Monday, March 25, 2013

A sewing saga

I grew up sewing; taught by Mom and later
supplemented with lessons from Girl Scout activities
and the Home Economics classes at school.
I got good enough to do this:
I made this dress on my Mom's sewing machine and I did
a blog write-up all about it here.

I sewed a little after getting married -- what I could
with a full-time job.
Eventually, I stopped sewing.
The sewing machine I had for myself (not my Mom's)
took a nose dive off the top of the car where 
it was strapped on my move from Missoula, Montana
to Los Angeles, California where we lived
right after marriage.

After moving to Texas in '93, 
I was able to cut back work to part-time.
And being here in Texas, quilting is a big deal
and one day I walked into a quilt shop and just about died.
Fabric heaven.
So I decided to pick up quilting, but doing it the old-fashioned way...
all by hand. 

By that time, I also got pregnant with my third and last child,
who happened to be a girl.
My Mom thought: "Hilary needs a machine!" and promptly
found one at a garage sale or something.
An old Singer pretty much like her old Singer,
which at the time they were sold as new, 
were top of the line!
So she got it cleaned up and brought it down to me.
I gave up sewing quilt pieces by hand
and used the machine
and sewed darling little dresses for my baby.

On a road trip to Montana when my daughter was 6 years old
my Mom took me into her BERNINA shop,
supposedly to find fabric for me to finish a quilt top
that I was going to leave with her.
I kept trying to find just the right fabric and she
kept calling me over to where she and the dealer
were running a fancy-pants sewing machine that embroidered
along with the typical sewing features.

After the fourth time I head her say:
"I wish I had a machine like that when you were Lelia's age!"
I knew I was being set up!
She looked at me and asked: "Do you want it?"
I just had to ask back: "Are you paying for it?"
since the cost of the machine was a price of a decent used car.
At least, that was what my 15-year old son told me.

Of course she paid for it as she IS the best mother in the world
and certainly wouldn't set me up for a hard fall.
So that is how I got my fancy-pants sewing machine
12 years ago.

I was able to make some really darling dresses for my daughter!
And I sewed a bit for myself.

But sewing for myself became a challenge.
I found that patterns no longer fit me.
Especially around the bust ... so I took a class
from my local BERNINA dealer on
altering patterns for "Bigger than a B" cup size.

That's when I learned all patterns are designed for women
who have b-cup sized busts. Which is what I used to have.
Way back then!

Eventually, I quit sewing for myself.
I even quit sewing for Lelia and spent my sewing
time make quilt tops.
I finished a few quilts, but not many.
But I have a LOT of tops.
Sounds like another blog post should be made
on all the UFO's in my life.

But now, for some reason ... frankly I blame
the PBS show Downton Abbey because of all the 
fabulous vintage dress ... and Project Runway ...
I find myself itching to sew for myself.

I took the opportunity of my daughter's BFF's wedding
last year to sew up something nice for me to wear.
I was cocky, figuring it's a lot like riding a bike
(and frankly, it is, I retained almost all of my skills)
and spent about $245 on silk and gorgeous buttons
along with pattern and notions
and whipped myself up a beautiful, sophisticated dress.

Now I do not have size shock in buying patterns.
I know their sizes are nothing like America's ready-to-wear.
So it didn't bother me too much that I was needing a 
size 22 to fit my bust, waist and hip measurements.
In ready-ready-to wear, I best fit a 14W.

Unfortunately, when I put the finished dressed on
and looked in the mirror, I just about screamed.
I did cry a bit.
The thing looked like a sack!
It made me look huge!
And though it fit the bust, waist and hips,
it was practically falling off my shoulders!

I was so upset and bewildered
and felt like a complete failure.
The wedding was the next day so I had to go with Plan B.
At least I got to wear the most gorgeous shoes I've
ever purchased for the wedding since Plan B
was a dress hanging in my closet that was a perfect
match for the shoes.
I need to get a photo of those shoes and post
it one of these days.
The shoes kept me from complete misery.

I was so upset about the $245 gunny sack
that I thought I should give up sewing garments.
But at the time, I was working for BERNINA
inside Hancock Fabric and knew I could figure something out.

There is software sold by BERNINA to draft your own patterns.
And there are plenty of "draft your own patterns"
books and classes out there.
And I may avail myself of those resources.

But one day I was browsing the craft section of 
my favorite bookstore and stumbled upon this:
Pattern Fitting with confidence by Nancy Zieman

Patterns are not just based on a B-cup sized bust,
but their entire structure is based on an average
bone frame (and height) of a woman who happens
to have whatever particular measurement you're using as your base.

In other words, I was buying a pattern the size to 
accommodate my DD-cup bust and ended up with 
a garment that is meant for a 6'1" woman with
the corresponding larger bone frame!
I'm only 5'6"!


So now I get to learn a whole new set of skills.
Maybe I'm a size 14 after all!!

Friday, March 22, 2013

Sewing again!

