Things I’ve Sewn: Merino Knit Tops

In which I find some truly lovely fabric.

 

blue stripe trous and wool knits 2

 

I’ve made a real effort to make the things that I really want to do (mainly creating for myself and for fun) a priority.  No matter what, (unless I’m so busy I can’t think straight) if I’m home, I’m working on sewing something.  And if I’m on the road, it’s knitting and drawing, etc.  So sometimes it surprises me when I look back at posts here and realize that nothing I’ve made for myself for a while is visible!  It’s time to catch up a little bit on sewn projects, especially with Me-Made-May’14 right around the corner.

I think I’ll talk a little bit about the tops here first (and save the pants for another post) mainly because there’s not a whole lot to say, except about the fabric.  Last fall, I stumbled into the fact that a fabric store called The Fabric Store, based in Australia, had just opened a store in LA.  This meant that a whole bunch of New Zealand merino knit fabric was suddenly within reasonable shipping distance of my house!  And, AND they had organic merino knits, something I have been searching for, as a way to hopefully buy wool which is raised responsibly.  (If any of the lovely USA-grown-made-processed yarn folks are reading this, some of you should mill some fabric!) Anyway, The Fabric Store doesn’t have direct online ordering, but if you call or email them, they will find out what you’re looking for, and send you several lovely cards of generous swatches.

 

blue stripe trous and wool knits 9What lens flare?  Clearly I am floating in a sea of magical bubbles …

 

I chose organic merino knit in the “mushroom” color, and I love, love, love, this fabric.  It’s soft, it has drape but it also has body, and great stretch and recovery.  There’s something substantial about it that just says “wool” (I love wool) and it has a subtle sheen to the right side which makes it look just a little special.

When it arrived, I was in desperate need of a few more long sleeve tops for winter, so I made a simple T-shirt style first.  In this fabric, my pattern (the same one I used for these tops) is just the tiniest bit tight/clingy (you can see my cami straps, which is not my favorite thing) but boy, it is a terrific layer for winter.  And spring—I’m wearing it as I type this!

 

blue stripe trous and wool knits 8

 

The second shirt I made just a little more complex, using another pattern that I copied from one of those lucky thrift store finds with fit and style I love.  In an ongoing experiment to see if I can get knit shirts to more closely follow, and still flatter, my shape, I tried dividing the pattern into princess lines in back, so that I would have two extra seams to add width over the hips.  If I do this again, I’ll curve the lines more so that they come in at the waist, and then out again, yes?

 

blue stripe trous and wool knits 6

 

And I have fabric leftover!  Somehow, despite an earlier failure to squeeze one uninterrupted long-sleeve knit top out of one yard, by careful placement and a somewhat generous cut, it looks like I will get 3 tops out of 3 yards of this.  I was debating maybe dyeing the last top’s worth, until Bryan mentioned that he liked the way this color looks with my skin.  That settles that—I’m looking forward to making another style, same color, this coming fall.

I wore this exact outfit, new top and pants, on both our way out to Texas AND my flight back.  It’s just really versatile, comfortable, and perfect for the varying temperatures of spring.  More about the pants coming soon!

 

blue stripe trous and wool knits 4

 

 

Recycled, Naturally Dyed Silk Camisoles

Plus My Favorite Method for Sewing Knit Fabric Straps, and Self-Fabric Binding with Elastic

 

pink silk cami dyed hangingThe pink top before re-purposing, hanging with other materials dyed the same day.

 

Last fall, my friend Zuni invited me over for a day of dyeing with natural materials at her house.  I have an informal craft exchange going with some of my fiber friends, and it’s fantastic to have Zuni as part of this group.  All the mess and calculations for dyeing stay at her house, and we just bring home the colorful finished products.  The day in question, one of the dye materials was indigo.  Most of the craft exchange members tend to dye yarn.  I’m pretty militant about not letting my yarn stash exceed the capacity of one big plastic bin (after, ahem, seeing what happened to my fabric stash), plus I sew more than I knit, and I’ve sewn for longer, so I tend to be the one who shows up with odds and ends of fabric or garments to re-purpose.  This time it was a silk long underwear top.  I inherited two of these from my grandma’s stash.  The fabric is really lovely, but I hardly ever wore the tops, they were kind of baggy for layering, and looked awkwardly like underwear when visible—picture your classic long undies, but maybe a bit looser.

I think I had a class that morning, because I came to the indigo day partway through, at which point we literally just dropped the top into the dye bath.  Indigo doesn’t need a mordant, but I learned something important: dyeing something without soaking it in water first leads to splotchy fabric!  Funnily enough, a slightly mottled fabric was what I pictured when I envisioned how this would come out … although maybe not quite that spotty!   I also think not wetting first may have led to some of the color not being bonded with the fibers, and then rubbing off.  This was all an experiment though, and I was just happy to have a dyed piece to work with.

My plan was to cut the top up and make something I would definitely wear: a lovely silk camisole (tank top, vest, whatever you want to call it) for a winter-time first layer.  I used the same pattern as for my summer tanks, which after many alterations, bears almost no resemblance to the starting point: Kwik Sew 3524.

Click on any of the pictures for more detail.

