Monthly Archives: September 2012

Holy Frock!

A tale of terror, tailoring, and tragedy.

The Coat.

Okay, I’m no good with suspense. I need to get this over quickly. I finished Osiris’s frock coat.  This is what it looked like Friday evening, as we headed out for a night on the town.


Here’s a slightly-clearer closeup.

And this is what it looked like Sunday afternoon…

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A match made in hell


Remember those doodads I posted about last week? My research suggested they would fit a machine produced by the National Sewing Machine Company. My mother’s research uncovered two such machines in our immediate area, one in the collection of a local mini-museum my mom’s involved with, and another at a local thrift store.


The latter came home (or at least to my Mom’s house) as my belated birthday present.

It’s an “Improved Seamstress”, which was the house brand of the old Canadian Department store, Eaton’s, manufactured by National.


The exterior isn’t in great shape, but it runs, albeit in desperate need of a can or three of oil. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to track down anything resembling a manual for it, and I haven’t the faintest clue how to wind and insert the shuttle, never mind thread it. Hopefully it’s a sufficiently generic model that I’ll be able to figure it out.


Perusal of my mother’s reproduction Eaton’s catalogues (what, your mother doesn’t have those?) suggests that it’s maybe younger than the 1901 catalogue but older than the 1921 catalogue, and that the “Improved Seamstress” was a bit less expensive than the actual “Seamstress”.


It has a set of Greist attachments, similar in style to my mom’s doodads, but not quite so well-built (or perhaps that’s just ridiculously over engineered), but lacking the ruffler, though I think one was there originally. It has the shuttle and four bobbins, and an assortment of distinctly non-standard needles.


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Minimum Blogable Unit

Leggings. Also motorcycle.

I made Syo leggings.

Possibly there is no less glamourous or discussion-worthy thing I could sew; hopefully the photos (Syo’s idea) make up for that. The pattern is Kwik Sew 1670, which I’ve made up several times now, and I didn’t even up the size. (I did actually take a 2cm vertical tuck in the pattern, as the last pair was too wide.) I did not use my serger at all, as it doesn’t make as strong of a seam. And it’s threaded with cream and I’m lazy. I used a black cotton-Lycra bought at the last major Fabricland sale I went to, and while it curls rather annoyingly, it’s otherwise a nice sturdy, stable knit. Syo is currently in rebellion against real pants, so I think these will be a really useful wardrobe addition, especially as the weather continues its inevitable slide towards the Canadian winter. (Though the last few days have been gorgeous, so no whining from me yet.)

A slightly more stretched out (and grubby) view.

They are still a little loose in the thigh, especially after wearing them all day, but pretty decent. The length is supposed to be 3/4.


I used Steam-a-Seam Lite in the hems and stitched in the elastic at the waist with two rows of topstitching. Not quite RTW, but it’s nicely finished inside and functional.

At the same time I cut these out, I cut out a pair of Kwik Sew 2100 with the bikini-rise, in a size 4. I am, according to the measurement chart, a size 5 or 6 but the reviews are universal in the pattern running large by at least two sizes, and 4 is the smallest in the envelope. I also narrowed the middle of the crotch gusset by 1cm off each side, as it is apparently quite large. Then I turned around and lost the crotch gusset pieces, so I have not been able to stitch them. >_< if they don’t show up soon, I will cut new ones. So I can’t really report anything else. Sarai made herself a pair of these recently—it’s almost like celebrity sewing.

Or, y’know, not.

Ok, one more thing.



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Brung Low

I have had the blerg. That is, the the-kids-have-been-back-at-school-just-long-enough-to-incubate-new-strains-of-plague annual fall cold. Blerg.

On the up-side, I have an excuse to do nothing but hunker down, drink tea, and catch up on some of the blog-reading I’ve missed over the last three weeks. And think about my fantasy sewing in a bit more focused way. On the minus side, I haven’t been coherent enough to do anything useful, never mind anything fun.

The kids have decided, and we (most especially Osiris) have agreed, to being a Steampunk family for Hallowe’en. I’m all kinds of conflicted over this.

I really sort of loathe Hallowe’en costumes. I mean, I love a really cool costume. love love love. But. There are few things I hate more than making something that will only be worn once. If we could have Steampunk Club every week, I’d be all over the costuming. But for once a year? Erk. On the other hand, the idea of shelling out money (of which we have very little right now) for the godawful atrocities that pass for storebought costumes fills me with shame and horror.

So, sewing costumes it is. /sigh.

Osiris will be easy. In fact, all he really needs is some goggles (please nominate your favourite goggle tutorial 😉 ) and maybe some other accessories—everything else he pretty much already has, although if I were motivated to finish his frock coat I’m sure he’d happily wear that.

ZOMG I bought a brand-new pattern.

