Archive for the ‘Sewing’ category

We’ll pick you up and take you away

February 14, 2012


Pattern: BBQ Apron with Rivet Accents by Liz Johnson
Fabric: Cotton duck from Hancock Fabrics
Notions: Double-cap rivets

Noel’s Valentine’s Day gift was two weekends in the making. Weekend #1: Shopping trip with Cady Gray to find fabric. The pattern calls for 60″ wide cotton duck, but the only suitable fabric I could find was in a 45″ width. So instead of one yard, I bought two. Instead of 36×60, I came home with 72×45, and hoped that cutting in the perpendicular direction would not affect the construction.


I placed orders for the other tools I needed — a hole punch, a plastic-headed mallet, and rivets with a setting tool and anvil. Weekend #2 was devoted almost entirely to assemblage. I cut and sewed. And, to my husband’s delight, knowing that I was working on his gift but not knowing what it was or any details, I hammered in rivets.


I learned so much making this. A clean finished corner, made according to this set of instructions, at the top and bottom of each armhole. Using rivets to attach straps and reinforce corners. I had a blast acquiring the tools and learning how to use them. There’s nothing better than a specialized tool, something that does only one thing and does it well, and imagining how it might be put to use in future projects, now that it has been tried and the skill to wield it tested.


Along with the apron, I gave Noel a set of grilling tools. They should fit nicely in the apron’s deep pockets.


Noel loves his Traeger smoker as much as I love my Janome sewing machine. We both use them to create, and we both enjoy experimenting, buying unusual materials, learning new techniques, and taking pleasure in the results. I loved bringing those passions together in this project. And I confidently expect to eat many delicious meals made by a man in this apron.


I’ve been walking behind you since you’ve able to see

January 28, 2012


Pattern: Tutorial for Fully Lined Tab Top Drapes by Shelley Denton
Fabric: Climbing Vines by Kathy Ireland

After my dry run on the bedroom curtains turned out so well, I felt ready to take on bigger game. Namely, the even rattier drapes covering the sliding glass doors leading into our backyard. Oh, these were bad. The kids had stepped on them and pulled them and ripped them so much that the hem was partially ripped off. We had opened and closed and forced them through the double-rod channel so much that they were almost impossible to move and the hardware was bent from our tugs on the cord. Even beyond their colorless beige heavy awfulness, they were broken. An affront to my self-esteem every time I saw that ripped hem dragging on the ground or contemplated trying to get them open.


Twice as long, these are. Twice as difficult to cut straight and get maneuvered over my ironing board. Which, by the way, is in sad shape, the pad all worn out and the drawstring all frayed and the cover constantly coming off while I’m pulling miles of drapery over it. A new one is on the way, and I wouldn’t dare start a full-sized project before it arrives. Plus, because the print is centered on the fabric width, and the liner is not as wide, and therefore the fabric needs to be cut down, I had to think about making sure that was symmetrical. Something new every project, even the ones that are repeats.


I had my dad here to help me install the hardware when it was time to hang them. Good thing, too, since on my won I might not have bothered patching the wall where the old rod came down. There were lots of holes and chipped spots in the paint job. We still have unsanded spackle spots above the drapes, but those are one step closer to a nice wall, rather than one step back the way holes and rips are.


One more set of legacy curtains gone. One more room lighter, newer, more customized. Think I’ll cover some pillows before I try to figure out how to handle curtains for the super-wide bay window in the front room. That’s going to take some doing.

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.

Turn around and make it a singalong

November 12, 2011


Pattern: Gathered Clutch Tutorial by Noodlehead
Fabric: Miscellaneous cotton from Hancock Fabrics

Yes, it has been a long time since I sewed. My excuse has been that my sewing area isn’t completely set up. It’s lacking a swing magnifier lamp, a tabletop ironing board … I looked for those things occasionally, but didn’t find the perfect one.

Then I read a piece in my Craft Wisely class about adhocism — the philosophy of “making do” instead of waiting for the perfect solution. And the urge to sew in my imperfect sewing corner, which was still a heck of a lot more perfect than the dining room table I was using before, came over me. So without a light, with the big ironing board I lugged in from the laundry room, I sat down to sew.


And not just to sew. To try something new. I made gathers. They aren’t perfect, but I get the concept now — baste across, pull the top thread carefully, distribute the gathers over the fabric, try to keep the piece square (I did poorly on that last part).