 

blue silk cami on form

 

A couple of things that came out really well: the straps and the elastic binding at the top.  I’ve used this method for straps on a couple of (not blogged) other tanks, and really like it.  Basically I just sew a tube of fabric, using a narrow zigzag stitch since it’s knit fabric.  I turn the tube with a wire, and then slide a piece of elastic through it, using a bodkin or a safety pin.  Then I stitch through all the layers.  The added elastic gives the straps more stretch, recovery, and sturdiness than they would have if they were just made from the fabric.  This seemed essential when working with practically transparent silk!

 

blue silk cami straps

 

For these straps, I used 1/4″ elastic, and cut the fabric strips for the straps 1″ wide.  You need a little more than the elastic measurement for the fabric tube to fit around it, especially once the seam allowances are also tucked inside, and a bit for the seam allowances themselves.  Sewing through the fabric and the elastic holds everything smoothly in place.  I roll all of the seam line to one side of the elastic before sewing, which becomes the bottom of the strap, and the top looks clean.

My favorite thing about these camis (other than the feel of the silk on my skin, or maybe the color) is the way the edging fits at the top.  I used another fabric strip, and plain 1/8″ elastic.  I didn’t stretch the elastic at all when pinning and sewing it on, and the slight negative ease in the pattern (I checked—it’s about 88% of my body measurement at the upper chest) turns out to make just exactly the amount of stretch I want at the top.  It just hugs against my skin, without gaping or digging in.

 

blue silk cami binding closeupThis dress form is a copy of my body in duct tape, and the binding fits just as nicely on me.

 

Below you can see in more detail how the pieces of the binding went together.  After sewing through all the layers, I rolled the binding strips to the inside, and sewed again just outside of the first seam.  The part at the top with the bronze colored elastic is the built-in shelf bra, which I attached at the same time, in the first seam of the elastic and binding.

 

blue silk cami inside

 

For the blue one, I cut the original top completely apart, and used as much of the width of the original hem as possible.  I didn’t want the seams to show at the bottom, so I tacked them down by hand.

Not long after I finished the blue cami, Zuni invited as over again, this time to dye cochineal and purple.  I’m not that huge a fan of pink, unless it’s cochineal, and then I’m all over it.  The particular shades that come from those little bugs really float my boat.  So, excited by my first success, and learning from mistakes, I thoroughly soaked the second top in water and brought it over.  I was also careful to stir while it was dyeing, and the result was an even, beautiful coat of color!

If I could have, I would have cut both tops wider at the bottom.  You can see a little pulling, and stretching in the fabric around the hips.  For the pink top, I decided for maximum width, to keep the hem and bottom of the original side seams intact, and taper my new seam in.  Below you can see this, as well as the construction of the shelf bra and what the binding looks like from the inside.

With this method of binding, I like sewing the straps in at the end by hand, catching just the inner layers.  That way I can try on and adjust them exactly, plus I think it’s more secure and less likely to distort the fabric than trying to catch them in the seam under the binding.

 

pink silk cami inside

 

I got some good practice sewing with delicate petals of silk making these, and it seems less intimidating now.

The other fantastic thing about this project is that, when those long undies were just sitting in my drawer, I thought that maybe someday I would dye them and make them into something useful.  In the same way that maybe someday I’ll spin enough yarn to knit with, maybe someday my studio will be completely clean and neat … things that I dream about, but may never happen.  But this one did!  I’m trying to acknowledge and appreciate this as a victory, rather than just rushing right on to the next project, as I am apt to do.

 

 

pink silk cami on form

 

Plus, I just love having these in my closet!  In fact, combined with two silk camis I already had (one is an earlier take on the recycled silk shirt idea, and one is the original I used to copy my woven tank pattern), I have just enough to wear one almost every day.  That inspired me to pack away most of my summer tanks, shirts and dresses for the first time ever.  I always carefully clean and store my winter woolens over the summer (mainly to protect them from the scourge of moths) but putting away the summer clothes never seemed that important, especially when I still used my cotton tanks as winter layers.  The silk ones are noticeably warmer though, even as thin as they are.  And I love that my summer clothes are getting a break from being on the hanger, and how much more space there is in my winter closet.

Take time to celebrate your victories, people!

 

DIY Crib Rail Covers for Teethers — A Tutorial

 

So apparently, small teething children will chomp down on wooden crib rails like beavers.  I really had no idea until, visiting our dear friends at the end of the summer, I saw the evidence first hand, little teeth marks right through the wood finish.  My friend the mama was thinking about ordering some covers for the crib rails, but I knew we, ok I, could easily make some, and I would get to sew!  In August, after months away from my sewing machine, this seemed like a gift from the universe, plus it would be so useful and cute for friend mama and her little one!  I’m going to share my notes and method, which should work for any crib, below.  This is a fairly quick project, so if you are still looking for a gift for a young family, it could be a good one.

 

crib rail protectors onTo make up for only having quick snapshots of this project (did I mention there was a baby involved?) I’m making it my illustrated post for this month.

 

First things first, I measured the crib.  I wanted the covers to go around the whole rail easily, so I added a little extra ease to my measurements.  The back rail is against the wall, apparently too awkward an angle for little one’s head to chew, so I didn’t worry about that one.

crib rail protector mathI know that the quilt batting (which I want here for padding) will shrink a little bit, probably not enough to affect the width, but for the length I’ll include a bit extra.  I usually use 1/2″ seam allowances, which I did for the width.  I decided to use 1″ seam allowance on each end for the length, since that is where I am likely to want more wiggle room.  To figure out how much fabric I need, I made another diagram, since I’m really a visual thinker.

crib rail protector fabricSo here are the supplies I got, including a little extra fabric for shrinkage, since it’s 100% cotton:

Two yards fabric (Modern Bliss design #13662 by Robert Kaufman)

One yard super wide cotton quilt batting, for two layers of batting in each cover

Eight yards of totally beautiful soft cotton ribbon for ties

All of this came from Stitchin’ Post in Sisters, OR.

