There's the Snap to Miller. He Drops Back and…


Yep, I could drive myself bonkers, snap at my kids, growl at the dog and kick my husband, or I can just get Zen about the whole thing and do a great job on the Pucci print Cosmo dress in time for my trip to NYC in a couple of weeks. And since the house looks like a bomb went off in it, and we have a crowd coming for Easter tomorrow, and I have to sing at the Vigil for 3 hours tonight, and sing at the 10:30 mass tomorrow, including a solo prelude of “I Know that My Redeemer Liveth” from Handel’s Messiah, I’d rather minimize that particular self-induced stress.

Now the question is, “What to wear? What to wear?”

Happy Easter!

Do You Have OCSD?

I’m a clothes horse. Happily, I’m the first to admit that I have a problem. Even more happily, my husband doesn’t mind. In fact, he encourages me. Even more happily still, I can forego the dubious pleasures of the mall in my constant search for the Next Great Outfit, because I sew. I am able to whip up an outfit in less than a day, if I want to. And it will rival anything you could find in Neiman’s or Bergdorf’s. That’s not a boast. It’s fact, and it’s something I’ve worked long and hard to achieve.

But this ability comes with a slight problem. Well, maybe not so slight. I have developed a roaring case of OCSD, Obsessive-Compulsive Sewing Disorder. As I’m finishing up my latest project, my mind is off to the races, designing the next one. My closet is stuffed to the gills with the results of my work. The local branch of the Saint Vincent de Paul society knows me by name from bringing in last year’s styles (good-bye, handkerchief hems!). Do you have OCSD? Here are a few questions to gauge yourself.

1 – Do you have a basket/file drawer/spare closet full of patterns, ‘for when the right fabric comes along’?

2 – When you see a fabric you like, do you immediately purchase the typical amount you would need to make a specific type of garment (e.g. pants, dress, top), rather than wait until you have the pattern in hand?

3 – Could you clothe your family, friends, and neighbors for at least one month just using the fabrics and notions you have in stash?

4 – Have you ever made a garment, then never worn it?

5 – Have you ever had a spouse/significant other complain that your finished sewing projects encroach on their closet or shelf space?

6 – Do you have at least two leather skins hanging in your closet for when you need to make a purse to match an outfit?

7 – Can you make an entire wardrobe, including all thread, notions, interfacings, etc. without ever needing to go to the store for any supplies?

8 – Do you ever get jittery because you haven’t sat at your sewing machine within the last 24 hours?

9 – Do you ever whip up something for a family member while waiting for inspiration for your next project for you?

10 – Do you think at least three sewing projects ahead? Or worse, are you planning your wardrobe for next season before this season starts?

If you can answer yes to at least 4 of these questions, welcome to the club! You are officially an Obsessive-Compulsive Sewer. Hey, it’s better than a gambling or drug addiction, and the fruits of your labors will bring pleasure to you and others for years, right? That’s my story, and I’m sticking with it.

Hmmmm, it’s Mardi Gras. Lent starts tomorrow. I wonder if I could give up sewing for Lent?
Nah… I’d rather give up drinking!

Now, back to the sewing room!

What Do You Love Most About Sewing?

I saw a thread on Threads Gatherings forum with this title. I thought it was a great question, because I ask it of myself every time I sit at the sewing machine or cut something out.

There isn’t much that I don’t like about sewing. It’s fun; it’s creative; it sometimes approaches artistry, especially when you see couture quality garments. I love the planning that is involved in making a difficult piece. I love the transformation from the flat pattern and fabric to a three-dimensional garment that drapes over the curves of a human body. I love the processes that take place, and all the little details like finishing and embellishment. I like the fact that, in my own sewing, I can make things that accentuate things I like, like my legs, and de-emphasize others – “Irish peasant arms”, as they were described last week.

