Thursday, November 27, 2014

Giving thanks for sewing

It's Thanksgiving today in the United States, and although I'm not American, I have come to have a fondness for this holiday of my adopted home. One of the nicest things about it (apart from having a chuckle at whoever thoughts of melting marshmallows on top of sweet potatoes) is the tradition of going around the Thanksgiving table and everyone saying what they're most thankful for. Yes, it's sort of mushy, but it's nice to reflect on the great things in your life and share them with others.

So, I thought today I'd share what I'm most thankful for in relation to sewing (of course family, friends, health and my general good fortune come first!). 

I'm thankful for the online sewing community

The online sewing community is how I learned to sew, how I got better, and the source of so much of my sewing-related joy. Until I had sewing friends in real life (of which more shortly!), sewing bloggers were my only outlet to natter on and on about my obsessive hobby, and the wonderful thing is quite how large and welcoming the blogosphere is. I'll admit that to begin with, sewing bloggers seemed like untouchable celebrities to me, and everyone seemed to already know each other, and maybe even be a bit cliquey. But then I found out that if you want to join in, you can! I have to say for a clique they do a very bad job at being cliquey, because arms are wide open. So thanks, online sewing community, for crowd-fixing my green cashmere coat, teaching me how to put a zip in, and always being there for me on Instagram when I'm in a fabric store on a business trip, urging me on to buy!

I'm thankful for the sewing friends I've met in real life

When I first started blogging I didn't imagine for a second I'd end up with friends all over the world who I'd meet in person! My main posse are the ladies (including Katy & Laney, Ping, Carrie, MacKenzie, Jessica, and the two Sarahs) at Grey's Fabrics in Boston, a fabric store three blocks from my house which has Wednesday night Crafty Foxes get-togethers where we drink wine, hem circle skirts and generally make sewing related mischief. However, I've also met amazing groups of women in New York City, upstate New York, Austin and London, and one of the things I now look most forward to on business trips is putting out a batcall on Instagram and seeing who's in the neighbourhood. I think my non-sewing, non-blogging friends think of what I do as a bit geeky and solitary, but it's turned out to be anything but. Also, an observation: women who sew seem to be not only incredibly nice but remarkably intelligent, accomplished and go-getting. If you want to meet more sewing ladies too, just let people know you'll be in town and you'll be amazed by what happens!

I'm thankful for my new body confidence

I've mentioned this before, but there's really nothing like sewing for changing your body image. Forget about trying to fit into a size X - just make something in your size instead! My occasional attempts to buy RTW just reinforce how much sewing has done for my self-confidence. And reading lots of plus size sewing bloggers has also really helped re-orient my mental image of what women look like, and how I look relative to them. To wit, here's a picture of me in a bathing suit that is on the internet. 

I'm thankful for fabric shopping adventures

I travel a lot both for work and fun, and having a hobby like sewing has made my travel so much more fulfilling. Not only do I get to meet far-flung members of the sewing community, but searching out fabric stores has often added so much to my trips. Fabric shops are rarely tourist attractions, so finding the local garment district is often a great way to get into totally different areas than you'd usually visit, and interact with locals - even if they do often seem quite confused about what you're doing there. Additional bonus is you can pick up interesting fabric at often low prices, and then when people ask where your blouse is from you can see "oh this fabric? I picked it up in Paris, DAAAHLING"

I'm thankful for the growth of the plus size sewing community

I'm really proud to have been part of the Curvy Sewing Collective, which goes from strength to strength. We get comments and emails all the time from women who are so happy to have found the CSC, and who relate intensely to the experiences of our contributors. Beyond the CSC, I'm so thankful that some pattern companies are starting to cater more for plus sizes, from StyleArc who have all their patterns up to a size 30, to Colette who are extending their existing collections up. There's still a long way to go - the proportion of all sewing patterns that are available to plus sizes is tiny - but I'm glad that the industry seems to be going in the right direction. 

So that's me. What are you most thankful for, fellow sewists? Let's be mushy for a day.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Coating with Cashmerette unveiled! Or, lessons in coatmaking

The never-ending green coat of doom is DONE! 

My goodness, that was an epic project. I started off foolishly thinking it would be fairly straightforward, because I used the same pattern, Simplicity 1759, as I did for the my coat last year which turned out really well. However, there were two major things I didn't account for: the difference that a different fabric would make (cashmere vs. wool boucle), and the different collar variation - last time I drafted my own big collar, this time I went with view B, which is a sort of standing collar which angles in to the neck.