 

When getting ready to sew, don’t forget to preshrink your fabric!  Wash the fabric and dry it the same way you (or the recipient) plan on treating the finished project.  I also put the ribbon through wash and dry, in a lingerie bag, just in case it was going to bleed any dye, etc., since a baby might be chewing on it.  I didn’t pre-shrink the batting.  The package it came with says it will shrink 3%, which will give the covers a bit of that puffy quilted look once they are washed.  After washing, I ironed the fabric and ribbon to get rid of wrinkles and make it easier to measure and work with.

Cut or rip the fabric and batting into strips 10″ wide (or the width you picked for your crib), and then divide them for the length of the covers, as in the diagram above.  Take one fabric section with its corresponding batting to the crib, make sure the size seems close, and decide where you want to put the ties and how long they should be.  We decided on 7″ for each tie, which divided fairly neatly into 8 yards, 20 ties with two sides each.  I just cut the ends of the ties at a diagonal to keep them from fraying, and left the other end, which will be sewn inside the cover, squared off.

I pinned the ties to one side where I wanted them to go, and then with the fabric off the crib, folded it in half to match and pin the matching tie. It’s helpful to leave just a bit of each tie sticking out beyond the fabric, so you’ll be able to see where they are when you’re sewing.

Make a fabric stack for each cover, with two layers of batting on the bottom, then one layer of fabric (right side/public side up) with the ties pinned in place (I pinned them in the middle too, so that they wouldn’t shift around and get caught while sewing).  Then top with the other side of the fabric, right side down towards the ties.

crib rail protector sandwichHold the whole sandwich together with a few pins, and sew down each long side with a straight stitch, 1/2″ from the edge—our planned seam allowance.

Each time you come to one of the ribbon ties (which you’ll know because the ends are sticking out) sew over it, then back up and sew forward again, so that there are three lines of stitching holding each tie in place.  Blend back to your seam allowance line, and keep sewing to the next tie.

crib rail protector sewing ribbonOnce you have sewn down both sides, turn the whole thing inside out and tada!  The batting is on the inside and the ties are on the outside.  I had thought I would trim the batting from the seam allowances, but when I got to this stage it didn’t seem necessary.  I just pressed everything in its new orientation, smoothing things out and using the iron with steam.

Check the size of the cover on the crib, the fold the ends to the inside to get the length you like.  I decided to stitch them closed by hand, using a ladder stitch which picks up a little fabric from each side.  It just looks better, and I can also add a line of stitching near the ends when quilting so that the hand stitches won’t take much strain.  The white UFO near my fingers in the photo is the head of a pin . . .

 

crib rail protector sewing ends

 

All that’s left is the quilting!  I don’t usually quilt; I’m too obsessed with the properties of different fabrics, their drape as a 2-D material wraps a 3-D body, and the possibility of walking around all day protected and flattered by garments I made.  I do see how quilting is perfect for something like this though, and I don’t mind the quilted look, but it does bug me when the stitching totally contrasts with the fabric, especially when I like the fabric as it is.  I decided to use the diagonals in the print as guides for my quilting stitching, and not to worry about them being exactly all the same.  It gave the covers more of a modern look, which the mama and I loved.  I did check the batting instructions, which said to quilt no more than 8″ apart, and make sure the maximum distance between my lines was not more than that.  I quilted to one end, checked the measurements and then did a second round.  I didn’t have access to a walking foot, so I spread the fabric and batting sandwich outward from the foot with my hands as I went, and it worked just fine.

 

 

crib rail protector finished

 

I just loved making these, mostly because at the time I was thrilled for the chance to take a project from idea in my head to finished object in my hand!  I’m sure I could have looked up someone else’s directions, but I didn’t want or need to, and I love how my version came out.  I played with the balance between making something as good as I can, because it’s for my best friend’s baby, and going with the flow, letting it be a bit inexact and show its handmade-ness, because it’s the real world, and because I always think handmade things are the most beautiful.

If you try this project, I hope you’ll agree, and have as good a time as I did!  Happy week everybody!

 

Making a Lining for a Simple Top

In which I concede that yes, some wool is itchy.

 

lined MD top front

 

My grandmother wove the fabric for this top, and she sewed it!  She gave it to me many years ago, but I’ve never worn it much, because when it touches your skin, the fabric is super scratchy.  You all know how much I love wool, and I try to advocate for it, so I usually say that it doesn’t have to be itchy!  But the truth is, of course, it varies enormously with everything from the kind of sheep the wool came from to the way it’s processed, leading to everything from super snuggly high-end next-to-skin layers all the way to heavy duty outerwear.  (And here’s something I can’t get out of my head since I read it, that we might not even want all wool to be soft, we want some to be hard-wearing too.)

Ok, so say that you do have a scratchy wool garment that touches your skin, what to do?  Line it!  I’ve had vague plan for lining this top for a few years, a plan which gradually clarified itself and worked out details in my head, as I realized that I could satisfy my clear need for more sweater layers using almost exclusively things I already had.

