Warm grey scoop neck tee detail

Wardrobe Architect Project: Fitted Scoop Neck Tee

For my first item in my Summer 2015 wardrobe project, I chose the fitted scoop neck tee with elbow-length sleeves.

Pattern

Scoop neck tee from Crafty’s Sewing with Knits: 5 Wardrobe Essentials class + banding technique from Sewing on the Edge: Finishing Techniques

Project features

  • working with slinky knit
  • fusible tricot and stay stitching around neckline
  • clean join on neck band
  • twin needle topstitching

Process notes

  • made size small, with elbow-length sleeves
  • curved in at the waistline, roughly following the Coco shaping
  • 3/8 in. wide band of fusible tricot cut the same shape as the neckline
  • 2 1/4 in. wide strip of fabric for neckline banding, about 4 in. longer than needed for neckline
  • used the default settings for lightning stitch to sew in the sleeves
  • for twin needle, set thread tension to 8 with 3.0 stitch length using straight stitch
  • 3/4 in. hem on bottom

Results

Warm grey scoop neck tee

I’m happy with my construction of this tee, but there are several things I don’t like about it:

  • the lightweight slinky knit isn’t great for a fitted tee because every little thing that isn’t smooth (like a bra for example) shows up more than I’d like
  • the fabric is too tight in the back and my shoulders are pulling on it
  • the arm holes are too small and the fabric is pulling there
  • there’s a lump at the upper back sleeve where the sleeve cap is too sharply curved

I love the clean join on the neck band. Waiting until after the banding is applied to finish the length seems was a nice experience, but the band was pulled a little too much and flops open a teeny bit. And stabilizing the neckline with tricot was an extra step but I do think it made the whole neckline process go more smoothly and the result is quite refined.

I’m still working on shoulder fit and am considering next steps. My two thoughts that I’m deciding between are:

  • go up a pattern size from the underarm to shoulder seam
  • or add 1/4 in. to the back armscye and sleeve back, adding 1 in. total to the finished back width, a forward shoulder adjustment, flatten out the curve at the upper back sleeve, sharpen the curve at the upper front of the sleeve

I also want to add 1/4 in. to back armscye and sleeve on the Coco size 3.

I’m determined to make this pattern work for me as a close-fitting knit torso sloper — after wearing it for a day, it was so comfortable and the neckline is really flattering.

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Baby Lock Elizabeth sewing machine

Sewing with my Baby Lock Elizabeth

When I was researching what sewing machine to buy, I found sewing machine reviews by users to be tremendously helpful. Hearing different experiences and perspectives really helped shape my decision, so I wanted to contribute my experience to the mix to help others in the same situation.

In January 2015 I decided to buy a new sewing machine to complement my mechanical machine from the mid-80s. The old machine, a Simplicity 8220, doesn’t do an automatic buttonhole (either because the foot is broken or because of some other internal issue) and I often have tension issues with it. It’s a good machine to keep as a back-up because it’s solidly made, and one day I’d like to play around with bobbin work, which should be a good fit for its front-loading bobbin. But for day-to-day sewing it was giving me enough frustration to want to upgrade.

What I wanted in a new sewing machine

A few weeks of intense research — reading blog posts, scouring patternreview.com, reading any reviews I could get my hands on, re-reading blog posts — led me to a few conclusions:

  1. A list of requirements and nice-to-have features helps when shopping.
  2. Buying at a local independent dealer is a smart move because they’ll be there for support.
  3. Buying a machine made in the U.S. wasn’t in the cards.
  4. It doesn’t matter so much which brand I buy, as long as it feels right to me.

The things I required of my new machine were:

  • reliable, long lasting, solid machine
  • smooth sewing
  • consistent tension
  • adjustable sewing speed
  • several buttonhole options (standard, rounded one side, rounded both sides, eyelet, stretch)
  • sew through denim and thick layers
  • removable extension table (free arm)
  • several needle positions for flexibility
  • something I can grow into
  • stitches backwards easily and smoothly
  • ability to use twin needle on knits
  • even fabric feed
  • drop the feed dogs
  • automatic 1-step buttonhole foot

And my nice-to-have features included:

  • automatic tie-off
  • large sewing space right of needle
  • high presser foot lift
  • automatic thread cutting
  • free-motion stitching

My shopping experience and a first attempt with a new sewing machine

At my first visit to a local dealer, (where I was happy to learn that all of the new machines meet my feature requirements) I moved quickly from a low- to mid-level Brother that had many positive reviews and quickly became enamored with the Pfaff Ambition line. The design of these machines was right up my alley: impeccable details with a more refined, subtle look than most of their non-Pfaff counterparts. And they come with IDT, a built-in technology that is similar to a walking foot.

