Welcome Message

Welcome to my sewing (and other stuff) blog!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013


 I am new to blogging, and I have been thinking about the technology, and process of blogging quite a bit. My dad was a writer, and I remember him spending endless hours with a typewriter, and yellow legal pads writing and rewriting, surrounded by dictionaries and thesauruses. He would submit his work to an editor, view galleys, and order a number of volumes printed. After his death my sisters and I cleaned out his home, and found boxes of his books that had never sold.
 Writing this blog gives me the opportunity to synthesize some of the random thoughts that float around in my head while my fingers are busy with a needle. It gives me the opportunity to put into words the satisfaction that I have found in my career as a dressmaker and to share some of the tricks that I have learned along the way. 
 Blogging means that anyone with an internet connection can write anything and send it out to the world with no editing. It means that my musings have found their way to a lovely seamstress in Western Australia. She writes me emails about my posts.(Hi, Chris!) I love that connection.
  It also is apparent  that the process of writing is a useful exercise even if nobody reads what I write.It forces reflection, and the taming of stream of consciousness.  It must be why my father continued to sit at his desk and write despite those boxes of unsold books at his feet.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Juki Love

    There is quite a long list of sewing machines that I own......4 Janome 3050's for sewing student use, one much used and loved Bernina 930 purchased in 1985, a Phaff Expression,  a Brother Excedra industrial straight stitch machine, and various sergers.
 If someone asked me what sewing machine I use I would say that my Juki TL98Q is my go-to sewing machine. I do almost all of my sewing on this machine.
 The TL98Q is a mechanical straight stitch machine.It sews up to 1,500 stitches a minute. This is a solid, heavy, but portable machine that has given me years of trouble free sewing.
 It is assumed that many seamstresses long for computer machines with a multitude of features. That may be true for some, but the huge majority of my sewing requires beautifully, balanced straight stitching.. This machine sews them perfectly, and quickly! It also has a second button on the foot control that when tapped with the toe will engage the thread cutter in an instant. A wonderful convenience!
 These machines are in the $900 to $1,100 range. Mine has been sewing trouble free for years  with no troubles.
 Because the Juki is a straight stitch machine it will not zigzag, or do buttonholes. I love the look of bound buttonholes, so I very rarely have a need for a machine made buttonhole. If I do need a function other than a straight stitch I move to one of my other machines.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Wedding Gown Post 4 (Double Happiness)

 I have made a lot of progress on the wedding gown since my last post.  I invented a neat trick when I was adding a silk organza underlining to the bodice of the gown.
 Underlining is a fabric that is used to give body to the fashion fabric. This gown is made from silk crepe back satin. The princess seams and the upper bodice detail to follow made it important to give the silk extra body. My first attempt at an underlining was to cut a piece of the silk habatoi (china silk) that I purchased for the lining. Silk habatoi is a wonderful underling fabric for many applications, but after cutting a test piece and pinning it to the bodice I could see that it left a shadow of a line that showed on the right side of the fabric where the underlining ended at the waist. That was totally unacceptable, so I went to my silk pieces stash and found some silk organza that is the perfect color and weight.
 This is one of many reasons why I save pieces of silk fabrics. I live in a town where our fabric store will never have any silk organza. It is about a 130 mile drive to a store that carries this type of fabric. I order lots of fabrics over the Internet, but that would take days, and I didn't have days! I felt really happy to find just what I needed!
 Anyway, back to the neat little trick! Underlining must be basted in the seam allowances making it "one" with the fashion fabric. It also is important that the underlining be slightly larger than the fashion fabric, so that when the seams are sewn there is enough ease for the "turn of the cloth". Underlining that makes a garment pucker is unacceptable.  As I was pinning the organza prior to basting I placed a chop stick under the organza to give it a bit of ease. This worked perfectly, and was much less time consuming than methods I have tried in the past.
 There was cause for Double Happiness in my studio! I had the perfect silk organza. It supported the silk crepe beautifully without showing, and my chop stick method made the installation of the organza go more smoothly!
Chinese Symbol for Double Happiness

