Monday, December 30, 2013

Stash Diet: 2014

Ah, the lament of most sewing enthusiasts . . . "I need to go on a stash diet!"  I myself didn't really feel this way, until about six months ago.  Somehow, I acquired a lot of fabric this year.

When Andrea and I were visiting together earlier this month, we spent a fair bit of time discussing the need to sew from our respective stashes - even while we were shopping to enhance them!  These conversations led to us deciding to make a pact:  in 2014, the majority of our sewing would be from stash, and we'd help to keep each other on track.  We nicknamed it:

And then we thought:  maybe some other fabric hoarders lovers would like to join us?  So just in case, I set up a Flickr group and made the above badge grab-able.  (Just click on the "share" icon at the lower right of the photo page to get the HTML code.)  I've already added the badge to my sidebar.

There are really no rules for the Stash Diet, other than those that each sewer sets for him- or herself.  The group will exist (if anyone joins) as a place to share stash-busting projects and post discussions.  If we do get a nice group though, we have some ideas to spice things up a bit.

So here's where I am with my pledge:  some thoughts about my stash and then the "rules" I'm setting for myself.

* I found that this year I bought a lot of fabrics I loved, knowing they would become stash.   That is, I didn't have a project in mind for them when I bought them.  I'd like to use some of these beautiful fabrics.

* Of the fabrics I bought that were for specific projects, many didn't get used because I got distracted by another project requiring another fabric before I even got around to the first one!

* At this time last year, I felt my stash was manageable.  Right now it feels somewhat oppressive to me - partly because I've used up all my available storage, but also because I have SO many fabrics to choose from when starting a project, I don't know where to start.  I want my stash to feel like a door to possibility, not something that weighs on me.

My Stash Diet Pledge:

* I will do 80% of my sewing in 2014 from stashed fabrics, in the following way:  I will only be allowed to purchase one new piece of fabric after having used FOUR pieces from my stash.
* Certain exclusions apply:
   ** Fabrics for lining and underlining are not included in the diet, and will be purchased on a per-project basis.
   ** Muslin for working up new patterns is allowed, once I've used up what I have on hand.
   ** If I need to sew a gift, I will try to do so from stashed fabrics, but if I don't have anything appriate, I may purchase fabric.
   ** Travel allowance:  while traveling, I may purchase a maximum of FOUR pieces of fabric per trip.
   ** I have not included my small stashes of quilting cottons or leather in the diet, so any projects I make from those will not count as one of the four needed in order to earn one new piece of fabric.

Over the last month or so, I've taken pictures of every piece of fabric in my stash and loaded them into separate pages up under the header.  I'm starting with 76 pieces of fabric - not an overwhelming amount by some standards, but too much for me.  And more than enough to keep me sewing for all of 2014.

Oh boy - it's going to be hard to limit those impulse purchases, but knowing that I've got someone watching my back should make it a little easier.  Head on over to Andrea's blog to see her own pledge.  And if you feel inspired to do so, join us over at the Flickr group!

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Top Five Goals for 2014

This one isn't going to be hard to write at all, as I've been thinking about these goals for a while!

Keep Better Notes

For the last couple years, I've been keeping notes on my sewing projects mostly in my blog posts.  As you can imagine, that makes it a little tedious when I need to go back and see what I did in a past project!

So I decided to make myself a notebook where I can keep track of what I did on each project.  This is going to be especially important for me going forward I think, as I'll probably start to make plenty of fitting changes.

I went and got myself a cute binder and some cardstock, and thought about what kind of information I'd like to keep track of.  Then I typed up a form and printed out a few copies.  I'm excited to use my new notebook!

Make Projects That Work for Me

This one is more nebulous . . . As I've been reviewing my past makes and cleaning out my closet, I've realized that there are some things I never wore because they just didn't suit my style or lifestyle.   

Some things I've made because I've seen them on other blogs and loved them on their makers, but didn't stop to consider whether they would work for me. 

