Monthly Archives: January 2011

The Ceylon Blouse

The Ceylon Blouse

So, before committing to the entire Ceylon dress, I figured I would try and squeeze just the bodice out of various scraps I have lying around. The nice thing about this bodice is it’s in so many little pieces, almost any little scraps will do. I wound up using (some of) the rest of the swirly-print herringbone wool and a bit of black linen I picked up at the thrift store ages ago that was really too small for almost anything. Well, obviously not since I managed to line the entire blouse with it.

Now, I have a bit of a propensity for colour-blocking, and when you combine that with

Ceylon with suitcase. Why? Cuz.

the almost bolero-looking cut of of the Ceylon yoke, well, it was bound to happen. I opted to do the sleeves, yokes, and midriff pieces out of the wool, with the “blousy” pieces in between just out of the black linen. Since I didn’t particularly want the wool against my skin, I decided to line those segments with more of the linen. And, since something about Ceylon almost demands it, I opted to pipe, as well. It adds a nice touch of colour to an otherwise grey-and-black garment.

On the upside, this gave me lots of new techniques to try. Making my own piping (I used dark-red bias binding and some dense wool yarn, both from stash*), and using piping period  (I followed this lovely tutorial). I got to try the “burrito technique” of attaching a double-layered back yoke so the shoulder and bottom yoke seams are all nicely enclosed. Worked like a charm :). I also tried a technique for clean-finishing facings I just read about from Beth of Sunny Gal Studios. which was nifty and makes a super-nice finish; then this morning I get up and discover a recent post by Pam Erny for a very similar finish, but with less bulk at the seam (although hers leaves some of the interfacing showing on the visible side of the facing—which could be undesirable depending on how attractive your interfacing is.) Oh, yes, and a massive, massive amount of seam-grading.

My construction order was a bit haphazard and very different from that given in the pattern, but between the piping and the lining (everything but the mid-back and bust pieces) it’s possibly the most nicely-finished garment I’ve made yet. The piping was actually fun, and a wee bit more forgiving of minor variations in my stitching than I had feared it might be. I did end up hand-stitching the lining of the sleeves to the bodice and the upper seam of the midriff-pieces lining, making for absolutely  ever seam in the piece being enclosed.

I took a crapload of construction pics, but really I think the posts I linked to above cover most of the techniques, so I will just give you a gallery of them to browse through at your leisure. Feel free to ask questions, tell me I’m on crack, etc.

Ceylon Blouse

Buttons are funny things. As construction proceeded to the point where I could start to try on the shirt, I became convinced that it was way too small, that I had completely misled myself into selecting the size 0, abetted by the give of my flannel muslin fabric. The linen, by contrast, had no give at all, and I was sure the resulting blouse was going to be, if not outright ridiculous, at least far too constricting for comfort.

It wasn’t until I had the buttons attached and could try it on normally that I felt at all relieved. It is very snug, and more restrictive than I’d like for everyday, but for an “occasion” dress it’s fine. The sleeves are about as narrow as my arms could comfortably take, but don’t make my hands go numb or anything, and the shoulder width looks good. I’m very glad I tweaked the shape of the front yoke right beside the neck, and lowered the neckline 1/2″.

Ceylon blouse, back

I did manage to remove the wrinkling at the back midriff by flaring out the upper portion of the midriff a bit more (at both CB and side seams). Curving the bottom of the main back piece so it is shorter in the middle worked perfectly to reduce the excess blouseiness (doubtless I took off a bit too much, again, for my different fabric). As to those diagonal wrinkles, well, we’ll see. I think I begin to understand the fix Sherry was suggesting for them, but I’ll have to give it a go on another project.

The bust doesn’t sit particularly nicely, partly because there isn’t enough ease and partly because of the fairly crisp fabric. I would venture to say it fits about as well as in most of the other versions I’ve seen of it, though, which I suppose is good enough. There’s still some gaping on the left side top, which I suspect is the result of my left breast being smaller. It’s not such a big difference that I usually notice, but this style seems to emphasize it. Fortunately I was mostly able to compensate for it by clever positioning of my buttons—the topmost is considerably to the left of the rest of the row but you can’t see that when it’s closed.

And one more time...

So all in all, it was a great learning experience—lots of new techniques and construction to think through. Next version I make I will have to do some serious considering about sizing and my fabric and where I want to wear it—if it’s a crisp, firm fabric and I want to wear the dress every day, I should go up to the size 2 (possibly with SBA, probably with shortening in the upper torso). If it’s a soft fabric with some give, or a stretch woven, I could probably make the 0 again.

I do feel like I should apologize to Sarai, Colette’s designer, though. Everyone raves about her instructions, and they are lovely—I just haven’t ever followed them yet.

