Simply Cool

It has finally cooled off a bit this week and feels delightful for porch dining and afternoon biking.  But, the end of June was HOT!  and I was in Taos, which was VERY HOT!  In fact, it actually burst into flames while I was there!  (kind of scary.) 

I attended my third DOL (Design Outside the Lines) retreat with Diane Ericson and guest mentor Carol Lee Shanks.  I really love Carol's approach to clothing design and her commitment to no-waste patterns.  She uses every thread of her fabrics.  She makes simple, utilitarian garments that layer and work in combination to create interesting and elegant silhouettes.  I started working with her ideas last year when I attended the DOL retreat and am continuing to enjoy studying her aesthetic and design philosophy. 

This week I spent some time with cool fabrics and simple shapes (a la Carol Lee).  Summer is all about linen for me....and linen on the bias.....ahhhhhhh! 

There are a few things that I've learned the hard way about working with bias.  They add steps and time to making a garment, but the results are totally worth the extra effort.  I chose a rustic natural linen to make my simple A shaped, bias skirt. 

Lesson 1:  Get the grain right!  Spend the time to cut the pieces on the true bias.  It makes everything easier.  For this project I (of course) didn't have quite enough fabric to cut a single front and back, so I cut 4 panels, one of which I had to piece to get it on the bias. 

Lesson 2:  Hang it!  Once you cut fabric on the bias it wants to stretch........sometimes a lot!!!!  My fabric was loosely woven so it started to stretch before I took it off the table!  I always pin baste my pieces together, usually right sides together, so the seams can be sewn without re-pinning once it is hung out and adjusted.  This usually happens in about 24 hours, but sometimes it takes a bit longer.

Lesson 3:  Extra seam allowance!  I didn't have much seam allowance at the center front or back, but I left about an inch at the side seams to make adjustments.  As the fabric relaxes and molds over the dress form, sometimes it gets too narrow and the extra wiggle room in the seam allowances saves the project from the scrap pile.

Lesson 4:  Straighten, then sew!  The straight grain and the cross grain will stretch differently, big surprise!  You can usually see this when a seam, that you cut straight and pinned straight takes a crazy turn between the waist and the hem.  Take the time to re-pin and let the grain do it's thing, 'cuz you will never force it to be straight if it doesn't want to.

If you spend the time up front to work with the grain, you won't be struggling against it as you put the piece together.  No short cuts...just do it!

Because my fabric was soooo stretchy, I decided to go with an elastic waist instead of facings and a zipper.  It's a bit fussy because you have to get the elastic and the waist of the skirt to stretch together, in this case I knew there was plenty to work with.

Elastic trick....to keep an elastic waistband smooth I butt the ends together and sew them to a piece of scrap fabric.  No bulk from overlapping elastic.

I serged the elastic to the waist and turned it to the inside making a self faced band.  It pulls on easily and lies flat over my hips. 

Smooth, bubble-free, straight seams.   Like I said....a little extra effort, but totally worth it! 

To top off my 'simple' bias skirt I made a straight forward white T.  Keeping it cool, I chose a textured woven rayon.  I love the simple lines and naturally cool fabrics.  Ahhhhh!


Lazy Days and Crazy Pockets

Summer at the lake means a different kind of sewing.  

I have a lovely sewing space at the lake house.  It has a my "Mickey Mouse" sewing machine. (it's a Brother machine that has Disney embroidery motifs, which I never use, but that's why I call it my Mickey Mouse machine.)  It has a serger, a great roll around folding cutting table, an ironing board that gets set up with a view of Lake Michigan...pretty great.  But it doesn't have my stash or my dress form.  

Sooooo, the kind of projects I do are much more 'planned.'  No draping several versions of a dress, or pulling out 4 choices of linen from the linen box.  When I'm at the lake I do projects that use tried and true patterns that don't need a lot of fussing or fitting.  I sew home dec projects, or bags.  My swim suit pattern is a perfect lake project, I don't even think I could wrestle it onto my dress form!!

Last week I fulfilled a request from my son for some "t-shirts with crazy pockets." I used the pattern that we tweaked last year which I know he likes.  One of his current jobs is managing a coffee shop.  I found some fun coffee prints for the 'crazy pockets' that I thought would make good work shirts for him.

