Wednesday, January 20, 2010

More Coat Notes

Memory being what it isn't, I want to record the specifics of my coat-making so as to improve the speed of future efforts.

Jalie 2680 is designed as an unlined coat for stretch fabrics. Judging from the reviews on PatternReview, I am not the first to use it as a point of departure for a more tailored coat. My mostly-cashmere fabric is very soft, and preserving that lovely drape and hand is a goal. But I do want it to last for at least ten years (barring disaster), so some inner support also seems like a good idea.

I have interfaced the yoke front and back, the front facing and the back facing, and the inner (folded up) portion of the sleeve and body hems. I have also stayed the front and back neck edges with straight grain fusible tape. Following Sandra Betzina's recommendation, I used fusible interfacing on the pocket openings and facings (thanks, Sandra--I think I'll be glad you told me to do that).

The pattern specifies cutting the pocket pieces from the fashion fabric, but I think I'll recut those from cotton flannel to reduce bulk. I am thinking of applying a strip of some sort of bias fabric or interfacing to the sleeve cap as an aid in easing and as a form of a sleeve head. I have some very tiny shoulder pads to insert between the coat and lining.

Lining, yes, that's coming right up. Not cut out yet. Lucky, since I was planning to use some very standard poly lining from in a close color match. But then my latest order came in. The Retro Gold crepe that I meant for a blouse is wonderful with the coat fabric. Very shiny, slippery and luxurious. If my patience holds out, I will add a tiny piping of either a silk charmeuse print that I've had forever, or the olive green silk/cotton that also came in the latest order.

Working on this coat is a pleasure, but it does have many more steps than most of my recent projects. And I'm nearly out of thread!

Note to self: today is the day to decide whether we'll be going for bound buttonholes or not.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Coat Progress!

The coat is cut out. I have high hopes for this pattern: winter coat, spring rain jacket, long cutish jacket.

I love that it has a hood, and I hope I will actually love the hood itself. What could be more practical than a hood? Hats are worse for mussing the hair and not always there when you need them.

Here are some dumpy photos of the muslin/pattern sewn from the row cover fabric I described in the previous photo. Two disadvantages of this material I forgot to mention: first, it is difficult to mark. A Sharpie or similar pen will definitely do it, but it will also bleed through and mark what's underneath. I decided that I was okay with a few pen marks on the master pattern, but the resulting markings on the row cover are indistinct. You really have to look for them when cutting out the fashion fabric.

Second, like all poly products, the row cover is susceptible to static cling. This is rather helpful when cutting out the fashion fabric, since the pattern pieces stay put, but can be annoying at other times.

I wore this bulky sweater (Banana Republic via thrift store) underneath for size purposes, but its pattern makes it difficult to see the muslin. Live and learn.

My conclusions from the muslin exercise are: add back 1/2" to sleeve length, take a 1" swayback tuck, add 1/2" to side front and back seams at hip, add 1/4" to center back seam at hip (total 2 1/2" extra circumference at hip).

The plan is to baste the cut fashion fabric together to check fit before proceeding to final stitching.

Monday, January 11, 2010

New Coat Directions

Coat projects are difficult to time. The ideal month for making a new winter coat would be August, according to internet sewing wisdom. August?! The coat spirit does not move me during hot weather. Plus, there's a lot happening in the garden in August and I am generally just barely (or just barely not) keeping up with the harvest.

Then the fall moves in and I get energized about long sleeved tops and sweaters. Then the sudden realization that Christmas is rapidly approaching dawns. Before you can say Bob's your uncle, it's early January and then, well, does it make more sense to sew a winter coat or a spring one?

This kind of thinking leads to beautiful cashmere coating languishing in the fabric stash for year after year.

I have been making a brave effort to break this cycle. I traced the cute short coat from the 5-2009 Ottobre Woman magazine.

And then, pulling out all the stops, I made a muslin in a heavier weight upholstery fabric to approximate the hand of the wool I planned to use. I know I should have taken pictures, because it's not fair not to share, but I couldn't make myself do it. The style looked simply awful on me. The muslin and the carefully traced pattern went straight into the trash.