More photos in the Flickr Gallery

Whew! That was a lot of sewing for one weekend! And I still have to finish tracing off my pattern for the men’s shirt sewalong…

* Yes, despite the fact that my knitting education was highly truncated and I have never so much as learned to cast on, I have a yarn stash. I have even, as I think I once confessed to Sigrid though I can’t find the comment now, been known to buy souvenir yarn while travelling. In my defense, it’s not a large yarn stash, and some of it has proven useful in dance costuming over the years… but, er, yeah.



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To SBA or not to SBA

All y’all* are a bunch of enablers, you know.

So against my better judgment (and to my hubby’s dismay) I spent the latter part of yesterday evening whipping up a very quick muslin of the Colette Ceylon pattern rather than snuggling on the couch with him watching the last of Mrs. Doubtfire.

Altered bodice pattern pieces

The nice thing about the Ceylon  bodice is that the pieces are all itty-bitty, so you can squeeze them out of pretty small scraps. I really didn’t think I’d get anything else out of the last few bits of that blue flannel duvet, but I got it all, quite handily. Well, not the sleeves, yet.

Oh, dear. I’m going to have to show you fitting pictures again. Darn it.

Yes, I know this one really provides no fitting information at all. Be patient.

Now, I started slow, with just the midriff-band pieces. I initially traced them in a size 2, grading up to a size 4 at the waist. (According to the Colette size charts, my waist is a size 6 while the rest of my measurements suggest a size 0. However, even with the astounding amount of waist-innish-ness on these pieces, going from a 0 to a 6 would’ve given me a convex, rather than concave waistline. 2 to 4 seemed like a reasonable compromise). I also added a CB seam and did a pre-emptive swayback alteration. The resulting piece turned out just right in the lower back, a little loose above the waist, and a bit big across the front. So I gleefully graded the front down by 1/4″, and the back similarly above the waist. I guess that means my front waist piece grades from size 0 at the top and bottom to size 2 at the waist, while the back goes 0-4-2 top-waist-bottom. Plus whatever distortion the swayback throws in there.

It’s well-known that Colette drafts for a generous C cup, while I am more in the “small

Ceylon muslin 1, front view

end of B but loudly refusing to consider myself an A” territory. Obviously an SBA was going to be in order. Previous experience suggests that some shortening in the upper bodice would be appropriate, as well.

So I started with a horizontal tuck around the bust and mid-back pieces of the bodice, taking out about 2cm of height. This may have been a bit much in the front, but anyway. I played around with a second, angled vertical tuck in the front bust piece, pinned the pieces on my duct-tape double and decided to give it a whirl.

Ceylon, muslin 1, side view

On aesthetic rather than fitting grounds, I also messed with the curve of the front yoke (which seems to stick out a little high on the smaller sizes at least). I cut the upper pieces a size 0 before alteration, by the way.

As you can see, the SBA was a bit, ah, enthusiastic. It still fits, but there’s a certain blousiness to the back that seems to be missing from the front, and I’m pretty sure when buttoned it would end up gapey. Assuming ambition does not desert me, I’ll try a version tonight with the vertical tuck removed, and see where that leaves me.

I like the new shape of the front yoke pieces. I still think the neckline (those gaping, angled pieces of the bodice) needs to come down 1/2″ or so. Some of the gapeyness doubtless comes from carelessly stretching on the bias, but I will have to watch for that in the final construction. Having adequate bust space should help with it, too, I would think.

I’m torn on the horizontal tuck. The front length seems good to perhaps a wee bit

Ceylon muslin 1, back view, slack.

short, the back length still looks a little long. And there are still a few wrinkles in the back midriff piece that I’m not sure what to do about. I’m reluctant to increase the swayback alteration, as it’s already at Sherry’s recommended maximum before you should start looking for other fitting causes (like, oh, a short upper body). Would shortening the upper back pull the midriff pieces higher and let them fit my waist a bit better?

There is a lot of blousiness at the back, some of which is necessary, but it seems a bit excessive. Again, I’m wondering if there isn’t too much length in this section; the width seems good, as it goes comfortably taut when I move my arms forward.

So that’s where I am. I think tonight I’ll re-cut my front bust pieces and mess with the length of the back piece. But now, I must get back to work on the wondrous intricacies of phylogenetic analysis…

*Lest I besmirch the reputation of my fellow Canucks, I would like to point out that I learnt that lovely bit of English in Texas a couple of years ago. We don’t really talk like that up here, eh.


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Dresses I shouldn’t be sewing

A dress I shouldn't've been sewing

Ok, this post has been in the “drafts” folder long enough that the original title was “Dresses I’m Not Sewing”. But since I seem to have fallen off (or on?) that wagon, and I can feel the itch for another one or two coming on, I’ll retitle it.