I've made lots of cotton "day dresses," but find I have nothing appropriate for the few occasions when we go to "events."  But they also frequently don't work for when I go out for lunch or coffee with a girlfriend, as the weather can be pretty limiting here.  I'm not saying I won't make any more day dresses, because I know I will - even when I was still buying RTW clothes, they were my favorite thing.  But I'd like to start finding the holes in my wardrobe and working to fill those.

I've made plenty of items with fabric that is probably too "juvenile" for me, and thus I end up feeling self-conscious when I wear them.  I've got a Big Birthday coming up soon, and I've been feeling like I'd like to start creating more classic and timeless garments which will also be more age-appropriate.

Make Some Pants

As I did my Top Fives for Hits and Misses, I realized that I didn't make a single pair of pants in 2013!  Which is pretty ridiculous, because I wear pants all the time!  Now that I've gained some knowledge and lost some of the fear around fitting, I'd like to work up some trousers to fill holes in my wardrobe.

Make a Tailored Blazer

I've made simple, non-tailored blazers before, but this year I'd like to delve into making a real, honest-to-goodness classic tailored blazer.   I've got plenty of blazer patterns on hand, and I recently bought two tailoring books, so I'm ready to go.   I love tailored blazers but have never had one that fit me well.  (Now that I know how many fitting adjustments I need, I'm understanding why!)  So I'm excited to learn how to do this so I can create my own.

Do 80% of My Sewing from Stash

Last but definitely not least!  This one is so big, it's going to get its own blog post in a day or two!  Suffice it to say, I've got a LOT of fabric, but not a lot of space in which to store it, so I need to start working from that stash.

No, this is not all of it!

Last year when I wrote my list of goals for 2013, I was kind of nervous about a lot of them - I felt they would really be a stretch and wasn't sure I could accomplish them.   This year, a lot of the projects I sewed helped me accomplish those goals and at the same time, boosted my sewing confidence.  Some of next year's goals are just as challenging, if not moreso, but I don't feel intimidated by them - the last several months have made me feel like I can sew whatever I want.  It just might take some time and a bit of research to get there.  And I'm cool with that.  So come on, 2014!  I'm ready!

**UPDATE**  Lots of you seem to like my Project Notes page, so I've made it into a google doc to share.  If you'd like to download it for your own use, use this link:  Project Notes PDF

Friday, December 27, 2013

Well Adjusted

Remember that sequin top I made?  Did I mention that I'd purchased three more lengths of sequin fabric to make some more?  I think I may have a sequin problem. 

I liked my blue sequin top, but when I got started last weekend on making the second one, I decided that since I'd just taken a fitting class, maybe I'd make a few adjustments to the pattern.  On my first top, I traced a size 38 at the bust and waist, and graded out to a 42 at the hips.  This time, I got a lot more fancy.

I started with a size 36 at the bust, grading to a 38 at the waist and keeping the 42 at the hip.  One thing I try to do when I use my hip curve to make pattern adjustments is take note of which section of the ruler I use, so I can match the front to the back and replicate that curve later if I need to.

Then I gave myself a 1/4" broad back adjustment and 1/2" sway back adjustment:

Then I added in a wedge of about 3/8" across the upper back for my "prominent shoulder blades" or "low round back:"

Because this top is cut on the center fold, I straightened the line from the neck edge to the hem edge.  I also left myself a nice wide border of tissue so I could pin the pattern along the center (fold) line, cut out one side, and then flip it and cut out the other side, single layer.  More and more, I'm realizing single-layer cutting is the way to go for accuracy.  It's really hard to stop myself from being lazy about doing it though!

On the front, I raised that super low bust dart about a half inch, by cutting a box around it and moving it up:

And I'm going to admit here and now that I did all these adjustments on the fly:  e.g. I guesstimated where my "apex" is and just moved the dart to correspond; I also guesstimated how much to remove for the swayback and add for the shoulder blades.

But it doesn't matter one bit, because the fit on this second top is amazing.  It's like it was made to measure for me!  (Ha!)

I decided to make my top out of the trickiest of the three fabrics I bought.  It's a paisley design in gold sequins, stitched onto a black mesh background.  Since it's basically transparent, I lined the top with black silk.

