Archive for December 2011

Hands that move her are invisible

December 31, 2011


Pattern: Tutorial for Fully Lined Tab Top Drapes by Shelley Denton
Fabric: Hana blossoms drapery fabric from Hancock Fabrics
Machine: Janome Magnolia 7330 (16/100 needle)

The hardest thing about sewing is cutting. In knitting, if you make a mistake, even a catastrophic one, the yarn is still able to be unraveled and reused. When you cut fabric … it’s forever.


As soon as I unpacked my new sewing machine on Christmas Day I was looking forward to making curtains. Our house needs curtains badly. The original heavy insulating beigey drapes from when we bought the house are being shredded by kids pulling on them. Their rods are bent, their pull ropes are slack, their rings are coming apart. This house needs a lot of help, but curtains are a good place to start. Particularly because, unlike installing a fiberglass shower or replacing carpet, curtains are something that, in theory, I can do myself. I found a tutorial that seemed to be at my level. And I decided to start my drapery-making adventure in our bedroom, where any mistakes I made would not be so much on public view as in the living room or front room.

I measured (90″ x 50″). I converted measurements (54″ length including hems and seam allowances x 2 curtains = 3 yds). I bought the material from a roll rapidly nearing its end. And on Thursday, I cut.


The challenge of working with drapes is that the fabric is so very big. It won’t fit on my cutting table. To find the middle and cut it into two equal pieces of 54″ each, I decided to fold it in half, press it, and cut along the fold. But in refolding the other way to get it positioned on my mat for a rotary cut, I focused on a different fold line. I cut — and as soon as I picked up what was supposed to be half the fabric, I knew it was wrong. One piece was much heavier than the other. The smaller piece was too short for the window. Crap.


Back to the fabric store I went the next day. I could make one curtain out of the longer piece I still had, but I would need a yard and a half of the same material to make the other curtain. The roll was no longer in the display rack. I had almost resigned myself to starting over with 3 yards of a completely different material that I didn’t like as well, when I spotted the roll lying on a table near the home decor fabrics, apparently waiting to be turned into a remnant. At the cutting table, I found that it had just barely a yard and a half left on it. Saved.


That same afternoon I attempted my first curtain. Cutting was still difficult, but forewarned was forearmed. I found a way to square up the fabric and get it to the right size — probably more trouble than I would need to take if I were experienced, but it worked for me. I pressed, I pinned, I lay the whole thing out on the floor to get the lining aligned and the edges trimmed (my lining was about 3 inches narrower than the fabric). I sewed the wrong seam first and had to rip out 57 inches so I could start over. But I didn’t ruin my fabric with ill-placed scissors.


I used wide ribbon for the (invisible from the front) tabs, as the tutorial suggests. I sewed across the whole curtain to secure them at the bottom without a line to follow in the 8 inches between tabs, just eyeballing it as I went along. That took some courage. It was like sewing without a net.


I hemmed it with fusible web (using that for the first time). I put it up; it worked. The next day I made another one. Each one took me about 4 hours, which seems like a lot for a simple rectangle of fabric. But you sewists know what I’m talking about. Precision is everything. The hidden details are vital, and they take time.


The reward is immense. From deteriorating eyesores at our windows, to something functional and beautiful. I enter the room, and instead of feeling depressed about all the improvements waiting to be undertaken, I feel my spirits lift. From someone without the skills to effect this change, to someone with practice under her belt and expertise ready to deploy. Bring on the rest of the house.


The stars sing, I’ve got their song in my head

December 28, 2011


Pattern: Sewing Machine Cover by Jacqueline Smerek
Fabric: Cotton from Hancock Fabrics
Machine: Janome Magnolia 7330

In his “A Very Special Episode” column, Noel recently wrote about a Christmas-themed episode of Dragnet that was filmed three times with almost identical scripts. In all versions, the police partners banter in the opening act about the gifts they have gotten for their wives or girlfriends, as the case may be. One scoffs at the other’s stationary set, only to reveal that he got his wife a sewing machine. “It’s different with her!” he defends himself against his partner’s reciprocal scorn.

A sewing machine is a stereotypical bad birthday or Christmas gift for a woman in the middle of the twentieth century. It’s utilitarian, not romantic. It’s a dishwasher, a crock pot, a vacuum cleaner. It says, “Here, honey, you’ve got work to do.”


How times change. Now a sewing machine is my Christmas dream. This sewing machine, to be exact.

