Sewing Buddies 2014: Deadline Approaching!

sewing buddy icon

If you’re planning to join us as a Sewing Buddy in 2014, be sure to register before the deadline THIS SUNDAY at midnight!  I’ll be closing out registration at that point, and we won’t add any more Sewing Buddies this year.  I have a whole year of monthly video, secret codes, meet-ups, freebies and interviews lined up for our Buddies, and I can’t wait to see what all of you will make!  I’ve already gotten such great suggestions for challenges we’ll be pursuing together–which will include at least one swap, some charity sewing, and a garment sew-along, all exclusively for Sewing Buddies.

Click over to the Sewing Buddies 2014 registration page and join the fun!

Whipstitch Sewcial meet up

The Sewing Buddy Project is open to anyone, anywhere–and if you’re local to Atlanta, you’re invited to join us for an in-person meet-up, too!  Last year, I launched my monthly Sewcials, a casual meet-up of stitching folks, at a sweet little cozy coffee spot on the Chattahoochee River.  I’m delighted to keep those going in the New Year, and the first is NEXT TUESDAY at 10 am!  RSVP to join us, or learn more on the Sewcials page.


Patternmaking E-Course Begins Today!

patternmaking no banner

Starting TODAY!  The Flat Patternmaking e-course is ready to roll!  This class is one of my “live” online classes, which means that unlike some of my other e-courses (including Essential Sewing, Sewing Knits and Crafty Business Basics), this class meets daily for four weeks.  Each day, a new lesson is revealed, we get the chance to work through and discuss it, and every student gets to share their ideas and results with me and everyone else!  We have weekly class newsletters, a weekly live chat, and every student gets the opportunity to submit their “homework” for review and personal feedback from me as the course moves along.

The new e-course website allows me to include daily video, PDF downloads, and a ton of interaction in ways I couldn’t previously, and every student can not only create their own profile, but they can also archive their classes and access the content FOREVER (or at least as long as the internet lasts).  That means that once the course is complete in its “live” format, students can go back to refresh, review or reference the material as often as they like–and over time, add more and more Whipstitch classes to their account and create a real sewing home for themselves.

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I’m so excited about everything this class includes and how great all the projects turn out.  Won’t you come join  us?  If you’ve ever thought about drafting your own patterns, creating your own looks, or making basic core pieces that you can return to again and again, Flat Patternmaking is a spectacular class to tackle the skills you’ll want to have.  Just take a peek at some of the things we’ll be making:

flat patternmaking ecourse samples

From pencil skirts to A-line skirts to variations; from short sleeved tees to long sleeved tees to raglan sleeves; from summer sundresses to woven tops; we’re making a whole pile of great basics that you’ll be able to expand upon and riff on for a long while.  Add to that the lists and links to resources and references and the excitement and fun of learning it all in community, and Flat Patternmaking really is a joyous class to be part of.  I hope you’ll come play with us.

To register, visit the Flat Patternmaking e-course page and click through!  Looking forward to “seeing” you in class!

Tips for Working with Velvet

When I got the (possibly hare-brained) idea to sew my blue velvet cocktail dress, I had pretty minimal experience sewing with velvet.  This was absolutely my first time making something from velvet on this scale–anything larger than a sleeve cuff would have been bigger, honestly.  So I’m totally no expert on velvet or on fancy fabrics.  I did learn a ton in making this dress, though, and some of what I learned had nothing at all to do with sewing velvet.

For example: I like learning that no matter how much you know–or THINK you know–there’s always more to learn.  That’s a great lesson to be reminded of, because grown-ups have a tendency to forget that they don’t know everything, and one of  the things I love most about sewing is that you can always try SOMETHING you’ve never tried before, and odds are pretty good it’ll be awesomely fun.  I like seeing that up close now and then.  Both humbling and motivating.

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This whole velvet thing was like that: it seemed a little intimidating, and golly but how! did the internet have scary things to say about velvet.  On the whole, I found the internet’s general dislike and fear of this fancy fabric to be largely unfounded.  I didn’t think it was horrible to sew with, but being the girl I am, I totally did my research first.  I’m all for jumping in feet first, but I like to do a lap before committing to the jump, so to speak.

I found both Emma One Sock and Threads super helpful, with extensive and thorough guides to sewing with velvet available from each.

velvet needle board

Top tip: use a velvet pressing board, also called a needle board.  Now, I have also read that this could be a plush towel or another scrap of the same velvet, but (1) this dark midnight blue color I was using would show fluff from a towel like a crazy person, (2) I was pretty tight on yardage and didn’t have a scrap to spare, plus (3) those felt just the tiniest bit bootleg.