I spent four days making this simple top, because this time, I did need to remove the sequins from the seam allowances - if I hadn't, they'd show right through the mesh in a most unattractive way.

I did the darts first, as you do, and remembered to take some pictures while I was doing the sequin removal.  I thread traced my darts, then used tiny nail scissors to cut away the sequins inside the tracing.

You can't really cut away the threads that hold the sequins, because then you'll lose some that you don't want to lose.  The sequins themselves have to be cut off.  What worked best for me was to fold the fabric between my fingers so that the tops of a row of sequins were sticking up:

Then I just cut across them, lopping off the tops so that the O became two Cs.  Most of the time the remainder fell out by itself, but I did sometimes have to remove pieces with tweezers.

After sewing each seam, I'd have to remove the sequins in the seam allowance before I could go on to the next seam.  I made things a little easier on myself though by trimming half of the seam allowance away first.

Still, it was a lot of tedious work.  I'd work on it for a couple hours, then put it away for the next day.  I estimate that I spent about ten hours on this top; probably 80% of that time was sequin removal.  I did the hem yesterday and kept track of the time:  removing the sequins from the 1/2" hem allowance all the way around took me an hour and 45 minutes.  The only place I didn't remove the sequins was at the side seams; they don't really show too badly there, and I didn't want to spend another 5 or so hours cutting away sequins.

But I'm glad I stuck to it and did it "right" - the resulting top is truly the most spectacular thing I've made to date.  Hubby was wowed when I tried it on for him.  I'm planning on wearing it to our friends' New Year's Eve party next week with some slim black trousers and gold heels.

It was interesting to see how my feelings about this top changed as I worked on it.  This wasn't my favorite of the three new fabrics I got when I started making this top.  I decided to use it first partly for that reason, and partly because I was worried that if I made things from the other two (more favorite) fabrics first, this one might languish.  But as I worked and worked on this project, I came to love it more and more.  I really think this is an elegant, timeless piece that I hope to enjoy for a long time.

PatternBurda magazine 12/2012 #118B with personal adjustments (edited to add the link I finally found!)
Fabric:  Paisley sequins on black mesh, JoAnn's online (no longer available it looks like)

Sneak peek, photo taken before hemming and adding hook and eye :

Monday, December 23, 2013

Top Five of 2013: The Misses

This one wasn't nearly as hard to narrow down as the hits!

1.  New Look 6071 in brown

The problem:  poor fabric choice

This was my third and final try with this pattern.  For the first two, the fabric I chose was a little too thin; on this one, the cotton/lycra fabric  was too thick, and incredibly, too stable.  As soon as it was off the machine it was too tight for me in the hip area.  I did wear it once with the sweater, but felt uncomfortable the whole time.  This one has already been donated.

2.  Burda 02/2013/#127

The problems:  inappropriate fabric, wrong style for my body

This project was fraught with problems.  First the fabric arrived mangled, thicker than I expected, and a yard short.  I thought I could save it with this pattern, but sadly it just wasn't for me.  I have seen so many cute versions of this pattern out there in blogland, and I have to choke back a tiny sob every time I do.  I don't mind having broad shoulders, but I don't want to look like a linebacker!  Not a good style for us broad-shouldered gals.  This one has also been donated.

3.  Burda Emily Shirt

The problems:  poor fabric choice, poor fit

I got really gung-ho about making shirts last spring.  At that time, I was still suffering under the delusion that I could get a perfectly fitting shirt if only I had the right pattern.  I chose this Burda download because I could have it immediately, and because I'd gotten a pretty good fit on the Burda coats I'd made. 

But this pattern was just really weirdly drafted.  The fit was wrong in so many places.  Added to that, I'd decided to try a fabric with a significant polyester content, thinking, "Lots of people wear poly - I can too."  Folks, I'm a natural fibers gal.  I tend to perspire easily at the best of times - this fabric didn't let me breathe at all and just made me really hot and sticky.  Such a pity, because I think hot pink dotted Swiss is a pretty great thing.  I wore it once and then donated it.