After obsessing for a few days, I made another visit to a dealer and came home with the Ambition 1.0. For me, it was an odd mix of excitement and intimidation. I was so afraid of messing it up somehow, by doing the wrong thing, or using the wrong settings or something. This apprehension was heightened when I encountered several issues:

  • occasional loops in the stitches that I’d never experienced before — not a tension issue that I could fix but something more sporadic and mysterious than that
  • a broken needle due to a faulty blind hem foot (requiring a couple of visits to the shop)
  • tension issues when using topstitching thread on corner seams
  • a broken needle while making a buttonhole (which caused a strange noise in the bobbin area, requiring another visit to the shop)
  • the IDT system didn’t actually keep the fabric layers even when I used it

When I bought the Ambition, I told the dealer about my nervousness regarding choosing the right machine for me, and was reassured that I had a month to exchange it for another machine if it didn’t work out. As my first month with it ended, it became clear to me that I wasn’t comfortable with it and needed to go with something else. I don’t think it was a poor machine, but rather wasn’t the right fit for me. A more experienced sewer would probably have a much different experience than me, but I was just too stressed about it and couldn’t make it behave.

Trading for a better fit

The other brand I had been seriously considering besides Pfaff was Baby Lock. People really love their Baby Locks! I read story after story of how user-friendly they are and that people find them a joy to use. The number one drawback for me was the style of them. The Pfaff was just so…beautiful. The Baby Locks look…well, not like the Pfaff. While this seems like a petty complaint, my concern was that the design out of the insides would match the design of the outside.

Then I sat down and experienced the Baby Lock Elizabeth. It really was a joy to use! All of my worries about the way it looked went out the window and I felt an instant connection with it. The longer I sat at it and tried out different features and attachments, the more it appealed to me.

In the five months since I made the switch to the Elizabeth, I haven’t had any regrets.

A machine that’s easy to start with but also provides room for growth

My first big project on the new machine was to sew my way through School of Sewing by Shea Henderson, which includes 12 accessory and decor projects. This machine did very well with almost all of these projects which were primarily comprised of quilting fabrics and a variety of interfacings. It struggled during the Pleated Purse project when there were 12 layers (4 quilting cotton layers + 8 woven interfacing layers) and I had to turn the hand wheel through some sections. I’ve been told this isn’t abnormal. The quilt project was challenging (the size was unwieldy) on this machine, but I’m not entirely surprised by this because there are other Baby Locks that specialize in quilts — this one is marketed more for garments, home decor, and accessories.

I’m also using it to sew garments with woven, knit, and denim fabrics. When sewing a denim test swatch, I had to use the hand wheel to get over a 6-layer seam. It may be that I need to pull out my old mechanical machine for heavy layers of denim, but for me that will be infrequent and the generous number of features on the Elizabeth make it worth it to me even with this inconvenience.

Baby Lock Elizabeth sewing machine

What I love about the Baby Lock Elizabeth

  • the tension is easy to work with, and takes very little fiddling to get it balanced
  • automatic thread cutter
  • the variable speed has a big range — it goes from very slow to very fast
  • the special long basting stitch
  • it comes with a huge number of feet (13) and accessories (including an eyelet punch)
  • the walking foot (this worked so much better for me than the IDT)
  • the manual is thorough, and better for beginners than the Pfaff manual
  • the memory key, which is super convenient and helpful when I have a few stitches I’m switching between on a project (such as 2 or 3 needle position/stitch length settings when lining up quilting rows)
  • the choice of either an automatic locking stitch or back stitch on a handful of stitches
  • it’s easy to find inexpensive feet for the low-shank snap-on configuration — the feet from my Simplicity fit on it, which was nice because I had an edge joining foot and invisible zipper for it that I’m able to use on the Elizabeth

What I’d improve with the Baby Lock Elizabeth

  • the lighting: after experiencing the Ambition’s 3 lights, the lighting on the Elizabeth is rather weak
  • the thread spool position: it would be nice to have a built-in vertical spool pin position for use with larger spools
  • smoother threading path: sometimes when I’m threading the machine the thread gets caught in the path and it’s difficult to pull through smoothly, especially with a heavier weight thread

I’m very happy with the Elizabeth. It’s not a perfect machine, but it’s a good match for me overall and it’s a pleasure to sew with it.

cage comforters

Cage Comforters

The day I visited a local animal shelter “just to check out our options” was a pivotal day for me. Once I arrived, it quickly became clear that I wasn’t going to leave there without at least one dog.

After hardening my heart against all of the big, puppy-dog eyes (I wouldn’t even let myself look at the cat kennels — the sting of losing our cats after 16 years was still too much), I zeroed in on our little Pipsqueak. She drew me in like a tractor beam and it was settled.

