pattern, but when I got it out, I realized that the wrong side is actually pretty great looking, so that’s what’s on view. It made assembly tricky though, since the sides facing each other for all the sewing were really slippery.
-1I’m not sure the degree of shininess really comes through here; that’s the “wrong” side on the left and “right” side on the right:
20140618-072402.jpgThe dress came together very easily and quickly. It’s fitted with bust darts and an elastic casing at the back, so there’s no zipper to insert. It’s fitted enough on top that it doesn’t look like a sack, but it’s loose enough to be light and breezy and comfortable all summer. It looks good on its own or with a cardigan or blazer over it or tights or leggings under it, so depending on the fabric, it’ll work for all but the very bitterest cold days. I want to make half a dozen of them. I ordered some of this gorgeous Nani Iro double gauze for my next one; I can’t wait.

Liesl Gibson workshop

This weekend I took an intensive, two-day workshop on fit and pattern modification in Liesl Gibson‘s studio in Bushwick. It was the first time she’d held a workshop in her own workspace, but she teaches this topic pretty regularly, I think. It was fantastic, of course. I learned a long time ago to choose classes and workshops based on the instructor, not the topic (I mean, if Judith Mackenzie McCuin taught a class on, I don’t know, spork carving or clock repair I’d take it in a heartbeat and I know it would change my life. I’d even take her class on cotton spinning and I HATE spinning anything that short and fine), and even though I hadn’t met Liesl before, I knew enough about her information-dispersing style from her online presence and the way other people talk about her teaching to know that it would be a really good fit for me. (Fit! Ha!) Happily, the subject of the class was something I was interested in anyway and it was a really, really terrific experience.

Everyone else in the workshop had come in from out of town and they all got together Friday night for drinks at Liesl’s apartment and dinner in the neighborhood. I had to miss that, unfortunately, but it was because Rob and his mom and I had dinner and went to see Hegwig (SO good) for her birthday, so I didn’t mind. I met up with them all the next morning for breakfast before we went to the studio. She talked to us about design ease versus fit ease and how to figure out how much you want and how they work together and she walked us through her favorite ways of tracing patterns and transferring the pattern markings, including all the seam allowances, to muslin. I got the impression that students in other workshops may have squawked at the admittedly time-consuming and fiddly practice of drawing in the seam allowances on all of the muslin pieces, but our group was pretty game and ready to get down to the business of sewing clothes that fit, regardless of whether that meant spending an extra 20 minutes marking the 5/8″ line around our pattern pieces.

20140602-200655.jpg Then we put together the muslins and Liesl evaluated the fit with the others weighing in. I learn best by doing a thing myself with an expert nearby who can help when I need it, so it was the ideal format for me. We’d each brought a pattern–we weren’t making the same thing–and I’d brought Simplicity 1652, which looks like crap on the pattern envelope but has really lovely, versatile lines. I did the full back and cap sleeve options. This is from their “Amazing Fit” line, which has separately drafted bodice pieces for different cups sizes. Mine ended up fitting me pretty well right from the get-go–I just had to take out a quarter inch on each side of the bodice–though Liesl did end up redrafting my sleeve cap a little taller and narrower. I’d gone in expecting to have to lengthen the torso, but the group was unanimous that even though the waist didn’t hit right at my natural waist, it was actually better that way since it added a bit of visual length to my legs and let the skirt gathers fall at a more flattering spot that lowering the waist would have.

The workshop was spread out over two days, which was really, really great. It meant that we didn’t have to rush to finish things by the end of the first day when we were all getting tired and that a couple of people even had time to fit more than one pattern. I didn’t–I wanted to make sure the skirt fitted too, so I put the whole thing together, but some of the others just worked up the bodices of their dresses or were just making tops. We all ended up learning from each other too; I’ve always had the hardest time getting gathers even, to the point where it’s been kind of disheartening (if I can’t even do this, how can I expect to ever do ANYTHING right? and so on; minor sewing difficulties make me oh so very dramatic), but two of the other students walked me through how they do it and it was the best I’d ever done (high fives, Lisa and Amy!).

I learned a lot of specific and/or technical bits of sewing-related information, to be sure, but one of the more valuable insights I gained this weekend, which blew my mind a little, is that I’m better at this than I generally think I am. When we were walking over to the studio from the subway that first morning, I said something to Liesl about not being very good at sewing, but I honestly don’t think that’s true anymore. I’m not advanced, certainly, and I won’t be making things I’m 100% thrilled with until I’ve logged a lot more hours of practice, but I’m going to stop saying that I’m not good. When I take the time to cut carefully and pin precisely and match marks and press properly, I am at least somewhere north of adequate. I may even stop being afraid of zippers by the end of the year and then I will be UNSTOPPABLE.

The only slightly unfortunate thing about the workshop was the timing, since it came right after I’d spent two days being ON and professional at BEA and another day doing same at LJ‘s pre-BEA Day of Dialog, so I was a little wiped out by the time Saturday morning rolled around. Day of Dialog was really great this year, by the way. I mentioned last week that I’d be moderating a panel on women’s fiction (does such a creature actually exist? do women want different things from the reading experience than men? is it all made-up marketing malarkey?) with a terrific group of authors–Chelsea Cain, Rainbow Rowell, Sophie Littlefield, Pamela Nowak, Lauren Oliver, Lisa Scottoline–and Tara Parsons, who’s the editorial director at Harlequin’s Mira line. I knew it would be good because the panelists are all professionals who know how to talk about their work and the larger world of publishing and books in front of an engaged audience, but it was even better than I’d even dared to hope. They’re all hilarious and supersmart and, not to mince words, I’m very good at moderating and providing a framework for discussion. I’m pretty sure there’s no video record, but if I can find any write-ups, I’ll add them here.