4.  Victory Patterns Anouk Dress

The problem:  poor fit

I know - it's so pretty!  Even with my funky fitting fixes!  After spending so much time planning this dress and then executing it, it was really a let down that the fit was so bad.  I did wear it once, but it was a pretty uncomfortable experience - the front of the armhole digs into my flesh.  I'd like to revisit this pattern now that I've taken the fitting class.  Next time we go to Turkey, I'm going to take this along with me; my sister-in-law commented that she really liked it, so if it fits her (she's smaller than I am) I will give it to her.  I couldn't bear to put this one in the donation pile!

5.  Midi Length Ballet Dress

The problems:  poor fabric choice, lack of correct undergarment

I liked this dress OK - until I wore it.  Because it's so long, and because I don't have a slip of a similar length, it kept sticking to my tights and getting hung up.  And I've already discussed how the fabric is too thin so it's not super flattering over the lumps and bumps.  Still, it's very comfy - this is the dress I wore when I did the three-hour drive to Michigan a few weeks ago.  I haven't yet decided what to do with this one.

When I look back over my knit projects, I feel like a lot of them have problems because the fabric I got in my online order isn't what I was expecting.  This one was listed as a heavier weight, but I would call it a light mid-weight.  I've gotten disappointed enough this year that I haven't been tempted to order from Girl Charlee for a very long time.  Which is probably a good thing, as my stash overfloweth.


No surprise here:  my major problems are with fitting and choosing the right fabric.  I've started to tackle my fitting problems; now I need to get better at picking the right fabrics!

And finally, as a special end-of-year treat, I leave you with this:

Remember to check your pattern placement, folks!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Top Five of 2013: The Hits

Gah!  This is so HARD!  I took a look through my 2013 Sewing FOs page to come up with a list, and even when I was trying to hone it down, I still had more than ten items I consider hits.  I think that's a great thing - I made a lot of stuff I really like this year!  It would have been even harder to keep my numbers down if I'd included knitting too!

And even though Gillian said we could change the numbers, I'm going to cheat a bit in order to fit (almost) into the "five" parameter, by listing three items under one heading.  So here we go!

1.  Coats!

Coat 1

Coat 2

Coat 3
One of my goals this year was to make a coat, and I ended up making three!  The pattern I had in mind when I set the goal was the one I used for Coat 3, but along the way I fell in love with the Burda pattern I used for Coats 1 & 2.  I think it's interesting that all three coats are Burda patterns.  I do love their outerwear patterns!

I love all three of these coats, and each one gave me a feeling of accomplishment.  I know I can refine my skills even further, but I think I've made a pretty good start on coat-making. 

The coral coat got worn constantly this spring.  The floral coat was only worn a few times - this one feels fancy to me so I keep it for special occasions.  And even though the wool coat is quite new, I have been able to wear it a couple times already.

2.  Photo Transfer Pouch

Every time I scroll through my FO list (which I do, regularly!) this little pouch I made for my friend Sally makes me smile.  I'd like to make more of these one day.  I think they make a fantastic gift, but I wouldn't mind having one myself!

3.  Floral Stripe T-Shirt Dress

I made this pattern a bunch of times over the last year, but this one is my all-time favorite.  Every time I put it on, I feel cute.  This fabric just makes me smile!

4.  Fair Isle Hazel

I made three Hazel dresses this summer, but this one is hands down my favorite.  I adore this fabric - so glad I got enough to make another item with it!

The Hazel pattern was a surprise to me.  I really didn't think it would work on my body, but it ended up being a pretty flattering shape for me after I made some fitting adjustments.  A lesson to branch out and try new things from time to time.

5.  Pink Victoria Blazer

It's hot pink.

That makes me happy.

Dresses, coats and bags - apparently these are my favorite things!  Throw in shoes and lipstick, and I think you've pretty much defined me :-)

Friday, December 20, 2013


I wasn't going to board the bra-making bandwagon.  But for the last few months, all the bras I wear around the house on a daily basis (i.e. not the fancy ones, but the sports bras and t-shirt bras) have been feeling more and more uncomfortable, because honestly, they all should have been tossed long ago.

