Learning to Sew – Fabric

You’ve got your sewing machine and your basic tools.  What now?  It’s time to choose a fabric for a simple first project.  You will want to select something that appeals to you, of course.  But it also must be appropriate … Continue reading

The Sewing Expo…and after




The Expo is always busy and exciting!

The Expo is always busy and exciting!

This year’s annual Sewing Expo has wrapped up, and I’ve been back home for nearly two weeks, working on ideas that I took away from that awesome few days.  I meant to blog each evening while I was in Atlanta, but that didn’t happen.  My phone crashed, and though I did take a couple of pictures that day with my iPad, I found it hard to use without laughing.  There was just something funny about holding up my iPad like a camera.  And the internet connection was frustratingly slow.  Then once I got home, I was too busy sewing to type.  But this morning seems a good time to sit and do a little reflection.

Karen joined me Thursday evening, and the first thing we did was find an Apple store to get some help with my phone.  The store was located in the Mall of Georgia, which was about ten minutes north of us.  We were starving for supper, so we took the shortest tour of that iconic mall in the history of shopping. Phone was fixed, but that didn’t solve the problem of slow internet.  So we watched American Idol and Shark Tank rather than blog in the evenings.  They didn’t get the channel with Project Runway.  Probably didn’t have room with all of the ESPN channels; I think I counted fourteen.

Karen and I took several classes that were informative and interesting.  After spending all day with Cynthia Guffy the day before the Expo began (see previous post), I still signed up for a couple of other short classes with her.  My favorite was the one on shirt construction.  I love to make men’s shirts.  But that flat-felled seam finish in the arm and side seams just kill me every time I try to get it just right.  And if you don’t get it just right, it looks very homemade. For some reason, men don’t like that.  I’ve even tried to research industrial techniques and special machines for those seams, but I have not been able to figure out how they do it.  When Cynthia passed around her shirt, I saw beautiful flat-felled seams.  My hand went up.  “How do you do your flat-felled seams?”  Cynthia’s dry humor is a given.  “I’ll tell you.  First thing you do, you take out your flat-felled foot attachment.  Then you throw it away.”  Well, there’s my first mistake.  I really wanted that thing to work!  Cynthia’s beautiful seams, as it turns out, are finished haute couture style, with an invisible hand stitch.  Darn.  I was really hoping for something fast and easy.  I should have known better.  This is Cynthia Guffy, crowned Queen of Sewing Perfection.

Cynthia Guffy teaching her style of shirt construction

Cynthia Guffy teaching her style of shirt construction

I also took a couple of classes from Louise Cutting.  I recently used one of her patterns that I had purchased at last year’s expo, and I really loved it.  Her directions are clear and concise, and her Helpful Hints are really useful.  She uses lots of Steam-A-Seam strips in her construction techniques.  I had never used it, but really found it helpful for pocket placement and other applications. I’ve used it since then with other projects.

Louise Cutting teaching handy "insider secrets"

Louise Cutting teaching handy “insider secrets”

I met a new pattern designer this year named Linda Lee.  She is the founder the The Sewing Workshop which offers a unique collection of patterns.  I bought a couple of them, and can’t wait to try them out.  My introduction to Linda’s work came in a class she offered which featured a pattern called Ann’s Cardigan and Tank.  She presented us with a myriad of options that showed the versatility of this pattern.  I have lots of ideas floating around in my head for this one!

The class I probably should have stayed away from was one called “Notions Commotion.”  I know.  The class names are planned for capturing the hearts of sewing nerds, and it works.  This particular class was one that presented notions and tools from all of the expo vendor booths.  I took all kinds of notes, and then proceeded to go shopping as soon as class dismissed.  I looked like a flittering magpie gathering shiny things.  I bought some funny-looking items that I have already forgotten how to use.  But that’s what Google and You Tube are for.