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Sewing on a Winter Day

Here in Duluth the temperature was below zero all day. I had sewing students this afternoon. There is a fireplace in my studio that kept us toasty. I coached one student who is making a beautiful teal fleece jacket with great looking embroidered ribbon trim.
 Another student is using her class time to add a lining to a fantastic vintage dress. We cut a chiffon lining to help  support and stabalize the very fragile silk crepe fabric.  It is always facinating to peek inside vintage clothing and to see how they were constructed. This woman has an extensive collection of exquisit vintage finery, so learning how to put in a lining will be a skill she will use frequently.
 At about 3:00 I made  coffee, and we enjoyed some delicious cookies, including shortbread which has always been a favorite! One of my students is a professional baker, and excellent all around cook, and cookbook author. She frequently brings cookies, or her famous scones. YUM!!!!

Prairie Kitchen Scones

I can't think of a better way to spend a winter day than sewing, and sharing goodies with wonderful women!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Wigan Out

 My daughter emailed me and said that I should do a post on wigan.  I had given her some wigan one time when she was hanging out in my sewing studio and she was unsure how to use it, so here is everything that you ever wanted to know about wigan.
 First of all you might ask what the heck is wigan?  (wi-gən) Wigan is precut sew-in or iron-on sleeve interfacing. It comes in widths from 2" to 3". Most wigan is made from a woven fabric cut on the bias. It is a wonderful kind of interfacing for sleeve hems in tailored jackets. If you have cut interfacing on the bias for a sleeve hem, you will be really happy if you can just reach for your wigan.
Here are some photos that demonstrate how wigan is applied. I will demonstrate on a two piece jacket sleeve using iron-on wigan.

Two piece jacket sleeve pattern

Here are the pattern pieces for a two piece sleeve.

The sleeve is cut and the wigan is pressed on to the wrong side of the fabric so that it covers the hem line. It is easiest to do this prior to sewing up the sleeve seams.

Wigan pressed on the wrong side of the fabric at sleeve hem

 Using this method means that when you are ready to hem the sleeves they are perfectly prepared for the hem!
Wigan can also be used in the hems of coats, and jackets. As with all interfacing be sure to test a sample on a scrap of your fabric to make sure that it is the right weight and produces the amount of support that is right for your fabric.
Wigan comes in basic colors...grey, black, white and ivory. In my studio I have a roll each of white and black. I have had these rolls for quite some time as they are 100 yards! I share them with my students, and my daughter!
 You can find wigan at Wawak!  Wawak is a company that merged with Atlanta Thread and Supply, and Cleaners Supply. Their name is not melodious, but they have a huge selection of sewing supplies. They have wonderful sales, and fast service. http://www.wawak.com/
Here is the link to the wigan.
Be sure to request a catalog!

 I see that Wawak now has tricot wigan. This is fantastic because tricot is the perfect interfacing for soft fabrics or lightweight fabrics. I will be ordering a roll of that, and it is ONLY 50 yards!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Wedding Gown Update Post 3

 I had a muslin ready when the bride arrived on Monday. The fitting reinforced in my mind why a muslin is so necessary! Prior to cutting the fabric I did a lot of pattern alterations for fit and style. The bride put the muslin on and her eyes got wide. She said "you warned me". Yes, a muslin is a bit shocking to someone who may not have had custom work done before. I didn't tell the bride that this actually was one of the better looking muslins I have made!

Here is the muslin on my dress form. The muslin fit the bride very well. (she has quite a different shape than this dress form). The princess lines were so flattering on her pear shape figure. My goal was to show her small waist and to minimize the curve of her hips. Accomplished!
 So I was pretty happy that I had the fit figured out, but then she started looking at the style, and she realized that what she thought she wanted wasn't what she really wanted. We played around with the muslin, and various pieces of  bias cut muslin. We tried side ruching, and a drape...nope. We tried a cowl drape at the neck.....nope. We finally settled on making the gown off-the-shoulder with a bias band that will tie in a knot in the back.
 The bride brought an array of accessories along for the fitting. It was really quite fun! When she put on a lush combination of various sized pearl necklaces and long chandelier pearl earrings, we both went ah ha! It really was quite funny to see such beautiful jewelry with that ol' muslin!
 When I first met with the bride we had decided on 4 ply silk for the gown. I ordered samples from Emma One Sock  http://www.emmaonesock.com/  At the last minute I requested a sample of the silk crepe back satin. That is the fabric we decided on for the gown.
  Making a muslin is so important. Despite lots of verbal communication about the style of the dress, and despite the choice of a fabric, both of these decisions were changed! Had we skipped the muslin process the bride would have had a gown in a style and fabric that didn't thrill her.
 Hurray for muslins!!!!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Wedding Gown ( Post 2 )