It occurred to me the other day that my leftover scraps of knit fabrics would make mighty fine, comfy bras.  So I downloaded the Ohhh Lulu Jasmine Bra pattern the other day, and today - instead of making the sequin top I'd planned to work on - I made myself a bra.

I do believe this is the last project I can squeeze out of that two yards of this linen/cotton jersey I love so much!

I headed over to Vogue this morning to pick up the various elastics required.  I'm not crazy about the elastic I ended up with for the straps; it's softer and stretchier than normal strap elastic, so it doesn't lift "the girls" up very strongly.  But it is super comfy, which is what I was going for.  I used some really soft cotton/lycra jersey as a lining.

I was able to use the smallest size from the pattern without making any adjustments to the princess seams.  After my first try-on (which happens before you add the elastic at the top and bottom) it seemed like the band was too long, so I lopped off an inch from each side.  That turned out to be too much for me.  I think next time I will add elastic all the way around the bottom and then see how much I need to remove.

I felt like a bit of a dunce while sewing this up.  All the blog posts I've read about this pattern say how it's so easy and a great entry into bra-making.  But I had a few head-scratching moments.  I really felt like the instructions could have been more clear, especially where it came to attaching the straps.  The pattern has very few pictures and no illustrations, and the photos showing how to do the straps are not only very small, but the elastic is black, so you can't really see the details.  I eventually figured it out, but the less thorough instructions meant that I spent about 4 hours on a project that probably should have taken 2.  (In fairness though, I did do 4 loads of laundry concurrently, so I guess some of the time went to that!)  However, it is listed on the shop page as an Intermediate pattern, so I guess t assumes that you know some of these things already.

The pattern also doesn't address the difference between foldover and regular elastic for the top edge.  I used foldover - my first time - and that made my center back edge a little too long for the hook and eye set I'd bought.  So I had to get creative and add in a "decorative" tuck:

I sewed this bra entirely on my sewing machine, using a mix of stitches and my walking foot.  Rather than baste the outer and lining layers together at the top and bottom edges, I topstitched the seams down with a straight stitch.  It holds the layers together and also gives a little more support to the seams.  It almost feels like very light boning.

For a lot of the places where I had to sew down the elastic, I used the tricot stitch while stretching the elastic:

I was able to give myself the extra room at the back again because my hook and eye set had a long piece of elastic attached to the eye side.  I bought two sets of these this morning at Vogue, and when I got home, I discovered that one of them was missing the hook piece!  Grrrr.  I'd hoped to make a couple bras, so I guess I'll have to go back.  I may try JoAnn's instead.

My Janome has a "locking stitch" so I used that at the beginning and end of all the construction seams.  I think it made for a much neater finish than backstitching.

Even though I don't think the directions are as good as they could be, I still think this is a great pattern.  This bra is so comfy on me, and I love that I have another way to use up small scraps of my knit fabric leftovers.  Gotta keep that stuff out of the landfills!  Now that I've done it once, I will be able to make more of these without the head scratching.   And I will be making more - I went though my scrap box and pulled out all the fabrics I thought would work.

The range of sizes isn't large:  there are only four.  The pattern states that it works for B - D cups, but doesn't give any information about how to adjust for the cup except to "adjust the princess seam."  I got lucky:  I made the smallest size (33" - 34") and didn't have to do any cup adjustments, so I'm guessing that the pieces are drafted for a B cup, which is what I normally buy.  The linen/cotton floral jersey I used doesn't have a whole lot of stretch, so I'm interested to see how it will work with a stretchier fabric.

OK, that laundry won't fold itself.  I was just so excited to show you my bra :-) 

Have any of you tried this pattern?  What did you think?  Am I being overly critical?  I do love the finished product, so it all worked out alright.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

An Oldie

I've been doing a massive closet clean-out for the last week . . .

