Monday, September 28, 2015

Connie Crawford

A Pattern that Fits -  Hip Hip Hoorah!

This past weekend the American Sewing Expo was in town. Sewers and quilters from cities and states in and around Michigan converged to see the latest in the home sewing industry. On most visitors' agendas were oodles of classes and workshops they could participate in taught by the industry's top sewing experts and what I like to call, sewing celebrities. 

This was my second time visiting the show. My mission there was to shop for a new sewing machine and to take a full day workshop. The class I chose was a custom fit and design course taught by Connie Crawford. Since fitting continues to be a challenge for me and is something I am committed to mastering for myself and my students, this seemed like the appropriate workshop to sign up for.

I was familiar with Connie's name from her Butterick patterns and various articles I've read from her, but aside from that I had no real knowledge of who she was or what contribution to the home sewing industry she had to offer. 

Boy, she is impressive. Connie's professional experience is noteworthy and extensive. She was an instructor at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles and worked as a pattern maker, grader, design consultant and designer for real fashion businesses. All this has contributed to her ability to truly understand how to make patterns that actually fit real women.

As I have aged getting commercial patterns to fit me well has been a struggle. Getting darts or princess seams to target the bustline properly, resolving gaposis issues and trying to get the armhole and sleeves to fit me right has been a challenge. I'm sure there are lots of women who face the same dilemma and understand the struggles we go through. I have to make muslin after muslin which adds cost and unneccessary time to any project I start. Not anymore!

Connie's vast experience has indeed made her an expert in pattern making for real women. Unfortunately, she had very little good to say about the commercial pattern industry. Her contention is that they have failed to adapt to today's trends  -- I totally agree -- and do not make patterns that trully understand the female body, especially the aging female body -- here here. As a result their patterns are not truly designed to fit, something, I'm sad to say, speaks directly to me. 

She spoke directly to the issues that I face everyday with every commercial pattern I use.  She explained how commerical patterns are designed and the where and why they fail to fit properly.  Key among those reasons is that most in that industry have had no real experience making patterns for fashion houses that must design clothes that actually fit or they don't survive as a business for very long.

During the class she fit a few students with sample garments made from her line of  'master' patterns. These students were like you and me, with lumps and bumps everywhere. The samples fit these women like gloves. No gaps, perfect armholes, perfect necklines on not so perfect bodies. I was amazed. 

The following day I visited her booth at the show to be fitted with one of her samples to see if these so called 'master' patterns would work for me. Hip hip hoorah indeed! Like a glove, they fit me better than any pattern I have had to work hours to adjust. 

Connie's master patterns work like slopers or blocks. These are basic silhouettes that can be used as templates for designing new styles, a concept I believe in strongly and recently wrote about for Sew News magazine (Core Wardrobe Patterns). More importantly, they will be used to correct the fit of any commercial pattern I use from now on. 

I purchased three of her 'master' patterns. The basic side bust dart/waist dart bodice, a princess seam bodice and a bodice pattern for knits  -- essentially a T-shirt pattern. From these I can make almost anything.   I also purchased her latest edition book on patternmaking. I've only just begun to read this 500 page bible and so far it is wonderful. Written primarily as a textbook for fashion design students it is comprehensive, very carefully detailed to minimize any misinterpretations, yet easy for any sewer to implement. 

This was the first time meeting Connie and I am so glad I did. She has been in very poor health and is facing a slow and long recovery. As a result, she announced the class I attended was be the last all day workshop she would conduct out of her home state of Washington. She would have to limit her extensive travel demands and stick closer to home so she could restore her health.  My very best wishes to her in her recovery as she has a lot to offer the sewing community. And, my sincere thanks for having been among the last few to benefit from her workshop. 


Monday, August 3, 2015

Chic Clutch

Another Sew News Article

How many times have you purchased a dress or outfit for a special event, like a wedding or gala, and you need a small handbag to complete your ensemble.  You've already spent your limit on the outfit and don't want to go broke for a bag that you will probably use only a couple of times. Making one, at least for me, is a great alternative. It can be made to match your outfit perfectly and can save you a bucket of money.  

In the latest Aug/Sept issue of Sew News I have done just that. My article features step by step instructions for making a striking satin evening clutch with a large bow. Whether made in a solid or fancy print as shown in the article, the bag is the perfect accompaniment to any evening  or special occasion ensemble.

The bag is modeled after a designer bag I found on the internet. Though striking is was  priced well above what I would ever be willing to spend on any evening bag, so I opted to replicate it on my own. This one is not an exact copy of the designer version as the shape and structure of the bag was too difficult to construct without the use of a commercial sewing machine. My bag is designed for more conventional home sewing machines and employs rather simple handbag making techniques instead.  The look and dimensions are roughly the same, but the shape of mine at the bottom is more square rather than round as on the original. 