Pipsqueak on a stack of cage comforters
Uh oh. I hope she realizes she doesn’t get to keep these…

I left the shelter, immediately fell completely in love with Pipsqueak, and thought about how I might continue to support the local shelters. There were SO MANY animals in need of adoption, and this was just one of the many shelters in the area. I pondered for several weeks how to contribute, then by chance saw an episode of Sewing with Nancy where she interviewed someone about cage comforters. Cage comforters are basically small, thick quilts sewn by volunteers that give cats and dogs a soft, warm place to lie while they wait to be adopted.

I contacted our shelter to see if they’d be interested in getting some of these, and the communications eventually broke down, and then we were temporarily relocated to a new state and etc., etc. Well, I finally made time to sew a few comforters and got in touch with a different shelter who was happy to receive them.

Cage comforters for a local shelter
Three of these are simply solid pieces of fabric, but my favorite is the one made from pieced together scraps

These comforters are a way for me to get started with supporting shelters, and factor into my new business, Oxford Dogma. As the business becomes more established, it’s my goal to increase my contributions to shelters accordingly, providing the things that are needed most. But for now, this is a gratifying and feasible way for me to provide some TLC to animals in need.

Exposed bias facing on the Sorbetto Top by Colette Patterns

Wardrobe Architect Project

The list of garments I want to sew for myself keeps growing, making it tough to prioritize. I’m just so excited to try all kinds of new things, inspired by my Craftsy classes (especially One Pattern, Many Looks: Blouses and One Pattern, Many Looks: Pants). To help me sort through my list, I decided to follow the Wardrobe Architect series that ran on The Coletterie blog in 2014.
The Wardrobe Architect

It’s a series of 14 topics that include exercises and real-world examples, and as someone who prefers structure I’ve found it very useful. I already had clarity on my personal style from reading I Love Your Style by Amanda Brooks a few years ago, but walking through the Wardrobe Architect exercises uncovered some new things:

  • I prefer dark colors and cool-weather styles like longer sleeves and ankle-length pants. But the summers in the Southwest make these preferences challenging. One of my goals is to achieve harmony between what I like best and what the 110° summers require.
  • Comfort is my number one priority, because if it’s not comfortable I won’t wear it. Also, the intersection of polished and effortless is my ideal style.
  • My style icons (think Audrey Hepburn, Jackie O.) appeal to me because in addition to their classic, subtle style, they paid attention to their appearance without seeking attention.
  • I really like elbow-length and 3/4-length sleeves, and regular short sleeves don’t do much for me.

My favorite aspect of the series is recognizing the garment shapes I like most, and how to combine them into silhouettes. After identifying some desirable silhouettes, I selected these for my Summer 2015 mini wardrobe:

  • gathered skirt + semi-fitted scoop neck elbow sleeve top
  • shorts + semi-fitted (variety of sleeve lengths) boatneck top
  • somewhat fitted ankle length trousers + somewhat loose cap sleeve tee
  • shorts + somewhat loose tee
  • shorts + semi-fitted elbow sleeve top

I also liked the color palette exercises. Navy is my go-to color, but I want to add a bit more variety:

wardrobe color palette

My favorite fabric prints (plus a cheat: chunky knitted cables):

favorite fabric prints

Based on all of this, I created my Summer 2015 goals:

wardrobe color palette summer 2015

Garments to sew:

  1. olive ankle pants — done!
  2. chambray gathered skirt linen drawstring shorts — done!
  3. city gym shorts in chambray or another neutral woven — done!
  4. fitted tee with elbow sleeves in grey/green knit (pattern from Sewing with Knits Craftsy class) — done!
  5. cap sleeve blouse in thin blue and white stripes cap sleeve blouse in tiny plaid — done!

One of the great things about this plan is that it allows me to focus on creating the things seasonally, pushing those cool-weather items on my list down the road a bit.

Simplicity 2317 knit lounge shorts

Sewing Simplicity 2317 Lounge Shorts

Project features

  • elastic waistband
  • mock fly
  • stretch twin needle

Process notes

  • used contrast waistband from leftover thrift store t-shirt fabric
  • added 5/8 in. to the front and back pieces, increasing the overall circumference by 2 1/2 in.
  • used Wonder Tape on hem instead of pins
  • decreased hem allowance to 3/8 in.
  • increased thread tension to 7 when hemming with twin needle

Results

Simplicity 2317 knit lounge shorts
OK, once again I accidentally doubled my intended adjustment measurement. Grrr. So as a result, these are rather bulky around the waist. The hips and thighs do feel rather comfy though.

I was glad to get some experience with a front fly, even if it was a mock fly. That process is a bit mystifying to read about, and actually doing it helps clarify things. Initially I misunderstood the center seam instructions and sewed down the wrong line. Lucky for me it was just a basting stitch and easy to remove and restitch.