Next up, Jalie 2680, a recent pattern purchase from

So far, so good. Being newly out of tracing paper, I tried something different. On PatternReview, there has been discussion of using "soil separator" cloth for tracing. This utilitarian-sounding item can reportedly be found at hardware stores. I had something in the garden shed that is probably similar: floating row cover. This material is a very lightweight, very strong, white non-woven polyester intended to protect plants from frost and insects. It's inexpensive considering the size, easy to see through for tracing and, I know from using it in the garden, durable.

Preliminary results are encouraging! The material will not wrinkle. This property should be a good thing when folding it up and putting it into an envelope for storage. The downside is that it also doesn't crease, say, when you want to take a tuck in your pattern for making an alteration. Every fold that you would like to have stay folded will need to be taped thoroughly or sewn.

Yes, sewn. The material is easy to sew. I tested it out with a long stitch length (the 4 setting on my vintage machine, its longest) and a very loose upper tension (1). The stitches come out easily with just a tug and then you cannot even see where they were. Could this be a combination tracing tissue/muslin material? Well, I sewed up my tracing this morning and tried it on. True fitting will have to wait until I'm dressed and ready with the digital camera on a tripod, but I am very excited about the possibility of a material that allows me to tissue fit without all the pins.

I traced a combination of sizes R, S and T. R at the shoulder and neck in front, S at the shoulder and neck in back, tapering in front to S at the waist, tapering to T the hip on front and back pieces. Pattern adjustments so far include: reduce length of front and back yokes by 1/2" and corresponding adjustment to front facing, forward shoulder adjustment of 3/8" and corresponding adjustment to back facing, reduce sleeve cap length by 1/2", reduce lower sleeve pattern piece length by 1".

The length and sleeve length look good. I'll have more to go on once I've taken some self-timer photos.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Singer Straight Leg Treadle Cabinet

I haven't much to say about this cabinet yet. The treadle turns wonderfully smoothly, though I know it must need at least a little cleaning and oiling.

I had thought that I might declare this my official treadle cabinet, given its very smooth operation and good looks. But now I'm not so sure. My "restored" White treadle base does make more noise than I like, but its width means that I can sit centered to the needle. Since I mean to really use my treadle setup a lot, once temperatures are again in a range to make the basement habitable, the ergonomics are important. But it's difficult to put the two treadles to a side-to-side sewing test without doing a lot of reconfiguring, belt shortening, hinge pin hole enlarging and so on.


Can This Sewing Machine Be Saved?

My son has gotten hooked on prowling thrift stores lately. He loves the randomness and allowance-friendly pricing. And maybe the casual attitude. Heck, the stuff is pre-broken. Touching is allowed.

I love it too, but gosh, it's dangerous. Here I go, peering hopefully around the Goodwill. I spy a sewing machine! I close in, a Morse Zigzag. Very cool but terribly rusted, missing parts, not a good candidate. Sigh of relief. Wait, over there, in that darling (delapidated) treadle cabinet, what's that?

A Singer 201, that's what.

I got confused. I know that some 201s can be treadled and some cannot. I was just so wowed that this machine was in a treadle cabinet that I leapt to the conclusion it must be one. Yes, I saw that there was a motor and a foot control, but I was somehow thinking these were later additions.

I tell my husband I'm buying this sewing machine. He sighs and looks resigned. I pay, hound the employees about being super-careful with this item that no one else wants and we take her home.

Internet research ensues. This is a 201-2. Potted motor. Not treadle-friendly. Probably will need rewiring. Rewiring! Yikes.

So I'm thinking this all over. Thinking, rather than dousing with kerosene, because it's been just too darn cold even for the obsessed among us to be puttering about with broken-down sewing machines outside or in the basement.

The machine is now in the halfway disassembled state. The only part that is missing is the cover to the rotary bobbin area.

Can this sewing machine be saved?

I'll post about the treadle in a day or so.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Cascading Cardigan and Top: Simplicity 2603

Yes, 2010 is the year of wovens, but this project was started in 2008, then finished on January 2. Those knits are sneaky. I'm sure my sewing room will still be seeing quite a few of them this year.

