Monday, August 31, 2009

Hemming and Hawing

Your opinions will most definitely be appreciated! I have been working on Vogue 9668, described on the pattern envelope as: "Lined dress, below mid-knee variations or lower calf, has neckline variations, fitted, self-lined bodice, midriff, tapered or flared skirt and back zipper. View A: short sleeves."

One day last year I ran out to buy this pattern (which is still in print). I had to have it right that moment! I was going to start it the very next day! And then it hit me that fitting the bodice would not be easy at all. It's taken a long while to work up the courage to wrestle with it. Even though this dress is far from perfect, at least it goes around me without falling off my shoulders. I started with an 8 in the upper chest and added ever-so-much width and length to the bust (and width to the waist). In fact, now I know I overdid it with the FBA, but no way am I ripping out all that piping and lining and stuff. This version will be good enough for itself.

Now I just want to hem it, review it, and move on to another version. My mom very kindly crawled around on the floor marking an even line and pinning up a hem. She even went so far as to take a photo. I wish we had gotten a front view, but I hope you get some sense of it from the side.

I'm worried that this is a touch too long and a bit more matronly than siren. I'm also worried that I need much more powerful underpinnings than those pictured, but that's another issue. My mom favors this length. What do you think?

Sunday, August 30, 2009

There I Go Again

As the nice lady at the church rummage sale said, "You must have a soft spot for the old ones."

Yes, I must.

My late father was a lover of ingenious things, a pack rat, a tinkerer, an envisioner of possibilities. I always thought I was very like him in many ways, but not in that one.

Above is the "before" photo. I gave the Capitol DeLuxe a good cleaning yesterday (using my new vacuum attachments! and a lot of Tri-Flow oil), but this is how it appeared in the wild. For $20, I received fifty-some pounds worth of machine, a foot control, a battered-looking yet extremely sturdy base and case, 15 pattern cams, a ruffler, various feet and the usual complement of dusty thread and rusty pins.

I'm still figuring things out, as no manual came with the machine, and there are some mysterious moves that must be made with various levers and dials for simple operations such as changing from straight stitch to zig zag.

But does this one ever run. Yes, it goes through lots of layers of canvas without a hitch, and doubtless sews thick leather and soda cans and whatever else people show their machines doing on eBay, but that's not really the main thing. I detect almost no vibration or hesitation whatsoever. The machine is completely responsive, from a very low speed to top speed.

And can you believe the paint color and the design?

Friday, August 28, 2009

Rose Top from Ottobre Woman 2/2007

I have purchased a grand total of one Ottobre Woman magazine, and I would guess that I've made between 12 and 14 garments from it. Mostly variations on the six t-shirts in this issue, but also a pair of jeans. Looking through the issue to write a review for Pattern Review, I recall that I intend to make the #12 basic A-line skirt and the #18 rain jacket. This magazine is a great value and I ought to buy another.

The Rose Top (#5) is the most successful garment I've made from this issue overall. It is a knit top with woven, interfaced bands at the v-neck and sleeve hems. I love the combination of comfort (and easy care) with the structure of the woven facings. My first version of this top (now sadly worn out) was from a lightweight (really rather flimsy) knit in the most beautiful shade of teal blue. I interfaced the knit and used the self fabric for the facings, which worked out wonderfully.

As you can see, this version is a bit more exuberant! The Hilco knit came from Banberry Place, which seems to have the largest selection of European knits available online in the U.S. Bunte Fabrics is another source. These Hilco knits remind me of a wonderful t-shirt I once purchased from Oilily. I adored the print (even though it wasn't my best color) and it lasted for several years. When I make a top that I like, I wear it often, and probably hard. It's sad to say goodbye after only a few months, which often happens, even with relatively expensive knits. These European cotton-lycra knits are the answer!

I'll Never Buy Canned Air Again! I Hope.

Has it occurred to you that canned air is...air? And that it costs at least $6 a can? And that this can doesn't last long at all? These facts have worried me, and I have used this expensive air very stingily. But as I've slowly morphed into a sewing machine geek, I find myself offended at the slightest bits of lint and dust on any of my machines. eBay seller Vacuum Stop offers this set of "micro vacuum attachments" for $9.95 plus $4.95 shipping, and points out that it would be useful for electronic equipment. And how about detailing cars? Dusting antique dolls? Reaching the crevices in your toaster? The mind boggles.

But for me and my house, we will keep this set in the sewing room. Where it will join with the hose of any regular vacuum and completely remove dust and lint from the inner reaches of sewing machines and sergers. And where it will fill me with a feeling of deep satisfaction, knowing that the dust has been sucked out, rather than simply blown around.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Simplicity 2614: Now With Rick Rack!

This newish pattern from Simplicity seems to be picking up steam and gaining in popularity, judging by the mounting number of reviews on Pattern Review and elsewhere. I was attracted to it for three reasons. First, it's part of Simplicity's A, B, C, D cup collection, with separate bodice pattern pieces for each cup size. I will buy almost any pattern from this collection as soon as it hits the pattern drawer. Second, you have to love a pullover blouse pattern intended for woven fabrics with no closures. Third, I find the design very feminine and reminiscent of vintage patterns.