Increasing the thread tension to 7 with the twin needle helped a lot. The bobbin thread has a better zig zag, allowing more stretchability without pulling the thread out of the side seams. I want to try pushing it even more to see what happens. And (perhaps because I decreased the hem allowance so much) the hem wants to flip up, so in the future I would increase the length of the legs instead so I can sew higher up from the fold.

The next time I want to make knit shorts I’d like to try the yoga short pattern from Crafty’s Sewing with Knits class. But even higher on my list is the City Gym Shorts pattern. They look classically retro and fun.

Bias facing detail on Simplicity 1364

Sewing the Simplicity 1364 Retro Sleeveless Woven Top

I love a classic top with a bateau neckline. And this pattern is fairly simple, with just a few pieces. But the lapped zipper in the back and the bias facing in the arm holes did make things a little trickier.

Project features

  • lapped zipper
  • facing
  • bias tape facing
  • darts

Process notes

Simplicity 1364 retro blouse pattern

For fitting this top, I used Nancy Zieman’s book The Busy Woman’s Fitting Book. After experiencing Joi Mahon’s pattern fitting techniques, it seemed like a good idea to give the pivot and slide method Nancy teaches in order to compare the two.

I chose the pattern size based on Nancy’s front width fitting chart. It’s hard to say how effective this method was because the pattern needed to be made wider at the shoulders and narrower at the bust. I started by doing the wide shoulder adjustment (adding 1/2″ to the shoulder width) and the square shoulder adjustment (moving the shoulder up 1/2″), then made a muslin to test fit.

The test fit revealed that there was way too much fabric in the bust, waist, and back, and not quite enough at the hip. In addition, the neckline in the front was cutting into my neck a bit, the darts on the front were too long, and the arm holes were too snug. I really liked how the neckline looked though — the bateau neck was crisp and flattering.

After seeing the fit of the muslin, I made further pattern adjustments:

  • dropped the front neckline by 1/2″
  • lowered the bottom edge of the arm hole and blended it into the upper part of the arm hole
  • brought the side seam under the arm hole in and blended it down to the hem (small bust adjustment)
  • widened the hip at the hem
  • shortened the dart by 1″

Then came the difficult decision of which fabric to use! A remnant of lightweight indigo chambray was calling to me, and for the bias facing on the arm holes a white and navy stripe was a good complement.

Results

Simplicity 1364 Retro Top

Striped bias facing on Simplicity  1364
Striped bias facing on the arm holes

With the exception of the shoulders and shoulder blade area, I’m super happy about how this top turned out. The fabric is soft, lightweight, and has a good drape. And the design of the top is crisp and polished, but casual as well. The long zipper in the back makes it feel purposeful and put-together.

The ends of the shoulders at the arm holes are just a bit too high, making them pop up when they should mold to the shoulder better (this is less evident when my arms are bent like in the photos). And I learned a valuable lesson: if there’s a poorly-blended curve in the pattern, that will show up in the final garment. Makes sense! These areas are now fixed on my pattern.

I’m on the fence about whether a bit of a broad shoulder adjustment would help me or not — my concern is that adding fabric to the back will exacerbate the sway back fitting issue, but I’m consistently wearing tops that pull at the upper torso/shoulder area. That’s something that will continue to evolve for sure.

I also learned why some sewers like to stabilize the fabric before attaching a zipper. My fabric kept smooshing downward as the zipper got stitched on, causing wrinkles and puckers. If I had fused some interfacing on before folding and stitching, it probably would have alleviated this issue.

Vogue 1004 fitting shell in gingham

Pattern Fitting and the Fitting Shell

Once every seven years or so I get the itch to sew a garment. And every time the results disappoint me. The primary reason for this is the fit. It seriously never occurred to me before that patterns wouldn’t fit right out of the envelope. And when they didn’t fit, I blamed myself, thinking that my body was just a weird shape or I didn’t have the skills to make the item correctly.

So when I learned more recently that it’s uncommon for patterns to fit well right out of the envelope — that they’re just a guide to get started — it was highly enlightening. And encouraging!

There are so many options when it comes to pattern fitting, it was a little overwhelming to know where to begin. People seemed to favor one of two methods:

  1. slash and spread
  2. pivot and slide

I was most interested in the slash and spread, and fitting a muslin before jumping into nice fabric. Because I’m a visual learning, video classes are my go-to learning tools (I’m addicted to Craftsy and Creative Live). It was really hard to choose between the Craftsy classes Sew the Perfect Fit with Lynda Maynard and the Fast-Track Fitting series with Joi Mahon. A helpful Craftsy Comparison blog post on Bobbins & Whimsy described the differences between them, and the most compelling factor was that Joi teaches how to measure and fit the pattern before making the muslin, making a sewing buddy less necessary.