 On Friday I had a second  meeting with the bride. Prior to this meeting I ordered silk samples from Linda at Emma One Sock  http://www.emmaonesock.com/   I also digested the conversation from our first meeting, and thought about the bride's style and figure.
 When she arrived on Friday I took a complete set of measurements. I then showed her some sketches of a style that I thought would suit her. She had been forewarned that my fashion drawing abilities are limited, so she kindly didn't say "you want me to look like Little Bow Peep on my wedding day"!
 During this conversation we settled on a dress style that I think will be perfect for her. It will have an open neck, and long sleeves. Sort of like this....without the lace inset, and hopefully fitting better.....

 The gown will have princess seams as they provide for a figure skimming, flattering fit. The skirt will be a-line. The gown will be made out of white 4 ply silk, and will be lined with silk habotai.
 This will be a beautiful blank palette! The bride wants a dramatic feature incorporated into her gown. Because the time  for this project is abbreviated, I am going to start sewing the gown and we will jazz it up as we go. I may add a bias cowl to the neckline.  It would balance her figure, and be a nod to vintage gowns. I also suggested a godet with a slight sweep train in the back.

 The bride is traveling to San Fransisco and will have an opportunity to visit Britex. http://www.britexfabrics.com/ I visited the Holy Grail once myself, and I know that she will find a huge selection of tempting embellishments.
 Yesterday I began pattern work and went to the fabric store to replenish my supply of muslin. Today I woke up with a cold which means that I will not be able to go to my book club this afternoon. The unofficial name of our group is the No Guilt Book Club. I would have been welcome despite the fact that I didn't read this month's selection.

 Today I will put the muslin together. This virus is not so bad that I have to take to my bed. Making a muslin is fun. It is one of the few times when thread doesn't have to be the perfect color, and zipper installation can be a little slapdash!
 Tomorrow the bride returns and I can fit the muslin, and show her the silk samples that already arrived from Emma One Sock. I will try to only breathe in while doing the fitting!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Process of Making a Wedding Gown

