Archive | the Sewing Process RSS feed for this section

Applying knitting mind to sewing projects

7 Apr

I’m a lot more patient when knitting than when sewing.

I know, starting out, that knitting a garment one stitch at a time takes a long time. I go in with a patient, long-term expectation. But for some reason I have it in my head that no matter the complexity of a sewing project, if I just sit down and devote a whole afternoon/day/weekend to it, it’ll be done. This has no basis in logic. Yes, I can knock out quick projects like a skirt or a simple dress in an afternoon, day, or weekend. But there’s no rule that I have to–and just as in knitting, sometimes two steps forward follows with a big step back.
For some reason I routinely sit down with a knit or crochet project telling myself “I’ll just do a few rows of this lace before dinner” or “I’ll carry this scarf with me for the train ride, maybe I’ll get a half-inch finished today.” I take small bites, and am satisfied with small progress.  Maybe it’s because with sewing, I have to set up the machine, cutting table, ironing board, etc. and I feel like that effort should be rewarded by a completely finished item. But I’m going to practice changing those rules. I’m going to bite off only small parts at a time. “Tonight I’ll just cut out the pattern pieces.” “This afternoon, I’ll just add the zipper.” “Maybe tomorrow I’ll set in those sleeves.” Small, attainable, goals focused on process.


This is my hobby, after all: something I endeavor because I enjoy.  So doing it over and over, multiple days (weekends) in a row (even working on the same project) should be no problem for me. And when I find myself rushing through a hem or an interfacing, I’ll remind myself of a current work-in-progress in yarn, and try to make the mental transition.

Black on black

13 Jan

I’m working on a little black dress. You might remember from last year that this is where my “make all the things” intention ran into its kryptonite: I just could not get inspired to sew a solid black dress, and so I bought one instead.

I thought I could remedy that rather simply. I thought I could just take one of my tried and true patterns, one from this sewing challenge that resulted in one of my most oft-worn garments, and whip it up into a simple black dress. Then, I would photograph it, and post it for my readers: “ah-ha! My sewing challenge has been conquered!” I would say. “What I made a mess of in 2012, I will right in the New Year.”

Alas, here I am, a couple of weeks (and three sewing days) into the new year, with no black dress to show for it. The trouble has been a variety of things: at first, I intended to make it with French seams, so I laid all the foundation seams “wrong sides together” before realizing my chosen fabric was too thick for that. So then I ripped all the seams. Black stitches hiding tight in black fabric, inch by dark inch.

Next, I turned the (rather square-shaped) sleeve pieces the wrong way, not noticing how the dark fabric also hides the grainline, if the seamstress is not paying very close attention. Out came the seam ripper once again.

Now, I have attempted to understitch a black lining beneath a black fabric, and something is just “off”. My seam ripper is brought into service one more time, to remedy this difficulty.

So in summary: it’s not just an aesthetic difficulty, getting inspired to undertake a black sewing project. I believe it is objectively more difficult to sew, as black fabric presents inherent challenges to the process.

One day, I will post “ah-ha!” pictures. Until then, all I have to offer is my trusty seam ripper, picking out stitch by stitch.


Gertie’s New Book for Better Sewing

25 Aug

Hello, sewing and fashion friends.  I took a little time off–off from sewing, and off from blogging, off from reading blogs about sewing (or anything, really).  I look  forward to catching up, and to giving my sewing room the  cleaning-out it needs so I can get started again.

In  the meantime, I received the most wonderful shipment in the mail: my copy of the long-ago  pre-ordered book,  Gertie’s New Book for Better Sewing It’s a delightful, beautiful book.

I particularly love these illustrations, done by Sun Young Park. They’re part vintage pattern cover art, and part modern fashion illustration, and wholly contemporary and perfect for the subject of the book.

I’m going to assume you know about Gertie’s blog, and all the background, and that her book is about using couture techniques from vintage sewing in modern versions of retro styled pieces, and just  tell you instead why I, personally like this book.

First, though, I should confess that I have no patience for vintage couture sewing techniques. As you’ve seen, I am an “instant gratification” type of seamstress all the way. I have a short attention span, flit from project to project, and am the target market for all the “two hours or less” projects and patterns ever published.  I once signed up for an online sewing class on improving techniques through  learning couture methods (yes, that one) and I watch all of half of one lesson. Half.  Once I saw the recommendation for hand-stitching the muslin, I was out. I love my sewing machine, it makes things go fast. Hand-picked zippers? I have no interest. I get bored with a project far too often just between muslin and fashion fabric…if, in fact, I bother with a muslin at all. Patience, it is not my forte. When I see someone hand-stitching their seam-finishing, I want to scream “That’s  on the INSIDE! No-one will ever SEE it! It’s not holding anything together!” I have never, and might not ever join one of the millions of online conversations about the beauty of a well-finished buttonhole. The magic of sewing, for me, lies elsewhere.

