Sewing without a Schedule

I have been sewing for almost as long as I've been on the planet.  

These are not actually me, but the bangs are awfully familiar!

Sewing has been a constant in my life.  Whatever else was going on I would always sew.  In high school, in college, grad school, single, married, kids, empty nest, 10 different cities (even more houses!), different careers,...and now retirement.  I am realizing as I 'practice' being retired (I am hoping to become quite expert at it eventually!) that I still sew, but it is different somehow.  I have been trying to put my finger on it.  Why does it feel different?  

The obvious answer is what I am sewing is different.  I no longer need clothes to wear to work.  (I'm actually struggling a bit to figure out what exactly I do want to wear, other than my Ugg slippers.) I've cleared out and sent loads to the thrift shops and still only pick a few items.

I really don't need anything in the wardrobe department.  But my sewing really isn't about 'need.'  No one would ask a painter, "Do you need another painting?" or "Where are you going to hang that one?"  Painters paint because it's what they do, it's what feeds their souls.  My sewing is a lot like that.  I need the creative muscle exercise that I get when I'm designing clothing and drafting patterns, combining materials, choosing colors...it's what I do to feed my creative soul.  So yes, what I sew will be different as I move into this new part of my life, but there have been other times when what I sewed was different.  The thing that I am noticing with this transition is more how I feel about the process, and how the process unfolds.

Here's what I am pondering...I'm not sure if this is the whole answer, but it makes some sense to me right now.   I think what I am noticing is the absence of a deadline.  Until now my sewing had to fit into another schedule.  I would 'grab' sewing time between work hours, on weekends, before soccer games, late at night...there was always something that I was going to bump into if my sewing time expanded. 

 There were also deadlines in terms of finishing projects.  I would want to make a new dress for a special event, or get something made for Christmas, or fit a project into a weekend because otherwise I would never get back to it.  Now, I can spend almost as much time as I like in my work room.  No "hurry up before ------(fill in the blank with the next event)."  Just time to wander around in a project and let it simmer.

The last few projects took weeks instead of hours.  I didn't actually spend any more hours, the hours were just spread out over much larger windows of time.  I would hang something on my dress form and it might stay there for a week.  A pattern might evolve over days.  A detail might change several times before actually being sewn.  I've always done these steps but until recently they would get crammed into whatever slice of time I was stealing from the rest of my life.  A race to finish before the next event, which usually meant that the ideas were only as developed as I could manage in my time limit.  

What I am enjoying about this new way of sewing is the pondering, processing time.  I'm realizing that just because I am not in my work room doesn't mean I am not working.  (This is where the adage "sleep on it" is a very real part of my new process.) I didn't have that luxury when I was trying to fit my projects into a particular time frame.  Now I think and rethink and by the time I actually get to doing whatever the next step is, it feels like I have already done it.  My projects have come together without the usual 'unsewing' and redoing that comes from half-baked ideas.  It's as if I have made whatever it is before.  I don't know if this will be the same for all my projects going forward, but it has happened enough at this point that I am sensing a pattern.  I'm definitely not completing as many projects, but I am savoring each of them much more than I ever did when I was on a deadline.

It's early days in this retirement experiment so I'm quite certain that I don't have a lot figured out at this point, but for now as I continue learning into this next phase, I am enjoying the luxury of taking time with my sewing work.  Really letting my projects set the pace instead of forcing them into a time slot.  Ohmmmmmm.....



Happy First Day of Spring!

It happens every year at this time.  I just can't help myself.  It's like being drawn into a weird gravitational orbit.  

Daffodils poke through, robins return from Florida, bears come out of hibernation and I make a 'too-cute-for-its-own-good' outfit!  Every dang year!  Even though I know it's going to happen I can't stop myself.  This year I didn't even see it coming until I was half way through making it!!!