My first version was made from a strange wonder fabric found last year at Hancock's. If memory serves me correctly, this synthetic, washable, non-wrinkling fabric was $1.98 per yard. I have already worn out a different blouse from this same fabric. It suited the present blouse very well, since there is a subtle grid design to it that nicely accents the bias cut of the lower front panel and the back.

I didn't need to do much adjusting to the pattern. I cut a 10 in the shoulder and neck area, tapering to a 12 below the waist, and using the D cup bodice. My innovation for this version: bias binding at the neck rather than a facing, which would surely show through the white fabric. The idea can't be faulted, but my execution was rather lame. I used purchased white bias binding, but then allowed it to show at the top edge. It looks okay, but next time I must figure out how to handle the vee portion whilst also wrapping the entire binding to the wrong side.

The drapey quality of this fabric allowed the back to hang acceptably with no sway back adjustment. As you will see in the next version, a quilting cotton behaves much differently, even with the advantage of subtle darts.

Version two's innovation is ric-rac. Long have I aspired to incorporate rick rack into a project, yet even as my small stash of the trim has grown, I have delayed. I find applying the rick rack rather tricky. I would ideally like to see just the points extending from the seamline, perfectly consistent in width, with the edge of the fabric just touching the inner curve of the wave. Now that I have used it, I see another issue: the rick rack makes the seam into which it is applied stiffer. No doubt about that.

I've found this blouse easy to wear (works well with skirts in addition to jeans) and to launder. I have other aspirations for this pattern: try out the banded short sleeve, use a knit, lengthen to dress or tunic length. If making a longer version in a woven, a wide fabric will be required, to accommodate the bias cut. Or perhaps the back could be cut in two pieces, with an upper portion that matches the empire line in the front.

Despite the long darts on either side of the back piece, still some wrinkling in this quilting cotton at the swayback area. Perhaps a bit more width at the bottom hem just on the back?

Iraqi Bundles of Love

I was glad to discover this project. Art La Flamme is a U.S. soldier serving in Iraq. He and his unit are collecting bundles of fabric, notions and yarn to distribute to Iraqis. As Art explains on his blog, basic supplies of every sort are and have been in short supply in Iraq since long before the war. Every scrap is put to use. I wish I could honestly say that I so fully honor the raw materials that pass through my life. From this place of abundance, I admire and idealize the skills the Iraqis have developed through necessity and hardship.

Assembling our box helped my son to process and express some of his sadness about events in Iraq and Afghanistan. When he thinks about the situation there, it does not feel distant to him. He enjoyed picking out the needles and buttons for our box, and he urged me to keep the fabrics simple and plain.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Finn's Quilt

A first (perhaps only?) quilt for a first (definitely only) child. The wonderful Anna at Pleasant View Schoolhouse inspired me to take my scraps in hand. What I can't understand is how she has managed to sew, in the space of time it's taken me to do one, five of these quilts, one for each of her children.

These patches are 2.5" finished squares, and nearly all are truly scraps. I did purchase four fat quarters of blue fabrics to ensure that my son's quilt would tend toward the masculine, rather than accurately reflecting the true yellow-pink bias of my scrap collection.

The photo above shows the unquilted top, which I must admit I prefer to the quilted finished product. In my attempt to take the least complicated path to the desired end (something to use on the bed), I decided to quilt in the ditch on each seam line. But, in the interest of avoiding tucks and pleats on the quilt back, my dear Bernina presser foot #10 (edge stitching and stitch in the ditch foot) had to defer to the Bernina walking foot. I found it quite difficult to keep my eyes and mind focused on following the seam line for a l l those seams.

Anna quilted her scrap quilts in a diagonal grid. Now I wish I had slavishly copied that, too.

I did, however, take her suggestion for binding, which involves leaving 1 1/2" of backing all around the quilt. Then you fold under 3/4", press, and fold again to the front. I zig zagged it all around. Even though I know this isn't a quilt purist's binding method, I'm very happy with how it looks, and that part of the project was surprisingly quick.

Sewing machine notes: I pieced the top on my Necchi BU (circa 1954). When I began this project (winter of 2008), the BU had just taken her place in the sewing room. We bonded over her comforting, smooth, weighty hum through the nearly-one-thousand squares in this top. Quilting had to take place on the Bernina 160, which felt like a comedown after enjoying the Necchi so much. I did purchase a high shank walking foot for the Necchi for this project, but it ended up not fitting properly. One of these days I'm going to try again.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Gramm's Vintage Fabric Tote

At the mother of all sewing-related yard sales, I found this vintage drapery fabric. And I have a lot of it. There have been pillows. There will be a wrap skirt. But here we have the tote version. I started out by freemotion quilting the fabric, a skill at which I consider myself a complete beginner. Following the curves of the design, I let the fabric offer its own suggestions for quilting. And then I asked it what it should become.