 

lined MD top side

 

This top is a very simple construction which seems to have a been a favorite of handweavers in the 1970’s.  It’s just two large rectangles for the front and back, and two more folded over for the sleeves.  It has slits at the side seams for a little more movement, and the edge of the fabric is just turned under to make a bit of a curve at the front and back neckline.

 

lined MD top reinforcementI’ve been storing this in my brain and knew I would use it!  A couple of the older sweaters I’ve re-used for Fiddleheads have a sturdy ribbon reinforcement at the underarms.  I know this is a point of stress for this top, as the stitches had already popped there, and I’m not going to want to undo the lining to fix it again!

 

I thought it would be pretty simple to line this, and I was right.  There is a lot of minor fudging going on here, and it doesn’t really show, since it’s um, the lining.  I measured all the dimensions of the top and cut the lining the same size, plus seam allowances.  I knew that that would make the lining a little bit baggy, since it’s the same size and inside the top, but I didn’t want to make it too tight, or make this project super fiddly.  For such a simple garment this worked well.

Since the issue with the itchy-ness of this top is where is touches my skin, I knew that I needed an edging that would stick out past the wool at the neck and sleeves.  I had two candidates for lining fabric in the stash, both blue rayon.  I really liked how the color and slight twill texture of one looked with the wool fabric, but it was a little heavy for lining and has more potential as a garment on its own.  So I decided to use the first fabric for just the edging strips, and the lighter weight, darker colored rayon for the main lining pieces.

 

lined MD top sewing detailsI’m trying something new here, a lot of the sewing details are in this photo.  I hope that it will both be visually more clear what I’m talking about, and make the main text a little less dense.  Click to enlarge and read!

 

No doubt, this project has a LOT of hand stitching, mainly backstitch.  Fortunately, I love handstitching.  It has all the advantages of knitting in that it’s soothing and portable, I could work on it anywhere, and while talking to people on the phone, etc., so it actually went pretty fast.  Plus, I didn’t want the stitches to show on the outside, and since I could place and pin the fabric as I went, handstitching gave me the most flexibility to see how things were coming out, and pin under more or less to adjust.

 

lined MD top inside done

handwoven by Dottie MillerSo, many little stitches later, there you have it!  Lined garments just feel so finished, and kind of luxurious when you put them on, don’t you think?  And, the itchy issue is 100% gone, to the point where I forget all about it. (Remind me not to cuddle small children while wearing this . . . )

 

lined MD top front cowl

 

Now I just have to figure out how to wear it.  I’m not used to having wide 3/4 length sleeves, and sometimes catch them on things . . .  The first time I wore this into town, I thought it looked better with a cowl or scarf on top.  But looking at these pictures, I kind of like it on its own.  I live in layers, and this one is a bit tricky to layer on top or under, so I think a cowl or scarf will be a good option when it’s cooler.  The weather has been so mild lately that I was really comfortable taking pictures outside in just the top.  It may be a sign of impending doom, but I might as well enjoy it, right?

 

lined MD top side cowl

 

Totally, that’s what I thought.  What are you working on for winter, assuming we get winter?

 

A New Me-Made Upcycled Sweater

 

blue upcycled sweater looking side

 

Hello all!  I’ve been making and mending just about as much as physically possible around here (in between making hundreds of these little fuzzy hats) ever since I got back to my studio a few weeks ago.  Not much has made it up to the blog yet, and I decided to just start with the thing I’m most excited about: my new sweater!  I really, really need some more sweater layers for this winter, and I’ve had a plan to make a couple of upcycled ones from various bits and pieces since the spring.

So, here’s the first one!  The main part of it came from a deep navy blue, super soft, slightly felted, merino sweater that some friends gave me (on the right below).  The fabric is lovely, but the shape was classic sweater that doesn’t work for me—baggy on the sides, gathered in at the bottom—in other words the least flattering possible design for a small pear-shaped girl such as myself.  I also have this knit top which I love the shape of, it has princess lines (flattering—yay!) and interesting side panels, it fits me well and since it seems to be on its way out (the problem with thrift store finds) I had already traced a pattern from it.  So . . .

 

sweaters on line

 

piecing sleeveThe biggest lesson I have learned so far when recycling/refashioning something old into something new, is to treat the something old as fabric.  Unless the alterations you want to make are super duper simple, take the whole thing apart and press it flat and see what you’ve got, and it will be so much less frustrating.  You do end up with some odd shaped pieces of fabric, which can lead to interesting piecing and seams.  I folded the pattern for the new sleeve to accommodate the fabric from the old sleeve, leaving me two parts to cut from another fabric. I just have to remember to allow for seams when I cut the pieces to add on.  I had allowed 1/4″ seam allowances, so I cut the top and bottom sleeve pieces 1/2″ longer than the lines where I cut the middle piece, so there would effectively be a seam allowance on both sides.  Make sense?  I have screwed up the math on that before . . . but not this time.

It probably won’t surprise you if I point out that I have a lot of scraps of cashmere lying around here, plus old sweaters friends have given me, etc.  I chose a dusky purple for the extra sleeve pieces and extra at the back, which also didn’t quite fit on its corresponding piece of ex-sweater.

flat sockI chose the purple because it matched my material for the sides: socks!  My mom was nice enough to buy me these super soft alpaca socks at a fiber festival.  I loved the knitted pattern, I love knee socks, I carefully followed the instructions, which were to machine wash and line dry.  That’s my default washing mode anyway, so I thought I was good to go . . . but by the second wash they had shrunk to the point where fitting over my calves was no longer an option.  (Short strange tangent: this opened up sock reminds me of those animal pelts you see in museums, as if socks ran wild and were hunted for their fur.)  Once pressed flat, there was just enough material in each sock leg (including the ribbing) for one side panel of my sweater!

