Sunday, January 16, 2011

A Few of My Favorite Things (or how I learned to love my notions)

I've been wanting to write this post for awhile; I always like hearing about other sewers' favorite notions and how they use them because it gives me new ideas to try. Now that I have been sewing for 9 years, I've picked out my own favorite notions that help make the creation process more enjoyable.

First up are these:
These are stone coasters with cork bottoms Anne gave me a couple of Christmases ago. They are decorated with vintage pattern illustrations, and I have found them to be excellent pattern weights due to their weight and non-slip bottoms. I don't even use them as coasters anymore!
Next up is my handy rotary cutter: The rotary cutter is no surprise; it's a staple for many sewers and quilters, but I've learned that, for me, the 45 mm is the optimum size - the 60 mm size is just too large and I can't control it as well. Also, this brand, Olfa, is my favorite - there is another brand, sold at Walmart, that just isn't as good. The reason I have included it in this list is that I am using it more and more to cut out my garments. It is excellent for those patterns that are mostly of straight lines, and it is superior for cutting out silks and drapey rayons. Using scissors on those fabrics results in more distortion. You can cut patterns, even curvy ones, much more accurately with this rotary cutter.
Here are three more; my glue stick, painter's tape, and silk pins:

The glue stick is just a regular Elmer's glue stick; I don't use fabric glues, just this glue stick I picked up at Walmart. It's my secret for glue basting zippers, or for any time I need a temporary hold.
The painters tape is extremely useful because it is a tape that lifts off easily and has no sticky residue. I use it to indicate the wrong size of fabric when cutting out (it helps to ensure I don't get two right sleeves or two left backs), and I use it to tape pattern pieces together (unlike scotch tape, you can iron it). I've used it to tape down tissue paper to my sewing table when I'm tracing patterns too.
And the silk pins: they are the only pins I use these days. When I was piecing the Double Wedding Ring Quilt, I needed very sharp pins to piece all those curved pieces. I tried new quilting pins, I tried applique pins, and then I finally bought these silk pins at my LQS. I found them to be the sharpest of all the pins and allowed me to accurately pin all those curves in the DWRQ; I just continued to use them in my garment sewing, no matter what the fabric content. Pining is just so much easier when your pins are really sharp. And these pins have no plastic parts to melt - so you can iron over them. AND these are the only kind of pins I have found you can sew over (not that I'm advocating such a thing or would ever sew over my pins -ahem). Basically, these days, my feeling is that if your pins don't draw blood when you reach for one, they aren't sharp enough.

Next up, quarter inch Steam-A-Seam and tissue paper:
I orginally started using the Steam-A-Seam to secure my seam allowances when sewing in a zipper. Now I have found all kinds of uses for it. Like ironing down a quilt label before I hand sew it to the back. Or matching plaids at a seam line. Or anytime I need to make sure my fabric does not move while I am sewing it. It's more secure than the glue stick, and has no sticky residue. The longer I have it around, the more opportunities I've found to use it.
And the tissue paper is the cheap stuff you can get at the drug store. I've found it the best for tracing patterns. I've tried Swedish tracing paper (too expensive and too hard to find), sewer paper (too hard to see), brown wrapper paper (can't see through it), but I've found that the cheap tissue paper works the best. I don't even have to buy it most of the time - I just save it from gifts and use that.
And finally, my tried and true trusty iron:
I bought it in 2003 and it is still going strong. Nothing makes your life easier than a really good iron that heats up hot, has great steam, and doesn't drip.
So those are some of my frequent tools that might not be so obvious as sewing notions. Noticeably absent are some really good scissors. I'm still buying my sissors at Walmart. If you have a favorite pair that serve you well, let me know - I'm on the hunt for an outstanding pair of scissors big enough to cut out patterns and really sharp, too!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

An Experiment

Now that I have my muslin sort of where I want it, I wanted to try to make it in a silk charmeuse. As you know, silk charmeuse is absolutely wonderful to wear, but a PITA to sew. Conventional wisdom says you need to line it with a sew-in interfacing like silk organza, which gives it body, but allows the sheen and drape to remain. That sounds like even a bigger PITA than I wanted to deal with. But I got an idea. When I was sewing my Singapore silk dress, I used this fusible interfacing on it: It was the first time I had ever used this particular kind of interfacing, made for light fabrics like silk and it worked great. Usually, I use the all-purpose stuff for my sewing and it is the best fusible interfacing I've ever used:
Chris, in my sewing guild, got me hooked on it; I know everyone has their favorite interfacing, and this mine. The tricot worked great on the Singapore silk dress, so I wanted to try it on the silk charmeuse. I fused a sample first:

And found it looked pretty good from the right side:

So I cut the bodice pieces from the tricot interfacing and marked all my darts on the interfacing. Then I fused the tricot to the silk charmeuse, and cut the silk with a rotary cutter, using the interfacing as my pattern. Here's the front bodice already fused and cut out of the silk:

Here's what the right side looked like before the darts were sewn:

I think it looked pretty good; maybe not as good as if I took the time to go the whole couture route, but good enough considering the time and effort put into it. I went ahead and sewed up the darts and bodice. Sewing the darts were a breeze since I could easily transfer all the pattern markings to the tricot. Here's the inside:

And here's the right side:

I can't really tell how it fits since I haven't put in a zipper. I think this is worth going back to the fabric store and getting another 4 yards to make the skirt and finish the dress. The bodice isn't strapless, but will have thin straps to help keep it up. The pattern calls for facings for the bodice, but I usually prefer to line my bodices. But I haven't decided which way to go on that. If it all works, it might be my Christmas party dress for 2011!