Joi teaches a logical approach that includes measuring the different sections of the body and adjusting the pattern in those specific sections. This allows the adjustments to be made where they match the body instead of just where the pattern’s existing adjustment lines are printed. And it gets the muslin much closer to a good fit the first time, although some fine-tuning is likely after the muslin is made.

Method

Followed Crafty’s Fast-Track Fitting and Fast-Track Fitting: In the Details classes

Process notes

  • used Vogue Fitting Shell 1004 with 1″ gingham check fabric
  • traced off a copy of each pattern piece and left originals intact
  • forgot to pin out the darts when measuring the pattern against my body measurements, so had to trace off a second copy of each pattern piece
  • compared body measurements to pattern measurements and adjusted in batches (vertical first, then horizontal)
  • cut fabric one layer at a time to stay on grain
  • transferred pattern markings to fabric with transfer paper and wheel (and fabric pen for darts)

Results

Vogue 1004 fitting shell in gingham check

Vogue 1004 fitting shell in gingham, torso

This was a fantastic learning experience. The best parts were:

  • gaining an understanding of how to compare body measurements to pattern pieces
  • learning how to change the pattern to fit me
  • gaining confidence that now I can adjust a pattern before cutting it out in the final fabric and it’ll fit so much better
  • the moment I tried on the muslin and saw how well the bodice fit
  • having the time to go through the entire fitting process on a practice garment rather than feeling pressured or rushed to fit a final garment

The most challenging parts were:

  • transferring the pattern markings to the fabric so they would show up
  • knowing how to make the pattern pieces for arm holes and sleeve cap fit each other
  • doing the math on the horizontal adjustments and still have the side seams match up
  • fitting the sleeves into the arm holes (causing many rounds of getting up and down from the sewing machine, trying on the muslin)

Forgetting to pin out the darts when measuring the pattern was actually a happy accident — it allowed me to experience the process of making pattern adjustments so that the second time it went much more smoothly. The first time, I made one adjustment at a time, in pace with the videos. But the second time I was able to see it more holistically and make smarter cutting choices.

Trying on the muslin for the first time was such a delight. The bodice (without sleeves) fit like a glove. The lower body needed a bit more wiggle room, but it was definitely in the ball park. To adjust the lower body I removed the front darts and increased the area and length of the back darts. In retrospect, I think it would have been better to adjust the sided seams and leave the front darts.

Attaching the sleeves to the arm holes was tricky! This by far took the longest time in the muslin fitting process. My primary hangup was the shoulder area — my shoulders are wide and I didn’t end up with quite enough fabric in that area. I never did fully resolve the sleeve fitting, but eventually had call it good enough to move on.

Once I had it fitting well enough, I went the seam lines with a marker and disassembled the muslin, then transferred the changes to the paper pattern. Mostly this was for gaining the experience doing it. It’s unlikely I’ll actually use the pattern again as it is. And I had to laugh because by the time the muslin was done, a few of the adjustments needed to be put back to the original pattern measurements.

What I learned and can apply to future garment fitting projects:

  • don’t be too stingy with seam allowances on the fitting garment
  • adjustments for wide shoulder and square shoulder should help my upper torso fitting issues (this method for square shoulders looks interesting because I also have the sway back)
  • a broad shoulder adjustment may be necessary (as in this method written about by A Fashionable Stitch)
  • it’s important to make horizontal adjustments in the right places so that the side seams still match up when joining the top to the bottom

It’s also become clear that it’s going to take practice and repetition to become confident about when pattern adjustments need to be made. My hope is that by making several different garment patterns in relatively quick succession things will become more intuitive.

Exposed bias facing on the Sorbetto Top by Colette Patterns

Sewing the Sorbetto Top

When I was compiling my sewing curriculum I became familiar with the Coletterie blog and found an excellent article on How to Build Sewing Skills if You’re an Absolute Beginner (The Art and Science of Skill Building). I connected with Sarai’s story of ambitious sewing adventures: getting in over her head (been there) and the frustration that ensues when things don’t go right (definitely been there). Since she seemed to speaking directly to me, it seemed wise to start with garment sewing the way she recommends: with a pillow (check!) then the Sorbetto Top by Colette Patterns.

After exploring the enormous fan club of sewers who’ve made their own Sorbettos I put it at the top of my garment-sewing list.

The Sorbetto is a great candidate for getting familiar with garment sewing because it’s very basic, with no sleeves or closures. And it features exposed bias facing. I have a mild obsession with making my own bias tape. There are just so many possibilities when it comes to choosing colors and patterns to coordinate with the main fabrics, I feel like I could spend a lifetime just exploring that one element.