I’m less clear for myself, although I did pick up this Simplicity pattern at the $2 sale last weekend. I love the coat, although my deep suspicion of costume patterns makes me assume that it will be poorly-drafted and lacking sufficient internal structure to look right. I should probably at least read some reviews before I come to that conclusion, though. There was another pattern with a bustled overskirt thing that I also like, but it was featured in the Fabricland flyer and so long sold out by the time I got there. /sigh. Of course it’s the sort of thing I can figure out on my own, but for two dollars, not having to make it up might’ve been worth it. And I have (or rather my mother has) a perfect hat already.) Although my make-life-harder reflex is yammering something about “Steampunk Seamstress” that involves an antique-sewing-machine-looking-backpack…

Sketchies—Tyo’s costume.

Which brings us to the kids. We spent some time sketching on the weekend, although this was a bit frustrating since every time one girl came up with a good idea the other decided she wanted it, too—but they don’t at all want the same costume. >_<

Anyway, Tyo seems to have settled on some high-waisted shorts (over stripey stockings and the boots that started this whole thing) with braces, a corset/bodice thing, and a jacket with short coat-tails. After some wibbling and sorting through my patterns, I decided to try drafting the shorts based on Pepin’s instructions from Modern Pattern Design (1942). I drafted it on Inkscape, which isn’t perfect but is decent for computer drafting. This wasn’t too hard, at least when tackled in twenty-minute stretches as I zoned in and out of blergishness (this was one of those colds where it’s too uncomfortable to sleep, or really do much of anything, for very long), but I have yet to print the pattern and try drafting it, so I won’t declare any kind of victory yet. I have a feeling the hip curve is going to be off and the rear-dart-shaping is going to require work (and probably a swayback adjustment). On the other hand, they have the longer-back/shorter front crotch length like the Burda pants-draft, which seems to be a generally good feature.

Syo is all about the lacing. She wants lacing on her shorts (not high-waisted, though, preferably leather) and lace-up arm covers. This doesn’t strike me as overly Steampunk, but I imagine we can manage. She wants a corset but she’s not going to get one. Maybe a corset-seamed bodice. I’m hoping I can talk her into a cute little vest. They both want tiny top-hats… we’ll see.

Of course, with Steampunk a lot comes down to the accessories. Vaguely Victorian clothing, I can come up with fairly easily (although the number of individual pieces is slightly terrifying at the moment, considering I’ve scarcely stitched in a month). Accessories will require more work. Obviously, some googling is in order. Or, y’know, if any of you care to share your favourite steampunk costume or accessory or tutorial, I’d love to check them out! 😉

Also, it appears there will be corsets. (or things having a generally corset-like appearance) For Tyo certainly, and quite possibly for me. I have plenty of patterns, although not in Tyo’s size. Which brings on the debate—grade or draft? I’ve never made a corset before, but having read obsessively about them for several years I’m reasonably comfortable with the basic ideas, at least for costume purposes. But I’m pretty sure that the patterns I have, which are all Misses-size, are not going to be anything like the right proportions, even if I graded down to her size (which is about a Misses’ size 4). Decisions, decisions.

Obviously I need to sign myself up for Peter’s Hallowe’en Sewalong, stat.


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The Army Machine

I recently had the opportunity to show off my Army Machine (aka the Domestic Special) to my mother. This is kind of like putting together chocolate and peanut butter. My mom may not exactly get my sewing obsession (though she enables it just fine), but antiques of any kind are her bag, baby. She’s the first person (other than possibly Tyo) I’ve gotten to show that machine to who I don’t suspect is secretly thinking “And you bought this why?”

A mysterious little box.

And then she pulled out a little antique tin box she bought years and years and years (and years ago), mostly because she thought it was exquisite. I have vague memories of it kicking around when I was a kid, and maybe even of opening it from time to time, but the contents not ever making much sense.


Well, this time they make sense.

Lots and lots of sense.

It’s a complete, exquisite set of sewing-machine attachments, for a machine with a top-clamping presser foot.

Like my Domestic.

Tragically (or perhaps inevitably) the feet don’t quite fit—the height is right but the distance between the clamp and the needle isn’t, and while you can fudge by not inserting them all the way, I’m not sure they’d be stable enough to actually sew with. I’ll probably try at some point, because I’m crazy like that, but I didn’t today.

Have you ever seen such an insane selection of rolled hem feet? I wonder what that big ball in the middle of each is like to hem around.

Ruffler foot.

This is the ruffler. It’s simpler than the others I’ve seen—there’s no control for gathering on alternate stitches, so it only does ruffling, not pleats. I initially thought it might be broken, it’s so stripped down, but some wiggling and adjustment of the main screw (which controls how much of the fabric is shoved forward) and it works, although it’s badly in need of oiling and de-rusting before it goes anywhere near an actual garment.