Parting Shot: There is no parting shot, but a confession: I managed to give myself food poisoning Thursday night. I suspect my undercooked chicken was the culprit. The good news is that I only poisoned myself - I was in a hurry because I was hungry. I made it to work the next day, but finally had to go home after lunch - my stomach was in full rebellion mode and was not happy. To say my culinary skills are less than accomplished is the understatement of the week. Sigh.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

I'm Not Sewing, only Altering!

I'm not good at altering patterns; after nine years of sewing, I've largely been able to avoid it. For several reasons. I'm a reasonably standard size: I'm 5'5" and most patterns are drafted for women who stand at 5'6". I have no rounded shoulders, narrow shoulders, or sloping shoulders. I do have a right shoulder than dips a little lower than the left, but not so bad anyone would notice. Also, I tend to just use patterns over and over again that work for me so I don't have to bother with altering anything. My "alterations" tend to varing my seam allowances as I sew - I'll use a 1/2 inch seam allowance if I need more room, and a 3/4 seam allowance if I need to tighten it up.

And of course, I hate doing muslins. My biggest deterrent to making alterations. But before Christmas, I made a muslin and the waist and hips were too tight. Here is a photo of the bodice with no alterations: My question was whether I should add to the sides of the bodice, or whether I should narrow the darts. Audrey correctly pointed out that I should check the front darts and see if they were properly spaced; if so, I should add to the sides. Summerset correctly pointed out that if I made the darts narrower, the bodice would more properly fit an "A" cup than a "B" cup. So this morning I tried it on with these comments in mind. The darts are perfectly placed. I couldn't ask for better. And I am a "B" cup, I don't need to make the darts narrower. So the answer (thanks Audrey and Summerset!) is that I needed to add to the side seams.

But how much? Summerset also wisely pointed out that these older patterns have the seam allowances printed on the patterns, so it is easy to figure out the finished garment measurements. I measured the waist on this pattern, and compared it to my TNT pattern (that's for you, Anne), and found I needed to add an inch to the waist/hip area.

I ended up tracing new bodice pattern pieces to add the quarter inch to the side seams because the original pattern is 49 years old, and ripped a little while I was handling it. As Summerset suggested, I added to the side seams just below the 12 notch. Here is muslin #2 with the pattern alterations:

It doesn't look a heck of a lot different than version # 1 except that I am not sucking in my gut as much!

Do y'all see any other fitting issues? Does the bust area look a little too big to you? (Or am I in danger of overthinking this?) Let me know if you do!

Of course, a muslin like this doesn't tell you everything you need to know for the finished garment. How will it fit with it being interlined? How will it fit with straps on the bodice and a big heavy skirt attached? How will it fit made of silk? That means more practice.

I think, though, I will be more likely to do muslins if I have muslin fabric lying around. This fabric was given to me by a friend whose sewing relative had died. It's a cheap cotten and I don't like it, but I took it because free fabric is now mulsin fabric to me!

Parting Shot: Vicki's tablerunner now has a new home! A very appreciated Christmas gift - thank you Vicki!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Happy New Year!

I received the sweetest email from Gwen yesterday, basically asking me what the heck had happened to me. Yes, it has been a month since I last posted what with Christmas and football keeping me from sewing a single stitch. (By the way, War Eagle!) I took the last two weeks of the year off and headed down home to Cotton Creek, AL. I had a lovely time - it was a wonderful Christmas, and the Carpenter came too, and experienced all that Cotton Creek had to offer. Let's see . . . we had snow flurries on Christmas day and we ate a lot; that's it, you are pretty much up to speed.

For Christmas, he gave me the Alabama Stitch Book, which I have been eyeing for ages. He apparently bought it after seeing it at the
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts when we went to see the Quilt Exhibit. The author, Natalie Chanin, is from just outside of Florence, Alabama, from a little corner called Lovelace Crossroads. The first page of her book shows an arial view of Lovelace Crossroads, and one of the houses was her grandparents', and is now hers. I find this love of home to be typical of folks from Alabama, and no matter how far they move away, it seems they usually race back as soon as they can.

The book is an interesting one because all of her stitching is done by hand, even her seams. As you know, I avoid handstitching like taxes. I usually find that one quarter inch Steam-A-Seam can fulfill most of my handbasting needs. I thought I would be bored, but I read every bit of the book. I don't know if it will inspire me to the extent that I would actually hand stitch reverse applique, but you never know. I do think her skirt is adorable (the one piece pattern is included in the back of the book) and it is made from old t-shirts. I do like the idea of recycling old t-shirts into a new purpose. I've never actually sewed any knits before, and this simple skirt may be the best way to start. Cheap, too. I don't have to embellish by hand like Ms. Chanin unless I want to.

Speaking of saving money, I went out and bought
a dress from Anthropolgie to wear to my company Christmas party in December. I brought it home, tried it on again, but then I scrambled around in my closet, and found this dress which I made for the cruise Mother and I took in 2009. I decided to wear the dress I made instead because it fit better, looked more like a party dress, and saved me $ 168 since I took the Peggy Sue dress back to Anthropolgie with no regrets. I wore it with the full crinoline and no sash and got tons of compliments on it all night. This photo doesn't show much of dress, but it does show the Carpenter in a suit!

We had a great time at that party, but my re-entry into the working world this week has been brutal. After two weeks of cooking, eating, reading, and in general doing whatever I wanted to do, the enforced routine of getting up and out the door for work seems like the Bataan Death March. Not to mention the reduction in calories after a month of eating like I'm in Scotland on vacation (three full meals, plus medicial afternoon tea with restorative shortbread cookies). Trying to come down from that and exist on merely 1800 to 2000 calories a day appears somewhat ridiculous. When can I retire?

And speaking of retirement, I'm having lunch with VickiW tomorrow to collect my Christmas present, the
fab tablerunner. As soon as I can I'll get a photo of it on the table the Carpenter made. I know it will look fantastic!