I like the unique results that I get from putting a commercial (or not!) pattern together with fabric of my choosing. I won’t ever see anyone at a mall or restaurant with the same outfit. And I never have to worry about a White-House-Dinner-Oscar-de-la-Renta debacle when I sew.

Those are just some of the things I love about sewing. Your turn. What do you love the most?

Back to the Sewing Room

Thanks for letting me vent yesterday. I went back to the sewing room for some therapeutic stitchin’. And I decided to make a top. Last weekend I made a New Look skirt that I reviewed here at PatternReview. Our best man, JJ, is celebrating his 10th anniversary, and tonight we are going out to dinner with him and his wife. So I decided to make a top to go with it. I had enough of the polka dot fabric to make a shell. And I had this pattern in my stash from ages ago:

It’s an out of print Vogue Basic pattern for a princess line shell with neckline variations. It’s a great pattern. I made it a couple of years back for a “We’re Sick of Winter Party” – a bash we throw each February where we crank the heat to 80, make rum drinks and tropical appetizers and put Jimmy Buffett and Merrymen on the stereo. Everyone wears shorts and Aloha shirts under their winter coats, and we have a great time.

Back to the present. I pulled out this pattern and in about 3 hours had a new top. There are a couple of things that I changed about it, but the most important thing to do when making a top like this, regardless of your fabric, is press the bejeezus out of it as you go along. The success or failure of a garment like this depends directly on how well you press your seams. I wrote an article in Threads magazine and I wrote about it on PatternReview way back when. My students call me the pressing nazi, mostly affectionately I think, because I’m always riding them about pressing properly. Let me put it to you this way. Do you know that, in most factories, the pressers earn more than the seamstresses? True. They spend more time with the garment, shaping it. And I’ll tell you, the simpler the garment, the more critical pressing is to its final look and quality.

Another change I made is to use a more ready to wear approach and insert an invisible zipper in the left side seam. Unlike the directions, I positioned the stop at the underarm and had the zip go all the way to the hem of the garment. Other than that, not much. You can read the full review here on PatternReview. Here’s a picture of the finished garment:

I’m going to wear it tonight, and since it’s getting chilly in the evenings, I’ll probably bring this jamovar shawl that I bought from Heritage Trading on ebay:

Happy Sewing!

How do you Rate?

I’ve been thinking about this for the last few weeks. There are some websites to which I subscribe, not all sewing related, that in your profile, ask you to rate your skills. I find this to be an interesting social experiment. Let’s limit the discussion to sewing for right now. How do you rate your skills? I don’t mean, do you think you are beginner/intermediate/advanced. I mean, how do you decide what level you’re at? Me? I would probably say I’m advanced in many areas. But there’s the rub. I’m not advanced in all areas. I can’t draft a basic sloper if my life depended on it. So am I advanced? No, not there. But boy, can I take anyone’s pattern and make a gorgeous garment from it? You bet! Can I drape a beautiful, but simple top and skirt? Absolutely. Can I do a phenomenal job fitting pants to any body? Mmmmm, maybe not.

So I decided, on one of them, to remove my self-rating. Why? I was rating myself alongside folks whose skills I can only dream of. Some people who rated themselves as less skilled than I are (IMHO) better than me at many things. And there were folks who rated themselves as the same skill level as me or higher, but I wouldn’t let my dog sleep on their work. Snarky? Maybe. But it’s true and I ain’t naming any names so don’t take offense; there is none to be had.

Look, we’re all good at certain things. I’m a really good technical teacher. I can get a couch to sew a straight seam and produce a ripple free garment. Given enough time, I can personally produce a couture garment worthy of Paris or Milan. But I can’t do everything, and so I don’t really want to give a blanket statement that says, “I’m xxx level!” Heck, look at medicine – you’ll find specialists, and generalists. They don’t claim to be experts at everything. Why should you?

Happy sewing, however you rate yourself!