I’ve been trying to focus my sewing this time around very tightly on things I will wear in my everyday life, as I spent the first, er, twenty years or so of my sewing career making things that were mildly to wildly impractical, at least from an everyday standpoint. And I was doing really well, too, right up until about Christmas, give or take a Lady Grey coat.

Since Christmas, I’ve made the 70s dress, a fluffy petticoat, and now a skirt to wear with the petticoat. I’m feeling a little less guilty about the petticoat since I made the skirt, and a little less guilty about the skirt since I did wear it all last weekend. And I have worn the 70s dress out of the house once, to a friend’s birthday. It’s possible that when the weather is warm (I can’t say “warms up” as we were the warmest place in Canada yesterday for a bit and it’s been lovely for almost a week, but winter is bound to return before it goes for good) I can work on incorporating some fun skirts and dresses into my wardrobe a bit more. I’ve certainly had my bouts of creative over-dressing before, but I’ve been rather lazy the last several years.

Anyway, this post is not a to-do list. It might even be a to-don’t list. But it is a quick examination of some of the dresses, in my stash or on the internet, that are tickling my fancy right now, and tempting me from the Straight and Narrow Road of Practicality.

Maybe I’m just impatient for Spring.


Collette’s Ceylon

Yum, yum, yum. Colette’s pattern draft is probably about as far from “suited to my figure” as you can get, but I’m willing to dare it for the Ceylon. I love the waist panel; I love the little pseudo-bolero yoke (wouldn’t it look smashing colour-blocked?). I even love the buttons all down the front, though I don’t imagine I’ll love actually sewing them, or their buttonholes. The only thing I think I might want to change would be the skirt—wouldn’t it just be yummy with a circle skirt on there?

I especially love this version. Though it may be one of those cases where the way it looks on her figure and the way it would look on mine won’t add up.

When I start thinking about making this dress, I become paralyzed. Start with size 0 or 2? How should I do the swayback alteration? What about the SBA?

Now that I have a duct-tape quasi-double, I’m feeling a little more bold about tackling this, but… we’ll see. My guess is that I will need to do an SBA, shorten the bodice and/or the waist piece, grade out at the waist, and do a swayback alteration, possibly involving the addition of a back seam.

Style 3416

Maternity ?!?!

Ah, those 70s dress. Style 3416 crept into my stash last summer, mainly for the sleeveless dress version in pink on the cover. Imagine my surprise when I got it home, opened the baggie (it came in a baggie of three patterns for $1 at the thrift store) and discovered it was technically a maternity pattern. I’m betting it would be easy to de-maternify, though, or failing that just get pregnant again.

That was a joke. Don’t even go there. I may be at an age where most of my cohort are finally giving in to the biological clock, but while there are advantages to having your kids later, and advantages to having your kids earlier, I’m fairly convinced that there are no advantages to having both.

McCall’s Easy Stitch ‘n Save 8500

McCall's 8500

I know, I know, but look at the lines. Basic, scoop neck, princess seam. This is another one of those cases of “looking past the envelope.”

Or so I’m telling myself, anyway.

I had a dress like this in high-school made out of green crushed stretch velvet, with laces in the back (oh, the mid-90s…). I did love that dress. The only problem with it was the sleeves were too short.

I’m pretty sure with the right fabric, and maybe a detail or two, this dress could be the bomb. With buttons all down the front, I bet I’d love it almost as much as Ceylon…

When I get around to it.


Cheongsam pattern

And then the Sew Convert has to go and post about cheongsams, re-igniting a love of this dress-style I’ve probably nursed since first seeing the Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom as a tot. Don’t laugh, I blame my 14-year-plus love affair with bellydance squarely on Princess Leia’s slave-girl outfit in Return of the Jedi. Well, and how awesome bellydance is, but that’s a whole nother story (and would require a whole nother blog, I suspect).

I had one of these I found at a vintage clothing store as a teenager. I loved it, but it always needed to be altered to fit properly, and since I kept fluctuating size what with growing up and then having babies, I eventually passed it on.  This pattern is on the “Modern Sewing” site, which is a few of the same patterns as the Lekala people, but free, not custom sized, and not conveniently tiled for printing. I’m not sure I love the cut-on sleeves of this particular one, but I don’t hate them either and I’ve had good luck with their drafting in the past, and there’s back darts and a CB seam for shaping, unlike, say, the Folkwear pattern.

Contrary to type, I think I want a blue one. It’s possible I’m being led astray by Adey’s gorgeous wedding cheongsam

Since I just paid an unpleasant volume of bills today, which has me gasping slightly and vowing to sew only stash fabrics for the foreseeable future (yes, you may start placing bets on how long that lasts…), I think this one is going to have to wait a bit. Also, have I mentioned I’m terrified of double-ended darts?


