McCalls and Kwik Sew Fall Patterns

I was hoping to do Butterick and McCalls together, but Butterick hasn’t posted their early fall patterns yet. Kwik Sew has posted their new patterns, so I’ll combine them with McCall. Let’s start with Kwik Sew. I’ll tell you this right off, I find Kwik Sew’s patterns to be good basics, but their fashion drawings leave something to be desired. On the plus side, they are accurate, if not inspired. Read on!:

Let’s start with

outerwear. Kwik Sew is known for their patterns for knits and activewear. This season they published a raglan sleeved jacket and a similarly styled vest. These are both really good looking basic patterns. I really like the contrast insets in the vest and the contrast back of the jacket. From the picture, it looks like the jacket back extends slightly forward of a standard side seam. Both of those are very slimming effects. I would do them up in a lightweight fleece (say, Polartec 100 or lighter) in a bright color and use black as the contrast. I’d also match the zipper color to the contrast for a designer touch.

I’m seeing a lot of blouses like 3436 in the pattern catalogues for fall. It’s nice that they are a little dressier. For a great transitional piece, I would make the long sleeve version in an ivory or black cotton eyelet. View B, the short sleeved version, is very of-the-moment. But here’s a caution. That sleeve length can be deadly if you have either a large bust or if your arms are not model-thin. I’d recommend lengthening the sleeve to just above the elbow. That will cover multitudes of, well, you know. If you’re adventurous, push the envelope and make it from a jersey rather than the recommended wovens.

3451 is the Kwik Sew version of the ubiquitous bubble skirt. I’m going to be frank. I don’t like these skirts. That’s my personal taste, and it’s influenced by the hideous bubble skirts worn by Angela on the current season of Project Runway. The other thing about bubble skirts is that, if you don’t have perfect legs, avoid them like they were plutonium. Now that I’ve said all that, let me point out that, if you do want to make a bubble skirt, this is a cute pattern. I really like the fact that this pattern has a twisted bubble as well as the straight version. Try making this dressy by using a really high-quality silk shantung (Thai Silks and Metro Textiles both have good ones), or a silk gazar as the top layer of the bubble.

In the activewear category, this pattern, 3443:
tops my list of must-buys for this season. I love, love, love the waistband on view A. It’s just a great look. I’d make this pant in versions for the gym, and maybe in a silk or lightweight rayon jersey as a pajama bottom (hello, Kashi?). I am less thrilled about the waistband on view B, but I love the length for Cy-Yo (it’s a spin/yoga class I take). Yes, this pattern is going in my basket next time I’m out.

Okay, snark alert. For some reason this pattern, 3444

reminds me very much of Frank Gorshin as the Riddler on the 1960s TV series “Batman”:

Maybe it’s the green trim on the leotard. I don’t know. This may be the latest style for the dancing crowd. If so, then go for it. But I would be careful about the color combinations, or it can look like a Harlequin costume from a third rate Commedia dell’Arte troupe.

McCalls Patterns
I wasn’t really thrilled with the new patterns on the McCall’s website. They seem like they are rehashed versions from the Vogue catalogue. There were a few that I liked though.

Jacket 5176 is a basic princess jacket, but I like the view D with the ribbon trim. It will make a nice platform for some of the great beaded trims I’ve bought from Heritage Trading. View A is nice too, especially if you try using Georgene’s idea on The Sewing Divas and make the flounces from tulle.

5184 is a basic skirt pattern with hemline flounce variations. I made one very like it three seasons ago when Simplicity did this same type of pattern. It’s a great wardrobe builder. Take a pass on the cutesy appliques, though. They scream “happy hands at home”. Instead, I’d make this in a beautiful lightweight crepe, pair it with a fitted jacket and wear it to the office and then out to dinner.

This pattern, 5206:

Is titled “Snow Queen”. Hmmmm….. I don’t know. To paraphrase Lloyd Bentson,

“I know Jadis, Queen of Narnia, and you, Ma’am, are no Jadis, Queen of Narnia!”

That’s all for now. 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!

Vacations with Friends – Running with Scissors?

I just read a great article in today’s Wall Street Journal. I love the Journal. It’s so right wing, and it annoys the bejeepers out of my husband that I gleefully pore over it every morning while he’s faithfully reading the Boston Globe (about as left wing as you can get). It keeps our marriage interesting after 21 years, ya know?

Be that as it may, Friday is my favorite day to read the Journal cover to cover. In addition to all the great business reporting and the uber-conservative opinions in the Op-Ed pages, it has the Weekend Journal section. And today’s Weekend Journal cover story was about the perils of taking vacations with friends. I just got back from a vacation to St. Croix with my family and my best friend and her family. You can read about it in the post called “Fabric Shopping on Vacation” at The Sewing Divas Blog. We had a wonderful time. Barb and her family travel so well with us. We’ve been traveling together since the 80s, when we all first learned to SCUBA dive, and long before we ever had kids, so we have it mostly down to a science. I’d like to share with you some tips that make our lives easier, in the hopes that it will help you out.