As for the main feature, the bow, it looks pretty darn close to the real thing, but once again, is applied to the face of the bag much differently than the original. The bow itself is assembled by machine and applied partly by machine along with some hand sewing to secure it tightly to the bag cover. 

The bag also features one inside pocket big enough for a smartphone, but could easily be adapted to accommodate another pocket. And, for a nice clean look I applied a magnetic closure. 


Wednesday, July 22, 2015

My MOB Dress

This post is long overdue. It reveals the dress I made for my daughter's wedding in May in Italy. Oh, what a magical wedding it was!

I was so busy the month before the wedding getting things made I had no time to blog or teach or do a lot of things I should have. My days literally up to the day before we left for Italy were filled with sewing. I was busy sewing flower girl dresses for two sisters who live in Italy, the ring pillow, my daughters chapel length lace edged veil (more on that later), my suit, a handbag for the bride and one for me as well. Add into that getting ready for the trip to Europe, I didn't have a minute to spare. 

You would have thought I had plenty of time to get all of this done, and indeed you are right. Everything, unfortunately, took much longer than I ever would have anticipated. The flower girls dresses took me three months to get done. Not because I needed that much time to sew them. But, getting muslins back and forth to Italy to get the fit right took some time. 

The veil was another three month ordeal - I'll deal with that in the another post. Then there was my dress. I resorted to making one at the last minute because I simply couldn't find anything I liked, or better said, looked good on me. 

One of the curses of being old is I can't wear much of what's in the retailers for MOB's. I'm sure there are lots of women who share this same opinion. My issue is arms. I no longer like to show my arms. Plain and simple. I wish I could, but I prefer not to. So, that meant eliminating all sleeveless dresses. Well, most of what's out there that is decent looking is sleeveless. Had I wanted sleeveless, I would have had no problem buying something. There were plenty of gorgeous dresses in that category to pick from. 

If you have to wear something with sleeves then everything else available are the dresses made for 80 year olds. Nothing in between. Either sleeveless or look 20 years older than I am. Ergo, I decided to make my outfit. 

This was a wedding that took place in the afternoon. Though very elegant, it was not an event that warranted a long evening gown. Anything too glitzy or with rhinestones was out of the question by both me and my daughter. So, I opted for a dressy suit. 

Here is the picture of the suit I chose to replicate:

In spite of losing almost 20 lbs, I am not as thin as the model so I couldn't achieve the same slender and tight fit. Also, I didn't want the portrait collar to dip as low as the one in the photo. This photo illustrates a strapless dress covered by the portrait collar jacket with lace or embroidery embellishments that run along one side of the two pieces. 

My version is an A-line skirt and jacket combo. To make the jacket I used Vogue pattern #7963.  I modified the pattern making the portrait collar larger and angled the center front opening to replicate the model garment I liked. 

For the skirt I used Butterick #5466 - a simple and basic A-line skirt pattern that anyone who likes skirts should have. I both underlined and fully lined the skirt and applied a narrow waistband. In the back I inserted an invisible zipper and added a mitered slit at the hemline. It turned out great and fit perfectly. 


The suit was made out of silk shantung that I had to special order from Haberman's Fabrics. It was quite easy to work with, but I wish I had ordered a silk that was a bit more substantial. In spite of the fact that the suit was both underlined and lined, as you can probably tell from the photo, this one shows ever wrinkle. The suit jacket was also fully lined, but I opted for a polyester lining rather than a silk to save a few dollars. I purchased 3 yards of the shantung and though I expected to only use about 2 1/2 yards of it, I ended up using every bit of the 3 yards. I had to compromise on making a matching evening bag as I simply didn't have any pieces large enough left over. 

The embroidered lace embellishment that runs the length of the skirt and jacket was sold in panels. I used a little more than one panel length for the suit. The embroidery is applied to a netting backing that I simply cut into the pieces I needed and than hand stitched them onto the suit pieces. 

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

My Latest Sew News Article

Core Wardrobe Patterns in the June/July issue of Sew News

The most prized patterns I have in my rather huge collection are those that represent simple, basic silhouettes. No fancy neck treatments, embellishments or intricate style lines. You might ask why are these so special? Because as basic patterns that can serve as templates for creating, or recreating, many of the designs that are popular in today's retailers. 

If one examines the garments that fill the racks in most of today's fashion retailers you'll be amazed to discover that many of the designs start from very basic silhouettes. What transforms them into the popular looks of the day are the fabrics chosen, embellishments, style lines or sewing techniques that are added. The important point is they essentially start from a basic silhouette.

The article talks about building a library of patterns in such fundamental looks that fit your style and lifestyle preferences. Once the patterns are adjusted to fit you they become ready-made templates for designing your creations or for replicating designs that inspire you.  In many ways they are like slopers, but in my opinion, better as these already have ease and seam allowances incorporated into them.  

I am a huge fan of this concept and whenever I see - which is not often by the way -- a good basic pattern, I add it to my collection. 