Sorbetto Top in muslin

Since my goal right now is to learn learn learn, I made my top out of muslin to take the pressure off in case it didn’t turn out well. The thought of gambling with my treasured stash was too much to handle. I also decided not to do any pattern fitting for this project, and sewed the pattern as printed.

This really was a great pattern for getting more comfortable with garment sewing. It’s not complicated and the instructions are clear. I’m happy with my binding around the neck and arm holes, but way the finished shoulder and side seams peek out from under the bound edges bugs me. If I make this top again, I’d like to find a way to improve those areas.

And some pattern adjustments would help it fit me better:

  • shorten the bust dart so it’s not going all the way to the apex
  • lengthen the top
  • lower the bottom edge of the arm holes
  • decrease the width at the bust line to reduce gaping under the arms

Making this top is a big milestone for me — it’s been on my mind for months, so actually getting it made feels like an accomplishment. Next up is pattern fitting with Joi Mahon’s Craftsy classes, Fast-Track Fitting and Fast-Track Fitting: In the Details.

Half scale dress and pants

Half-scale muslins for sewing technique practice

The first phase of seriously improving my sewing abilities — completing the projects in the School of Sewing book — was a success. I feel much more confident about basic sewing skills like choosing threads and needles, sewing straight lines, installing zippers, hand-stitching, and the general construction process.

The next phase in my custom-designed curriculum is to work on basic garment sewing skills. For this, I’m primarily referring to The Sewing Book: An Encyclopedic Resource of Step-by-Step Techniques by Alison Smith, which came highly recommended by other sewers. It’s great for techniques, but instead of practicing techniques on plain blocks of fabric, I wanted to do some test-runs of garments.

In this spirit, I did some experimenting with the quarter-scale dress pattern from clothingpatterns101.com and the small pants pattern that came in the materials from the One Pattern, Many Looks: Pants class on Craftsy.com. After making them both half-scale and adding seam allowances, I constructed little muslin samples of the long sleeve dress and pants with side zipper.

Half scale dress and pants
Smalled down big ones: half-scale dress and pants for practice
Half scale dress and pants
The invisible zipper and facing in the pants

They’re both creepy and cute at the same time. And making them was a good exercise for learning more about garment construction. Some things I learned:

  • For seam allowances that aren’t going to get trimmed down, such as with side seams, it’s easier to finish the edges before sewing the seams.
  • I need to remember to true up patterns before cutting — on the pants pattern the front and back legs were different heights and one of the legs twisted when I tried to align the pieces.
  • When sewing the facing for the waist of the pants, I didn’t pay attention to the front and the back in relation to the side zipper, and ended up with the front facing in the back side of the pants which made the facing a little imbalanced.
  • On the dress I pressed the darts to the sides, but after finishing that piece I read that they are better pressed to the middle instead.
  • When attaching the binding to the facing edge, I tried both the edge joining foot and the overedge guide foot, but because it had a slightly concave curve to it the foot couldn’t get up into the ditch. It was nice and even, but the guide pushed the ditch away from the needle too far.
  • The set-in sleeves are way to gathered at the top, so I have work to do there to learn how to make them fit better.
  • Neither pattern came with facing pieces, so I made my own, but my curves were off and they ended up as a large scalloped shape rather than a nice, smooth curve. That would have been improved if I had used perpendicular cuts off of the fold edge rather than curved ones.

It was great getting experience with darts and a real-world application of an invisible zipper. It was also good to do the facing pieces because it took some of the mystery out of how those pieces work. Reading about these things can be very different from actually doing them! I tend to get hung up on learning something intellectually, delaying the actual hands-on experience that digging in and making provides. My goal is to get cracking on more garments (of the normal-human-size variety) to get up to speed on fitting and construction over the next few weeks.

 

half square triangle quilting blocks

Sewing skills project 12: My First Quilt

Chambray and linen quilt
My half-square triangle quilt, featuring chambray and linen-cotton blend fabrics

Technically, this was my second quilt, but the first one was fifteen years ago and I didn’t know what the heck I was doing at the time, so…this is my first proper quilt.