Not that I don’t love — and will always love — my Singer Featherweight, with its durable elegance and single-minded focus on the straight stitch.


For it and on it I made my first version of this pattern, which I now realize I somehow never blogged (perhaps because I made it over Thanksgiving weekend at a time when I had a lot of blog fodder stacked up on the runway, some of which is still waiting patiently).


But there’s something in this pattern that the Featherweight can’t do. It can’t zigzag stitch. Or do anything other than straight sewing. And as I browsed through patterns that assumed the sewist’s possession of a modern machine — one with a free arm, zigzag or overcasting capacity, an automatic buttonhole maker — I realized I’d be severely limited if I never left the fifties behind.


Almost as soon as I got my new machine unpacked and set up on the opposite corner of my sewing table, I realized that a cover of its own was the perfect first project. I went to the fabric store the day after Christmas, despite a pounding cold rain. The next day, I sewed — zigzag stitch and all. The new machine didn’t solve all my problems — I still struggled sewing on the side panels, around awkward curves — but it gave me a lot more options. And it allowed me to finished my inside seams professionally.


You would hope that the second time around on a pattern, it would go a little easier. And it did. I wasn’t terrified of making it too small, which led me to fudge my measurements toward the generous side the first time, and left me with a fairly slouchy cover. I cut the fabric correctly the first time. I was more precise with my seam allowances. My hemming is about a million times better.


I still have so much experience to gain. But I love my tools. They reward my efforts and are forgiving of my ignorance. Using them takes some courage; they are daunting to the uninitiated. I like that. It means what I do is worthy of pride. It isn’t something that anyone could do, but neither is it out of reach for someone who makes the attempt with care and determination.


Now that my machines are covered, now that I’ve explored a few of the features of my new Janome, I’m ready to step up beyond the absolute beginner stage — beyond the bags and cozies. There is home decor in my future. A garment before too long, I promise.


Sewing is a new craft for me this year. Every time I sew, I have the voice of The Sensible Seamstress in my head, my dear friend who taught me the basics. A new craft is a new ability. And a new ability is growth. That’s the most important motivation for me — not what is made, but what the making does for the maker. 2012 will bring more expansion, more development, more confidence, more pride, and more possibilities. I can’t wait.

Look for me with the sun-bright sparrow

December 9, 2011


Pattern: Molly by Erin Ruth
Yarn: Araucania Nature Wool Solids (100% wool), colorway #46 (that’s my guess — it was covered by a price sticker)
Needles: U.S. 3 nickel Options fixed 24″ circulars, U.S. 6 Harmony wood Options 24″ circulars (magic-loop style)

I started this hat on October 19 with the express intention of selling it at our Craftin’ For CASA sale. When I brought it to my Craft Wisely class, my teaching assistant seemed surprised. “So simple!” she said, looking at the single horseshoe cable and the seed stitch background.


I know I often knit complicated things. I like knitting complicated things. It keeps me interested and gives me a sense of accomplishment. But I don’t disdain the simple things. It’s not like becoming an intermediate or advanced knitter means that the easy patterns are off limits. They don’t issue knitting access cards that determine what areas of Ravelry you can visit, or reserve the basic patterns exclusively for the use of beginners. I enjoyed this knit thoroughly for the six days it took me to complete. Seed stitch is so easy and relaxing for a continental knitter (my TA hates it with a passion, being a thrower). And cabling isn’t more fun the more difficult it is, at least not for me. Its magic works on me whether the cross is the same every time or whether there are six different variations.


Is it the challenge of the execution, the complexity of the process? Is it how much joy comes in the making? Or is the beauty of the finished product, the perfect fit and the gorgeous flicker of the softly heathered turquoise color, the texture of the big nested cables and pebbly seed stitch? Both … more the latter than the former, in this case, if I’m being honest. The hat was so quickly made that I am surprised everytime I see it in my projects, amazed that I made something so effortlessly perfect.


But mostly what makes this hat memorable is that it was paired with the Perfect Slouch hat I made for Heather, the first CASA client I knit for. Both hats, both slouchy, both shades of blue. One simple, young, and versatile; one easy to executive but with tailored and sophisticated details marking it for an older audience. Neither hat stayed in my life — both went to others. What remains with me is the yarn on my needles (slippery cotton, rustic wool), the stitches one after the other (spirals of stockinette, seesaw of seed stitch), and the sight of the two hats linked on the sale line, waiting to be claimed.