I put in a zipper. Oh, this frightened me, friends. Putting in a zipper meant (1) figuring out which foot in my ancient box of ancient Singer featherweight feet was the zipper foot; (2) deciphering how to get the presser foot off and put the zipper foot on; (3) learning to use a zipper foot. It’s hard to say which of those I feared most, but most of my nightmares involved the last. You know what? It’s really easy. You just let the foot do the work of following the zipper teeth. Trust the foot.


I even shortened the zipper (as all the patterns say, following package directions). I put fabric tabs on both ends (again, poorly — keeping the tabs inside the side seams was my biggest challenge, and it’s because I made the zipper a little too long and the external pieces a little too short due to uneven gathering). The part I was most scared of was the part that unfolded most organically, with the most elation.


I made credit card holders and a divider pocket. I sewed the card holders on the wrong side of the lining fabric. In my defense, in the tutorial the lining fabric looks the same on both sides, and visualizing where wrong-side and right-side are going to end up is still all mumbo-jumbo to me, so I thought putting it on the wrong side might be right. If that makes any sense.


Card pockets on wrong …


Divider pocket on right.


Here’s the back side. For all its flaws, this little clutch purse represents a significant uptick in my skills. My stitching is straighter, my seam allowances more even. I reminded myself how to do the basic things (I hadn’t even threaded my machine since May), and forged forward to some advanced-basic skills.


The next one is going to be even better.

The chance you take when you love someone

May 14, 2011


Pattern: Grab Bags by
Fabric: Cotton from Hancock Fabrics

Mother’s Day — when Mom gets to do all her favorite things. Here are two of my favorite things: sewing on my beloved Singer Featherweight, and making something fabulous. And here’s what I did on Mother’s Day.


I bought the fabric a couple of months ago, on the same trip when I got supplies for my drawstring bags and monster tooth pillow. But because of the utter chaos of my schedule and obligations in March and April, there was no sewing. Until Mother’s Day, which, as previously stated, is made for things you want to spend hours doing, hours that you can’t find on any other day.


It was my most complicated sewing project to date. There was a lining, interfacing, pockets. I got better at sewing straight and getting my seams sort of even as I went along. Now, when it came to figuring out what was meant by “clipping” seams and “topstitching,” the learning curve was a bit steeper (especially since I wasn’t about to use any of my precious sewing time to look it up on the internet, and especially since my machine doesn’t do anything fancier than a straight stitch anyway). I figured it was a bag, I’d sew it together, it should work as long as everything gets connected by thread.


You can easily see my limitations at the toughest part, where front meets back at the same place where the raw edges of the handles are supposed to be turned under and seamed. I had to go back over this several times, and there’s still some raggedness. It was a lot of thickness to sew through, challenging my machine. It may not be pretty, but it certainly won’t fall apart.


Oh, bags. You can be bold and vibrant in color and print. You can juxtapose wild contrasts for outside and in. You are forgiving when it comes to precision, size, and finishing. Everyone needs lots of you. I believe you may be the perfect thing to sew.

I felt unfettered and alive

March 21, 2011


Pattern: Monster Tooth Pillow by Ellen Luckett Baker
Fabric: fat quarter from Hancock Fabrics

On my to-do list for spring break: Get sewing again. I’ve got a stack of knitting projects to finish, too — some of which have already been wrestled to the mat — but they’re bound for friends in far places and can’t be blogged until later. Good thing, then, that a couple of hours work can yield a new crafty achievement that doesn’t have to be a secret.


Cady Gray has only lost two teeth so far. But I’ve known ever since Archer went through this same age that our tooth fairy setup is woefully inadequate. It’s one of those things you don’t realize until you have kids of your own. How do you get that lost tooth under the pillow in some fashion where it can be retrieved and replaced by cash? The tooth itself is too small and prone to get lost. You have to put it in something that you can find in the dark and that your child can feel as they’re going to sleep (lest you be plagued by tearful visits from said child during the night wailing that the tooth has gone missing).


Our method up until now has been a ziploc bag. Classy, right? Childhood memories in the making. And that’s why, when I saw this little project, I put it on my to-do list right away. Simple sewing to practice my skills, and a really cute result.


I can’t give you much for my ladder-stitching to close the stuffing gap at the bottom. Best you don’t have to see it. Nevertheless, this got me to get the sewing machine out again after several weeks of being too busy; it reminded me about reading a simple pattern, thinking the process through, and solving the little problems that come up along the way. Seen that way, it’s a real monster.