Red fabric

Ok, if nothing else a post like this helps me prioritize, and fitting terror aside, I think Ceylon’s definitely ahead of the pack. I have a copious amount of a rather sturdy red fabric (right of picture, and rather more dark-red than the muted purplish colour in the photo, sigh. Actually, the muted purple it’s showing on my screen is rather close to the actual colour of the 70s dress, which photographs as black) that’s been aging in the stash since last summer, and would be a lovely Ceylon. I originally bought it for mediaeval-costuming purposes, but it’s the only piece I have in stash right now that’s large enough for a full dress, and a regular dress would be at least a tiny bit more wearable than a mediaeval costume…

Hmm…. I have to finish tracing out the pattern for the hubby’s shirt… maybe I could pull out some of the Ceylon pieces at the same time…

Bad, bad seamstress….


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A (probably) vintage shrug

Two cute shrugs

Above left is a very cute little cream sweater shrug I nabbed from the dress-up box at my Grandma’s house ages ago. I can’t actually confirm its age, except that it’s been kicking around the farmhouse for as long as I can remember. It might have belonged to my mother or her sister (in which case it would be late 60s or very early 70s) or not. A Google search of “50s shrug” turns up examples of identical style, so even if the actual garment isn’t that old, the style certainly is.

In particular I think it’s adorable with my 70s dress. I don’t like it as much with my circle skirt, though on someone with a longer waist I think the look would be great.

Drapey sleeve

Sadly, however, the fabric is starting to disintegrate—little moth-holes everywhere—so it’s no longer really wearable. However, it was such a cute little sweater, and so simple a pattern, that I thought I would give making a pattern a try. So I spent some time this past weekend measuring the original and plotting out lines in Inkscape, and came up with a pattern! Hooray! Which sewed up into a passable copy of the original! (That would be the black version, by the way.)

So, in a first for this blog, I’d like to share with you my 50s Shrug Pattern! (Also tiled for A4—warning, not tested, and the first, overview page is for sure not A4 sized).

The back---would look better on someone with a longer waist.

Now, this first go came out a bit larger than the original, although the sleeve-cuffs are still quite nicely narrow; in particular, the arms are longer. I’d say it would be good for someone with a bust in the 34-36″ range (as opposed to my 33″). I may down-size a wee bit for my next one, in which case I’ll post that pattern, too. For those in the larger range, I’m sorry, my pattern-grading skills are nonexistent. I don’t think it would be too hard, though…

In the original, the bands are made of ribbing, but for mine I just used cross-grain strips of the same fabric and it worked fine.

So, without further adieu, here’s my instructions, such as they are. Please bear with me—I’ve never done this before! 🙂

Recommended Fabric: 1 m (or yard) of sweater-knit, 60″ (150 cm) wide (slightly narrower might work, but not much). Pattern includes 6mm (1/4″) seam allowances; I used the serger for all construction, but any stretch-stitch would do.


Pattern piece on folded fabric

  1. Print and tape together pattern; there are nine pattern pages, numbered as in the overview page. Test square for sizing is placed on numbered page 1, and should be 10 cm (4″) square. Trimming should not be necessary, although there may be a small blank space around the outer edge of the page due to printer limitations. (Again, I don’t have any A4 paper so I couldn’t test this version. Sorry!)
  2. Fold fabric lengthwise; place pattern piece so Centre Back is on fold. Cut out pattern piece.
  3. From remaining fabric, make two cross-grain bands, one 8 cm (3″) wide by the full fabric width, one 6cm (2 1/4″) wide by 44 cm (17″) long. Fold bands in half, wrong sides together, and press.
  4. Cut two 24 cm lengths from the wider strip; align raw edges with right side of sleeve ends and stitch. The process is the same as described here for T-shirt collars, except not in the round and without topstitching afterwards. The same process is used for applying all bands on the shrug.
  5. Stitch curved under-arm seams.

    Cuff band attached, ready to sew curved underarm seams

  6. Mark centre of bottom back and centre of remaining wide cross-grain band (roughly 120 cm or 47″)
  7. Distribute wide cross-grain band around the shrug’s hem, from neck opening to neck opening, matching halfway points. The cross-grain band should be slightly stretched, especially  around the curved areas in front. Stitch as for wrist-bands.
  8. Fold ends of narrow cross-band strip right-sides together; stitch ends and turn wrong-sides together so that ends are neatly enclosed.
  9. Align raw edges of narrow band with neck opening, again aligning centre back with halfway point on band and stretching/easing to fit. Stitch.
  10. Work buttonhole in front-right corner of neckline; attach button on front-left.
  11. If desired, press band seams towards garment interior.
  12. Wear, looking adorably cute!

How’s that? Clear as mud? Writing sewing instructions is HARD! (Way harder than sewing the actual thing was. I feel like that’s all clear as mud)


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Swirly girly

Oops, I made it instead

Erm, yeah, so that’s a circle skirt.