It's been a while and the itch to sew has been begging to be scratched
for a couple of weeks. 
I need to finish this skirt for my daughter that I started a couple of years ago!
Fortunately, it's a style that doesn't require a whole lot of fitting ---
nor is it a tailored skirt so it will still work for her.

I will get better pictures of the entire skirt once it's finished and pressed.
Right now it's in a rather wrinkley state.
The skirt is a bunch of 2.5" strips of 100% cotton fabric
serged together into one rather large tube.
The pattern maker recommended using a serger so sewing AND finishing 
all the seams (I think there are 52 strips in this version) 
can be done with one pass, saving oodles of time.

The strips alternate and you decide which ones will be
the inside of the box pleats.
I chose the darker fabric to be the inside portion.
The box pleats are stitched closed for the top 6" of the skirt.
I'm topstitching the closed pleats in the first photo.
My machine is a BERNINA (I used to work for them
so I still have a tendency to type their name in all caps per their
preference and demand) and I'm using foot #10 Edgestitch Foot 
which makes topstitching a breeze.
I keep the guide you see in the middle of the foot
sliding along the seam.
The needle position is 3 clicks to the left of center.

Here's my baby:
This used to be the high end Bernina back in 2001!
My Mom bought this for me because there was no
way I could have forked out that kind of money.
Even now the thought of replacing it with the current high-end
chokes my brain!
But I can dream, can't I?

My 180 also has the embroidery module, but the programming
is so old tech that it's not easy to use the current
digitized embroidery patterns, unless I get the Designer Software
which isn't cheap.
But then, nothing in the world of Bernina is cheap.

There, I'm able to type the branch name without using all CAPS!
See? All caps.
Even in memos for internal use, the word was all caps.
But notice the name of the machine model is all lowercase.
Guess it's an artistic thing ...

The third line gives you a hint as to why nothing in the Bernina world
is cheap.

Their machines are still made in Switzerland.
Switzerland never joined the European Economic Community
and their franc has been very strong against both the euro
and the dollar for decades.
Hence the higher cost to obtain their exports.

But I do love the brand.
I know there are quality machines sold by other brands
and those brands have their extremely loyal customers.
But I can't imagine myself sewing on anything other than a BERNINA.
My 180 is 12 years old and stills sews beautifully.

Which brings up the subject on what to buy in a sewing machine.
You really do get what you pay for.
If you buy a cheap machine to learn to sew on
the chances are high you will get frustrated and quit.
I've talked to a number of women who have tried to learn and gave up.
Almost 100% were using cheap machines.

Cheap machines are loud. They clang. They bounce.
Their timing is easily knocked out, and once the timing is
out on your machines, your stitches will look like crap,
if it stitches at all.

Even the high-end quality machines can have their timing knocked out
and require a professional service person to get it back into perfect timing.
But quality machines hold true timing much, much longer!
I sewed for years with my 180 without ever having a timing issue.

BTW -- fixing the timing requires specialized tools so 
don't bother watching YouTube videos or reading "how to"
guides on the internet, unless you have an older mechanical model.
The older machines which much easier to fix at home.
Today's computerized models require a professional
if you want it done right.

Now I realize that most people who want to learn to sew
aren't completely sure that they are going to love sewing
and will spend the rest of their lives putting their machine to use.
So the thought of forking out anywhere between $500 - $10,000
on a machine seems a bit daunting.
Perhaps even ridiculous?
But there's the rub ... try to learn to sew on a $100 machine
and I can promise you that you will more than likely toss the thing out 
within a year. And never sew again. Which is sad, really.
There are so many wonderful things to do with sewing machines.

So my advice is to look at several different options.

#1 is to learn to sew at a store that will let you use one of their machines.
#2 is to find a teacher that will teach you on her (or his) machine.
#3 is to find a good used machine.

A used machine is a good way to get started down
the road to a life time of sewing bliss.
You'll be better off purchasing from a dealer, 
but you may find a jewel at a garage sale or on Craigslist or eBay.
Do your homework researching which makes and models hold
their value and quality over time.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Kinda ... sorta ... confused

By all the hoopala about Google Reader going away.
I'm not sure what it all means, but lots of folks are heading over
to Bloglovin so I'm giving it a try.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Edited to add:  I think I'm going to LOVE Blog Lovin'!
I was able to export all the blogs I follow on Google
and it's so easy to get caught up on all the new posts.
Easy sign-up using my Facebook.
I was able to claim both my blogs and link them with their respective
Facebook pages.

Nice service.
It's free.
So ... what's the catch?????
hmmmmm .....

Exposing the backside

Well ... I certainly won't win any photography awards!
And I doubt I would win any cross stitch awards either.
Judges are looking for neatness in the backside with the threads
with the finished threads carried under only a few stitches.
But I can't figure out how to accomplish that feat 
with so many color changes stitching the trees.
Many of the colors are use for only one or two stitches.
And many of the stitches of a particular color are far apart, 
but not so far to necessitate starting and stopping each single stitch.

~le sigh~
At least there are no knots.

But while my backside won't win any awards, I rather like the way it looks!
Reminds me of the paint applied with a knife rather than a brush.