I bought fabric at three different booths.  Vogue Fabrics always brings in lots of fabric, notions, and trims to choose from.  They had a lot less to load back on the truck, thanks in large part to me.  Karen helped a little.  We also both bought some shirting fabrics from The Wool House.  This place usually gets me in trouble, but this year I was pretty disciplined.  And in Louise Cutting’s booth, I bought about half of the fabric she had hanging in the “end bolts” section, which were priced so well they were calling my name.  And my credit card.

Vogue Fabrics always brings an abundance of fabric, notions, and trims

Vogue Fabrics always brings an abundance of fabric, notions, and trims

From a fellow classmate in one of my classes, I found out about Spoonflower, a company that will print original designs on fabric.  And they don’t require you to buy a tractor trailer load of the fabric.  You can buy any amount.  They offer cotton or organic cotton in several weights and weaves, silk, and a silk/cotton blend.  You can also buy the creations of other fabric designers on their website. My daughter Shelley is the resident artist around here, and she has promised to show me how to use those scary Adobe software programs so I can produce original fabric.  Or maybe I’ll just let her design fabric for me to use.  Either way, we are doing this!

I came away with so many ideas that I have decided to reopen my Etsy store to offer sewing kits that include some wonderful two-sided woven cotton and original patterns for creating skirts and dresses for little girls.  I have the samples done, and am working on the patterns and instructions.  I will also be offering some original skirts for young women in really cute fabric.  Much to do, so I’m heading back to the sewing studio.  But stay tuned!

A Gallery of Sewing 101 Class Projects

Beth's Apron, Sewing 101 Project

Beth Tolliver’s Apron, one of our Sewing 101 Projects

Terri's Sewing 101 Pillow Shams
Terri Bowen’s Pillow Shams, another of the projects made in our Sewing 101 course

Terri's Pillow Sham

A close-up of Terri’s Pillow Sham; the pillow shams were made in class, then Terri added the monogram at home

Zippered Throw Pillow

This Zippered Throw Pillow is also a Sewing 101 project; the back zipper allows for a pillow insert.

Another example of the Zippered Throw Pillow

Another example of the Zippered Throw Pillow

We are about to start our third set of Learn To Sew courses, so it’s about time that I posted some pictures from the last session.  We had great students and a wonderful time!

I am really looking forward to getting back into the swing of things after the holidays.  All of the Christmas decorations have been stored once again, and the studio has been set back up, ready for Tuesday’s start!

If you live in the middle Georgia area, we would love to have you join us for a class!

One of our Sewing 102 Projects is a tote bag, and this is a beautiful example made by one of our students

One of our Sewing 102 Projects is a tote bag, and this is a beautiful example made by one of our students

Here is another student-made tote bag!

Here is another student-made tote bag!

Key West Treasure

You know, we have to look for fabric stores while on vacation.  It’s just in our blood!  So on a recent trip to Key West, we did a Google search and found a cute little store a few blocks off of Duvall Street called “The Seam Shoppe.”  So, one afternoon we drug Karen’s mostly good-natured husband along with us to hike down Duvall and turn left, hunting for our treasure.  Actually, he was in a great mood since we had just left the Key West Hammock Shop where he placed an order for a double hammock swing for their back yard.

Before too long, we spotted the little store across the street.  It was a bright and cheery place, although Karen and I both agree that the saleslady could have been a bit friendlier.  Maybe she had just seen too many tourists that day, and we weren’t quite as special as we thought we were!

If you quilters ever make it down to Key West, you should visit this store.  Especially if you want to make a quilt or other crafty item as a memento of your trip.  They have a lot of tropical quilt-weight cottons!  And maybe you will get a different salesperson.

Since we aren’t quilters, and we don’t have grandchildren, we hunt for garment fabric.  And right at the front door was this double-sided stand of some of the prettiest rayon we had ever seen!  Bright tropical colors, great for summer projects!  We walked around the stand handling and admiring the fabric with visions of tops, dresses, and skirts frolicking about in our heads.

