Category Archives: Sewing

Walking in a winter walking skirt

A few years ago in my town, something began showing up among the stylish and hipster in the city: Uksi winter skirts. Now, how to dress for the Canadian winter (and in particular how to do so stylishly) is an ongoing and chronic problem, and I was intrigued by the idea—a wool wrap-around skirt you can throw on quickly to keep your legs warm. Like snow-pants, but faster and less annoying. But, I didn’t think they were something I needed, since I’ve been exclusively a long-coat-wearer since 1998 or so.

Then I made the Red Lace Coat, two years ago. Now this is also a long coat, but as I wore it last winter, I realized that while the thinsuate interlining and denser (if polyester) coating fabric make it significantly warmer than my grey coat, the slightly shorter and full-circle skirt made it significantly less warm around the legs. A tricky conundrum—potentially solved by a long, custom walking skirt.

Finally, in the last days of 2019, whilst procrastinating from another project, I decided to trial the concept. A look through my pattern database turned up three good candidates—I don’t have a lot of wrap skirt patterns since it’s not a style I favour usually. Of course it wouldn’t be hard to hack an ordinary skirt pattern, but less work is less work.

In the end I went with Simplicity 7497, for its narrow skirt, low fabric requirements and larger size (and the parts where one of the other patterns is MIA, very upsetting, and the other had been cut off at the knee length view).

Walking skirt, with bonus cat hair!

The larger size was a good call, since this is basically outerwear and needs more ease (I also didn’t overlap it quite as much as it technically should). I like the length, as well. However, I think a slightly fuller cut would have been a good idea—this one flaps open a bit more than ideal while walking. On the other hand, the wider it gets the less warm the skirt is.

the fabric is a polyester coating that I really don’t care for, but it’s essentially the same stuff as my Red Lace coat is made of, and I didn’t want to waste any of my precious wool on a project that might be a total waste of time.

I was originally planning to interline with flannel, but the only flannel I had enough of that I was prepared to sacrifice was one my daughter came in and dibsed for PJs while I was midway through ironing it. In the end I went with fabric from a rather ugly rayon bedsheet, which was almost as slithery as my evilly beautiful polyester lining (a remnant from a project a couple of years ago, where it also nearly killed me). This is the first time I’ve hand-basted underlining since my Very First Dress. (As in that case, it made some misery-inducing fabric almost easy to handle, so totally worth it two out of two times!)

Very large hanging loop, for throwing over hangers as necessary.

I tested it out, sans buttons, last Monday, which was the coldest day of the winter we’ve had so far. (It’s actually been a ridiculously warm winter in these parts.) And it seemed helpful, but tended to flap open a bit, so I’ve added a few more buttons. A better interlining would’ve been a good call, but if necessary I could go in and MacGyver something between the two layers. I’ve been saying the same thing about my grey coat for eight years, mind you.

All pictures lightened dangerously so you can see… anything.

I need to adjust the middle button, as the placement is off, causing that weird pulling.

Now if it will just stop melting long enough for me to test out its final form. Thanks, climate change.

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Cogitation

‘Tis the season for introspection and reflection and looking back on the year. Not really my forte, but I have a wee bit more time on my hands than previous year-ends, and maybe this will distract me enough to slow down my rampant Christmas chocolate binging.

A lot changed this year, and not much. We live in the same house (our first full year as homeowners. My husband has not left me over it. Yet.) with the same kids and the same cats. Tyo graduated high school and got her driver’s license and a job. Syo struggled through grade 9, had a summer of epic highs and lows, but dove into grade 10 with a determination and involvement that makes me feel like she’s figuring things out. Teenagers are wonderful but also exhausting.

Midway through the year, I lost my Fabricland job when my store was closed down, which was a big personal and financial adjustment. While I’ve enjoyed having more time to devote to my health and my family and mainly to just existing, financially it’s been tricky, and I desperately miss many of the people I worked with. I was incredibly lucky to have been able to ramp up my teaching at Periwinkle Quilting once my evenings were no longer full of Fabricland—it’s much more fun than just selling fabric, and I THINK it’s exactly what I want to do in terms of my sewing “career”—but there are pretty firm limits to how much they can fit me in to their schedule, so it will never be the kind of second income Fabricland was. Which is okay, too. It’s been really nice having some time to just… be. I’ve been trying to let myself enjoy it.