Elastic Hanger Loops

Here’s a tip for those who are making a garment that may need support on the hanger. I like hangar loops, but when I make them from ribbon or twill tape, they often fall off the padded hangers in my closet, making them moot. As an alternative to ribbon/tape, use a length of clear elastic for your hangar loop. The important thing is to cut it about 3 inches shorter than you would normally (I’m assuming you’re making a dress here). This will make the elastic bear more of the weight of the garment. The clear elastic is also slightly sticky, so it won’t slide off your hangers. This is a marvelous solution for keeping the shape of knit or crepe garments.

Happy Sewing!

Sample Gifts – a sewing odyssey

Sewing for others can alternately be a joy and fraught with terror. I received a call from a friend two weeks back. She’s a designer for a fashion house in California. The next week was Market Week in New York City. Market Week, for those who aren’t familiar, is the week when different fashion centers and showrooms display all their samples for the coming season. It’s a huge deal in the industry. Buyers come from all over and place their orders. It’s tense and exciting: the quickened pulse of the of the industry in a way.

So that weekend, I received a call from my designer friend. One of her sample makers was unable to do two dresses because of a conflict. Was there any way I could help her out? Of course! I love this lady, and I admire her deeply, and besides, I love to sew, and I really love to get paid to sew! I would only have time, however, to do one dress. No problem, she sent me the line drawings and the pattern, and she had actually cut the pattern pieces for me. All I had to do (yeah, right!) was sew up the dress and make it look spectacular. No pressure right? The problem with sewing for others is that I cast a much more jaundiced eye on the piece than I ever do for my own things. I know, Kenneth King, my hero, says, “I don’t try for perfection, I strive for the illusion of perfection.” He also has a pithy saying to the effect that, if they are examining your clothing closer than three feet away, you have every right to slap them!

But when it’s a piece that is professional, for a friend in need, it’s a different story. Buyers are not only going to be closer than 3 feet, you’re definitely not allowed to slap them, regardless of how much they may deserve it. They’re kind of like Brothers-in-law that way. I started in on the dress, and I had a similar, but not exact, style to kind of emulate the finishing and get the feel for the placement of boning and lining. Of course, I had a lot of questions for my friend, and I called her up. I’ve done tons and tons of sewing for myself and for private clients. But I am not an industrial seamstress, and I wanted to check a few things before I started.

“So, just to make sure, are the seam allowances 5/8 of an inch?” That’s the standard for home sewing patterns BTW.
(long pause)
“Noooo. In industry, the seams are 1/2 inch, and facings are 1/4 inch.”

This was said in a thoughtful manner, not in any way to make me feel stupid. It didn’t help. I felt pretty damned stupid anyway. As an aside, why do pattern companies use a different standard than the garment industry? It seems like the industry has some good ideas – there’s less wasted fabric, and you don’t need to trim. Whazzup? Most homesewers I know aren’t dumb. They could figure out different seam allowances. Grrrrr…..

So I sewed up the dress. It went together beautifully. But there was the hem. It was a knife-edged narrow hem. No big deal. I made it up, But when I looked at it the next day, the thing looked crooked! So I took out my measuring tape. Nope, the measurements from all angles showed that the hem was exactly the same length all around the skirt. What the…? I let it hang on the mannequin overnight to see if it stretched out any and would need re-hemming. The next morning, nothing had changed. It was still measuring all the right lengths from the waist, but the durned thing looked wonky! My DH came in, looked at it and said, “Looks fine to me.” So I packed it up, sent it off, and let my friend know she would have the dress first thing Monday morning. She was happy with it, and I believe the collection was a success.

The moral of the story is, project fatigue can make you crazy. I’d only had the dress for 4 days, but by the end, I couldn’t see it for itself. All I could concentrate on were perceived faults that weren’t actually there. When that happens, get someone else, even someone who doesn’t know about sewing, to take a look at it. The second set of eyes can give you an unbiased opinion. DH is astute enough after 21 years of marriage to notice if a hem is off. He didn’t see it, so I figured I’d just go with it. And it worked!

Happy sewing!