Project

My First Quilt (lap size) from School of Sewing by Shea Henderson

Project features:

  • matching seams
  • pieced half-square triangles
  • machine quilting
  • hand-sewn binding

Process notes

Materials:

  • Robert Kaufman Kona Cotton in Charcoal
  • Robert Kaufman Kona Cotton in White
  • Robert Kaufman Kona Cotton in Ash
  • Robert Kaufman Kona Cotton in Spice
  • Robert Kaufman Essex Yarn Dyed Linen Blend in Black
  • Robert Kaufman Chambray Union in Indigo
  • Robert Kaufman Essex Wide Linen Blend in Flax
  • Gütermann 50 Wt Natural Cotton thread, color 3260 for piecing
  • Gütermann 50 Wt Natural Cotton thread, color 6210 for binding
  • Coats Machine Quilting & Crafts 30 Wt Mercerized ELS Cotton thread, color 155 Dogwood for quilting

Equipment and settings:

  • for piecing, used foot pressure of 2, J foot, tension 4, 5.5/2.0 with stitch 21 (except for the linen-to-linen blocks used pressure 1)
  • for quilting, used walking foot, 3.5/3, aligned seam line with edge of foot

Day 1: cut block pieces (120 squares); piece together the back (cut the length of fabric in half, resulting in two pieces each 2 yd x WOF; stitched 5/8″ from selvedge edge, then trimmed edges to 1/2″ before pressing open)

120 fabric squares ready to sew into blocks
120 fabric squares, ready to sew into blocks

Day 2: join binding pieces and press in half; pin blocks and mark for triangles

Day 3: sew seams on blocks to form triangles (used 1 bobbin + one and a half 100-m spools of thread)

Day 4: set block seams; slice each block in half diagonally

Day 5: press seams open (120 blocks)

120 half square triangle quilting blocks
120 half square triangle quilting blocks, seams pressed open and ready to trim to size

Day 6: trim blocks to 6 1/2 x 6 1/2; arrange blocks; sew first 5 rows

quilt blocks arranged for construction
quilt blocks arranged for construction

Day 7: finish sewing rows; set seams for 8 of the rows

Day 8: set rest of seams; start sewing rows together

Day 9: finish sewing rows; press row seams flat

completed quilt top
completed quilt top, ready for pin basting

Day 10: pin basting the top to the batting and backing

pin-basted quilt top
pin-basted quilt top

Day 11: quilt first half of the lines

Day 12: quilt second half of lines; trim edges; apply binding by machine; prep for hand stitching

Day 13: begin hand stitching binding

Day 14: complete hand stitching of binding

Results

Wow, this was a big project. Every time I started to feel close to being done, it turned out there was a lot more to do. And it wasn’t even a bed-sized quilt! It was such a great experience though, learning new things and bonding with my sewing machine.

My first challenge was cutting. Actually, my first challenge was choosing fabrics. My second challenge was cutting. It was hard for me to cut multiple layers of fabric and stay on grain. More accurately, I didn’t stay on grain. That’s something I’ll definitely need to watch more carefully, especially for garment sewing.

I’m so grateful the author instructed us to cut the blocks a bit larger and trim them down after the half-square triangles were pieced. They tended to be misshapen just enough that finishing without that trim would have likely put things askew.

When sewing the rows together I discovered that some Solvy stabilizer on the underside helps the fabric go over the feed dogs smoothly and prevents the trickier intersections from bunching up, getting sewn down wrong. This occurred to me only after 10 rows of ripping out a few corners on each row and re-sewing.

If I could change one thing about my project it would be the quilting stitches. I wouldn’t buy the 1200-yd spools of 30-wt thread for this machine again. There were just too many tension issues, and my quilting stitches aren’t as even as I’d like. The 50-wt worked much better. For me, sewing row after row during the quilting stage was rather tedious, with the size of the quilt unwieldy for my machine.

The hand stitching went very well and by the end I really felt like I had gotten into the rhythm of the stitch. Doing a quilt like this, with so much hand stitching, made me less likely to avoid it on future projects because now I know it’s not insurmountable.

I’m delighted with how my quilt turned out. I love the way the colors and fabrics work together — it looks crisp and polished, yet casual because of the chambray (which I’m addicted to) and dark grey backing. It has an appealing nautical feel to it. I’m not certain if there’s another quilt in my future, but I’m very glad to have made this one, and that my goal of sewing all of the projects in the book is completed.

Half square triangle quilt with chambray and linen blend fabrics

Pieced placemat detail

Sewing skills project 11: Set the Table Placemats

plain quilted placemat backs
After washing and drying, the placemats have a crinkly, casual texture
Back of pieced and quilted placemat
The pieced design, after washing

Project

Set the Table Placemats from School of Sewing by Shea Henderson

Project features:

  • machine quilting
  • hand sewn binding
  • pin basting
  • batting

Process notes

I made two placemats following the regular instructions, and two with the Extra Credit piecing method.