My many coat-in-progress posts (see them all here!) documented the trials and tribulations I had with the construction... But I managed to perservere with help from the lovely sewing community, and with the exception of some slightly wavy upper right bodice seams the end result was pretty decent.

And perhaps my favourite feature of all is the flamingo lining.. Flamingos for the win! 

But, let's move onto the elephant in the room. Did you notice that so far all the photos are of the coat undone? Yep, that's not a coincidence.

Because..... this.

And this. 

 I'm not sure if these photos do it justice but it looks really, really bad done up in person. As in: friends said to me "Oh, I'm sure it doesn't actually look as bad as you think!" and then they saw it and went "ah, well, I bet you learned a lot!" *sheepish face*.

Of course, we all have wadders from time to time. I won't deny that it smarts to have a wadder be something where you invested in the fabric and in so much time sewing and re-sewing, but there you go, such is life. I'm not sure that it's really salvageable because ultimately, the shape just doesn't suit me - I think it's mostly the collar and the button positioning (which I can't change due to bound buttonholes...) - but others think it's too big around the hips, so let's face it, it all round doesn't suit me.

Sigh. Let's review the things that did work out OK!

The actual collar is kind of fun, even if it doesn't suit me.

Probably my best bound buttonholes to date (thanks again, Karen!)

All said, I did learn quite a few things from making this coat - in addition to what I figured out last year (full list of coat tutorials here!). 
  • Always make a full muslin of something you're going to make with expensive fabric - even if you're just doing a variation of something that worked for you before
  • Always test the interfacing / fabric combination first before you interface the whole thing - it turned out that the combo of my cashmere and proweft interfacing refused to go around curves and therefore had to be ripped out
  • Block fusing sometimes works... and sometimes doesn't. 
I'm left with a coat which I'm not sure will get much wear, but in the meantime, I'm plotting to make another. Before I started sewing I was always a huge coat fan, and I don't think that's going to change anytime soon, coat fail or no coat fail!

Are you working on coat projects this year? Which patterns are you using? And have you ever had an epic coat fail like this? 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Remembering how to sew again with a Moneta (what else?)

Between work travel and illness it's been an age since I sat down at a sewing machine, let alone finished anything, so in a short period of feeling better (sadly crap again now) I whipped out a Moneta. 

It was cold! The things I do for you, dear readers
I picked up this unique knit in Stonemountain & Daughter a few weeks ago in Berkeley, unsure whether it was a bit too "wearable art" (nothing wrong with that, just not my style) or whether I could pull it off. It has wide black and grey stripes, with a raised white stripe between them, which protrudes out of the fabric (I'm sure there's a more elegant way of putting that, but it's lost on me right now). Ultimately I decided to give it a shot because the Moneta's so easy, even if it didn't work out, not much would be lost. 

And I like it! 

I used my scoop neck variation, and underlined the whole thing with a black knit to stabilize it a bit. I tried my hardest to get a decent stripe across the waistline where the bodice and gathered skirt come together... and I sort of 80% managed with a bit of a blip (which is screaming at me from these photos but normal people may not notice, I guess). 

One incidental thing, but perhaps helpful to folks - gathering the waist on the Moneta can be tricky if you can't get the clear elastic thing to work (me neither), but a side effect of underlining the skirt first was that I already had a serged skirt waistline. I then found that when I ran my gathering stitches through the serging, it gathered like a dream. The downside is that you end up serging over the same seam twice when you attach the bodice, but I actually quite like the extra stability. 

I have a lack of comfortable "hang out at home" clothes in my wardrobe, and I think dress will help address the gap. Perhaps some Hudsons next, if I can find it in me to do some grading.

Peculiarly it seems that autumn and winter have come simultaneously to Boston, so I will leave you with a picture of me freezing next to some neighbours' pumpkins.

Final shoutout to Anne at Clothing Engineer for her ingenious focusing tip for taking tripod shots - I tried it for these and it worked like a dream!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Review of Stonemountain & Daughter, Berkeley CA

Ah, work travel, you fickle beast, keeping me away from sewing and finishing up that damn coat.

On the plus side though, new fabric shops to visit!

Last week, I popped into San Francisco (en route from Vegas to Boston to London... yeah) and apparently there was this sports thing on which meant that lots of people got overexcited and swamped the centre of the city. This was most upsetting as it meant I missed both meeting my virtual sewing pal Tanya (next time!) and a trip to Britex.