Tucker foot

I think this is the tucker foot. I think this based on a repro antique Sears catalogue my mom has that figures a variety of sewing machine attachments, including a similar-looking “tucker foot”, but I really haven’t got a clue how it works. And my Handbook of Sewing Machine Attachments is in a box somewhere.

All the pieces bear a stamp: Pat. Oct. 13 96.

Since I’m pretty sure they don’t date to 1996, that would presumably be 1896. A bit older than even my mom thought the box was, frankly.

Random bits

There are a couple of other random bits in the bottom, bobbins for two different machines (one I think an old shuttle treadle), a plate that would have attached to the bed of the sewing machine for lapping seams and positioning lace and ribbons and the like, and that long thin thing that I have no idea at all about.

Although I didn’t recognize the name on the box, Eldredge Manufacturing Company, out of Illinois, one second’s worth of googling turned up this article about the Eldredge/National Sewing Machine company. Which, yes, was based in Belvidere, Illinois, in the period around 1896. And here’s an ad, albeit of rather older vintage, for the company’s machines. And the shuttle bobbin looks like it could well be for an Eldredge machine as well. I do kinda love the ISMACS site.

The machine might have looked something like this… (source)

Also, my messings and musings provoked my mother to comment that at this point I know rather more about sewing-machine attachments than she does. After I’d picked my jaw up off the floor, I had to demand what she was talking about—after all, it was her machine’s ruffler-foot that first got me started on this whole attachments obsession business.

Pfaff Ruffler Foot

People, apparently in the thirty-odd years my mom’s machine belonged to her before I pulled out the scariest foot in the attachment box and set about figuring out a) if it was a ruffler, and b) if I could figure out how it worked (the answer, by the way, was yes to both), my mom never knew what that foot was, never mind how you made it go. I had always assumed that if my bull-headed fumbling didn’t yield results, I would just ask her. I feel kind of like one of those Enlightenment mathematicians who assumed the calculus they were inventing had all been known to the ancient Greeks… Only I just got to talk with Pythagoras and he was all “WTF are you talking about, dude?”

Or, y’know, not. But anyway. Fun. I love it when something I didn’t know how to place before suddenly makes sense…

Now if only I could sew with them…


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Back in the Saddle (?)

I sewed!


It took a lot, both in terms of re-organizing (the box with my main sewing machine conveniently wound up at the very bottom of the middle of the massive pile of stuff we have in storage right now) and personal patience. This having the sewing room in someone else’s house bites bigtime. Not least because every time I go over to try and tackle things, I feel like I’m being rude for heading down to work rather than upstairs to visit. Going to have to work on that.

There was the predictable myriad of small, unanticipated hiccoughs, from not having my good pins or my seam-ripper, to discovering that my mother-in-law, who is currently allowing me to occupy a corner of her basement with my sewing stuff, doesn’t have an ironing board. I had assumed everyone with a “real household” would have one. I mean, she has a rice steamer, people. She said, “I don’t iron.” I said, “I don’t bake. But I still have cookie sheets.” That may not have been my most diplomatic moment as a daughter-in-law. >_< So I also need to dig my ironing board and iron out of storage.

Former T-shirt

Anyway, I did eventually settle on the quickest of projects, a T-shirt refashion. Why didn’t I get a damn before picture? /headdesk. This black tee has been kicking around the bottom of my wardrobe for roughly a decade at this point, one of those shapeless “unisex” T-shirts that I can never actually bring myself to wear, courtesy of my student club days. The pattern is an old one, dating from one of my first knit projects, but is presumably roughly comparable to Zoe’s vest pattern. I used the same fold-over elastic that gave me such fits with Tyo’s tank top back in the spring, and I’m happy to say that with a good deal more care and attention to the stitches (and practice samples!), helped along by this more stable fabric, I was able to attach it more or less adequately. Because this particular fold-over elastic doesn’t fold on its own, I stitched it on in two passes, using a three-step zig-zag and being careful not to let my stitches reach the midline groove, where they basically shred the fabric of the elastic.

The T-shirt knit is not as stretchy as the last fabric I used this pattern for, so the top is quite snug, giving a bit of a flattening uniboob thing. But it’s comfy, and infinitely more wearable than it was before. And nice and long.

Strappy fun.

I decided to bring both straps to the centre back, partly because it looks cool, largely because it meant that I could just stitch them in place without worrying about where the straps should be positioned. They are a little long, but I didn’t have time to re-adjust before I had to round up children (my own and nieces) for home-made pizza at Uncle’s house. The pain of having family around, I tell you.

Oh, and for the really geeky among you, the logo says “Miocene Park” and the skeleton is that of an entelodont.