While we drooled over this display, my brother-in-law ducked out in search of something a little more manly.  We took our selections to the cutting table, which meant our saleslady had to move the project she was working on to help us.  She made a small effort not to be annoyed.  Emphasis on small.  But we got six cuts of fabric between us, and a couple of patterns, and giggled our way out the door.

When we found our escort, he had just tested his masculinity by drinking “the world’s strongest coffee ever,” by his report.  On the way back to Duvall, we had to practically run to keep up with him and his caffeine buzz!

We have been home about three weeks now, and I don’t think either one of us have even pre-washed anything yet; but we will.  Since returning, we have been quite busy getting ready for our sewing classes, which started this week.  We will tell you all about the great time we had in our first classes next time!

And if we ever get to open the cute little fabric store that we talk about all the time, we promise to be friendly when you come to see us!  In the meantime, if you want to see some of what this place offers, they have an online store at tropicalfabricsonline.

We would love to hear about places you have been and found a fabric treasure! That would be good information to have before we plan another trip…

A New Summer Top

I finished this sleeveless summer top yesterday.  This is Butterick Pattern #5644,
that I made from some border print rayon purchased from Gorgeous Fabrics (www.gorgeousfabrics.com).  It has an empire waist, which is flattering on just about any body type.  It was a quick and simple pattern that went together smoothly.  The pattern calls for bias tape to finish the neckline and armholes.  I happened to have some tencel fabric that was the same color as the border of this rayon, so I cut my own bias tape.

If you need some instruction on how to make bias tape, here’s a good blog to check out: http://www.coletterie.com/fabric-haberdashery/tutorial-how-to-make-bias-tape.

This was a new pattern for me.  As you probably know, most commercial sewing patterns today come with multiple sizes in the envelope.  Usually, they are printed on the same tissue paper, with cutting, marking, and sewing lines for each different size.  Since I am pretty frugal when it comes to sewing, I very seldom cut the size I need from the tissue paper.  I mean, what if I need to make a different size, for me or for someone else?  (I’m always planning on dropping a few pounds…)  I buy pattern tissue paper, which is available in several different weights and widths, and trace the size I need from the original.

When doing this, it is important to trace the correct lines and markings.  In fact, it is so important to the success of your project, that I would suggest that beginning sewers NOT try this method.  Better to buy your patterns when Hancocks or Jo-ann Fabrics is running a great deal and just cut the size you need than take a chance on messing up your sewing project and wasting even more money and time!  But if you decide to trace your pattern, check it and then re-check it, and then re-check it again, before you cut your fabric.

The lines of this top were so straightforward and simple that I decided to try another method of saving the other sizes on my pattern tissue.  I needed the smallest size in the envelope, which included large, x-large, and xx-large.  

So I folded the straight lines on the tissue along the correct size, and for the curved lines of the sleeve and neck edge, I slashed into the tissue to the correct line, and then folded.  I didn’t use any tape to hold down the folds, because I wanted to be able to press out the folds to use a bigger size if I ever needed to.  It worked out very well, and I would use this method again with a pattern that has only a few pieces, and simple lines.

I have two more projects to finish, and then I’ll be ready for our upcoming vacation!  For now, I just need to make a date with my hubby so I can wear my new top!

A Very Special Silk Dress

A couple of years ago, I bought some beautiful pieces of an old Japanese kimono from one of the vendors at the annual Original Sewing and Quilting Expo, an event held every spring in Atlanta that I try not to miss.  This vendor has the most gorgeous vintage silk fabrics that she groups together.  None of the pieces are big enough for an entire garment, but I knew I would eventually find something special to do with the pieces I purchased.

When my niece announced her engagement, and plans began to form for a spring Nashville wedding, I pulled my kimono silk out and started playing with it, draping it on my dress form to look at the kimono fabric with some black silk.  My daughter would need something pretty to wear, and this would be the perfect starting point.