Which means, in short, that I might not even have the patience to read all the chapters of this book, let alone try one of the projects. (Patterns are included with  this book, in sizes from 32″ to 46″ bust.)  For me, this a sewing cookbook. I have a whole shelf of cookbooks and I generally use no more than three of them for actual propping up in the kitchen and following along to make a meal–the three where all the recipes have ten ingredients or less, and whose meals are based around ingredients which I already stock in my kitchen.  If I have to go to a specialty market and ask for food items I can’t pronounce, it’s unlikely that I will ever accomplish any of those  recipes in my own home, unattended.

Sewing is the  same way, although I do like to try new techniques (one by one) and experiment with new gadgets (like my recent excursion in home-made bias tape). But  I also like to peer into how other people do things, in both their kitchens and their sewing rooms.  Gertie has given, in this book, as she does in her blog, a really good window for how-to voyeurs like me.  She gives good, clear pictures and simple illustrations so that if one day I really do want to do a faced horsehair hem, or bound buttonholes, I will have them in one place, on my bookshelf.

The very best part of this book, for me (beyond the beautiful projects and the retro styles, which  of course I love) is that she displays her projects inside-out. “Here, come look at what I’ve done,” this says. If I never use a Hong Kong seam, at least I have a reference on hand for what it might look like, if  I did. And seeing a horsehair braid used as a stabilizer in a skirt waist, from the inside, I  can understand why that might  be a useful step, and maybe one day might be tempted to try that one, myself.  So there’s a strong bit of fantasy to it, as with my gourmet  cookbooks: some day, I might  be the kind of seamstress who stabilizes waists with horsehair braid, or the kind of chef who has time for dumplings. But my turning everything inside-out, Gertie makes it seem not so difficult, after all, and maybe worth trying, one step at a time.

But until then, I will enjoy the lovely photos of multiple variations on each pattern provided, the encyclopedic illustrations of techniques  I might have elsewhere in my sewing library (like the old swayback  adjustment) but still appreciate seeing again.

In my fantasy future where I don’t get so impatient with things, I would make both the Wiggle dress and the Coat Dress. Yes, part of my problem is that it’s the more intricate designs that call to me…I should probably start with something simple, like one of the blouses, and go from there. But alas, it’s the more advanced ones that I favor! So I will trot off to my quick and easy projects, with visions of pad stitching dancing in my head…

Make your own biased mess

15 Jul

I got a gadget: the Clover bias maker. It’s nifty. The whole internet offers handy tutorials on the wonder of this gadget, and how it can simplify my sewing by allowing me to easily make my own bias tape at home using the same fashion fabric as the rest of my project.

I’ve had it a while, but it wasn’t until last night that I felt I had the right project for custom, fabric-matched bias tape. So I cut up my strips, stitched them end to end, and started pressing and pulling…and whee! wasn’t it fun!

All that neat, crisply pressed bias tape just spooling out of my gadget, and under the welcoming steam of my hot iron (at right).

But, you say, what’s that on the left? That, my friends, is the same freshly handmade bias tape, on one end of the strip, and how it has uncurled there by the time my Clover magic-maker and iron combination have reached the other end of my strip.

In fact, let me show you my whole piece of so-called “bias binding” so that you can get the whole effect:



Yes, there’s a reason I chose to call my sewing blog “Handmade Mess” and I’m afraid, today, that I have run into that reason once again.

It’s okay, I will persevere, as I generally do, and I think it will be perfectly useable for the project at hand. I’m just putting this up there so that you can witness: sometimes the bias maker turns out smooth, crisp lines of tape, and sometimes, with some fabrics (maybe it’s the nature of seersucker to shake out a pressed fold) or in the hands of certain inept seamstresses, it’s not as pretty a process as one might like it to be.

Failing the challenge of the little black dress

2 Jul

My “little black dress” project is coming along quite nicely, apart from one detail.
The thing is, it’s…

*ahem*…er, well, it turns out it’s brown.

Yes, brown.  You see, a while ago I bought some fabric on the internet–the first and last time I ever did so. I was looking for some “ponte knit” and it turns out that one can’t readily tell, from pictures and descriptions, what one is going to get. I mean, it was probably a pretty risky thing to start with, a poly double knit, after all! But when the fabric arrived, it was pretty uninspiring, to say the least–but it had been cheap, and I thought I could use it to practice with, for “wearable muslins” of the stretch fabric variety.
And it’s served me well–I used the blue piece to make my “Marginal Folded Skirt“. (Oh, yes: I forgot to mention I got the fabric in four colors. Four.)

One length was black, and one was a deep chocolate brown.