As for my sewing this year… it wasn’t exactly exploring brave new frontiers, but there were some highlights.

The obvious one is Tyo’s grad dress, which I’m inordinately proud of. Because it fit her so well, and had all the features she wanted (including removable overskirt and pockets), and also because I made my own lace for the short skirt.

With my sewing no longer dominated by Fabricland projects, I got to dip my toes into sewing more indie patterns. Some for fun, like the York Pinafore above, others for teaching purposes, like the Merchant and Mills Trapeze Dress.

I struggle a bit with the teaching samples. The patterns I choose to teach are not necessarily things I really want to wear—many patterns are picked for simplicity or popularity, and while I try to stick with things that can be made from fabrics available at Periwinkle, it’s still a quilting store and the range of fabrics I’m interested in is just, um, smaller. Especially since I’m not the biggest prints person.

I made the third in a trilogy of progressively larger little coats for my best friend’s daughter. Everything about it felt pretty epic, from the mysterious vintage pattern to the quilted lining. I had a lot of fun with that.

And I have to go off about my print-matching on my Hallowe’en dress, because it was epic.

Even if you can’t actually see it in this picture.

Just before Christmas, in between annoying present sewing, I indulged in some serious velvet, making a slip and stockings and a few other quick and luxurious pieces. Velvet is on trend this year and I’m all over that.

The biggest fail of the year was these gorgeous black linen cargo pants I made for my husband.

I failed to fit them properly (standard changes for my husband I should’ve known to make but didn’t) and then compounded that by hemming them too short. The construction was awesome. I could attempt some alterations, but most of my topstitching was done with a triple stitch, and I haven’t been able to face the hours and hours of unpicking any alterations will require.

Looking toward the future, I’ll be making a blazer for my uncle, hopefully in time for Robbie Burns Day. I’m thinking I should make myself something similarly tailored in parallel, so I feel more excited about the project, because right now I’m dreading it.

I’m also tempted to make a walking skirt, a long wrap-skirt of coating to keep my legs warmer than my winter coat does. Yes, I’m still thinking winter sewing. I’ve got at least three months to go, though it hasn’t been a hard winter here so far.

I’m in a bit of a transition with my style and sewing, I think. Body changing (even as I’m hoping to reverse some of that with some more time for exercise next year) and the twilight of my 30s, plus my work being less outward-facing (except for teaching) has me thinking differently about both what’s flattering and what I want to project. I’m not feeling the silly, girly retro dresses as much as I was, nor the “sexy secretary ” stuff. I kind of hate to even admit that, because I love those styles.

On the other hand, I know even long before sewing I would wax and wane in my over-dressing, going through periods of wearing eveningwear to work, and other periods that were strictly jeans-and-T-shirts. And that’s ok too.

So bring it on, 2019—we’ll see what you got!

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In further velvet news

I’m not the biggest fan of fashion trends, in general, but when the trend of the moment happens to overlap with your innate preferences… well, you just gotta run with it, right? Which is how I feel about velvet right now.

Anyway, I’m plugging along with my Christmas sewing like a good little elf, but intermittently, I’ve been indulging in quick little selfish projects, as you may have noticed. The most recent, to go with last week’s velvet stockings, is a little velvet slip.

I used Butterick 6031 again. I’m trying to do a count in my head and I think I’ve made the slip or cami a total of six times. Well, seven now. I’ve made the briefs a couple of times, too, but I’m not as wild about them.

I love the shape of the pattern, and I love that the separate bust piece with the dart builds in a little shape and support. It’s not much, but I don’t need much. It’s just nice.

For this version, I went very pared down. I didn’t want to mix flimsy stretch lace with the heftier velvet. So I went with FOE for the top edge and straps, and I lengthened the skirt three inches. I’ll probably shave an inch or so off of that, though, it’s a little long now.

I used my usual 5/8″ FOE (which finishes at about 1/4″) and I think I maybe should’ve gone with the 1″ that finishes at about 1/2″ for a heftier look, but it didn’t even occur to me. I use the 5/8″ for just about everything, and I’m making a pretty good dent in that giant 100-yard spool I got a few years ago.