Get Separate Rooms/Suites/Houses
This is the one cardinal rule that I never violate. I love my friends, but I need my space and they need theirs. Once I violated that rule. Actually, I didn’t violate it so much as the place we were staying violated it for us. This was with a different couple. To protect my friendship with them, I’ll just call them “Family X”. The place we were staying was a little Caribbean spot that was, um, lackadaisical about having rooms ready when they said they would. Family X’s room wasn’t ready for the first two days. The place we were staying in had two bedrooms, so we crammed 8 of us into what became a very claustrophobic space. By the end of the second day, I wished I had never invited Family X to vacation with us, and I was ready to commit suicide by Bahama Mamas.

Travel on Different Airplanes, if possible
Or at least make sure you’re not sitting right next to each other. This is not always a hard and fast rule on the way to vacation, but it is rock solid on the way home. At that point, I want space from my own family; I definitely need it from someone else’s.

Get Separate Cars
Another must. The fastest way to ruin a vacation is to get into transportation conflicts. Back to the trip we took with Family X. They didn’t reserve a car. We did. We reserved a compact. Mrs. X was shocked that I was not planning to get a car large enough for 8 and shuttle her wherever she wanted to go. My husband and I stood firm, and after one day of having to rely on the bus services and taxi cabs with toddlers in tow, Family X decided that enough was enough and they got a car. The vacation went uphill from there. The moral of the story is that you want to be able to go where you want, when you want. Different people have different goals in mind for their vacations. Having one car per family unit makes it possible to achieve those goals and keep harmony.

Have a “Common Wallet”
At the beginning of a vacation, have each family put a predetermined sum into a community wallet. For example’s sake, let’s just say $250/family – you can put in more or less, depending on the circumstances. This money will be used to cover any expenses that occur while both families are together. This prevents any “they only paid A, while they ate B” bickering and bad feelings. I’ve found that this works marvelously.

Plan One Co-Family Activity
You may end up doing more, but plan one, and let the rest fall as they may. On our vacation to St. Croix, we all spent the better part of Sunday afternoon and evening at the west end of the island. It was heaven. We parked right near the West Side Grille, which is right on the beach. We spent the afternoon on the beach in front of the restaurant (which is an open air casual place). We all snorkeled, we had snacks together, we swam with a really nice, very drunk off-duty policeman and his horse, and we had dinner and drinks together. It was everything a day at the beach should be, and we have wonderful memories and pictures that we will share for years to come.

Plan One Day of Separate Activity
Like the co-family day above, you may end up doing more days apart, but plan for at least one. In the case of our vacation in St. Croix, Barb and her family wanted to go snorkeling at Buck Island National Park. We had done that on an previous trip, so they went to Buck Island and we went up into the rain forest and fed beer to the pigs. It’s a big tourist draw, don’t laugh. Okay, you can laugh. Everyone had a great day, and everyone felt they got to do what they wanted.

Try to Get Zen
You’re on vacation. Things are going to happen. Things may go wrong. You might get annoyed at one another, especially after a long, hot, crowded plane flight. Try to keep it light, and try to breathe deep. Multi family vacations can be a bad experience, or they can be a blast. It depends on your outlook. Try to enjoy yourself, and as the Wall Street Journal advises, set your expectations low. You’ll probably exceed them, and everyone will have a great time.

Now that the heat in the Boston area has broken somewhat, I’ll be getting back to the sewing room and will blog about that more. In the meantime, have a great weekend!

Name That Tune!

I’m going on vacation, and this is one song that always brings a smile to my face. 10 points if you guess the source, the original oevre from whence it came, and the actor who voiced the Paranold Android:

So long and thanks for all the fish
So sad that it should come to this
We tried to warn you all these years.

You may not share our intellect
Which might explain your disrespect
For all the natural wonders that grow (around you)
So long so long and thanks for all the fish

The world’s about to be destroyed
There’s no point getting all annoyed
Lie back and let the world dissolve (around you)

Despite those nets and tuna fleets
We thought most of you were sweet
Especially tiny tots and your pregnant women

So long so long, so long so long, so long so long, so long so long
So long so long, so long so long, so long so long, so long so long
So long so long and thanks for all the fish

If I had just one last wish
I would like a tasty fish
If we could just change one thing
We would all have learnt to sing

Come one and all
Man and mammal
Side by side in life’s great gene pool

(instrumental interlude)

So long so long, so long so long, so long so long, so long so long
So long so long, so long so long, so long so long, so long so long
So long so long and thanks for all the fish

Happy humming!

Hey! I are a Celebrity!

Okay, I’m really about 6 degrees lower on the celebrity scale than, say Kathy Griffin. But I got my own little video on the Threads Magazine Website!