I experimented with sewing the seams flat, and I really like how it came out.  I overlapped the two pieces I was sewing together by 1/2″ (the same seam allowance as if I had sewed the seam 1/4″ from each edge, see what I mean?), feeling with my fingers for the edge of the layer underneath, and pinning in place.  I sewed a narrow zigzag close to the edge of the top layer, and then again about 1/4″ away, using parts of my machine foot against the edge as guides.  I used a walking foot, which I nearly always do for knits.

This method turned out to be only just slightly trickier for the curved seams connecting the sides to the front and back, so I did it there too.  I really like the slightly deconstructed look this gives it.

 

flat knit seams

 

I didn’t do the flat overlapped seams running down the sleeves, it would have been too much scrunching the sleeve up under the machine.  I did do it to attach the sleeves to the body though, and because of the raglan construction (not having to put in the whole sleeve in the round) it was pretty easy.

For the neckline, I kept the “v” of the original blue sweater, although in future I might add in some there just to make it a little cozier.  I knew that a section of scrap cashmere ribbing wouldn’t do anything much to keep the neckline from stretching all over the place, so I attached 1/4″ clear elastic first, stretching it to ease in the extra fabric and get the neck to lie flat, especially across the top of the shoulders.

 

sweater neckline

 

blue upcycled sweater back(By the way, I think the colors are truest in the two pictures above.  I’ve had trouble getting my white balance and purples to get along.)

So, I zigzaged on the ribbing at the hems and bottom of the sleeves as well, and there you have it.  I actually cut pieces for another purple section around the bottom, but I decided that I really liked the sock ribbing as the hem, and I liked the length when I tried it on, it allows another layer to peek out below.  And winter is coming, so I’m going to be wearing lots of layers!

I think the saddle shoulders may be my favorite part.  I’ve got plans for another franken-sweater using something I knit years ago.  I’m really pleased with how this came out, and looking forward to a DIY cozy winter!

 

blue upcycled sweater front

 

 

 

Free Yourself to Make Something Ordinary

 

garment bag stitching

 

Now that I’ve told you a little more about why we travel most of the summer, I can also share some things I’ve made for our trips.

 

Our clothes spend a fair amount of time in a “closet” consisting of a thin strip of wood between the shelves we have built into our truck.  It’s much better than keeping them in a suitcase, but still not ideal since they are unprotected.  At the end of last summer, when we unpacked the clothes from truck to house, I noticed that one my jackets was significantly more faded on one side than the other.  Maybe hanging it with the same side to the skylight for the whole summer was not the best idea?  The same thing happened to Bryan’s jacket, so I’m pretty sure that extra UV light on one side was the problem—combined with the fact that it was warm last summer and the jackets didn’t come off the rack very often.  I had been thinking vaguely for a couple of years about making some kind of garment bags to protect our clothes from getting dirty/scratched up as we move things in and out of the truck, especially as I have started to take more me-made garments on the road.  This was the final straw, I had to do it.

 

garment bags hanging 2

 

I decided to make two, each half the width of our “closet.”  One would be slightly longer than my summer dresses, and the other just long enough to protect shirts and pants.  I traced a plastic hanger for the shape of the sides, and left a split in the front to close with a zipper.

 

This was the perfect scrap/thrift store shopping project.  Since it didn’t matter exactly what the garment bags looked like, as long as they worked, I could use practically anything.  I used the last of some heavy canvas from old curtains that came with our house, plus another small curtain (made out of some great textured blue-green fabric) that I bought at Goodwill.

 

garment bags hanging

 

This may seem like a strange project to wax poetic about, but here’s the thing: as I cut myself loose from trying for aesthetic perfection, not caring what anyone would think of my topstitching or pieced fabric, sewing felt more like sculpting; using what I had on hand, and my hands, and just making something almost like I was pulling it out of the air.  I was free to use my creativity in any way I wanted, to use whatever I could find, odds and ends of colored thread, salvaged zippers (really nice ones actually)—and I started to see an unexpected beauty in my intentionally imperfect stitching, one that I hope comes through in these photos.  I was free to do whatever I wished, and yet cared enough to add little touches and experiments.  I was trying things, enjoying the process, and making something useful as I went.  With enough practice behind me to be comfortable with fabric and thread, I was able to just play, and it felt pretty magical.

 

garment bag snaps

 

 

garment bag corner stitching

 

Around the same time, as we both worked on various projects for the truck and Bryan’s display before the summer season, he was refinishing the director’s chair that he uses in the booth.  He did a really nice job, dissembling and sanding the chair before applying the new finish.  After all that, I decided it needed a new bag to protect it from getting scuffed all over again as it’s loaded in and out.

 

disassembled chair

Chair in the process of disassembly—we’re looking through where the seat would be.

 

I went back to the thrift store looking for something to line my chair cover with.  I loved searching through the housewares section, looking at everything as a material instead of a finished product (always my favorite kind of shopping), and letting the serendipity of what I found help shape my project.  I decided on two vintage towels for padding the front and back, and a second-hand piece of fabric to round out the outside.  I think the green stripes with my other leftover fabrics make it look like something for sailing.