Oh, and I cut everything with the nap running up—I didn’t even think of it until I had it on my body and realized that I can only pet myself running upward. Downward would feel more natural. What, don’t tell me you don’t pet yourself when you’re swathed in velvet!

The whole thing took about half an hour, including cutting out. It helps that the pattern was in my quick-access drawer and that I used the same black thread that was already on the machines.

Now obviously a velvet slip is not very effective as a slip per se, but it’s a pretty awesome nightie. Especially when it has matching velvet stockings. Presumably a robe would complete the set but I’m not much of a robe person… we’ll see. For now—back to the Christmas presents!

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Not even naughty

I was a good girl this weekend and finished off the onesie for my younger niece. I did the one for her older sister last week, so those two major Xmas projects are done.

As a reward for myself, I made some velvet stockings.

Let’s back up a little. I’ve been a bit obsessed with velvet this year. I mean, i always like velvet AND it’s on trend, so it’s like the double-bounce of fashion trends. Plus a semi-local maker, Five of Hearts Studio, has been all about the velvet and velour as well, and I’ve been completely internet-stalking all her makes. And real-life stalking, too, since I actually went down to a real life craft fair to say hi. And buy a velvet toque, because you do. She was very nice and didn’t even run and hide. So there.

The pattern, as usual, is the Dreamstress’s Rosalie Stockings. I thought I might need to add width since stretch velvet isn’t as stretchy as a lot of the fabrics I would use for stockings, but a test revealed it was fine, so I made them as is.

What stretch velvet is a little lacking in is lengthwise stretch, so they weren’t very tall, only just over my knees. That’s fine, I added a cuff at the top—which made a handy place to attach some gripper elastic without it being as obvious as if it’s right at the top.

They aren’t quite as comfortable as they would be without the gripper elastic, but the annoyance of falling-down stockings is even worse. And while I do mean to make myself a garter belt at some point, I haven’t made it yet.

Anyway, these are making me absurdly happy right now. I definitely need another pair in red in time for Xmas.

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Less impressive

I’m trying to wrangle myself into the Christmas-sewing spirit (not the easiest thing for me to do). Output is down, and a little lackluster.

I did a mock-up of the Archer shirt for my mother (who requested it for her Christmas present), and while it fits, my grading-between-extreme-sizes strategy for trying to avoid an FBA was not overly successful—or rather it worked great but the back is super baggy. Dartless FBA would’ve been a better strategy. It’s not terrible, though, and my plaid matching ain’t bad considering I was half-concussed (long story) when I cut it out.

Syo wanted to make a baby blanket for a friend’s baby shower (how to feel instantly old: when your kids are the ones going to baby showers.) so I dug out all of the baby prints I had. She used none of them, preferring pink camo and a pentagram. But they were still out, so I tried to bust some stash making self-bound blankies for the plague of infants my work is currently experiencing.

Two out of three, done. I need to pick a backing for the third.

In between all of this, I made a cute little lingerie set from some scraps. I’m still a bit conflicted about bralets, but I’m kinda wanting something to wear on the weekends that isn’t underwire. Anyway, it’s worth a try and if I don’t like it I can always give it to the kids. This particular one is a sized-down Tropo camisole chopped off to bralet length, and the underwear, as always, are Watson bikini bottoms.

Then I was a good auntie and pulled out my Jalie onesie pattern and traced out a new size for one niece, and determined the size I used for the Pikachu onesie way back when should work for the older niece now.

Then I cut out more lingerie, from velvet, looking for luxe perfection. That wasn’t quite what I got, so I’m a bit out of sorts.

Not to mention I spent a good chunk of Saturday working to rescue the husk of an old biker jacket that is the signature wardrobe piece of one of my husband’s oldest friends. It was seriously held together largely by shoelaces and duct tape. Now at least the shoelaces will run through proper grommets and the duct tape has stitches securing it. My Janome performed some of the most heroic stitching of its existence (and I need to get that thing serviced so badly!) also we used some scrap leather from my sister-in-law to patch up the gaping holes where the pockets had been removed. But it was a fun project to work on with a friend. I hope we can finish it up next weekend.

K that’s all I’ve got at this second. I’ll probably be more into the Christmas sewing in a few weeks when I have time to get into the proper mindset. Yes, that would be last minute panic.