Since the 80s, I have been drawn to drapey styles with angular points hanging down. Also since the 80s (or, more accurately, since birth), I have lacked the height and build to wear them to best effect. But heck, what good is it to be 40 if you can't just cut loose and make something even though you know it's not your best style?

This pattern has achieved extreme popularity on PatternReview recently, but I didn't see many modeled examples of the look worn by shorties like me. So that added to my interest in making and reviewing the cardigan, in the name of public-spirited education. You can see my full review by clicking on the link in the sidebar.

Darn it all, as soon as I finished the thing, and was really itching to wear it, the weather turned so cold that I haven't. The fabric is a lightweight rayon knit from They have sold out of the black, but some nice colors remain. I am sort of considering the rust. Except that 2010 is the year of wovens.

Anyway, I get cold and, while this fabric isn't super-thin, it isn't thick fleece or wool, either, so it must wait for warmer days. Speaking of super-thin, want to see something that is?

I loved this rayon knit print (also from I got the gray stars and also a graphic plaid type of print. Wow. This fabric is as sheer as my sheer living room curtains. I made up the gray as a kind of muslin, checking out the shorter length (views C and D). I didn't like the length, the color did not flatter me and the knit, for all its lightness, was not very stretchy. This version turned out tight in the shoulders and arms.

So, on to the black I went. I really do like this version. I took all the good advice in the many reviews at PatternReview: I cut the pieces on the floor with a rotary cutter, so that the front edges and hems could be left raw. I sandwiched the elastic at the back of the neck between the wrong sides of the seam allowances. Copying Tany (an excellent person to try to copy: she is leagues beyond me and a wonder), I used the sleeve cuff pattern and instructions, and I love this detail.

I would say, overall, this style doesn't seem to be a disaster for a short person. Tying it up controls the volume. In my house, tying it up tightly to the back might also prevent it sweeping through the dust. Worn loose, this is a highly impractical garment for a stay at home mother!

Copying Quality

Back in our pre-child, two income, exploding stock and real estate market days, we bought several pieces of fancy furniture. Those still with us have survived three moves, said child and the changes of fashion, mood and use that twelve years will bring. This Wittman chair has been a great favorite. To me the lines are subtly something special, yet undemanding. You don't have to take notice of the chair as an object to appreciate how comfortable it is for sitting, but you are free to appreciate its cozy curves if you choose.

When we bought this chair from Adesso in Boston, its "removable" cover was a great selling point for me. The salesperson claimed that the cover could simply be unzipped and replaced at whim. Well, you could buy a nice new armchair for the cost of the cover, so it would have to be more than a whim, but still it appealed to me.

A decade and then-some on, the cover was in bad shape. The depradations of a now-rehomed cat made replacement a necessity. I signed up for an upholstery class at our local technical college, sure that with my sewing skills I would zip through this project in less than the nine-week session.

First of all, making this cover turned out not to be an upholstery project at all, but rather a slipcovering project. Second, the cover was removable, but only in the sense that it could be removed after extracting about 300 staples and ripping the cover and all of its clever supporting flanges off of the foam structure of the chair. This cover was so extensively adhered to the foam that I would never have had the courage to remove it without the upholstery course instructor's assurances that I was not destroying the chair in the process.

Working on furniture is hard physical labor. I guess I should have known that, but I was surprised at the contrast with other types of sewing.

After removing the cover, the instructor had me separate the pieces gradually. He said that if I just ripped all the seams at once and laid them down flat, I'd never figure out how to get the thing back together. What good advice that was!

Slowly I ripped and picked the thing apart, and slowly I cut and sewed its replacement together. It was a joy to see the wonderful construction and craftsmanship of this cover. On every piece, the centers were notched, as were key match points. By copying these, I found that I could sew the pieces together with relative ease. Every seam was topstitched to hold the seam allowances flat. The cover was put together like a detailed and beautifully thought-out garment.

At the end of the course (attending eight sessions and working at home on the project several hours as well), the chair cover was finished and the chair was dressed, with the much-needed assistance of the instructor. The only thing left was the cushion cover. I brought my mostly-refurbished item home, threw a piece of fabric over the cushion, and so it stayed for many months.

