Sunday, November 11, 2012

'Tis the Season'

Can you believe it? It's already 'that time of year'.  With Thanksgiving falling so early this month, the minute Halloween was over, retailers and advertisements debuted their holiday fare. The Christmas season has indeed begun with a vengeance

I, too, am getting a head start on the season. I will be teaching a class to make a Christmas tree skirt in a few weeks and this is the sample I made for the store to display promoting it. I'm quite pleased with the way it turned out. My goal was to construct something that was elegant, yet festive and would stand the test of time. I believe it accomplished those goals and am excited at the prospect of teaching others to make it. 

 The skirt measures 58" in diameter. I made it using home decorator fabrics and trim. I used a beautiful stretch satin for the gold ruffle and bows. While I love the elegant look and heft of the red & gold brocade fabric I used for the top, the gold upholstery fabric used for the underside was much too heavy. It made sewing together the top + bottom fabric + ruffle + braid trim nearly impossible with a traditional sewing machine. I had to resort to hand sewing the many layers together with a strong nylon thread. That took me way too much time than necessary! Though the finished product looks fine, I will surely recommend something lighter and easier to assemble to my students. 

The pictures, unfortunately, don't do justice to the colors of the actual skirt. The closeup shot of the bow captures the true color of the top brocade fabric, which is more burgundy than red. The photo above best illustrates the rich gold color of the ruffle, braiding and bows.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Embellished Pillows

I continue to decorate my lake house. I have two sepia colored sofas in a modern style that are begging to be dressed up with some color. A mass of pillows of varying prints and textures should do the trick. To begin the collection I made two pillows in this bright, transitionally styled print. Its a home decorator fabric in a good medium weight, so the pillows should hold up well and present a nice, crisp appearance.

To give the print a bit of a punch, I embellished it with some cording that was simply zigzagged onto the fabric following the lines of the pattern. So easy to do!  To add a bit of 3-D I tacked on a small bow made of the same cording. I used a simple 2cm cording I found at Jo-Ann's, but it could have easily been a very narrow ribbon or fine rick rack. 

I backed the pillows with a coordinating solid colored woven and inserted an  invisible zipper along one of the sides for easy removal and cleaning. 


I love the way the pillows turned out, but more pillows are needed, so phase two is in the works

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Fabric of the Day Knit Shirt

Every day the employees at the fabric store where I teach select a bolt of fabric to display as their "fabric of the day".  Their selections are usually quite lovely and too often I can't resist buying a piece. One such purchase was this lovely medium weight cotton blend knit in a charcoal and off white zebra-ish print. 

I will admit my experience sewing with knits is limited. I don't have a serger machine and until I am convinced knits are for me, I won't spend the money to buy a good one. But, its hard to resist some of the beautiful knit fabrics that are on the market. The few projects I have made have turned out well and given their popularity I am determined to master sewing with knits.

When making any garment for myself, fit is a huge issue. I always have to make numerous adjustments to any pattern to get the fit just right. When sewing with knits this becomes my first priority. I will not put a machine stitch into a knit garment until I get the fit right. The last thing I want to do is to have to remove or undo a seam that has been zigzagged or overcast. Those types of seams are a pain to remove, not to mention you risk puncturing a hole in the knit with the seam ripper. So, I hand baste my knit garments together first and adjust until the fit is right. Once that's done, stitching the knits garments together are indeed a breeze.

This was a fairly easy garment to make once I got the fit right. For this garment I needed a size smaller than what I cut, so I needed to take all the seams in quite a bit. I also repositioned the seam at the bustline so it was below rather than on top of the bustline. I also added 2 very small darts right under the bust to give the garment some form and a slightly tighter shape. Without the darts it looked too much like a maternity top. 

As I said, I don't have a serger, so all of the seams were sewn with a small zigzag stitch. To finish the seam edges, I used a lock cutter that attaches to my machine. It both trims and finishes the seam edges with zigzag stitching. 

The pattern I used is Vogue 8634. The finished top is quite casual, but very comfortable and it looks good with both jeans and casual dress pants. 

Cowl neckline and raglan sleeve detail

Sleeve and hem detail - I used a double needle for a mock cover stitch
Inside seams

Monday, October 8, 2012

Samples Week

As an instructor at Jo-Ann Fabrics I am responsible for making samples for the classes I teach. Heavens no! Not the ugly ones you see in their brochures. Mine look more like something you would want to make. 

I am making samples for the November & December teaching schedule. They include a new clutch style handbag, a cute little girl's party dress and a cropped, raglan sleeve jacket with trim. 

The clutch bag was simple to make. The trick is to use an interfacing that will provide the body the bag requires but not so stiff it makes the bag very difficult to construct. Can you tell, I made that mistake and had to start over.   I used a zebra print synthetic with a simple velvet ribbon trim. The pattern is good for making a casual bag. While it shows a dressy look, at 12" x 9" for me it would be a little too large for evening use. Inside there are 2 pockets on each side, all large enough to hold a cellphone.