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The Purple Mystery Coat

The final installation in a great (?) Sewing trilogy!

A long time ago, when I was new to sewing and really excited about coats (I made at least five that first year), I bought quite a lot of this pretty purple bouclé, more or less with my children in mind.

And then suddenly my children were no longer into girly pale purple anything, and I kinda missed a similar window for my nieces.

But when my dear friend Ada finally caught up to me in the reproduction department, I finally got on the ball. I made a teeny tiny jacket for her infant daughter.

Then I made another a couple of years later.

And now, as her daughter starts kindergarten, I felt like it was time to use up the last of this fabric. It’s felt like a fun tradition, at least on my end, and I was ready to make the third installment in the trilogy. I just needed to decide on a pattern…

And then I got the mystery pattern.

Back in the summer, I got a donation of about a jillion vintage patterns from a friend of my sister-in-law’s mother. Many of them were old mail-order patterns , with the recipient’s name on them. The surname was the same as one of my co-workers at Fabricland. I asked her and, yes, these were her grandmother’s patterns! (Because there are seriously like five people in Saskatchewan.) I also asked if she wanted them, which she declined. So there.

Anyway, amongst the Simplicity and Advance and mail-order Marian Matin Patterns were a few more idiosyncratic bits. Pattern pieces traced out on newsprint, old flyers, and even some old government land-grant paperwork. (I showed that one to my co-worker, she said, oh, I know what land that was!)

And one stuffed in this envelope that had something to do with an old water heater, for a child’s coat, traced out on a brown paper so heavy it might as well be oaktag.

I must admit, patterns like this fill me with a burning curiosity. What did it look like? Who was it made for? The traceout doesn’t include any company, pattern number, or for that matter size, information. I’m guessing it’s about a kids size 6, maybe 8. It’s a straight, A-line coat, and includes both a hood and a little capelet for the shoulders. There were lines drawn for pocket placement, but no actual pocket piece, so I created one.

My co-worker assured me that her grandmother was unlikely to create a pattern entirely from scratch, so it’s presumably traced off a commercial pattern—maybe a much loved one that was falling apart, maybe one that belonged to a friend.

There are a few helpful notes on the pattern, showing where to ease and details like a zipper for the top of the hood (that one I skipped). It’s a nicely drafted pattern—two piece sleeve with easing at the elbow, shaping on the facing for turn-of-cloth at the roll line.

For the previous two coats I used an ivory Kasha lining, but if I have any of this left in stash I can’t find it at the moment. I could, however, find a nice big chunk of this dark purple. It seemed like a nice option for a slightly more grown up little coat.

Another feature of the previous coats, that I didn’t want to skip was the quilted lining. In the past I used flannel, but the quilting doesn’t really pop, and I had some leftover bamboo batting that I wouldn’t mind getting out of stash, so I used that. It turned out a nice weight.

This is where production really slowed down. I’m not going to say I put a TON of thought into the design, but I did have to stop and think about what I wanted to do where—which areas were going to be standard quilted, which ones were going to be free-motion quilted. FMQ is not my strong suit, but it’s the most fun there is in quilting, IMO, and it is well suited to creating the motifs I wanted.

As with the last coat, I went with ocean imagery, as I knew this would tickle my friend and her husband’s fancy (and let’s face it, this is really about pleasing the parents, not the kids.) I wish my line-echoing was not so terrible, but it’s fairly fun doing it, at least.

And I quilted. And I quilted. And I sewed a couple of bits together, and I quilted some more. I’m glad I was able to get the waves mostly looking ok.

This fancy fish doesn’t really look like a proper wild sea creature.

I was going for eel, but I ended up somewhere near Loch Ness Monster, I think. Oh well. In hindsight I should’ve done a killer whale, for these west coast people, but I wasn’t sure my skills would’ve been sufficient to keep it distinct from, say, the shark. The art of the possible, right?

Other than that, the construction was pretty unremarkable. All of my fabric was blockfused, so I forgot to add more interfacing to the facings, so they’re a little floppy. The buttons are a little boring, but they’re vintage and, more importantly, from stash.

I hand-stitched the hem, the pockets, and the inside opening of the bound buttonholes. The latter, especially, took forever but it’s much less terrifying than trying to mark and machine squares and hope that they’re in the right place.