You may, ah, notice that it’s not that yummy purple fabric I showed earlier in the week. I chickened out. This doesn’t logically add up—2 meters of that purple stuff cost me $4 at the thrift store, whereas this stuff I originally bought for my Lady Grey muslin was at least $5/m. I still like the purple stuff more. Also I can’t get more of the purple, whereas every single Fabricland I’ve visited in the last six months (in two provinces) has bolts of this grey stuff in their clearance section. Apparently it did not sell well. At any rate, it seemed like a good vehicle on which to practice my circle-skirting techniques. It’s actually a really nice herringbone wool, suit weight, with this weird, sparkly black swishy pattern printed over top in what feels like latex paint.

Actually, it seems perfect for a circle skirt. Sedate but with a bit of fun—just like the skirt.

As per expectations, the waistband at the waist

Tucked in shirt: meh

looks terrible. You will not see how bad it is because I’m only going to show you  the “Pamela Anderson” pose: shoulders straight on, pelvis twisted to the side. Really I should call it the Egyptian pose, as I think they had it figured out a few thousand years earlier, but anyway. It emphasizes bust, minimizes the waist, and shows off your butt. Check out the magazine rack next time you’re at the grocery store, I’m pretty sure you can find an example or three.

Note the interesting hang of the folds

However, it does look pretty cute with a hip-length top over it, so I can style it that way. And I’m thinking a Franzi vest might complete the ensemble. Actually, I can envision a bit of a capsule wardrobe happening (that’ll be a first!) involving this fabric and the grey pinstripe I made my Businesswoman Pants out of. It might require me to buy more of this weird fabric if I want to both make the vest and finish the Lady Grey muslin. We’ll have to think on that.

As to the skirt itself—easy peasy. My fabric was 60″ wide (just shy after I steam-shrunk it), just enough to cut the entire thing in one piece. I used Casey’s 50s circle skirt tutorial, which provides you with a lovely pattern for the different waist sizes that runs quite true, though I’ll note that my size, 28″, is the second-largest. Oh, those 50s wasp-waists. The waist pattern is slightly squared off, which changes the hang of the circle skirt slightly: it hangs more straight at front and back (and sides, I suppose), with somewhat more folding at the front and back hips. This looks nice, and might even help minimize the bias-stretch since if you cut an even circle those bias areas will be a smidge shorter.

Using a single piece for the skirt is lovely and simple, but

Don'tcha love the full circle?

does complicate inserting the zipper. The tutorial is not particularly helpful in this case—it simply says “follow the instructions that come with your zipper.”

The outside of my hand-picked zipper. Not perfect but reasonable.

Which would’ve been fine if I’d, y’know, remembered I was using a vintage zipper—probably not quite as old as the skirt, but still—that actually *came* with packaging and instructions. Duh. Once I opened it up and looked through them (and posted piteously on Pattern Review—thanks for the helpful responses!), it became clear that I should do a facing around a narrow slit, and then attach the zipper as usual. Well, as usual as zippers ever get for me, anyway. I also LOVE the suggestion of doing a snap-placket, similar to the continuous-lap placket in a blouse sleeve. I’ll try that on the next one. I machine-stitched the ziper to the facing but hand-picked to the outside. It seems to have worked reasonably well. I still need to stitch a hook and bar onto the waistband, but we needn’t dwell on such trivialities here. 😉

Oh, and I should probably show you a back view:

Back view

When I went to measure to hem it today, I trimmed down the length of the front but not the back. It doesn’t seem to have stretched much on the bias at all, although the sides were for some reason distinctly shorter than the front and back. I trimmed down the front half of the circle to match the side length, but left the back, as even I have enough booty to make it appear shorter at the back. Probably it doesn’t look as perfectly even as it could (still a bit short at the back, actually) but, y’know, whatever.

The horsehair braid was fun, despite the fact that I couldn’t find any as yummy and wide as Gertie’s (as it was it took me two different Fabriclands to find the 1″ width). I followed her tutorial quite closely anyway, and managed not to singe off my fingers or melt the nylon braid, so life is good—but I I would still have preferred wider braid. Ah, well. Time to start hunting for an online source, I guess.

Horsehair braid---sadly I could only find up to 1" thick

Oh, and I recently splurged on a point-presser/clapper, urged on by MPB’s list of “tools you won’t want to be without” (relatively few of which I actually own). And, y’know, it’s awesome. I used the clapper-part like crazy in the making of this skirt and I am truly impressed by how much it improves the edge of the press. Who knew? (Okay, I know the rest of you knew already… these things I tend to have to figure out for myself.)