I have been doing some more reversible projects (more about those later...) and that thinking just carried over to the t-shirts.  One of the fabrics was a printed knit that was plain on the reverse side.  A perfect candidate for a reversible garment.

The print on the black and white piece of fabric reminded me of the heart monitors at the hospital.  The skeleton print pocket is a bit of dark humor that made me chuckle when I found it.  On the reverse of that pocket is the coffee cup pocket.  I turned the plain black to the print side for hems to keep one side solid black.  I serged and top stitched the seams to mimic a cover stitch.

The striped T was a bit fussy!  I cut out the grey stripes and sewed them over the pocket to make it look like the pocket is behind the stripes.  I like the way it turned out, but a lot of matching for one pocket!!!

He's happy with his new shirts and I had a lot of fun making them...total win win!!


Layers of Linen (dishes optional)

I was in my sewing room this week and thinking how I haven't been getting in there as much as I want (and need!!!!), but as I looked around, I figured that I must have been doing some sewing because there were finished projects hanging around...either I have been sewing, or I have an elf infestation!!!  If it's elves I wish they would help out with the vacuuming rather than working on my projects!

One of the things I found was a skirt and top that has been marinating and happening all spring.  I think I was surprised to find it finished, because it has been in stages of progress for several months.  

You wouldn't think to look at it that it took much time, but there were lots of rabbit holes and U-turns as I was figuring out what I wanted to do.

It started with a pile of linen dish towels.  

I have been collecting them for a while.  I always check the sale tables at kitchen stores because I don't think linen towels are popular for actual dish-doing.  They are often more pricey than the cotton variety, so they end up on the sale rack...ready for a new crop of seasonal linen dish towels to show up!  I'm not sure exactly where these came from and I am pretty sure that they arrived in my stash at different times, but they came out this spring with the other linen projects.

For a period this spring, every time I wandered into my sewing room my dress form was clad in a different collection of dish towels.  Skirts, tops, dresses...all pinned and draped into Frankensteinish versions of clothing.

I finally decided on a fairly simple wrap skirt.  I wanted to use as much of the towels as possible and I wanted to keep the hems in tact.  

I sewed two towels, at a slight angle to make each layer of the wrap.  The angle was determined by overlapping at the top to get my waist measurement and at the hem to get as much circumference as possible.  The angle basically created a dart at the waist that curved the waistline and help fit over the hips. (oops, forgot to take a picture of that, sorry!)

I wanted the under layer to lie flat so I used a bathing suit hook to fasten it.  The tie on the top layer is made from a tube of cotton jersey.  The skirts sit a bit below normal waistline.

Once the skirt was finished I tried a few tops on and realized I wanted the top of the skirt to show.  Since I'm not much for keeping things tucked in, I thought a cropped top would be a good option.

I found a very light, tissue weight linen jersey that I liked, but it was way too sheer in a single layer.  Another trip to the fabric store for a second layer.  The hems are angle from side to side for almost a 'ruffle' effect.  The serged finish was a total accident.  I had serged the edges before I washed the jersey and the lettuce edge just appeared when it came out of the dyer!  Loved it!

I finished the rest of the seams to the outside to match the hems.

...so lots of layers of linen!  And please notice my major gardening project...my herb pots...that's pretty much the extent of my gardening these days.  They are looking healthy at this point...we'll see what they look like in August!!!


Legendary Linen

On one of the two spring days we have had, I wore my new denim dress (Story here) and decided that I would like a few more comfortable, easy dresses for summer.  The kind that don't really touch your body other than where they hang from your shoulders.  

I've lived in Michigan long enough to know that there will be 90 degree days with 96% humidity at some point in the next few months and those are the days that require a 'no touch' wardrobe.  (am I over sharing here?)  Anyway, I pulled out the linen box! 

I am usually about 3 linen projects in by this time in the year!  But between the dreary weather and my clingy bug, I have gotten a slow start on "linen season."   I love linen season and always have lots of fun trolling through my collection and deciding which precious pieces will actually get turned into clothing.  

Some how when fabric has been 'marinating' for a long time (years in some cases!) it gets more valuable.  It's the same yardage every time it comes out of the box, but it takes on a patina and an aura of grandeur that is way out of proportion!  Some times I take it all out, fold it neatly, put it all back and go to the fabric store for a piece that hasn't taken on legendary status!

