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

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.