Take a look at the patterns I have identified as wardrobe building worthy. You can always add or delete ones that better fits your taste and style preferences. To show how this concept works I have also replicated a store bought dress using one of my favorite dress patterns.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Latest Blog Post on

Travel In Style: Make a TSA Toiletry Bag

Planning a trip soon to the airport and need to get past the TSA screening with liquids? My latest Craftsy blog post provides instructions to make a cute makeup-style bag that will work great for this purpose. 

They are not only a cinch to make but can be done in an hour. The best part, these instructions work for any kind of small bag for all kinds of uses. Just change the plastic into fabric. Have fun!  

Here's the link to Craftsy:  How to Make a TSA Toiletry Bag  

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

So Many Samples!

As a sewing teacher I need to make model garments to display for the classes I am going to teach. I teach several classes so lots of model garments were in order. They're done to help inspire potential students to take my classes and it works! The classes where a sample is on display tend to fill up. Yeh!

Almost all are relatively simple projects as most sewing students are beginner to intermediate level sewers. Within the last couple of months I have made half a dozen or more, some of which I would like to share with you.

This double knit dress is one of my favorites. It was for a sheath dress class using McCalls pattern #2401. Its a basic sheath style dress with several neckline and sleeve length options. It's a very basic silhouette with bust and interior darts both in the front and back for great shaping. I like this pattern because it is so basic and can work as a template to design any number of great styles. 

We feature this class both in the summer and fall/winter. For the summer class the dress goes sleeveless. I used a double knit for this dress in a great black and berry colored paisley print. What often happens at the store and was the case here, the fabric used in the sample sold out immediately. 


In fact, I used this pattern to create the dress I made for my last Sew News article on incorporating leather into garments. By knowing how to manipulate the darts I was able to convert them to princess like seams that start at the neckline and move to the waist. For experienced sewers, this is when sewing is especially fun. 

This fitted trouser uses Vogue# 7881. It is also a great pattern to use as a template for creating other pant looks, but as is it makes a rather smart pair of pants. The pattern is part of Vogue pattern's Claire Schaeffer's Couture Collection and features a version incorporating couture techniques along with a more standard construction version.

Then there is this classic shirt using McCall's #6613. This class is intended to attract both male and female sewers, so the shirt is a very loose fitting classic style shirt. To add some interest the back yoke, cuffs and front placket were done on the bias. 

These are just a few of the models I have been sewing and as the summer and fall classes get scheduled more are sure to come. I'll keep you posted on the ones I think are worth sharing.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

A Return to Blogging

WOW! It's been a long time since I last posted anything on my blog. I've been busy. Writing articles for Sew News magazine, and my weekly posts for the blog site.  Oh, and did I mention, my daughter's getting married. After 10 years together they have finally decided to commit themselves for life and to say I'm happy is an understatement. They are a wonderful couple and her dad and I can't wait for the big day.

So, I've been doing lots of planning. I've spent a gazillion hours on Etsy and Pinterest looking for ideas on everything from bridal gowns, veils, flowers, bridal shower and, of course, Mother of the Bride dresses. OMG! There is simply too much information to digest there. 

My daughter sent me to NYC to shop for wedding dresses. Yes, we went to Kleinfelds where she eventually bought her dress.  What fun!

But now its time to get back on the horse and start writing  this blog. My most recent project was a top I made to wear to my nephew's wedding.  My inspiration was the new fall Vogue pattern #1415 by Tom and Linda Platt. I chose to make option B.
Vogue 1415 - B

This is a very simple pattern. Basically a front, back and raglan sleeves so it can be made in no time at all. I especially liked the tunic style - to cover my thicker middle -- the angled hemline and big cowl style neck. Lovely, modern and pretty much my kind of dressing.  

It's the kind of top that can work for any daypart - good for a daytime casual or semi-casual setting or dressed up for an evening event.  I also like the fact that it's cut on the bias for a lovely fit. I chose to make mine out a beautiful wine colored satin. Unfortunately, the polyester variety and not silk, but still quite lovely.  I wore it over a pair of slim black crepe pants just like on the pattern cover which looked pretty great. 

Low and behold, that was some time ago. Now my focus is on making things for my daughters wedding and bridal shower.  On my to do list is her veil.  I am replicating one she fell in love with, but retailed for $1500. I can make it for a fraction of the price. I'll keep you posted. 

I also have flower girl dresses on my list. Two little sisters from my future son-in-law's family. Nothing too fancy. White satin dresses with satin bows and poufy skirts. Add to that the usual flower girl baskets that I will dress up with lace, a ring bearer pillow and a lacy garter for the bride. 

For the bridal shower, I am making aprons and travel bags to hand out as prizes. I stocked up when Joann's home dec fabrics went on sale for 75% off. What a deal! I was able to get some pieces for less than $5 a yard.   Can't wait to get those going. I'll keep you posted.