I just completed my first page of the pattern this morning!
See what I mean by all the color changes in the trees?

I'm a bit behind schedule, but there's been squirrels in my life
distracting me.
Well, one squirrel in particular.
I thought that this very last Spring Break would
have left me to my own devices being that
the darling daughter is 18 and has her own car.
But darling daughter still wants the company of her Mom
for some things and that is something for which I am very grateful.
She has her share of independence, but still seems to like me!

On to the second page ...

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Resistance was futile

I tried, I really tried. But I couldn't do it ...
I could not resist!
I bought 3 yards of this silk/rayon blend when I was at Fabrique
buying the yardage for my daughter's wrap.

It's a silk burnout, or what is also called a devore.
Basically, the blend of silk and rayon are woven together
and dyed accordingly,
then a caustic substance  - sodium bisulfate - is applied,
in this case following the stripes.
The rayon, which is a cellulose product (made from wood pulp),
is burned away leaving behind the silk, which is a protein product.
The process does not weaken the silk fiber, 
but it does produce a semi-sheer effect where the rayon was burned out.

I hope these close-up photos give you a better idea:
The wide, lighter stripes are where the burnout occurred.

For this photo I laid the fabric on top of some teal-colored chenille
which really pops the color variations.

My plan is to make either a skirt or a dress with
an aqua-colored underlayment.
I'm toying with the idea of pleats ... small ones that 
follow the burnout stripes.

Monday, March 4, 2013

How I spent a good chunk of my weekend ...

... although I have to laugh at myself.
Channeling the Dowager from Downton Abbey:
"What is a weekend?"

When one works for oneself, either every day is a weekend
or you never get a weekend.
Pick one.
The new "optimist" test.

Anyhow, first the picture:

That is 2 yards of some really exquisite silk chiffon
and beaded trim.

It's a simple cape I made for my daughter to wear
to a formal event we were attending as a family Saturday night.

Lelia hasn't had any need for formal wear,
with the exception of her gown worn when she was
the maid of honor at her BFF's wedding.
She did not want to wear that dress,
which is actually in one of the other bridemaid's closet at the moment.
They accidentally switched gowns when heading home
after the after party, for which they changed into something
much more casual and comfortable.

So at the last moment ... story of my life - procrastination,
which my daughter apparently inherited from me; one of our
lesser qualities which I certainly did NOT inherit from my parents ...
we went gown shopping.
Three hours later, we found a lovely, simple gown
that was a sample at a bridal shop on the "buy now" rack.

The dress was a beautiful golden color with a satin teal waist sash - 
and detachable spaghetti straps.
My daughter is a modest young lady so she was 
wanting something to put on top
but the bridal shop had nothing.

It was late, stores were closing, and we had no more time to shop
before the event.

So I did the next best thing ... I volunteered to make something.

I had to fabric shop while she was at school (she's a HS senior)
so I had to try to remember what it was like to be 18
when I went on the hunt for the right ingredients
to make a cover up that would give a bit of a boost
to the simple gown.

I found this lovely silk chiffon at Fabrique Fabrics which is
a local high-end fabric store in Plano, TX.
It was the perfect teal and it has a golden cast
on the surface ... I wonder how they do that!
I need to do some research.
Anyhow, the fabric was easy enough to find,
but the trim was another story.

A lot of beaded trim is heavy.
I was surprised at how heavy it is!
Those poor celebrities who wear those gowns
that are all sparkly with sequins and crystals.
Some of those dresses must weigh a ton!

Because chiffon is very light, and I wanted chiffon for its drape,
I had to be careful in the selection of trim.
So I pondered for probably close to 1/2 an hour
over all the options.
Fortunately, the store was not crowded so I had
two clerks at my disposal, one of them a gal
much closer to Lelia's age and not my own.
Much of the suitable trim would look great on a mature woman,
but I was outfitting an 18-year old.

The trim you see in the photo was one that was package 
in a plastic bag like a remanent.

It got a thumbs up from the young clerk
and Lelia liked it when she saw it.

So most of Friday evening and a good chunk of Saturday 
was spent hand sewing the trim to the bottom
of a very simple wrap.
I simply kept the fabric at its half-fold,
and because it was of excellent quality, it was on grain without fuss.
Two french seams at the sides and the bottom
was the selvages which I sewed with
Razzle Dazzle metallic thread (had to use the thread in the bobbin)
and using the blanket stitch on my sewing machine.
Because of the flimsiness of the silk chiffon,
the edges rolled so it gave the appearance
of a rolled hem.
Wasn't what I was aiming for, 
but it turned out OK so I left it alone.

I sewed in a simple hook and eye to close the cape
just above the natural bustline.

Lelia looked lovely.
And no, I did not get any pictures.
My eyes were so weary after all that hand-sewing
and I still had to get myself all dolled up to attend the event.
I was a bit zombified most of the night!

But working with the trim started a cascade of ideas
that are now running around my brain.

Shall I say: "Squirrel!" ???

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