One such storied piece, is a mill-end of Eileen Fisher, bird's eye woven, charcoal grey, 100% linen.  (see what I mean about legendary status!?)  I can't recall when I got, where it came from, how much I paid for it, but, I have been hoarding this treasure for a very long time, waiting for the perfect project.  Obviously there is no such thing as the perfect project so, at some point you just have to say "What the H---!" and cut into the darned thing!  

A loose, airy, linen dress made from yummy textured fabric...pretty close to perfect in my book.

I started with my woven T-shirt pattern.  I have been using and tweaking this pattern for years (possibly as long as the Eileen Fisher linen has been aging!)  It is a great place to start and I know I will be happy with the fit.  I lengthened it, added the 'must-have' pockets, draped a funky, asymmetrical collar, played around with the hems and decided one linen just wasn't enough...and there you have it...my 'no touch' summer linen dress.

I used a rustic woven cotton to make the accent pocket facings...one in the waist seam and one in the side seam.  I also used the same cotton to face the bottom hem, the sleeve hems and the inside of the collar.

The sleeve and the hem have pleats to create a bit of a 'bubble' look. 

 The collar was draped after the dress was made.  It is cut on the bias to create a soft standing shape.

I was very reluctant to cut into my precious linen and commit to just one version of the many I have imagined over the years.  But I am very happy and can't wait for a 90 degree/96% humidity day to give it a test drive!


Buggin' Out

It is slowly starting to be spring like...it has been a very long drawn out winter which may be part of why I am 'sick and tired!

I have been struggling with an 'end of winter' bug.  It doesn't seem to want to move on and I am really for it to clear out!  I have so many fun projects that I want to get to, but have no energy to tackle them.  

I did want to support my local ASG chapter (that's American Sewing Guild!) so I rallied for a few hours over the weekend to create a few pieces for a special competition.

The deal is, the National ASG organization sponsored a competition to create a fabric featuring the ASG logo.  The second part of the challenge is for local ASG members to use the fabric to create whatever they want, and the guild who sends in the most items based on how many members you have, is the winner.  The prize is that National ASG will send a national sewing educator to your local guild to do a program!  Kind of a cool deal for our little chapter.  I wanted to help boost our chances, so I took my 1/2 yard of logo fabric and tried to get as many things as possible!  I still have a tiny piece left, but I think I stretched it about as far as I could.  Here are my pieces....

These little pouches are made with Lazy Girl Patterns' Sweetpea Pods pattern.  They are great or little things that always end up in the bottom of your pocketbook!

I made one of my little earring envelopes for traveling.  The logo fit just right.

I used another Lazy Girl Pattern, The Becca Bag for this piece.  I love these for collecting my projects.  I have several with my 'in progress' knitting that I take on my trips.

This is my own pattern.  I think it will be great for sewing retreats, but would also be a good toiletry bag for traveling.  I like the clear pockets.

I couldn't not make some kind of garment... I used my favorite woven T-shirt pattern to make this color blocked shirt.  I wasn't sure when I was making it if I would actually want to wear it, but it turned out pretty cute.  The blue is so not in my normal color palette, so I'm not sure what I will wear with it....we'll see.

I think this may be my favorite little piece.  So simple and yet so useful!  I'd make a bunch more, but it was actually kind of a lot of work!!!!

...And finally....another useful item....

So there you have it!  My 1/2 yard of ASG logo fabric.  It would be really fun to win, but even so, it was a nice distraction from my 'ugly bug' and I have several things that I think will actually be used.  Already a winner!


Knitting Homework

Every so often I have to catch up on my knitting.  I take my knitting on trips because it's portable, easy to pick up and put down and keeps me occupied while waiting, riding, training, planing.  But there comes a time in the life of each project that makes it no longer a travel project.  Sometimes it gets too big, sometimes there are fussy bits that require counting or some other version of paying attention, that are not conducive for airport lounges.  When that happens the project gets moved into 'The Pile' and another project gets started.  You can probably see what happens after awhile.  I have to take care of The Pile before I forget what I was doing.  Sometimes finishing a project becomes 'frogging' a project because I can't figure out where I left off, or I just don't care anymore!  

Last week I tackled The Pile, which had two mostly finished summer weight sweaters in it.  