However, the upside was that I was staying in Berkeley with my friend Anthony (of whom more will follow...) and that, of course, meant... my first trip to Stonemountain & Daughter!

Berkeley is a place teeming with character, overflowing with students, hipsters, homeless people and folks who tuned in and dropped out several decades ago. Delightfully, Stonemountain & Daughter fits right in, with retro signage and a most relaxed staff (who were all dressed up for Halloween - double bonus!).

I was a little concerned when I first walked in that it might be mostly quilting cottons, because they're all focused at the front of the store. Not that cat quilting cotton is bad, you understand... 

There was also an awesome button display - I want my own button Cashmerette sign! One day, dear readers, one day. 

However beyond the cottons and buttons, this place is an Aladdin's cave... venture back and you'll discover Fur Mountain (I feel like someone needs to set up a blog with that as the title), a huge variety of denim, eyelet, Japanese fabrics and flannels. 

Then in the adjacent room, a very solid range of other apparel fabrics, from silks to knits to brocade to wool.

Being the predictable creature I am, I picked up (top to bottom):
- Black jersey for lining a Moneta
- An awesome textured knit for the aforementioned Moneta - you can't see it well in this photo, but the white stripes are raised knit ridges!
- A stretch cotton in bright blue, yellow and pink
- A great navy and grey flannel shirting for a Negroni for Anthony.

So a lovely trip, a lovely reunion, a lovely fabric shop and I'll leave you with a lovely view of the Golden Gate bridge from the Berkeley hills. Remind me why I live in Boston again? 

Friday, October 31, 2014

Coating with Cashmerette: Entering the final stretch

The apparently never ending cashmere coat saga continues! But is, thank heavens, nearing completion. 

So after all the interfacing-ripping and re-steaming and shaping, I found that the upper side panel (above the dart) was now waving... ARGH. This is *probably* because of being overworked and now under-supported, so I decided to do what I probably should have done all along: hand-baste horsehair canvas to the section. This is the first time I've ever done it, and I was skeptical that the stitches wouldn't show on the right side, but turns out it isn't that hard. I followed my trusty Singer tailoring book, and the result is fine (I know it isn't perfect!). 

The benefit to this is that it's now more stable, and the canvas takes a curve much better than the cashmere so it better for shaping. It's still not 100% perfect on the right side but I'm really, really hoping that a professional pressing at the end will smooth everything out.

Next up, I started the hem - I'm following Emma One Sock's lining bagging tutorial (which involves hand setting the sleeves), and I started by gently pressing the hem up (with 1/2 inch of canvas extending beyond the fold to get a soft fold), basting it down with silk thread, and then hand blind stitching it down about 3/4 inch from the raw edge.

The next stage is completing the backs of the bound buttonholes, and then bagging the lining... and then done!  Sadly, I'm traveling for work a bunch at the moment but I'm hoping that by the end of November it should all be done, just in time for the weather to be too cold to wear it... Oops! I will just have to swan around inside in it instead.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Little quilts for little babies

Everyone's sprogging! And if there are new sprogs that means that new baby gifts are in order. I got this one down pat a while ago: applique baby quilts are easy, speedy and fun to make, and much appreciated by parents for both useful and decorative value. Win-win! In fact I just found out the other day that one of the ones I made in the past is now a 2 year old's security blanket, and if that doesn't say gift recipient satisfaction, I don't know what does. 

First up, a blanket for wee blonde Irish-American baby Pierce. I popped over to Grey's Fabrics and picked up a fat quarter bundle of gorgeous washed-out soft flannels, including a novelty one with various little characters.  I made a triangle template out of a bit of cardboard, and cut out the bunting bits, stuck them onto the base cotton with fabric clue, then tight zig-zagged all the way around them. 

Then I made some little letters and went through the same process: 

Whap some batting and a back layer on, quilt through the bunting lines, and here we are! This looks much much more rumpled here than in real life - that's what taking iPhone pictures at night under overhead lighting does for you. I finished the quilt with pre-made quilt binding (also from Grey's), and the back is a gorgeous soft turquoise gingham check flannel. 

First quilt made and delivered (on the same day, no less), it was on to the second, this time for a wee lady who managed to unexpectedly come into the world in a back room at home, delivered by her father! She definitely deserves something nice. I used the second part of my fat quarter bundle, together with this cat fabric which I seriously can't get enough of - it's also going to feature as the lining on a duffle coat I'm currently working on for another little lady.