 

When I announced that I was going to spend our penultimate evening in Flagstaff sewing (this chair cover), I got an enthusiastic “Ok!” from my notoriously goal-oriented husband.  Remind me to try this trick again next year . . .

 

chair bag stitching

 

It’s weird, but having all these me-made covers on our travels this season has been quite a boost to my morale.  Every time I see them, or touch them, I’m reminded that I have a spring of creativity and ingenuity which I can use to make whatever I want, and whatever I need.  That’s pretty much all I need to feel good about life in general.

 

How about you—have you done any creative and/or freeing projects lately?

 

Repairing a Backpack

 

mending backpack 1

 

This spring, when I fixed this jacket for my dad, I got an unexpected bonus.  Every time I saw him wearing it (which was quite often, it’s his favorite for cool windy days) my heart would warm with a soft fuzzy glow.  Here was my dad, who I love dearly, so pleased with his jacket and so obviously getting good use out of it, both of those all the more so since I had fixed the zipper and the tearing pockets.  It’s hard to describe actually— it seems at the same time obvious and silly— but I’m telling you, every single time I saw him in the jacket I would get a moment of happiness.

 

mending backpack 2

 

So, the obvious thing to do was to mend something else of his, and the standout candidate was this backpack.  He’s had it since, I don’t know, around the time I was born maybe?  And he still takes it out into the field on weekly basis.  (Maybe I should explain that Dad is a fairly recently retired wildlife biologist, who now gets to spend more time outside with his pet projects than he did while he was working.  Objects, which are part of his field gear and/or live in his pickup truck, do not lead an easy life.)  And I have a serious soft spot for things that have far outlasted their expected usefulness—this clearly qualified.

 

Another (non-sentimental) reason I was all up for fixing rather than replacing this pack is that the zippers still work!  I asked Dad if they did, and he said “kind of,” which turned out to mean that the only thing holding them back was the amount of frayed nylon threads stuck in the teeth.  Amazing.  The first thing I did was to turn under and sew down the raw edge of the flap covering the zipper, which had pulled out of its original stitching long ago and was the main source of the zipper-clogging threads.  I pulled the threads from the zipper using my fingers, a tweezers, and a scissors for stubborn parts, alternately zipping and unzipping it until they were just about all gone.  I also went kind of nuts zigzagging over any and all seam allowances and raw edges I could reach inside the pack with my machine, trying to keep future fraying and loose threads to an absolute minimum, since after all, this backpack has to be ready for another 30-odd years of use.

 

mending backpack 4

 

The bigger holes I patched inside and out, to reinforce them, and again to keep all raw edges inside so they wouldn’t unravel any further.  The worst hole was where one strap had pulled out of the body of the pack.  That one had allowed Dad’s not-so-small camera to fall out of the pack—that was the last straw for him to hand it over so I could fix it.  After patching that hole on both sides, I sewed a big X through the strap webbing and the new fabric, which ought to hold it.  I also reinforced the other strap with similar stitching.

 

The only part I have a doubt about, is where one strap had pulled off at the point where it’s anchored to the top of the pack.  I added new fabric on both sides of the whole area where the straps attach (the one you see on the outside is black faux suede), and stitched around the whole thing as best I could.  But, there is an old rivet in there that had pulled out.  I couldn’t stitch as close to it as I would like, and I thought pulling it off completely would weaken the strap too much.  At least I will be around to see how it holds up, and make future repairs if necessary!

 

mending backpack 3

 

Hopefully you don’t need any more encouragement than the above story to get out there and fix something for someone you love.  It doesn’t have to be sewing, use whatever skills you have.  And if you have any questions about needle-and-thread mending, let me know, I’ll be happy to help if I can.

 

 

A Hot Weather Sundress, and Making Spaghetti Straps

 

hot weather dress hollyhocks 1

 

I’m catching up here.  You know how sometimes, if you prepare carefully for something, it doesn’t happen?  I made this dress for Me-Made-May, but didn’t end up wearing it until the middle of June, due to unseasonably cool and rainy weather all month long.  This year I wanted to up my pledge for May, so that I wore at least two items of me-made clothing at all times.  When it’s really hot out, I like to wear only two items of clothing period, one of which must be a sundress, which allows as much heat to escape from my skin as possible.  My airiest one in particular was 1. wearing out and 2. not me-made, so I clearly needed to replace it before May.  It had a couple of features which I wanted to replicate in my self-stitched version: just about the lowest neckline I am comfortable wearing in public, layers of very light fabric, and gathering at the empire waist.

 

hot weather dress hollyhocks 2

 

I used my self-drafted sundress pattern again, altering it this time for a cross-over gathered front.  Each time I make a new version of this dress, I change the back in an attempt to make it not pull up at the center back, and both times so far it has not worked.  Any ideas?  I’m pretty happy with how the front came out though.  One thing I’ve learned: the key to keeping the bodice from immediately gaping open when I bend forward is to ease the top edges into a slightly shorter binding, so that I take some of the fullness around the bust out again. It’s especially important since I replaced the darts on this version with gathers.