The shoot itself was a blast. Gary, the videographer from Taunton Press, is a consummate professional. It was a humid day in the Boston area. We have had a ton of rain this spring, and that day was no exception. Because it hasn’t been hot, we hadn’t brought up the A/Cs yet, so we had to work in my sewing “studio” (an 8 foot by 10 foot room) with no relief from the humidity. Thankfully, Gary is a wiz, and I can talk a blue streak with no prompting. I had to actually slow down my speaking – ask any of The Sewing Divas – I usually talk fast. It’s that whole born-in-New-England thing, I’m sure. We were pretty much improvising everything. I had all the tools, and I actually do know how to use them, and I’ve even taught other folks how to use them before, so I was able to give an extemporaneous lesson. But boy, do I ever admire folks like newscasters who can rattle off a report with few notes and no TelePrompTers!

I haven’t seen the article in Threads yet. My subscription will probably come in the next day or so. But it’s kind of fun to see myself on screen, even if I only see how much weight I have to lose. And all those years of operatic training must be paying off. I don’t hear too much of a Bahstin accent, even though I grew up in Jamaica Plain!

Happy Pressing

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!

And Now, for Something Completely Different

A little musical humor at us singers’ expense:

A band was discussing a few tunes before a gig. The bass player said, “I got it. Let’s start off in Bb and after three measures go to E. In the middle of the verse we’ll jump to the bridge, but we’ll do it twice. Then let’s mix between 4/4 and 17/8, go around a ii-V cycle of tritones, jump back to the bridge and then do the second half of the verse, heading towards the coda in 1.763/2 time and then let’s just stop.”

All the guys in the band shook their heads in agreement and then the singer, in total panic, screamed “What on earth do you want me to do?!!!!!!!”

The bass player just looked at her calmly and said:
“You? You just do what you did last night.”

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!

I just love my students! – Part 1

I teach adult ed sewing classes for the local recreation department. Most of the classes are beginner to advanced beginner, but I’m starting to add some more advanced techniques. Next fall I’m going to do only intermediate and higher level sewing classes. I started teaching on a lark. I was lamenting the fact that the only sewing classes locally were geared toward quilting, and a friend suggested I contact the recreation department. I did, and before I could finish describing what I wanted to teach, they said “yes!” So my teaching career was born.

Well, not quite born. Way back when I was a sales support rep for BBN Software, I used to teach a startup class on our flagship product called “Crash and Burn with RS/1”. Customers loved the name, BBN management hated it; all was good.

Back to sewing, I started teaching classes 3 years ago. Since then, many of the students have continued on with me, and have also gone on to make projects outside of the realm of the classes. Many of them have also become my friends and have forged lasting friendships with other students, which is a really nice fringe benefit. We get together on occasion for Stitch & Bitch sewing sessions around my dining room table, and we have a ball.

Recently I asked my students to send me pictures of their work for me to post here. The only payment is my undying gratitude and an open invitation for the Stitch & Bitch sessions. Over the coming weeks, I’ll be putting pictures of their work up. Here are some from Linda and Marion, two of my first students:

Linda’s first class was a pillow class. It was meant to get people comfortable with their sewing machines, and to get them sewing more-or-less straight seams. Here is one of Linda’s pillows from that class:

Later that year, Linda came back and took a class on making pajama bottoms, and this was an adorable pair she made for her daughter:

Marion is another student who started early with me. She’s taken a whole lotta classes with me (Marion may be a glutton for punishment!), and does lovely work. Here are some nice examples:

A pair of tote bags that she made special by finishing the edges with the fringed selvedges of her fabric:

And a pair of curtains that she made for a current class.

And last but not least, after taking a knits class, she made this lovely top from a Simplicity pattern:

Yes, I know I sound like a proud mom. In a way I am. Teaching inspires me to strive for better quality in my own sewing techniques, and to try to pass along my passion to my students. Oh believe me, I’ve had my share of those students best described to me by my voice teacher, who said, “Honey, every once in a while you have to teach a couch.” But those students are a story for another day.

Happy sewing!

And Here Goes…

Well, I finally joined the 21st century. The siren call of the internet publishing age has finally won me over.

So what about me:? Glad you asked. I am a high tech refugee. I spent more time than anyone should writing, then selling all manner of software to manufacturers, drug companies, and anyone else who would buy it. I really liked working for small companies, until they started getting swallowed up by larger companies, which would be swallowed up by even larger companies. Each time, I swear, the intelligence of the people I worked for went down about 10 points. At the end, I worked for some idiot woman who was at best, room temperature IQ on the Celsius scale, and my new co-workers all thought they were all that and a bag of chips and kept making passes at me. Basta, I said, packed up my St. John suits and Manolo Blahnik heels and high tailed it outta there.

Next stop was starting my own womens’ accessories business, Great fun, capital intensive, and face it, if your name isn’t Louis Vuitton, or if you can’t manufacture for less than ten bucks a bag and get a contract with Wal-Mart, you’re hosed. It didn’t help that I lost my sister to a brain anyeurism at the time. The fire just wasn’t there. But I was teaching sewing for adults through some continuing education programs, which has turned into a passion. And I started getting custom business (pays well, don’t knock it!). And then Threads Magazine came knocking, and now I’ve written several articles for them, with more to come.

So that’s the background. I’m looking forward to conversing more. History is being written as we speak – er – write, and I am sure I’ll have lots of commentary on it!

Thanks for stopping by,