I haven’t said much about the capelet as there isn’t much to say—it’s part of the pattern and cute, one piece fitted with darts at the shoulders. It plus the hood, which is gathered to fit, made for some seriously bulky seams at the neck, and I have never been so happy with my Janome as the way it chugged through them effortlessly. There was much, much grading of those seams.

At the end of the day, there are some rough spots, but I’m pretty satisfied, and I know Ada is over the moon. I just hope it fits, or will fit fairly soon.

It wasn’t a speedy make, but it was fun to pick it up when I wasn’t sure what else to work on, and then put it down again when I needed to ponder something. And it’s done, with plenty of time to ship it out there for Christmas!

Except that I suck at shipping things, so we’ll see how that works out.

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Laggardly Lola

I think the Lola dress by Victory Patterns was one of the first indie patterns to seriously sink into my psyche. I’m thinking of Farbenfreude’s many early versions. Renée made an awesome one, too, more recently, but the internet hates me and I can’t find the blog post I remember reading. It may have been the first time “sweater dress” sang to me as a thing I might actually wear. (Somehow, every store bought version I ever met was bleh, to the point where I just thought they didn’t suit me or something.)

Yet somehow, I never quite bit. Even last winter, when I made all. The. Sweater. Dresses. But at some point in the spring, I found myself back on the website, and clicking the purchase button.

Except, of course, it was spring. I’m not sure what I was thinking.

Anyway, it marinated in the back of my brain all summer. In September, which got cold really fast, I inventoried my sweater-knit collection (not an extensive part of the stash), and rediscovered a remnant of red sweatshirt. It wasn’t enough for much of anything on its own, but Lola is perfect for colour blocking. There followed a series of phone-colouring experiments while I figured out what I liked best for a colour arrangement, followed by some very careful pattern Tetris.

And it worked!

Once everything was cut out (there are a lot of pieces) it was fairly straightforward. Almost. The pattern has a LOT of notches, which are annoying to cut but make it a dream to sew, because everything lines up so beautifully.

I did most of the construction at a sewing afternoon at my friend Jacque’s. Aside from being one of the sweetest people you’ve ever met, SHE HAS A COVERSTITCH.

And she let me use it, to hem the pockets of the Lola. My very first coverhem! It was more or less flawless (sweatshirt fleece being a magical fabric) and I want a coverstitch machine even more badly. Maybe with next spring’s tax return. Sigh.

Except, I hemmed the wrong edge. The pattern piece is more or less a rectangle, with slightly curved long edges. One of the short ends of the pattern piece is helpfully labeled (can I just say, this pattern has ALL the helpful markings?) “Hem”… so I hemmed it. Then, when I went to pin the pocket piece to the skirt piece underneath, lining up all those clever notches, I realized that the bottom of all the skirt pieces was labeled “Hem”. To help you keep all those subtly shaped rectangles in order. I had just hemmed the wrong edge.

The right response would’ve been to grab a seam-ripper, but after some flipping the pattern piece around I decided the subtle shaping was almost entirely within the range of the seam allowance, and that with a little careful fudging I could just flip the piece around and proceed. So, being a lazy sort, i proceeded. Everything else about the construction was very straightforward, especially with eighty million notches to line up.

I cut a size 6 on the top, eight on the bottom, and I could’ve sized up more. This might be down to my fabric—sweatshirt fleece is pretty stable—or maybe I was just looking for a moreoversize fit than it’s designed for? It’s also possible that my serger takes off a wee bit more than the 5/8″ it’s markings indicate. Anyway. It’s quite close-fitting. Not uncomfortably so, but definitely not roomy. And the sleeves feel a little short, ending distinctly above my elbow. Monkey arms strike again, perhaps. I would probably lengthen those next time.

Although I made no fitting alterations other than the size gradation, I did sew the underarm seam a bit narrow, as I often have to raise the underarm. However, this wasn’t needed and I’ll probably go back and normalize it.

On the whole I’m pretty happy, especially with the pockets. The only problem is, my children have informed me that the red-and-black colourblocking makes me look like an employee at Sephora. The other option is a Star Trek reference, which I gotta say I prefer. The key point is that this dress brings my sweater-dress count up to five, which means, if I so desired, I could do an entire week of sweater-dresses.

That kinda sounds really really good.

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