So now I am working on a vest to go with this, assuming that will work out and not just look funny, and I may nibble on that mini-wardrobe-capsule (that’ll be a first!) as well, assuming I can find the stamina to tackle another Lady Grey. I tried the skirt with my grey blazer, though, and it looks like crap—it needs something with a flared peplum, or at least a much shorter one. You can see all the photos here.

For the next circle skirt (the purple), I want to do a yoke of some kind, maybe princess seamed, so I don’t have that awful waistband right at my waist. But that requires a bit more fitting and I haven’t quite gotten that far yet…


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An interview

My mom and I, Fall 2009 (in Cambridge, UK, of all places...)

This is an interview with my mother, inspired by numerous discussions we’ ve had about ‘sewing—then and now’. All the in-person sewing instruction I’ve had came from her, and it made me curious about where and how she acquired it. My mother grew up in rural Saskatchewan in the 1950s and 60s, and learned to sew in part in the home and in part through 4-H and high-school (Grade 9 Home-Economics, after that she took Typing.) She never was a professional seamstress, but she knows her stuff, and I think her experiences are probably typical of the home sewists of her generation, at least in our area. I know I love talking with her about it, and comparing how things have changed—or not.

I’ve inserted a few of my own observations in italics where relevant :).

Were you exposed to sewing in the home growing up?

Yes, my mother sewed. She sewed clothes for my sister and I. I remember plaid skirts,when we were about 4/5/6, which I think she sewed, Hallowe’ en costumes (a leopard for me and a white rabbit for my sister, age 5/6), ‘ Davey Crockett’ jackets out of a light tan, light-weight twill, complete with ‘ fringes’ cut from light-brown vinyl (about age 7/8), ‘ sailor’ dresses of mid-blue cotton, with white sailor-collars with embroidered red anchor accents, white cuffs on the short sleeves (age 8/9) (I think those dresses are still in the tickle trunk at my Grandma’s. We wore them when we were kids, too, for dress-up), rag-dolls, complete with clothing (when we were very young, pretty much babies). She must have done most of it on a treadle machine.

How did you and your peers view sewing? What about the older generation?

I think we viewed sewing as a way of acquiring items that were considered ‘ not essential’ . We purchased everyday clothing, usually from a mail-order catalogue (Eaton’ sor Simpson’ s-Sears), or on a late-August-before-school-started, one-day shopping excursion to the nearest city, an hour’ s drive away. We purchased winter outerwear,although I think my mother sewed me a wool coat with a rabbit-fur collar and matching leggings, when I was about 2. (I have seen the photos of me wearing it. I think she had made it). If we wanted a ‘ special’ dress to wear to some event, or if we wanted to alter anarticle of clothing, we sewed.
I think that my mother’ s generation embraced ‘ ready-to-wear’ clothing, although theycontinued to sew those items considered non-essential. They also did a lot of mendingand patching to keep every-day clothes wearable.

How, and from whom, did you learn to sew?

My sister and I must have learned to sew from our mother, who would have taught us the basics, (eg. seams, seam allowances). We received a hand-cranked, child’ s sewingmachine one Christmas (age 8/9), and used it to make doll’ s clothes. I don’ t know if wehad patterns, or drew them up ourselves. I remember my mother saying that her mother, years before, had drafted her own patterns. I started 4-H at age 10, and that first year, took the ‘Let’ s Entertain’ project, where we sewed and embroidered a cotton ‘ tea-apron’ ,
fringed the edges of a small ‘ tea-cloth’ , learned to set a table, and made ‘ tea-sandwiches and dainties’ . This would have been my formal introduction to sewing.

On what kind of machines?

I remember learning to sew on a treadle machine. To be most effective, you place one foot ahead of the other on the treadle-plate, and alternate foot pressure back and forth(a bit like riding a bike), rather than rocking both feet back and forth. It makes it easier to keep a steady pace. The little child’ s machine sewed with a chain-stitch, so one had to remember to pull the tail end of the thread through the loop, or it would un-ravel (I remember playing with this machine, too. I don’t think my grandma gets rid of anything!). My mother got a ‘ White’ portable about 1963. It was a straight-stitch model, which she used for everything, including mending denim work clothes, and stitching up my brothers’ hockey skates (by guiding the needle, carefully into the original holes). That is the machine I did my sewing on until I left home (and my mother still uses it!). I recall that it had a button-hole attachment that clamped the fabric, and moved it from side-to-side, tocreate an overcast stitch for the button-hole.

Where did you get your fabric, patterns, other supplies? Do you think it’s easier tofind good sewing supplies now than it was?