Is this the beginning of big things? I really don’t know. I have hopes (I have coats on the brain, frankly), but we’ll see. Also, I got eight (possibly nine) patterns at the local Mennonite thrift today. They’re usually 50¢ there, but the guy only charged me $2 for the bunch. Yay. I think I need to sew more, if only so I’ll buy fewer patterns…


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Fantasy Sewing: McCall’s 8858

McCall’s 8858

All right, while I remain in sewing limbo, let’s fantasize a bit more.

This is McCall’s 8858, which I got from the thrift store in my hometown (now once again my home), back in the spring. It’s © 1952, and is just my size.

I mean, exactly my size. Bust, waist (well, on a good day, anyway), and hips. I am trying to figure out how companies, in an era that championed the wasp waist and idealized the hourglass figure, where women still wore girdles as a matter of course (or at least, my grandmothers did), put out patterns that match my own rectangular measurements. I’m pretty sure that I do not have a “vintage figure.”

Now, when I bought it, the envelope to this pattern was totally trashed. Well, still is, really. I took the front and back (since they were already completely separated) and ironed them on to some cotton iron-on interfacing I had around. Is interfacing archival? If not, well, I doubt it’s worse than what they’ve been through already. At least those shredding edges are reinforced.

While I was messing around, I sorted through the pattern. By some miracle of the Sewing Gods, it’s all there. Every little facing, as far as I can tell. Furthermore, it had been folded in the most awesome way imaginable—skirt pieces together, bodice pieces together, bolero pieces together. How cool is that? Whoever last used this pattern is obviously a far more meticulous lady than I.

McCall’s 8858 envelope back

Here, since I was in the mood for scanning things, is the back of the envelope. Ok, so there’s one measurement I’m pretty sure won’t fit, which is back length. It’s not listed, but I presume it’s on the order of 16″ or up, as it usually is, and my back length (nape of neck to waist) is 15 at best. Also the hip measurement indicates it’s at 7″ below waistline, and my full hip is more like 10″ below my waist.

Now when I make this (and I will make this, although I make no promises as to timeline), I will need to figure out how to petite and square shoulder a kimono sleeve. I’m not too concerned about the dress itself, but the bolero is a little more scary. And I really like the bolero.

Some other observations about the pattern:

It calls for the skirt to be cut with the grain paralleling the side seam. Interestingly, this is something that my 50s sewing manual cautions against; I’d never actually seen a pattern call for it before. Most everything else I’ve read on pattern-drafting and selecting grain suggests you should put the straight of grain midway between the two angled edges, unless you’re going to put one side on the fold, anyway.

In classic 50s style, it also calls for a self-fabric belt. I’ve never made one, as I generally don’t find that I “cinch” well. I feel like it always creates a certain blousing effect that just never seems to work for me. Of course, there is also the question of whether this should become part of Project Drop-Waist, but I think I may just possibly be able to pull off a waist seam as long as the skirt is un-gathered and sleek, as it is here.

I’m excited about the bolero, in particular. I’ve noticed (now that I have a small plethora of full-skirted dresses) that the style of jackets they work with are pretty limited. It has to be either a huge opera-style coat that can completely cover the skirt, or a petite, cropped bolero that doesn’t impinge on the skirt. I guess in theory something like my Lady Grey coat should work, but in practice I find I only like it with skinny bottoms. My empire-waist jacket is a complete fail, and the situations where it’s cold enough for my winter coat, but warm enough that I might wear one of my full-skirted dresses are very, very limited.

As far as I can tell, the only difference between View A and View B is that the bolero is made out of a different fabric in View B. Hmm.

The skirt will be a half-circle when all is said and done.

Of course, no Fantasy Sewing interlude is complete without musing on fabric. The problem is, I don’t think I have any lengths in stash that would be adequate for a dress like this—most of what I have is in 2m lengths. And I am not buying fabric right now, having just been traumatized by how many freakin’ boxes it actually filled.

It would be fun to make up even just the bolero, though. I have some black poly twill that would work (actually, I have a crap-ton of that, probably enough for the whole dress, but I have no desire to have a whole 50s dress in black poly twill suiting.) This is when I begin to wish that I’d catalogued my fabric stash more thoroughly… Not only do I no longer have everything on a shelf to paw through, I don’t even know which box most of it is in (I did label my boxes things like “Coating” and “light weight fabrics & interfacing”, but what exactly is where is pretty unclear.

Simplicity 4232

While I’m rambling, I might as well add that a little more recently I stumbled upon this sixties pattern with a very similar neckline, although this one has raglan sleeves rather than kimono, and your choice of full pleated or wiggle skirt. It’s quite adorable too, although the size is rather further from mine. Also, I love the cummerbund-style belt in the left view. I wish I looked good in those…


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