The second project is this darling party dress for toddler girls.  A great item to make for the holidays. As you can see the skirt features 2 layers with a slip lining and netting ruffle to give it flare and flourish. The pattern called for using bias tape to face much of the neckline which I didn't like, so I fashioned a full facing around the entire neckline which produced a much nicer finish. This was made in a toddler size 2. 

The third project is this cropped, unlined jacket with raglan style sleeves and a simple braid trim. Since it is unlined I covered the exposed seams with cotton bias tape I made from black colored muslin to give it a very clean finished look inside the jacket.  The project called for plaid patterned material so I used this Pendelton wool I happened to have on hand. Matching the plaid throughout was a bit time consuming but cutting each piece as a single layer first made matching the plaids easy. The real trick was attaching the braid trim which called for precision placement and straight, even stitching to look good. The jacket is in size 6. 

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Fleece Swing Coat

As an instructor at a local Joann's store, I frequently have to make samples of the garments and items I teach. Most are of average styling and relatively easy to make, as they must be able to be made in a handful of hours.  Most are not worth noting, but, this fleece swing coat was one of the more interesting projects offered, so I thought I would share it with you. 

The garment is a simple one to make. No real fitting issues, no complicated construction, no seams that needed to be finished, no zippers or fancy closures to deal with. It has set in sleeves, which for new sewers seemed a bit intimidating, but with the forgiving nature of fleece they were a cinch to insert and are a great way to teach newcomers how to insert sleeves.

The most difficult part was the contrast trim. The pattern called for blanket trim, which in other samples I saw looked horrible, giving it that 'homemade' look I simply hate. The fleece leopard trim I chose gave the coat the much needed style and flair it deserved. Its a darling coat. I just wish I had made it in my  much larger size!

The coat is a 3/4 length, unlined swing style with 3/4 length sleeves.  Great over a pretty dress but equally suitable over pants or jeans for a weekend out. 

Topstitching all the seams finished the seams and helped to reduce bulk.

I love the way the back neckline turned out. Great lines.

The trim was easy to install. Since both interior and exterior portions of the coat would be exposed and the trim had a busy pattern, I didn't want any topstitching to show, so the inside trim was hand stitched in place.

This is a view of an inside seam. To reduce bulk, mock flat felled seams were used which produced a nice topstitching on the exterior and a relatively clean and flat finish inside the coat.


Monday, July 30, 2012

Lights, Camera, Studio!

My sewing studio is finally done! For the first time in all the years I have been sewing - and they are many - I have a dedicated space for sewing. 

Like so many home sewers, I used to set up shop in my dining room when I wanted to sew. But at 5’ 8” tall, the dining room table was neither large enough nor tall enough to prevent an aching back every time I needed to cut fabric. Not to mention, since it was my 'dining room', I would have to pack up all my stuff until the next time I wanted to sew. I'm sure many home sewists can relate to this.

Now retired and both a sewing instructor and blogger, I have a comfortable space that is always ready whenever the passion moves me. I can simply pick up where I left off on whatever project or projects I am working on. Though nothing more than a carved out area in my basement, it has everything I need to sew and I love every inch of it. 

It’s not a finished basement, so the space is a bit rough around the edges – exposed ceiling beams, cement walls, exposed furnace & freezer. But, when coupled with the space’s modern appointments, to me it functions like a studio. A custom made cutting table at a comfortable height and with a grid style cutting mat is the highlight of my space. Made of a melamine covered 1" thick board and adjustable table legs from IKEA, my back no longer suffers every time I sew. Two counter height stools make working at this table a dream and a rolling cart with all my basic sewing supplies provides ready access.

For a fresh, modern backdrop, I made a curtain from material purchased at IKEA in a bright colorful print. It separates my studio space from the rest of the basement area, a.k.a. my laundry room. I have a station set up for my ironing board. And, a wall of storage containers filled with fabric, notions, books and assorted other sewing supplies finishes the space.

It’s both a comfortable and convenient area for me to sew.  And, it works incredibly well for conducting private sewing lessons with clients. Everything I need it there.

I simply love this new space, my sanctuary, really. It now functions as headquarters for my sewing blog, Simply Sewing, and is where I create my projects and plan to film tutorials for the blog.  I just can’t believe I waited this long to create this space

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Latest project - Orange dress for a wedding

I had a wedding to go to and I simply wasn't in the mood to canvas the city for a dress that would fit my 'now' mature figure. Not to mention something that covers my arms, is not too short or revealing, and isn't too expensive. I usually wear pants to these types of affairs, but given the popularity of dresses these days, I decided to reveal my legs for a change. A little spray tan should make them fit for the task. Plus, its a summer wedding, so a dress just seemed an appropriate choice. 

It took me weeks to decide on a style. None of the commercial patterns seemed just right.  I liked one style with just the right sleeve, another where the body style was interesting, you get the picture, but no one pattern would do.