And here we are: another quilt, another baby.

 If you want more step by step instructions on how to make your own, I actually wrote a tutorial on this a loooooong time ago. Check it out!

What's on your baby gift roster? Or are you vehemently against sewing for wee babbies?

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Flamingos and a blog hop: a classic combination

While I continue battling on with my coat, I thought I'd whip up an easy TNT outfit and make full use of those adorable flamingos, which I wisely over-bought when purchasing the lining for the aforementioned coat. Another McCalls 6931 if you please! 

Even though this pattern is pretty basic, the combo of pleats and elastic waistband and only taking 90 minutes to make is a winner in my book. It works best with swooshy fabrics, and these flamingos were most certainly swooshing around on the poly crepe de chine. I bought mine from EmmaOneSock, but it's still available from Caroline Amanda's new venture, Blackbird Fabrics.

Can you guess.....?


In addition, I have been mulling the possibility of making a wrap top with my dear Christine Jonson wrap dress pattern, and finally made it happen. I don't know what I was waiting for - it took all of an hour and I totally love it. All I did was hack the pattern off just below the waist, and then add a 1 inch hem band. I didn't bother making a hole for the ties to go through, and it seems to work fine just wrapping around my waist. I used an gorgeous merino wool sent all the way from New Zealand by the lovely pink-haired Sophie-Lee.


My other bit of news is that I was nominated by my dearest sewing friend Mary of Idle Fancy to participate in the seemingly never-ending blog hop that's been going around. So if you're interested, read on - and if not, scroll back up... look! flamingos!

Why do you write?

I've always enjoyed writing, although for a long time it was mostly confined to schoolwork. However a while back I started up a blog about books, after telling someone that I read about a book a week during the year and then wondering if that was really true. Turns out it was! Then, there was a hiatus until Lauren and I learned how to sew, rapidly started learning almost everything from the sewing blogosphere, and then decided to join. Rediscovering the joy of writing has been just one of the many things blogging has brought me, and for that I am grateful. 

How do you write?

My blog posts usually start with pictures, and I'm lucky enough to have a sewing lady blog photo posse. I'm most often joined by Katy & Laney but also sometimes by Ping, Carrie and MacKenzie, and the day usually goes like this: rendezvous at my house. Get coffee. Wander the streets looking for a blank wall with good light. Two or three of us take photos of the other one, paparazzi style, hiding in bushes, up trees, and, a favourite, standing directly in the middle of the road. Repeat. Get the lint roller out. Adjust hair. Get another coffee. Well deserved brunch. As you can tell it is a most pleasurable approach to blog writing. 

Then it's back home, and I usually edit and write my posts straight away. I'm generally a "fast" person  - I read fast, write fast, talk fast and so on. So blog post writing gets done fast - I don't think it ever takes more than an hour from photo editing to finishing. Luckily (for me at least), my writing is pretty similar to how I think and talk so it tends to come easily, and I don't worry much about how things come across - I figure if you like it, you like it, if you don't, you'll stop reading!

How does your blog differ from others of its genre?

I don't think my blog is entirely unique (apart from the fact it's the only one exclusively featuring me!) but I do think I'm in a small but growing group of curvier bloggers who don't talk about trying to get smaller or look thinner, but rather just get on with looking good and making what we want to wear. When I started reading blogs it took a while before I found kindred spirits, but just in the past few years I've noticed so many more compatriots and that's incredibly heartening. Of course there's also the Curvy Sewing Collective, which has also hopefully helped encourage more curvy women to get sewing and blogging!

What are you working on next?

Well that's that #*?!@ coat... But I also have some awesome laser cut neoprene that I'll be making a pencil skirt from; some Prada (apparently!) silk to make a busty-lady Archer, and some pattern testing which hopefully will yield an incredible silk Christmas party dress! 

So, passing on the blog hop next.. it's hard to choose! As I've mostly seen fairly well-known bloggers participate so far,  I thought I'd throw it to a newbie: Rosie from SparkleNeedles.

Rosie has only just started sewing and blogging but 1) she is hilarious. Like, really, really funny 2) she is already getting so good! 3) I love her style (it is, in her words "a 5 year old at a rave")  4) it's fun to revisit the beginner days and 5) did I mention she's hilarious? Anyway, you should totally check out her site, and even though I know she's only just started blogging I would love to hear her answers to the blog hop. Over to you, Rosie!

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