                       Custom Wedding Gown Design Process

  I have a new client who wants to have a wedding gown made. She was referred to me by a women I have sewed for in the past. This is the way that I usually get work. Word of mouth is the best advertising and it is free!
 I don't make a lot of wedding gowns. It has to be the right bride for the right reasons. It is more common for me to turn away a wedding gown project than it is to accept one. Frequently in talking to a bride about a custom gown it becomes apparent to her, or to me that it isn't a good fit....(no pun intended).
 This woman called and we chatted on the phone a bit. It seemed that she might be a candidate for a custom gown, so I scheduled a meeting with her. She arrived, and I liked her right away! She is stylish and friendly, and is marrying a man that she reconnected with after one date in high school which was a long time ago. I have always admired mature brides...their courage, and their giddiness. She is no exception.
 We met for over an hour talking about her wedding, and many other things. We clicked, and I started to think that it might be a real pleasure to help this woman prepare for her special day.
 I asked her some questions about the venue, etc. The wedding is quite soon in a sophisticated  city. (I honor the privacy of my clients, so for this blog I will be rather general about some of the details about this bride.)
  She brought a few things along as I had suggested on the phone. She had some photos from magazines, and a top that she loves with an open neckline. As we chatted I observed her figure, and noted her sophisticated but approachable style. She was wearing pretty makeup, and she had beautiful short bright red nails, and bold turquoise earrings.
 We moved to my computer and I began pulling up some designs for some cues from her. We got sort of stuck there, so I decided to talk about fabric as a starting point. I went to my favorite online fabric store Emma One Sock http://www.emmaonesock.com/. 
 I had noted that EOS carries  a selection of silks of various weaves in 96 Colors! As I was chatting with the bride I  had formed the opinion that 4 ply silk would be a perfect fabric for her. It is elegant, heavy, and drapes beautifully. It has a gorgeous luster, but it is not shiny. Our design discussion was leading us to a modern, sophisticated gown with a nod to the glamorous 40's.
 At one point in the conversation we discussed finances. I mentioned a figure that was obviously quite general considering that we hadn't even chosen a pattern. The fabric alone is expensive, and it was only fair to both of us to end this happy planning if a custom dress was not in her budget. There was a pause, and then we went on to more talk about fabrics, etc.
 Beginning the design process requires good listening skills, and intuition in guiding the bride in choosing how her dress will look. As a dressmaker I know what is required to execute certain styles, so really I am trying to temper dreams with reality.
 We had talked for over an hour, and I suggested that she go home and think about all that we had discussed. I let her know that I had enjoyed my time with her, and that if she decided not to have a gown made that that would be fine. I never want to push a bride on this decision.
 The next morning she called and said that she wants me to make her gown. I am happy about this because I like her, and I think we will work well together. She said that she trusts me, and now I feel ready to work with her in designing a gown that will enhance her beautiful features, and camouflage a little figure challenge or two, all within her budget.
 Tomorrow we will meet again, and I will take accurate measurements and sketch a design. (my fashion drawing skills are not inspiring, so I always tell clients that I sew better than I draw!)
 I will continue to write about the experience of creating the gown for this bride. I am really looking forward to this project!

Monday, January 7, 2013

Room Divider in Sewing Studio

 My sewing room is in the lower level of our home. When we were looking for a house about 4 years ago we came across this home in our desired neighborhood. It is a ranch style, and it had a large lower level with a separate entrance, and two generous sized corner windows.
 Hurray! I thought here is the house for us! My husband agreed that it had possibilities, and I told him I was thrilled to have such a large sewing room in the lower level! He said "do you get that whole room"? I realized that I was being selfish, so we now split the room.  There is a section of the room where my husband can watch football, etc, and there is a nice big section where I can sew/teach classes/do fittings, etc.
 A contractor gave me a very high bid to build a wall between the two spaces. He mentioned moving wiring, securing the wall to the floor, etc. That seemed like a big expensive project, so I chose an alternative.

 I purchased five white bookcases at out local home improvement store. I had a carpenter secure them together side by side. He built some bead board panels that are secured to the back of the book cases. The bead board came in white so there was no painting needed. I attached some simple small white shelves to the bead board. This room divider delineates the space for my sewing studio, and gives me lots of storage for sewing supplies. It also makes a great place to display my vintage toy sewing machines, and other treasures.
 This design was much less expensive than having a wall built, and here is the very best feature.....it is movable!!!!
 I am conducting a little experiment in human nature. Did you know that a man can be totally unaware that his "cave" is getting smaller? If it is done in small increments over the course of a number of months it isn't even noticed! I try to make sure that this nice man's knees are not up against the T.V. he is trying to watch...so far, so good!

Friday, January 4, 2013

Thoughts on The Stash

 It is Jan 4th. My husband is gone for the day so Sophie (the poodle) and I are having a quite day together...or rather her day is quiet. I am cleaning out my sewing studio. These hours  gave me an opportunity to do some self reflection. The beginning of a new year is when many of us think about the opportunities taken...and missed, the work completed and that on the horizon. In my case there has been a  tabulation of the massive quantities of Christmas goodies that have made me aware of my waistband. (thanks Mom for the cinnamon sticks cookies, thanks Dexter for the fruitcake, thanks Arlene for the Aussie Butter Cookies, thanks Kris for the Sally Lunn bread, etc.)
 Anyway, my studio contains a large number of plastic bins of various sizes. They hold button collections, pattern collections, tailoring supplies, interfacing, etc. Dusting and organizing these bins was really quite pleasant. I had the opportunity to "miser" some of my valuable (at least to me) goodies. It was when I got to the bins of fabric that I did some soul searching.
 I can't think of one sewist that I know that doesn't have a stash of fabric. It is so universal that we all know the word stash. I did find one piece of fabric today that caused me to think about the wisdom of buying fabric futures.