And then I wanted to keep it for myself, but it reminded me so strongly of my grandmother, Martha Fern. And her house in Port Orange, Florida, looking over the Halifax River. With ornate gilt shelves on white beadboard walls, and curtains with pom-pom trim, and red shag carpeting and a pink bedspread in the master bedroom.

She called from her now-home in Missouri, where she lives with my aunt and her husband. It is far from the ocean and, truth be told, far from anything else. I've been there. It's a beautiful, modest lake community with limestone outcroppings and golf carts and those little signs retired folks put in their front yards: "The Thomases." But no hibiscus. No palms. No Daytona Beach Baptist Church. No newspaper on the screened-in porch at the wrought-iron table with a vinyl cloth.

I don't know if this fabric recalled that other way of life to her, but she surely did seem to love it.

My grandmother was one of those accomplished seamstresses of the fifties and sixties. She had three daughters (and one son, my father). They all wore shirtwaists and poodle skirts and crinolines and swing coats and, later, sheaths of her making. She made our son the dearest crib quilt: pale yellow and gray and white with appliqued pussy willows and kittens.

So, the handles are leather. I want to say: sewing leather is no big deal. The hoopla over a sewing machine that can sew leather puzzles me. All of my sewing machines (four) can sew flexible, reasonable-thickness leather with no trouble. Now when we start having multiple layers of seams and interfacing, as in straps or edges of bags, that can get tough. But the same is true of fabric, especially home dec fabric.

The pegboard on which the bag is hanging is a recent addition to the sewing room. I have always had trouble finding my rotary cutter, scissors and rulers from one moment to the next. They would somehow burrow underneath a scrap or a pattern piece. The pegboard restrains them, and keeps them in sight.

Simplicity 4171: The Crazy Kitties Dress

Having worn and loved this dress for two years now, it's time to say something about it. The fabric is Smitten Kitten by Alexander Henry. I wish I could reliably find its equivalent in countless other prints. Strange, lively, impossible to stain.

Being short and fair, I am more and more finding that bold prints overwhelm me, especially when I see myself in photos. So I am thinking of taking a decidedly prim approach to pattern in the future.

But not with this dress!

This Simplicity pattern is part of their B-C-D cup collection, which I greatly love. I believe I cut an 8 in the upper portion of the chest (using the D cup bodice), grading to a 12 below the waist. Having now sewn this pattern three times, I've made a few tweaks here and there (a petite tuck above the waist, a little more slope to the shoulder), but on this first version I played it pretty straight, and I still think the result worked out well. I must make a shirt version of this.

The fantastic ribbon I am wearing as a sash comes from a small cache of treasures preserved from my Great Great Aunt Jenny's long-gone dress shop, Land O' Sky Fashions. A place from the past I so wish I could visit! It had been closed for many years by the time I was born, but the old stock remained on the upper story of an old retail building downtown. That is another post. The point here is, this is 4" wide rayon satin ribbon, and it feels like liquid mercury. It also won't stay tied tightly for more than ten minutes. I keep thinking I need to sew in some little snaps or something. I really don't want to turn it into a more structured belt, say with interfacing or buckles or whatever. That seems disrespectful to the ribbon and its inherent ribbonyness.

This dress accommodates a short waist and a swayback with aplomb! I often wear the dress without a belt as a more casual, dare I say "housedress", approach.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

A Gone and Golden Machine

Last week I brought home a snazzy Singer sewing machine cabinet from the fifties. Dark wood, those nifty tapered legs that end in a brass ring, that kind of thing. Within, a sewing machine. What would be my fifth sewing machine. After recently selling two. And buying two more.

This sewing machine, I discovered in my hasty internet research, is not revered. The Singer Touch & Sew series is also known as the "Touch & Swear" mostly, it seems from what I read, for its finicky horizontal bobbin. Fiddling with the machine, I had the impression that Singer's marketing strategy for this series must have been to load it up with so many features that the argument could plausibly be made that the customer's trusty older Singer was completely out of date.

But...but. I liked it. I really did. And some other folks do too. I found an online service manual and managed to actually rebuild the tension mechanism. I was all set to start in on the switch selector mechanism and then, well, then another sewing machine arrived. You can see a glimpse up in my banner, but I will have more to say about that machine soon. So I just decided to list the machine on Craigslist for $25 and hope that some nice person would enjoy it.

And I think that's what has happened. Kelcey called. Her $100 new Singer broke a year after purchase. She wanted a sturdy vintage machine for simple projects. She has a toddler daughter and another on the way.

If you are interested in knowing more about this series, here are some of its features: a chainstitch capability (used for basting and decorative work, I'm told), special stitch cams, a foot control with a sliding speed control lever, a basting cam that makes stitches up to 1/2" long, a buttonholer and of course the range of Singer slant shank presser feet. As with many vintage machines, there is a whimsical nature to the prices they sell for on eBay. I saw a very similar outfit go for $45/$35 shipping yesterday. I also saw a beautifully-presented 600E go for $250 a month ago.

I hope the Singer 640 will be a golden machine for her. It makes me glad to think that it has a new life with a new young family.