Our fabric, patterns and notions we usually purchased at a large department store in the nearest city (forty miles away). Some basic notions, like threads (black, white, brown, blue), buttons, maybe even elastic, was available in the general store in the nearest village (seven miles away), or perhaps in the nearest larger town (twenty miles away). One could also order fabric, etc, from the mail-order catalogues, but one could not really tell what one was ordering, other than the type of cloth (eg. cotton, print or plain, pillow ticking, woven wool – coat weight, dark red, green or black.)
With specialized stores dedicated to fabrics, patterns and supplies, it is so much easier to find what you want, in the colours and styles you want. And with the improvements in roads and vehicles, people are much more mobile, and even those living outside large cities have easier access.

What kind of finishing/techniques did you use? How do you think they have changed, if they have?

Because we sewed mostly with woven fabrics, often the only finish on a plain seam would be a pinked edge. We used French-seams on sheers, and flat-felled seams on heavy-weight fabrics where extra strength was needed (eg. work clothes). With a straight-stitch machine, there weren’ t a lot of options. We didn’ t sew with knit fabrics, perhaps because they weren’ t as available to home-sewers, or perhaps because we couldn’ t, with the machine we had. Once I bought my zig-zag machine (the Grand Old Dame), I could finish seams with a zig-zagged, overcast edge.

Did you learn about fitting?

In 4-H dressmaking, and in Grade 9 Home-Economics, we learned the basics of fitting, and of altering a pattern, based on one’ s measurements. We never got into making muslins (although, maybe we would have if we had been making something really expensive), because it was viewed as a waste of fabric and thread, as well as time. I always had a hard time with fitting, especially pants, as I always had a very short torso, with very little definition at the waist. Some of our methods for altering/fitting were rough-and-ready. For bust-line darts that didn’ t hit the right spot, we simply took up the shoulder seams (and then tried to alter the sleeve so we could set it in). For pants, we tried to fit the waist, and then tried them on inside-out, and pinned the crotch and inseams, or side seams until the fit was close enough.

Did you, at any point, feel like part of a sewing community, or was it a very solitary pursuit?

When I was growing up and learning to sew, it was more like taking classes, so there was a sense of competition, and of having to take things apart and redo them until they were right. After inserting, and re-inserting my first zipper (about 9 times) in an A-line skirt (no waist-band, faced top edge at hip-bone height), for 4-H, the fabric, a soft-pink twill, looked so dirty and bedraggled, that I don’ t think I ever wore the skirt much. When I was sewing for my own children, and my house, I had some friends who sewed, but it wasn’t exactly a sense of community. We could trade some suggestions, and did, but it was pretty minimal.

What inspired you to sew in the first place?

I don’ t think I was really inspired until I started sewing things for my own children and my home. When I first learned to sew, it was ‘a good thing to know’ , much like typing, or cooking. It was a way of acquiring items that would have been very expensive to buy, for a lesser cost. Even later, that was always there; I wouldn’ t buy brand-name blue-jeans for my toddlers, but I could sew them ‘Levi’s’ by mimicking the pocket stitching, andsewing on labels salvaged from worn-out adult jeans. And making a child’s parka and snow pants lined with ‘ Thinsulate’ was experimenting with new technology (although Inever really knew if the stuff was warm enough, since I never sewed anything from it for myself.) (I always thought it wasn`t warm enough, but then I don’t recall ever thinking my winter stuff was warm enough. It was Saskatchewan after all.)

How has your interest in sewing changed over the years? (off, on, what kinds of items, etc.)

The grad dress she made. Yup, that's me wearing it. What a classic! 🙂

The things I remember sewing, at home, were the 4-H projects: the tea-apron and fringed tea-cloth, pink A-line skirt (and perhaps some kind of top?), and the graduation-dress I made in Grade 12,and which I got to wear to the Provincial Dress Review, in Regina, that summer. (They tried to teach us how to walk down a cat-walk. I would have rather goneto camp, like my sister!). Also, the cotton shift dress in Grade 9 Home-Ec. which I never got to wear, since we cut them out in the fall, sewed intermittently all winter, and by spring I had outgrown mine.

After I left home, and bought my own machine, I did sew for myself, including a long, billowy ‘garden-party’ dress, out of a yellow, dotted-Swiss fabric (I wonder where it went?), a tunic top (of unbleached cotton) which I decorated with multiple bands of machine embroidery around the neck (I think my kids have this one in their dress-up stuff), hem and short sleeves (thanks to the Grand Old Dame)-–-a reflection of my ‘wanna-be Hippie’ years, drapes for apartment windows, a long-sleeved, button-front tunic and matching gored skirt, in a rust-peach print double-knit, for my wedding ensemble. Throw pillows, place-mats with matching, mitered, hemmed napkins, sheer sash-curtains, baby and kid items, including shaped flannel diapers, blue-jeans and aforementioned parka and snow pants, sundresses, Hallowe’ en costumes (thankfully, you were never into figure-skating!) I also sewed an Edwardian Walking Skirt, from a Folkwear pattern, as an interpretive costume for a historic house-museum I became involved with, as well as those ‘ Prairie-Girl’ (Folkwear) dresses and pinafores for you. The last thing I ever sewed for you was a ‘little-house’ inspired skirt and blouse combo, in a blue-and-white flowered print, which I