This is a piece of silk that I bought in approximately 1983 at a fabric store in Berkley, CA. called Stone Mountain and Daughter. (I just Googled them and I am happy to say that they are still there: http://www.stonemountainfabric.com/). I only contributed to their bottom line that one time, so I am glad that other people continue to support them!
 I fell in love with the fabric, and it was quite expensive, but I bought it gleefully. Since 1983 I have had many sewing rooms/studios/shops, and they have been mucked out on sort of a regular basis, so for  30 years I have had the opportunity to think about my desision to buy this silk.  The first few years that I didn't make anything from it I told myself that I was waiting for some special occasion. Most of my special occasions then revolved around boating, and these were not the kind of functions that required silk.
 Some years after that I decided that I would surely make a mother of the bride dress for myself when the time came. It turned out that when my oldest daughter married I was so busy that I purchased a dress to wear, and when my youngest daughter married a few months ago the fabric wasn't right for a number of reasons!
 I hate to say it, but the past few times that I have come across this fabric I think "piano bench". Yep, for some reason I see it covering the cushion of a piano bench. My grandchildren play piano, but I feel quite sure that they would not fully appreciate the "preciousness" of the fabric.
  There have been many other misguided fabric purchases over the years that were disposed of without much ceremony. This piece held promise for me, and I still marvel at it's beauty. I am in the acceptance phase. A special occasion may still present itself; say when my grandson plays a piano concert at Carnegie Hall....or maybe some day one of my daughters will find it in my stash, like it, and add it to her stash. That would be nice...

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Top stitching

The denim jacket in the previous tutorial has a lot of top stitching detail. Here are a few photos of how I got the stitching to be evenly spaced.
 Before I started stitching I bonded a good quality lightweight interfacing to the wrong side of the pattern piece. I love tricot interfacing as it gives a bit of body without stiffness. Next I pressed a crease at the 5/8" seam allowance. Using this crease as a guide I sewed a line of stitching even with the future seam. For each successive row I ran the edge of the presser foot right next to the previous row of stitching.

 I used a thread designed for top stitching to assure that the top stitching would stand out.

Top stitching can add a lot of style to a garment, but of course because it draws attention to itself it is much better if it a evenly spaced. With many of these techniques I suggest doing a "test run" to make sure that the combination of fabric/thread/interfacing gives the look that you want.

A Beautiful Finish for an Unlined Jacket

Here is a seam finish that can make the inside of an unlined jacket look really beautiful. This is a technique that is found in some high end designer clothing. It is called a Hong Kong finish.

I made a jacket out of a black denim. It had quite a few white fibers in it, so I paired it with a blue/black/white rayon print which will be made into a top.

 I cut 1 1/4" wide bias strips. The strips should be cut on the bias (45% angle) of the fabric to insure that they will wrap nicely around the seam allowances. I sewed the bias strips (right sides together) on the edge of all of  the seams of  the jacket. These were sewn at a scant 1/4". The binding was applied as I completed the various stages of the jacket construction.
 The narrow seams are now pressed with the seam allowances toward the bias strip.
The bias strip is now rolled around the raw fabric edge, and then the strips are held in place by sewing right on the seam connecting the two fabrics. This is called "stitching in the ditch". 

  This photo shows the intersection of the hem and the front facing. You can see that this seam finish gives a pop of color to the inside of the jacket, and it looks really nice.

This is the jacket with the print shell underneath. The Hong Kong seam finish inside this jacket is a wonderful surprise!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Happy New Year!

 Here are two of my vintage (1950's) sewing machines, and a sweet little sewing box that a good friend painted for me.
 May 2013 bring you many blessings including plenty of time for the pursuit of creativity!