The first project was a 'leftovers' sweater.  I had several skeins of linen and cotton yarns in various shades of natural and off white that were leftover from other projects or purchased because they were just too lovely to pass up.  I decided to make them into a stripy oversized T-shirt.  

I am happy with the resulting T-shirt, it has a very drapy hand and hangs close to the body so it doesn't look too oversized when it's worn...but, I now have several 'nibbins' (as a knitting friend calls them) of various linen and cotton yarns.  I think I will call it good!

The other project was one that I started while I was in Key West this winter.  There is a cute little fabric/yarn shop that really needed me to patronize it and I obliged by buying a yarn that was lengths of several different yarns strung together.  When it is worked it makes blocks of the different textures and colors.

The plan was to knit two long pieces about 12 inches wide and sew them together to make a V-neck top.  Pretty simple idea.  I realized after knitting the first ball (I had 2) that it was going to be a wee bit on the short side.  Of course there wasn't a third ball of yarn, and the yarn was several different yarns anyway so I picked another yarn and added it into the mix to get the length I needed.  I also used it to finish the edges and sew the pieces together.  It ended up being way more complicated than I planned, but it worked out in the end.

I still have an alpaca sweater that has become way too big for traveling and have started a cotton cardigan that has jumped the queue because I am way more excited about cotton right now than alpaca, so it won't be too long before The Pile will need tending again.  Until then, I'll be looking for some fun destinations to get my knitting done!


Stress Busting Shirtdress

Last week was very stressful.  Since retiring I haven't had a lot of 'very stressful' to contend with, so it really wiped me out!   As I have done all my life, I headed to my sewing room.  Sewing has always been my version of therapy.  A good project completely takes over my thoughts and pushes other stuff out of the way for a minute.  It's like a little vacation for my brain.  And last week I needed a really consuming project!!!!

I have been seeing shirt dresses and in particular, denim shirt dresses all over the place this spring.  They look cool (temperature and otherwise) and easy to wear and I want one!  I had hunted up a light weight very dark washed denim with a hint of stretch to make my version of a denim shirt dress.   I decided it would be the perfect 'therapy project' for last week.

I knew I wanted lots of fun topstitching on the dress.  A bunch of precise topstitching seemed like just the ticket for distracting my monkey brain for awhile!  It requires full focus and engineering the order of seaming to get the right overlaps is a thought consuming puzzle.  Excellent!

I started with my current favorite vest pattern, see it here and here.  I like the shape and it works well with more structured fabrics.  I washed the heck out of the denim to soften it up a bit and to avoid turning my fingers blue as I worked with it.

I had been clipping pages from the gazillion catalogues that show up in my mailbox, of denim and shirt dresses as inspiration.  Plenty of decisions to keep me focused!

I decided:
  • sleeveless
  • back shoulder yoke with center pleat
  • waist seam on the front
  • side pockets
  • collar with collar band 
  • shirttail hem in front, straight in back
  • and snaps

There would be more deciding along the way, but these got me started.

When I got the side pockets sewn, with 3 rows of topstitching and was ready to sew the front skirt to the front bodice...I realized that the dress needed to come down in size by about 2 inches!!  Arg!  

Normally that would be a simple fix by taking bigger side seams.  I decided that taking out the pockets was NOT an option, so the front skirt got a nice little center pleat!  

I knew there would be more decisions along the way!

As predicted, the topstitching was excellent therapy and actually got a bit out of control!

I used a scrap of a Liberty of London fabric that my husband had gotten for me on a trip to the UK, for the inside back yoke.  The light cotton lawn kept the yoke from getting too heavy and added a little surprise on the inside.

I like to use double thread to add heft to topstitching.  I had almost two full spools of thread when I started which I thought would be plenty.  This is what I had left when I finished!  Whew!

The week didn't get noticeably less stressful, but the dress did the trick!  As I worked on it I felt the familiar sense of calm that sewing can give me and the sense of losing track of time.  I know some people go for a run, or eat a package of Oreos, or hit pillows with wiffle bats...for me it's getting lost in a place where I feel confident, and creative and safe.  AND...I get a new dress!  I'm looking forward to wearing it on a lovely, stress-free summer afternoon.  Ohmmmmmmmmmm..........