I've read on many sewing blogs that having one's basement sewing space become uninhabitable during particularly cold periods is common. My sewing operation has moved temporarily up to the living room, where a Singer Copenhagen cabinet holds one of my vintage machines. My husband finished installing our Craigslist woodstove three days ago, and now the living room is the place to be.

Seeing as how the sewing machine and the chair were within ten feet of one another, the time to make the cushion cover had clearly arrived.

Disassembling, marking and pressing the original cushion cover took a couple of warm hours. Cutting, marking and sewing the new one took another couple. But how satisfying is the result: a truly finished project that fills me with pride. This cover really stretched my skills. It confirmed, once again, that home decoration projects are not my favorites. In copying the cover, I was inspired by the workmanship and design of the original.

This is a commercial fabric by Knoll. Commercial fabric is rated for the number of "double rubs" it can withstand before showing wear. This one had a very durable rating of something like 100,000 double rubs. Special-ordered, it costs something like $40 a yard. My upholstery instructor runs the refurbishing operation at our local Office Environments, a high-end contract furniture company. He sold me a five-yard remnant for this cover for $15. Total. If you have home dec projects (particularly those requiring smaller yardage), an office furniture supplier might be a good source for fabric.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

2010, The Year of Wovens

Reading the sewing resolutions of others on blogs and PatternReview has become one of my favorite activities of the new year. It's time to jump on this bandwagon.

My broadest resolution for the new year encompasses more than sewing. "Be happy with what you have" is my new refrain. Through all the striving and tasks of each day and week, I intend to remain aware that everything I need to be content is already present in my life. And I intend to subject new projects, new wants and new ventures to close scrutiny, making sure that I am fully using and enjoying what I have before deciding to add something new.

Moving on from that lofty goal to the practical: 2010 will be the year of wovens. In 2008 and 2009, I was seduced by knits. Easy-ish to fit, comfy to wear, easy to care for. But I notice that when I put on a nice woven dress or shirt, I look better. And I love sewing woven projects. My vintage machines do great work on wovens, and I can use my new treadle setup to sew shirts, coats, pants and home items. So I resolve to resist the siren song of knits and focus on adding more wovens to my wardrobe.

To that end I want to improve my skills in shirtmaking and tailoring. I have purchased the Islander Sewing Systems Shirts, Etc. dvd set and I am ever-so-slowly watching my way through it. Why slowly? I'm having lots of problems with getting the dvds to play. Even though I've tried three different players, both volumes of the set just keep hanging up and refusing to advance. Must email the company today. I hope to get this resolved, because I have in mind to order the whole series of Islander videos. They are expensive, but they seem like the perfect form of instruction for me. I've learned a lot from my beloved sewing library, but seeing a whole sewing operation from beginning to end adds another dimension to my understanding.

The Islander System promises gains in sewing speed and efficiency, which I would welcome, but I'm even more interested in improving the quality and consistency of my garments.

My second sewing-specific resolution is to develop a plan for a small dressmaking business. I have dabbled with sewing crafty things and bags for sale in galleries and craft fairs, but I find that my heart isn't truly in it. I love sewing garments and things that have both beauty and real utility. I love making things for a specific person, rather than trying to guess what will appeal to a large audience. And I love the idea that clothing can express a different point of view than the one offered up by the mass market.

Practically speaking, I have amassed and refined a very nice sewing setup in my basement sewing room. Last week I added a cutting table (commandeered from storage), with the help of my husband. There should be no lack of machines or notions or space to work.

Even typing the resolution to present myself as a dressmaker brings on a wave of nervous doubt. I worry that my skills are not as advanced as they will be in the future. Isn't that silly? Of course my skills will improve in the future, God willing and the creek don't rise.

My Great Great Aunt Ethel was a dressmaker. The family legend is that well-to-do ladies would send their car and driver out to the farm to pick her up and bring her to their homes for fittings. Her greatest achievement was making a dress that was worn on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post. Yet I once asked my grandmother (who also lived at the farm) about Aunt Ethel's creations. "Well, they looked all right on the outside, but you wouldn't want to see the inside."

Aunt Ethel wasn't a perfect dressmaker. She worked under pressure, without a serger, long into the night. Her clients could choose whether to hire her or not. If they weren't satisfied with a garment, something could be worked out. That's good for me to remember.