So I saw this dress the other day, and it was in a stretch fabric (heavier than jersey) and used strips of the fabric, raw-edged, as an all-over striping. Not hemmed, not ruffled, just stripes sewn on, with just a bit of soft irregularity…a look that could be easily duplicated, by cutting long strips of fabric by hand. And it looked really, really good. Textured, but simple. Deconstructed, but not sloppily so.

I wanted to make it, and I figured I could use the length of black double-knit to do so. When I got the fabric out, however, I discovered that I had much more of the brown than of the black. And with the stripes all over, the dress calls for essentially double the amount of fabric than is in the dress itself. I simply wasn’t going to have enough of the black, to make the dress.  But I wanted to try, anyway, so I switched to brown, instead, and here I go, sewing seam after seam of flat, ruffle-less “ruffles” on each pattern piece, in preparation for dress construction:


So, ah, yes: my dress, it is coming along great, except for the fact that it’s veered sharply off course from where I started, and become something else altogether, in the process.


14 May

If swimmers get “swimmer’s ear” and tennis players are prone to “tennis elbow”, then surely this is “Seamstress’s Arm”:


Small burns, stacked up along the inside of my right forearm, from reaching around the hot iron when I’ve placed it wrong on my work table. No sooner does one heal when I hit it just  wrong, again, and get a fresh one.

Other people’s intentions

13 May

One of the outcomes of this project, so far, is that people have started to give me their own fabric–some very generous gifts, most often pieces they acquired for projects they intended to make, themselves, or are passing on from someone else they inherited it from. All of these, so far, have been rather beautiful fabrics. They’re the kinds of fabric people hold on to for a long time–other more day-to-day fabric supplies can be passed on, sold at yard sales or handed to thrift stores, but many sewers have special pieces they keep close, with full intentions of completing a project, some day.
It is these extra-special pieces that now find their way to my fortunate hands. In my mind, these bring with them their own special requirements. If someone has been holding on to a piece of cloth for years, after all, then surely they have spent those years imagining it as something beautiful. It feels like an additional responsibility: to do the fabric proud, to live up to not only my own expectations for it, but also the expectations of the person (or whole lineage of people) who passed the cloth along the line. After all, if they’ve now decided to give it to me, it implies trust: a trust that I will be able to make of it what the cloth’s previous owners did not.

The piece of “entrusted” fabric that I am working with, today, is an electric blue ultrasuede. I’ve never sewed with ultrasuede, before, but I simply love the color of this, and want to do it proud.

In the month of May…

6 May

…nearly six months after resolving to refrain from buying clothing, and live on only what I could make for myself, I broke my resolution. Yes, dear readers, I did it: I bought retail clothing.  But as I said last December, “breaking rules is part of fashion, too, and it will be interesting to find those lines along which my personal ambitions crumble.”
And it is an interesting line, indeed. It turns out that my sewing “kryptonite” is none other but the classic black dress. I bought two, to wear for specific events coming up on my schedule. Yes, I could have made my own black dress. For one of them, I even made it as far as buying a pattern, working through all the elements of the dress that I wanted, and committing to one specific design. I bought the pattern…and there the project languished. I could not muster up any enthusiasm to go to the fabric store, just to look for the right length of black cloth. I hemmed and hawed and procrastinated, until I realized that even if I found the fabric, I no longer have enough time to complete the project before the intended event.

The fabric store, you see, was my final obstacle to the process. Fabric stores, to me, are seductive places of whim and fancy and imagination: “What could this become?” The lure of textures and patterns that I haven’t discovered, before. This fabric has shine–and look, that one is nubby, and who would have ever thought, of putting these two colors together in this way?  Black, for all its virtues, has no lure of the undiscovered. Black is wonderful, in many, many respects, but as a crafting project, I do not find it tantalizing. The idea of sewing black fabric to more black fabric made me…not want to sew, at all. Add to that the problem that my selected design came fully lined, as well–so then I would embark on sewing the thing (the outside) and then repeating the whole thing another time (for the inside), and stitching the two together. Two miles of stitches, and all in black, and the task seemed sheer duty rather than pleasure, and I just could not bear to do it.

Painting: “She Wore Black” by Loui Jover.

So I bought up two little black dresses–one very basic, that I surely could have made myself, but in a dutiful fabric that would never call to me from the bolt, and one with many details (pointed collar, button plackets, turned-up cuffs) that I love to work on, but would never find patience to complete, in a black-on-black version.

So there you have it: I am a great lover of black dresses, I find them a very useful uniform in my daily life, but I simply cannot bear to sew them, myself.  And having purchased two (surely enough to get me through the hardest times) I went for a celebratory jaunt to my favorite local fabric store, where I bought yards of bright red cherry-blossom print, and Ikat, and 1960’s modernist print, and a lovely layered and textured piece in a deep rose-brown. In short, anything and everything but solid black!   And then I started stitching again, duty banished, and immersed in the joy of the craft, once more.