 

hot weather dress fabrics

 

This fabric is a cotton batiste, I’m sorry to say I have no recollection of where it came from, I just remember it being in my stash for a long, long time.  My first idea was to use plain white for the lining layer.  As I was cutting out the main fabric pieces, I dropped a piece in my fabric scrap pile, and it happened to land on top of a piece of felt in this light minty green color.  I suddenly remembered that I had another piece of lightweight cotton in a really similar color, which might look great as the inner layer.  It turned out there was just enough of that fabric for the lining and bindings, and I really like how the green adds a little hint of color under the main fabric, and how it looks peaking out at the hem, a detail I added to show off the second color.  Even though I decided not to join any of the official fabric stash-busting challenges going on this year (despite this cool anime dinosaur logo) I have been making a conscious effort to use the fabric I already have, and making some good progress, in part inspired by all the other sewers who are doing the same.

 

hot weather dress spaghetti straps

Click on this picture (or any of the others) to enlarge for easy reading.

 

With all the sundresses and tanks I’ve been making the last year or so, I’ve gotten a lot of practice making thin “spaghetti” straps, and come up with a method that I like.  If the fabric is lightweight, like this one, I’ll use two fabric layers for each strap.  Since the dress will hang from the straps for most of its life, I want them to be fairly sturdy.  I cut each one 1 1/4″ wide, and a couple inches longer than I think I’ll need.  I get the best results when I zigzag the two strap layers together first, with a narrow zigzag right on the edges.  It keeps the layers from shifting as I sew, and from unraveling as I turn the strap right side out.  Then I press the strap in half, to get a clean even fold.  I stitch the strap seam with a short straight stitch, 1/4″ from the edges.  Then turn it right side out.  I use a long wire, as explained here.  The straps come out about 1/4″ wide, and somewhat thick and rounded.  If you do the math, the extra 1/4″ in the width becomes the “turn of cloth”, the extra fabric needed to go around the seam allowances which fill the middle of the strap.

 

hot weather dress hollyhocks 4

 

I decided to use light blue thread for topstitching the bindings and hems on both layers.  I topstitched over the straps as well, to go with the look of the bindings.  At one point, I started to wonder if I was going overboard using up things from my stash and adding more colors.  But if I took a step back, I realized that if I saw this dress in a store window, I would want it immediately.  So that was a good imaginary test!  Since I’ve been wearing it, I’ve noticed that all the colors in the print go with lots of other things in my wardrobe too.

 

hot weather dress hollyhocks 3

 

Special thanks to my aunt Barbara for taking the pictures of wearing the dress, and for letting me use the beautiful hollyhocks in her garden as a backdrop!  That was the first time it was warm enough to wear the dress, as you can probably tell from my lack of tan here. . .   What about you?  Are you making anything for your current weather, or the coming season?

 

A Peak into Our Creative Retreat of 2013

 

table with sewing machines

 

As most of you probably already know, every year a group of my family (and friends who are like family) get together for a week of creating and sharing.  Different people teach different skills and projects.  Pretty much anything that could fall under the category “fine craft” is fair game, and there’s usually something more “art” thrown in as well.  My grandmother started this idea, and at this point it’s a huge group effort.  My job is to make up the schedule, using the topics everyone votes on as favorites, communicate with the participants before the workshop week, and to try and keep things running smoothly throughout the week.  (Participants, if you are reading this, I’ll get that survey for next years’ classes done, um, soon . . . )

Every year, I leave wishing that I could live in that atmosphere of communal creative energy forever . . . and then I go home and sleep like I have rarely slept before!

 

miette sideThis year, there was actually quite a lot of sewing.  I kind of shoehorned in some garment/project sewing time, I was really excited about sharing sewing with some real-life students again after spending months working on Hello Sewing Machine.  One of my students went to town making drawstring bags, and three made Miette skirts!  I was SO impressed with how hard they worked and how beautifully the finished projects came out.  This is my skirt, which I made as a (definitely wearable) test, to try the pattern and see how the alterations I was thinking of would come out.

 

We also sewed books!  My aunt, who has been making variations of these book binding techniques for quite a while, walked us through the whole process—from cutting board and tearing paper to sewing the whole thing together.  It was horizon-opening for me to take needle and thread to paper—actually, I’m trying to keep that on the back burner of my brain, otherwise I could easily be swamped by more ideas for new things to make than I can handle.

 

sewing wave book

 

If you are interested in trying bookmaking for yourself, our teacher’s favorite resource is the book Books Without Paste or Glue by Keith A Smith.  Quite coincidentally, I came home to find there’s also an article in the latest Threads magazine (September 2013) with a rundown of very similar process to the one we used.

 

wave book two views

 

Probably my favorite thing I made all week (ok, tied with a mosaic sea turtle that I helped to make) is this travel book.  I’m soo excited about having this!  I’ve been thinking about it ever since my aunt showed me the ones she made in a workshop with Gail Rieke (check out her site to see some crazy-cool collage and amazing variations on journals).  I totally love it when “real artists” make practical things as well.

 

travel book

 

Sewing meets books, fabric meets glue, my ideas/techniques/background/expertise meet yours—that’s what really makes the magic of this week.  If you have the chance to get together with other creative types, even for just an afternoon some time, I totally encourage you to go for it!

 

Three Long Sleeve Tops, and Experimenting with Sewing Knits

brown silk front piece

 

So, here is the sewing update I promised! I finished all three of these shirts months ago, but I haven’t got around to photographing and putting this post together until just recently.  The snow you see here has all melted away, in fact it’s almost warm enough to wear just one shirt outside!  Well, some days yes and some days no.