It usually starts with yummy pastel linen, or something sheer and etherial.  And it ends up with gathers and sometimes even a bow!  I really didn't see this one coming.  It started out as a sweatshirt of all things.  But it's spring so it ended up with pastel ruffles! These are not my normal projects.  But, truth be told, I love them.  It's my version of a new Easter dress.  Sometimes I even end up wearing them.

This year's offering really did start out as a sweatshirt.  I wanted to make something to wear on a trip to Tennessee where the weather was going to be early spring-ish.  I was looking forward to leaving the boots and heavy winter gear in Michigan and enjoying some warmer days.  I had a piece of wool and cotton fleece/knit that was the perfect weight.  I wanted a tunic style to wear over tights or jeans.

I had a picture of a dress that I liked that had the sweatshirt tunic with a cotton ruffle poking out of the hem.  

...AND I just happened to have a lovely pastel plaid linen that looked super with the wool fleece.  ...yup, here's how it starts... I thought about just adding a ruffle to the top, but, jeez,......
I had 2 yards of the linen, that would certainly be enough for a whole dress...you see how it happens?...here it comes...can't stop it...full blown "too-cute-for-its-own-good" spring outfit!!!!!  

I started with the sweatshirt (thinking maybe I could avoid the ruffles this time if I distracted myself...HA!).  I made a 'trial balloon,' checked the pattern pieces to make sure I had enough fabric, and realized that wool and cotton should definitely be pre-shrunk.  Oops, 3 inches too short!  If I cancelled the pockets it would work...but the pockets really make the shirt...

I kept the pockets.  I used a cotton t-shirt weight jersey for the facings and pieced scraps to make the pockets insets....gotta have the pockets.

One thing I like to do when I'm working with knits is stabilize the shoulder seams (and other seams if there will be stress from the weight of the garment).  I use 3/4 inch, bias cut tricot fusible interfacing, works great.

Once the sweatshirt was finished I knew the plaid ruffle would be awesome....more trial balloons....

Much pondering to get all the seams and plaids to match AND still get the ruffles on the bias!  

Another trick I like is to make the bottom buttonhole on a shirt placket before putting it on the garment.  Trying to get the buttonhole attachment to maneuver over the extra layers of the placket makes the bottom buttonhole a real bear to make.  Since I don't know if I'll want to lower the neckline or exactly how many buttons I want I just make the one and wait till I finish the neckline to make the rest.

Like I said, "Too-cute-for-its-own-good!"

Sweatshirt with cute ruffle sticking out! (and pockets! Yeah!)

Me in the Smoky Mountains loving the spring weather (note sunglasses!) and wearing the perfect sweatshirt tunic.  I'm saving the ruffles for Easter!


Putting my Best Foot Forward

I have a new sewing machine!  Well, I've had it for over a year but have never gone to the dealer for my lessons.  I had figured out the basics of running it but I learned all kinds of cool stuff when I finally sat down with my dealer.  It's like having a new machine all over again...wheeee!

I have a narrow rolled hem foot!  Who knew?!  And who knew how cool and easy it is to use.

Becky, my dealer showed me how to start the rolled edge by making a thread tail to use to guide the edge into the foot and then pull it gently to get it feeding straight.

Isn't that purdy!

Check out my beautiful silk chiffon scarf.  A third of a yard of silk with rolled hems on the cross grain edges.

Dead easy!  And ready for spring...whenever it shows up!


When "Not Enough" is Perfect

One theme that seems to be a constant in my work is:  

I never have enough fabric!

I don't mean the piles of fabric stacked up in my 'stash.'  Plenty there!  I'm talking about deciding on a design for a particular piece of yardage and realizing that it is about 3 inches short of a full garment!  I could of course change my mind about the design or pick another piece of fabric, but where's the challenge in that?  It's way more entertaining to figure out how to make it work.  My recent post about the 'warm and wooly tunic' is a perfect example of the dilemma I often face.  You might think that this would prompt me to buy more yardage.  Doesn't work...whatever length I decide on the design will require 3 more inches, it's some kind of karmic curse.  