Me in the `Prairie Girl`dress, age 3 or so.

cut out, but which you outgrew before I could get it sewn.
I interspersed sewing with crocheting, knitting (remember the fisherman-knit sweater that I started for you, your brother wore it, and your girls) and other crafts. I have a small collection of antique apparel, including a man’s shirt, girl’s night-dress,women’s blouses, Edwardian white summer dresses in small child and small woman sizes, shoes and boots. It is amazing to look at the detailed work that was created from very fine fabrics, with pin-tucks, lace insertions and embroidery, by hand and treadle-sewing machine. I also have a collection of antique/vintage photographs (other people’ s ancestors, as well as mine) showing clothing from about 1890 to about 1929, and several reproduction catalogues which illustrate clothing (and household goods).

Why did you ‘give it up’?

I think the main reason was that I got too busy with other things, including gardening, heritage research and interpretation, local community concerns/activities. Also, I had no dedicated place to set up a ‘sewing corner’ where I could leave everything out. The computer took over the dining room, and one really can’ t sew on the kitchen table when people want to be fed. Also, I never mastered the art of fitting, and was frustrated with not being able to produce wearable clothes that fit. I am inspired by your sewing activities, almost enough to try again. Or maybe I will teach myself how to cane chairs, or to use the ruffler-foot to make an Edwardian petticoat. (I say go for it, mom!)

Thank you, Mom, for taking the time to answer these questions and for letting me post them. I hope they’ve been interesting for the rest of you. I know some of you have probably been sewing for as long—or longer—than my mom, and have seen all the changes for better and for worse. I’d love to hear your take as well!


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I want horsehair braid.

In real life, this is another muted purple. Apparently my lighting completely fails to capture this colour.

I think this is the fabric that will become my first skirt for the petticoat. It’s a thrift-store find, yummy purple herringbone wool (I seem to be on a purple kick here.) But now, ah, now I am torn. So many decisions. Do I want to cut the skirt in a single piece? Do I want to try and have front and back seams on the bias, matching the herringbone? How will I mark the hem before I hem it? How do I want to hem it? Narrow hem, hem facings… horsehair braid. Sigh. I want horsehair braid. I haven’t seen it at Fabricland but it’s certainly possible I missed it.  I *really* love the look and hang of the skirts I’ve seen (pictured) using this. Second best, I guess, would be a hem facing, but it always seems like that would just take up an obscene amount of additional fabric. And then there’s a lining. I really don’t have anything on hand that would work. Do I need a lining for a skirt I’m going to put a petticoat underneath? Maybe I don’t.  Will I ever want to wear the skirt without the petticoat? Doubtful. I much prefer how they look with some pouf. Grum, grum.

On the Men’s Shirt Sewalong front,

Left, woven-stripe cotton; right, black flannel.

I have two fabrics picked out and pre-washed, though I suspect the flannel, at least, should be washed a couple more times to make sure all that pesky shrinking is taken care of (I hear flannel’s a progressive shrinker.) Both of these fabrics are black*, and by some miracle I managed to capture the texture, if not the colour, of both. The woven-stripe stuff on the left would appear much smoother if it were ironed, but to be honest, my inclination to iron my hubby’s shirts is about on par with my inclination to run a marathon. I keep thinking that it would be a worthy goal, but there are far too many more immediate and rewarding things to spend my time on. Fortunately his work supplies his uniforms, so any clothing I make will just be worn to and from work and around the house, so a slouchy, casual shirt is fine (Yes, I will press while sewing, I promise. Just maybe not ever again, after). I will make my first try from the black flannel, as it was significantly cheaper.

Butterick 3364

I’m thinking I will go with view A for the first shirt after all, as I think the seaming would spice up an otherwise terribly plain shirt. Also I noticed some hand-topstitching on a male co-worker’s shirt (anyone else in this sewalong, are you ogling menswear around you as badly as I am?) today that looked really nice. If it turns out well I might consider something like that—again, it could be a subtle way to jazz up the flannel without trying to appear formal.

I guess I should really get on, y’know, tracing the darned pattern before I get too far ahead of myself, eh?

And on that note, what I thought was going to be a super-quick fabrics post turned into half a book, so I’ll end it here.

*here’s the problem. My hubby, the light of my life, a funny, insane, delightfully stylish man, wears only three colours. Black, white, and denim**. Occasionally a small amount of red or purple, as an accent, is tolerable. Although he really doesn’t like red. He doesn’t even wear grey.

**for him, this is a colour.


Filed under Sewing