After I finished my fabulous purple pants, I was ready for a faster and easier/less fitted project, and also getting desperate for some long sleeve knit shirts of any kind in my wardrobe.  I had one looser, comfy knit top in cotton with a little lycra, definitely on its way out, but I liked the fit and decided to copy it.  It also helped that I found two big pieces of cotton knit fabric in the stash I share with my mom.

 

grey shirt on

 

I made this grey version first, and was overall pretty pleased, the fit isn’t totally perfect, but it’s, um, a knit shirt!  Since it was something I needed, I started wearing it right away and it’s lovely to have a soft new long-sleeve top.  It went together like lightning, no edge finishing, some double needle stitching for the hems and it was done.  And I thought it was close enough to what I was going for to try in silk.

I bought this silk knit fabric at Promenade Fabrics in New Orleans.  That store is such a treat to explore, it’s full of the loveliest wools, linen, ribbons, it’s very NOLA in that it’s unusual, but high quality.  There aren’t rows of the same thing next to each other in different colors, I swear each bolt I looked at was totally unique, so naturally I had to dig through as many as possible (which was a lot, since luckily I had all morning).  I knew I wanted to make more long sleeve tops, and I was hoping to find some wool knit, which I didn’t really, but I did find this rather amazing silk, knit in two layers, shiny inside, heathery soft and slightly fuzzy outside.  “Where did you find THIS?” the owner’s son asked when I went to have it cut.  Score!

 

brown silk sleeve

 

So, having tried out the pattern, and curious to see the differences, I got out the silk.  Only three problems; one, it raveled!  I guess I’ve been spoiled in a way by stable cotton knits, you can imagine my horror when I pulled on one edge and tiny runs immediately started down the fabric, as the two layers peeled apart!  Fortunately, if I zigzagged the edge it seemed to hold everything in place, even when I tugged on it, so I decided to play it safe and overcast all the edges of all the pieces, before sewing them together.

The second problem wasn’t really a problem, more like me being thorough/not having enough knowledge of silk knits to dive right in – I just took a lot of time making samples.  Since this fabric is incredibly slinky, plus stretchy, I knew that it would be easy for the seams to come out either baggier or tighter than the rest of the fabric, which would make my finished shirt look decidedly amateur.  So yeah, I made a LOT of samples.  I definitely recommend making as many test seams as it takes, especially if you are working with an unfamiliar fabric!  I decided to tag all these with a little bit of muslin so I could write down what I changed.  I think the most interesting thing I learned was that by increasing the stitch length, I could get the seam to pull the fabric in a little more, shortening the seam.  The colored stitching is my first, just to make sure the silk would not get runs as I washed it (by hand).  See how the other edge goes from stretched out to pulled in?  I also found that some stitches worked well on one layer, but not as well on two.  Eventually I settled on using a mock-serger stitch to overcast around the pieces and sew seams, and a regular zigzag for topstitching.  Although I have to admit that I decided matched seams and a total lack of skipped stitches were too much to ask for in this project, overall I’m really pleased, the seams neither draw in nor pooch out, which is exactly what I wanted to achieve.

 

brown silk samples

 

Oh, the third problem?  I totally didn’t have enough fabric.  This seems to be a theme of mine lately . . . I ended up cutting the sleeves in three pieces each.  Eight more edges to finish, four more seams, but the first thing that Bryan said when he saw it was, “I like the sleeve seams!”  Still, next time I’ll try to remember to just get two yards, having enough for full sleeves and a matching tank top is NOT a bad thing.

 

brown silk shirt on

 

When I first finished it I couldn’t decide if it was worth all the extra effort for the fancy fabric.  But, the more I’ve worn this top, the more I’ve been bummed when it’s in the wash.  It has the kind of drape that makes wrinkles disappear or just look elegant, it feels divine on my skin, and it looks like something just a little special.  In short, I’ll be hunting around more fabric stores for unusual silk knits.

 

color grown cotton shirt and samples

 

While I was at it, I decided to make one more shirt from stash fabric, and play with the fit a little.  I narrowed the back around the waist, and flared it out again over my hips, to try for a little less puddle of fabric at the back high hip area.  It did help some, but I’m left wondering if I need a center back seam to make a big difference, and if so, wouldn’t princess lines work better and look better?  Or should I just reserve this pattern for slinky fabrics – this one is decidedly not.  It’s a lovely color-grown cotton, but the fabric has very little recovery from being stretched, meaning it tends to hang a little bit loose, and it’s kind of thick.  I made a few more samples before sewing it, mainly to try for a stitch that wouldn’t stretch out the seams.  I like this shirt and I’ll definitely keep wearing it, but it’s not a perfect match of pattern and fabric.

Since I was playing with different fabrics, I thought it would be fun to show the tops with a similar contrast in pants.  They’re the same pattern (another one I copied from an existing thrifted garment) of no-side-seam drawstring pants.  The green pair are a textured cotton, I wear them to yoga a lot, and sometimes to lounge around in.  The blue pair (which aren’t quite as electric blue in real life) are wool crepe – the result of a time when I really needed some new pants, hadn’t fit regular ones well enough yet, and had some lovely wool just hanging out in my stash.  I’ve worn them teaching a lot, and to swing and tango dancing, and they’re great for travel, but I would definitely not wear them to yoga!  Again, I think it’s the drape and the body of the fabric that makes them look so much more elegant.

Next up for sewing: summer stuff!  Especially a dress, for Me Made May ’13 . . .