Writing about the tunic reminded me that I made a garment a while ago that followed a very similar path.  This time I started with a cool remnant that was a mere 3/4 of a yard.  Yup, just 27 inches. 

When I picked up my 3/4 yard left over, seriously, it was the end cut with the hacked off end and the sticker with a staple through it, I thought I would probably make a skirt or a vest.  The knitted wool, partially felted fabric had great body and the ombre coloring was like working with a border print.  I quickly zeroed in on a top, instead of a bottom garment.

I usually start a project by draping the fabric on my dress form.  I try out silhouettes, necklines, lengths, motif placement, proportions...whatever.  These are the first set of trial balloons, before the scissors ever come out.  This is also the time that the "never enough" will become obvious!  Which will then require another round of draping and pondering.  

I can get quite a way down a path before I head off in a new direction.  I had a pattern draped and drafted, but wasn't feeling it...

So kept working it...

Now we're starting to get somewhere!

I loved the felted selvage and wanted to use that uncut, I was liking the random darts/pleats...the "not enough" moment showed up again in the lack of sleeves.  I just knew I would like it better as a jacket, not a vest.  The felted texture of the fabric was calling out for knitted sleeves.

Finding yarn proved to be trickier than I thought.  The browns were too dark, the golds really screamed, so I ended up with a bulky brown tweed and a variegated gold/brown worsted weight worked together as one yarn.  Once I had my gauge I charted the sleeve following a jacket sleeve pattern that would work for the cropped jacket style I was working on.

After all the different drapes and considerations, actually committing with my scissors was a bit scary.

I ended up putting the entire garment together by hand using the worsted yarn.  It worked really well with the raw edge construction and gave a 'sweater' feel to the jacket.

The yarn ends were left hanging from the pleats and the back collar seam with beads, the button is a one-of-a-kind ceramic button also with bead embellishments.

It used to make me grumpy when I would get to the "not enough" moment of a project...now I actually look forward to it.  It's the point that my brain really starts to have fun and my creative muscles get a good workout!  It often turns out that "not enough" is actually the perfect amount.


Warm and Wooly

I fell in love with a wonderfully lumpy, woven wool at Mood Fabrics last spring while visiting
in NYC.  Having no idea what it might become, I got my standard 'spec' amount for fabric in the "how-much-a-yard!!!!??" category, which is 1 1/2 yards.  It got tucked away for the summer and when it reappeared in the queue this fall it had decided to become a tunic.  

I draped it every which way, but couldn't figure out how to get a tunic with long sleeves out of my precious 1 1/2 yards.  Rats! (not to be confused with the mousey of my last post!)

I flirted with the idea of a vest-tunic...didn't really wow me...finally decided I could knit some sleeves.  I loved this idea because it would involve a trip to the yarn shop! (which is right next door to the fabric shop, dang!)

Tunic awaiting sleeves

The drop shoulder styling of the top meant that the sleeve pattern shape was pretty simple.  Once I had figured out my knitting gauge I charted the sleeves based on the pattern piece.  I stabilized the edge of the armscye with tricot interfacing and used the yarn to stitch the sleeves onto the tunic.  I back stitched through each knitted stitch so it looks like the stitches were picked up through the edge of the fabric.


Picking up "live" stitches - 'public side'     Overcasting the seam - inside                    

Once the sleeves were finished I had enough yarn for a collar, too.  At some point I realized that this wooly tunic with wool roving sleeves might be a bit warm...duh!  So I made it a half zip to let in some air.
Trying out the zipper idea

Finished Tunic with knitted sleeves and collar

I really like the way it turned out.  It's perfect for February in Michigan.  I was afraid that the bulky fabric and the fuzzy yarn would end up being a bit wooly mammoth like but the bias cut front panel and the loose gauge on the knitted pieces made the finished garment supple and cozy.  The zipper does its job to cool things off and it looks great with fuzzy leggings and boots.