I've said a few times that I have clothes and shoes in my closet that are twenty years old that I keep because I still like them and they still fit.  Well, a couple weeks ago I went to put on one of those older pieces and discovered it didn't fit after all.  It got me wondering how many of those other pieces don't fit either.

And with all the sewing that's been going on the last couple years, my closet is jam-packed now.  Add to that the fact that my body and my style have had some mid-life changes over the last couple years, and you get the perfect recipe for a good clean-out.

I've just done a small portion so far, a little bit each day.  But I've already managed to fill 2 shopping bags full of stuff.  Some things go in automatically if they don't suit my style any more.  But a lot of things I'm trying on to see if they still fit.  And the biggest reason many of the pieces don't fit is because my back is now so much broader than it used to be.  Thank you, rowing machine :-)

One of the pieces to go in today was a wrap-style faux suede jacket I made in the late 1990s.  I was so proud of this piece when I made it!  I'd seen a similar style in a shop but couldn't justify the price, so I went and got myself some faux suede and traced a pattern out of a Burda magazine to make my own version.  The microsuede was a bear to sew - I didn't know about using different types of needles back then!  But it feels so luxurious and is actually very easy care:  machine wash and dry! 

I tried it on this morning and it's just too tight across the back and upper sleeves.  It's a little hard to part with it, but I'm hoping someone else will love it just as much.  So here are some pictures to remember it by.  This is probably more for my sake than for yours!  But I think it's fun to share this stuff.

darts up the front for shaping, and 3/4 sleeves

small shawl collar


inside of dart, opened up to lay flat

no seam finishes - microsuede doesn't really need it!

more darts in the back for a nice shape

darts and center back seam, with wrinkles from wearing!

and sleeve darts - this is closest to the true color

Do you guys have a hard time getting rid of beloved items that no longer fit?  Is it harder for you to get rid of your hand-made items than the ones you've bought?  Or do you do clean-outs regularly?

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Mediocre Dress Pictures

This morning we headed out to the Field Museum to see the exhibit on the 1893 World's Fair.  Since I wore my new dress I had Hubby snap a few pictures before we left.  (I keep forgetting that since he's a bit taller than me, and definitely taller than my tripod, the pictures get a little foreshortened!)  But at 8:15 this morning, there wasn't a whole lot of light - a trend which continued for the entire day, so I guess waiting wouldn't have helped matters much.

But I think you can at least see how the dress fits - especially across the back, which is my most challenging area.

Remember yesterday when I told you all about how the neckline gapes because of my lack of reinforcement?  You can see it in the top picture.  It's not horrible, but it would be pretty easy to fix in the next version.

I also said that I might take a bit of width out of my left high hip also.  The need to do so became even more evident once I put on these tights.  Interesting . . .  You can see the little bulge of excess fabric I'm pointing at in the picture below.  I think I'll go ahead and fix this, removing the same amount I did on the right hip and with the same curve.

I could even take a half inch or so more out of both sides from the waist down, and may do so.  But I wore this dress all day, walking through the snow to and from the museum (a total of about 2.5 miles) and felt nice and comfy.  Since I'm likely to wear this dress always with a cardi, I might just leave it.  I can take long strides in this dress!

This is not the cardi I wore today - it doesn't fit under my coat!  But since I'd mentioned that the dress goes nicely with my new sweater coat, I popped it on.  This is the best picture we could get!  Hubby cracks me up - which is one of his best qualities :-)

I think I am likely to make the necessary adjustments and make this dress again.  I'm very happy with the fit in the bodice - I think it's just about perfect.  The skirt is easily fixed.  I was surprised at how comfy and easy to wear this dress is - it's my first sheath dress in about 20 years, and the RTW ones I had in my younger (slightly less curvy) days never fit this well so they were never as comfortable.

And gosh - having a solid-colored dress really opens up options of which sweater or jacket to wear with it!  Who knew?!  (Oh yeah - just about everyone but me, LOL!)  I've been daydreaming of reworking the neckline into a boat neck . . .

So I think that wraps up all the things I wanted to say about the fit class.  Now to continue putting it into action!