I bought Tracy Reese Vogue pattern #1190, because I liked the general silhouette of it.  But I left off the front ruffle, and since my daughter wanted the back of the bodice to be “regular” rather than the style shown, I drafted a plainer version.  I used the kimono fabric for the bodice front and back, and a soft washed silk charmeuse in black for the skirt.  The tiny waist band was cut from a piece of kimono silk in a deep navy, one of the other pieces from the grouping I bought in Atlanta.

Because I wanted everything to be just right when I cut this vintage silk fabric, I made a muslin for the trial bodice to tweak the fit.  When my daughter and I were both satisfied with it, I used that as my pattern to cut the kimono fabric.  I then sized the skirt pieces to fit the bodice, and cut them out of the black charmeuse.

Vogue pattern #1190

The dress went together like a dream!  (I love sewing with good quality silk!)

I also made her a necklace and earrings to go with her dress.  I bought the glass necklace focal component three or four years ago at an art gallery in Destin, Florida.  The necklace and earrings are fashioned from Swarovski crystal beads.  The wedding was beautiful, and so much fun, and my daughter was beautiful in her very special silk dress!

Shelley trying on her new dress

Sterling, glass, and Swarovski crystal necklace

The Big Book!

Fabric swatches and details in my "Big Book"

Fabric swatch pages in my “Big Book”

Copies of pattern envelopes

Copies of pattern envelopes in my “Big Book”

A while back, after buying yet another pattern I already had, I decided to get organized.  Now, I know there are all kinds of apps for my smart phone that will keep up with pattern information, but until they make an app that will let me post swatches of my fabric–swatches that I can actually touch–I am sticking with my old school “Big Book.”  So, just in case you are looking for a way to organize your patterns and fabric samples in one place, let me tell you how I did it.  Feel free to be a copycat.  Better yet, leave me a note if you have done something similar, and give all of us some pointers.

I bought a large, sturdy three ring binder, some divider pages with write-on tabs, and white copy paper pre-punched with three holes.  Then I hauled out all of my patterns–and I do mean ALL.  I decided that if it was worth holding on to, it was worth a place in my book.  I separated them into categories, such as “tops,” “jackets,” “pants and skirts,” “dresses.”  You get the idea.  I recorded these titles with a pen on the tab pages.  Then I copied the front and back of every pattern I owned. To save money and space in my book, I copied the front of the pattern in color, then flipped that same sheet over to print the back of the pattern in black ink.  Some of the envelopes were flat enough for my flat bed printer that I didn’t have to remove the contents, but some of them were too thick.  I was careful to not get in too big of a hurry, so that I could be sure to get the pattern pieces back into the right envelope.  This all took some time, but now when I go to the fabric store, I take my Big Book, which holds everything I need to know about what patterns I have and their fabric and notions requirements.

Behind the pattern sections, I put my fabric swatch pages.  I used my computer’s word processor to design a simple page that would hold four swatches and information on them.  I printed these on both sides of some light gray card stock that I already had on hand, and used a three-ring punch on them so they could go in my book.

I cut fabric swatches approximately 2 x 3 inches, and stapled them onto the card stock.  You can see this in the picture at the top of this post.  In the information blanks, I recorded how much of the swatch fabric I had, whether or not it had been pre-washed, the width and the content of the fabric, and the source and cost.  All of this was recorded in pencil, so that when I use a portion of the fabric or when I pre-wash something, I can change the information I recorded earlier.  If I use it all, I just strike through the information.  But I leave the swatch.  I figured that in a few years, it might be fun to see all of those swatches that (hopefully) became garments.

I have a basket in my sewing studio, just inside the entrance, that holds any newly acquired fabric or patterns until I have had the chance to record them in my book.

“The Book” is quite large and heavy, but it’s worth the effort of lugging it to the fabric store.  Even if I haven’t planned a trip to a fabric store, it usually stays in my car because I never know when I might need all of the vital information it holds!