Materials:

  • Robert Kaufman Kona Cotton in Stone
  • Robert Kaufman Kona Cotton in Charcoal
  • Robert Kaufman Kona Cotton in Honey
  • Moda Weave in a light grey
  • chambray
  • Pellon Nature’s Touch Cotton Batting
  • Coats Machine Quilting & Crafts 30 Wt Mercerized ELS Cotton thread, color 155 Dogwood (for piecing and quilting)
  • Gütermann 50 Wt Natural Cotton thread, color 6210 (for binding)

Equipment and settings:

  • 75/11 Quilting Needle for piecing, 3.5/2.0 stitch, using 1/4-inch guide foot for piecing striped version
  • 90/14 Quilting Needle for quilting front to back, 3.0 stitch length, 4.25–4.75 needle tension
  • used Thread Heaven for hand sewing the binding to the backs

Results

I was surprised at how much I enjoyed making these placemats. We’ve never been a placemat type of family, so I wasn’t sure I’d really connect with the project, but it was such a wonderful warm-up to the quilt project, and a cool way to try out different fabrics and piecing designs. I enjoyed the piecing in particular — it was relaxing and fun to see the sections grow strip by strip. Love my 1/4-inch piecing foot.

During my quilting experiment, I learned that a heavier thread is nice for quilting, so that’s what I used on this project. However, I wish that I had used a 50 wt thread for the piecing. The thick 30 wt thread was unnecessarily bulky on those pieced seams. The 30 wt was nice for quilting though.

The large 1200-yd spool of thread was too large for the thread area in my machine, and my spool pin doesn’t have a vertical orientation option. When it was lying horizontally in the primary spool location, the thread got caught between the spoon and the machine itself, causing tension problems. So it required using the secondary spool pin, which worked much better. But it still wasn’t as smooth as with the smaller spools, so in the future I’d avoid buying these large spools for the sewing machine.

When it was time to quilt, I kept forgetting to draw my design on before pin basting. I was able to get around the pins to do a simple diagonal line on the two solid placemats, but it would still be better to get the designs drawn before pinning as suggested in the book.

Most of my hand-sewn binding happened on a comfy lounge chair, but I did the last placemat at my work desk in my office chair. I was surprised to see that the stitching looked better (and was actually easier to do) when done at my desk. The Thread Heaven thread conditioner worked best when I ran the thread through once, then put it through the needle and knotted the ends, then ran the double-thickness through the conditioner again.

One of the biggest lessons I’m learning from this process is that it’s all about the prep. Planning, using the right supplies and equipment, and careful cutting make the process go much better — or at least make it more enjoyable.

When I finished the placemats I realized that our dining table is too narrow for them to be used like normal. It would be fun to make a set customized for our table size, perhaps with an improvisational approach. I was watching old episodes of It’s Sew Easy and was intrigued by a segment with Victoria Findlay Wolfe. She explained how she uses her 15 minutes of play method to create fabric from pieced-together scraps, then uses that fabric to make blocks. That sort of free-form play is basically the opposite of my structured approach to things, which is exactly why I think it would be awesome to try.

pleated purse detail

Sewing skills project 10: Pleated Purse

pleated purse in camel and chambray
This roomy pleated purse with both zippered and flat interior pockets has a substantial feel without being too stiff

Project

Pleated Purse from School of Sewing by Shea Henderson

Project features:

  • magnetic snaps
  • pleats
  • zippered interior pocket
  • boxed corners
  • topstitching

Process notes

Fabric:

  • chambray
  • Robert Kaufman Kona Cotton Honey
  • Pellon SF101 Shape-Flex woven fusible interfacing

Equipment and settings:

  • Universal 90/14 needle for topstitching strap
  • Microtex 90/14 for topstitching exterior, 3.5/3.5 with 1/4-inch guide foot, tension 5

Results

My favorite part of this project was learning how to do the zippered interior pocket. I’m really glad to have one of those under my belt and definitely want to do more of them in the future. The interior panel that I put the zipper in got a little distorted during the process, so that’s something I’ll be more careful with next time. The main issue was that I pulled the rectangular zipper opening to close together when sewing in the zipper, so it pulled it out of alignment a bit. For the other interior pocket, I made a simple flat pocket with stitched divider as suggested.

interior zipper pocket in pleated purse
The way the zippered pocket comes together is sort of magical, but it’s not hard to do

It was great to get some experience with pleats. My exterior panels were a tad narrower than instructed once the pleats were sewn down, so on the final piecing of the exterior I reduced my seam allowance to 5/16″ to compensate and that worked fine.

Now that I know how the magnetic snaps work, I’ll know how to position the fleece stabilizer behind them better next time. Mine are up too high and barely align with the snaps. I think it would also be nice to have some coordinating fleece interfacing on the exterior panel because during the final pressing I ironed over the snaps, causing shiny spots where the snap tabs were.

For me, the most challenging part of this project was getting through the thick layers with my sewing machine, and it was hard to choose the right needle. It would be awesome if the instructions came with needle suggestions to help point us in the right direction.

I’m excited to use this purse this summer — I already have a black purse, so for this one I chose a summery camel and chambray combo. It’s very roomy and will easily hold a little cardigan along with all of the ordinary purse stuff.