It wasn't until I watched Katie Couric on a TV special about the British Queen's upcoming Diamond Jubilee that I saw the dress I wanted to make. It was a fairly simple, shift style dress with raglan style sleeves, a slight gather at the front and 3/4 loose fitting sleeves. Nothing particularly elaborate, but quite lovely. It seemed like something I could dress up for evening, and was in the color of the season - tangerine tango (at least that's what it looked like on TV).
This style seemed just right up my alley, fulfilling all the criteria I required and it could be dressed up with some glitzy accessories for the evening wedding. Of course, no pattern on earth exactly replicated the dress Katie was wearing. This McCalls pattern #6460 was the closest I could find, but even figure B wasn't anywhere near Katie's dress. The raglan sleeves on hers cut much deeper into the body of the dress replacing the bust darts. The neckline featured some, though not a lot of gathering. And, the sleeves were attached to the bodice more dolman style under the sleeve and constructed in two parts to create a nice curve over the shoulders. 

Clearly, I was going to have to make a lot of changes to the pattern.  Without having to completely redesign the pattern I made the following modifications:
- At the neckline front, instead of gathers, I added six tucks.  
- I left the raglan sleeves as the pattern directs, but split them into two parts to produce a much nicer curve over my shoulders. I shortened them to a 3/4 length and widen them a bit both to better fit my arms and to achieve a slightly looser look.
- As for the body portion of the dress I widened the hips a bit, reshaped the side seams, eliminated both back and front darts (the tucks produced enough fullness to accommodate my breasts), I lengthened the dress, added a kick pleat in the back and used an invisible zipper for the back closure.
- I also lined the dress to give it nice finish. 

There was no way I was going gamble with the beautiful tangerine orange fabric I bought. There were simply too many alterations that I had to be sure were going to work for me, so my first step was to make a muslin of the dress.

My first muslin was a bust. I made it way too big, and I didn't like the tucks I created in the front, so I went back to the drawing board. The second one was just right in terms of size and length overall. Hips, just right, sleeves just right, tucks realigned and simplified, I was ready to cut the real thing.

I'm pleased with the way it turned out. It looked lovely for the wedding and I received many compliments for selecting such a nice summer color. To dress it up for evening wear I chose bronze crystal jewelry, bronze sandals and a french twist hairstyle.

The fit in the back was perfect and the front flowed nicely. I was pleased I removed the darts both in front and back as I didn't want those seams to detract from the solid lines of the dress. As a final flourish I added a jewelry detail (an earring really) in the center of the tucking that matched perfectly.

Next on the docket is a very simple top to wear to my birthday dinner next week with my sisters and cousins. Just one yard of fabric and mastering a rolled hem is in order.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Hello & Welcome

This is the debut of my sewing blog. A place to share my sewing escapades with the sewing community. My goal is to inspire, teach and engage in all this wonderful craft of sewing as to offer.

Though I have been sewing since I was a little girl, I am just recently back in the swing of sewing on a regular basis. Up until now, I have been a career girl, so much of my sewing was relegated to just alterations, Halloween costumes for my daughter or odds and ends for the house. Now retired, I sew all the time in my newly created sewing studio. I also teach sewing both privately and around town to anyone who's interested. I am amazed at how I love doing it and sharing what I know with new sewists.

So, to inaugurate my first posting I would like to share with you a few recent projects I have made. The first and most important project is the completion of my new sewing studio. It's a dedicated space in my basement that my husband and I remodeled (fixed up is probably more accurate) that is very efficient and unbelievably comfortable. Everything in the space is new - cutting table, sewing chair, dress forms, freshly painted walls, new carpet, lighting and decor. I made a curtain to separate the sewing space from the rest of the room. The pincushion and scissor covers featured here are also new. Just some fun projects that are both useful, pretty and personalize the space

One project I just completed is this stylish blouse from Burda pattern #8806. I don't know about you, but finding patterns that I both like and are suitable for my figure has become a rather daunting task these days. I liked the styles featured on the front cover of this pattern, but knew I would have to make several adjustments and style modifications to fit my figure challenges. 

My pattern searches usually start with an image I have picked up from either a magazine or catalog, or from someone (or something) I have seen on TV or the internet, that I just have to make. With that image firmly fixed in my mind, I am amazed how seldom I can locate a commercial pattern that resembles that image. As a result, I either purchase patterns (or use one I already have) to fit the basic silhouette and then adjust it with the design features I want; or, as in the case of this blouse, I liked the pattern style, but adjusted it to fit my more mature, rounder figure.

Most of the garments I make these day require both pattern alterations and style modifications. So making a muslin draft first has become a standard practice. It's just too risky to do otherwise given the cost of good fabric.

And boy was I glad I made that muslin for this project!  The pattern size I cut was too tight around my hips and sleeves, and the front darts needed to be repositioned. I also lengthened the body of the blouse, eliminated the back darts, and raised the neckline a bit.  While this certainly adds both time and some cost to any project, I find the finished garment can be constructed in half the time it took to make the muslin, and is significantly better constructed overall. 

I'm quite please with the way it turned out. The fabric is a linen like material that frays quite a lot so I used french seams at the sides and shoulders. The ruffle was a bit tricky. I used a rolled hem presser foot to help achieve a finished looking ruffle. And, instead of the prescribed metal hooks and eyes, I fashioned a narrow placket behind the ruffle using buttons and buttonholes to join the front sections.