They felt a lot less bootleg when I saw the price on this velvet press board at JoAnn.  Sheesh!  Good thing I snapped one up with a 50% off coupon.  Boo-yah!  That’s what I’m talking about.  This little gadget is a rubber backing embedded with dull-tipped needles.  The needles serve to press into the pile of the fabric so that you can steam out the seam allowances and any wrinkles without pressing the outline of the seams into the fabric where they’ll be visible from the public side of your sewing.

velvet needleboard needles up close

Now, the major tip I read repeatedly was that you don’t actually PRESS the fabric into the needles.  You place the velvet pile side down, so that it nests in with the needles, then hover the iron above the wrong side of the fabric and steam the velvet into submission.  The fabric will relax from the steam, but there won’t be any residual outlines on the pile side of the fabric, and the pile won’t be crushed.  It’s magical.

steaming velvet with pressing board

After steaming, allow the fabric to cool completely (which increases its “relaxation” and lets the steam evaporate so you’re not sewing on a sopping wet mass by the end) before moving on to the next section or step.

pressed velvet seam

The next giant tip I picked up in my research, and which was borne out in practice, was that velvet has a tendency to “creep” when you’re sewing.  Best way to combat the creep?  Your walking foot, naturally.

walking foot on velvet

If you’re not familiar with the walking foot--for example, if you don’t do much quilting, where the walking foot figures predominantly–you might not be friends with this fella.  But he’s a lot of handy fun to have around.

feed dogs

I do use my walking foot for quilting, since it prevents the layers of quilt top/batting/backing fabric from scooching around as you put in the quilting stitches, but I also use it for knits on occasion, and for working with plaids–it has the amazing ability to keep the plaids all lined up just the way you pinned them, so that everything matches along your seam lines.  Yum.

bernina walking foot

The walking foot installs on your machine very much like a standard presser foot, but it has a second set of feed dogs IN the foot, which are tied to the motion of the needle bar.  As you stitch, the lower feed dogs draw the fabric forward from beneath, and the second set draw it forward from above, so both pieces are moving at the same rate.

upper feed dogs on walking foot

For a pile fabric like velvet, that can really make the difference, since the fibers tend to want to push against one another, creating weird bumps and bulges and distorting seam lines.

velvet with presser foot

I tested the theory out first, using some of the shreds left over after all my pieces had been cut.  It seemed as though I was able to easily sew without any movement, but the sewn pieces were horribly puckered along the seamline–totally unacceptable.  So I added a ton more pins (another tip I read repeatedly) and switched to my walking foot.

pressed velvet seam

Vastly better results!

Smaller tips that still played into the making of this dress:

  • I cut everything in a single layer.  Despite that care, I still made a cutting mistake–so be careful!  Be sure to REVERSE your pattern pieces when cutting on a single layer so that you end up with a right and a left, and not two rights.  Blergh.
  • Also, match the pattern to the drape of the fabric.  Velvet is heavy and swingy and has the most beautiful movement, so it’s not well suited to a design that requires a lot of stiffness or shaping.  It gathers extraordinarily well, and the light just bounces off those gathers to create beautiful results–in any room.
  • Make all your marks for tucks, gathers and darts on the WRONG side of the fabric, preferably in chalk, as they will migrate or disappear entirely on the pile of the right side (or not come out completely, which is another kind of disaster).
  • And finally, hem carefully.  This fabric is luxurious and looks expensive, no matter what you paid–take the time to hem by hand and create a really lasting garment.  Even in my holiday time crunch, I hemmed this entire dress with a hand needle, and am so pleased I did.  Took about an hour, but it was an hour well invested!

See, I also read over and over that I should take my time when sewing velvet, but let’s just say I didn’t have a whole lot of that to spare, and what I did have I threw at making a muslin, under the idea that I needed to get the fit right more than I needed to get the finesse right–it was going to be a dark party, and while I hoped for perfect results, I was more worried about (1) being finished and (2) looking thin.  Let’s be real here: it’s all well and good to sew a dress for yourself, but if it doesn’t flatter your figure, will you really ever wear it?  So while in general I like to pay attention to the details and do the best sewing I’m able, if I have to choose between perfect seam finishes and a flattering fit, I’ll pick fit every time.  (Plus, I think we all know my track record when in a fancy dress time crunch.)

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I stand by that decision.  But I also recognize that had I been in possession of more time, I might have made some changes to how the dress was constructed.  For example: all the research indicated that velvet sheds horrifically.

velvet shedding

While “horrifically” might be an exaggeration, I totally had some fluff left under my throat plate by the time I waltzed out the door:

fluff under throat plate

Granted, some of this was leftover from making the flannel Fanfare pajamas I sewed for the kids at Christmas, but the velvet left its mark, both under the needle and on the cutting table:

velvet sheds

Always good to do a solid round of sewing machine maintenance after working with a fabric like this (and I strongly include minky in that designation).  With all that shedding, I might have handled the waistline seam differently if I’d had more time: I was forced to skip a nicer seam finish, and simply treat the lining and bodice as one when joining the skirt to the bodice at the front.  There’s an awkward shaped inset there, and I just couldn’t work out how to tuck it under and still cover the seams.  I think I’ve figured out a better solution, but at the time–late in the evening and up against a deadline–I didn’t see it; if I’d had longer, I might have unpicked this seam and re-sewn it.  No one knew but me, so no biggie, but fill disclosure and all that: this dress is gorgeous, and imperfect.  Sewing can be both.  Just like people.

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On the whole, I didn’t dislike sewing with velvet at all.  Mostly that was the joy of learning to do something new that I haven’t done before–it’s a little thrilling, right?  To just jump in with two feet and see what might happen?  But it was also the excitement of making something beautiful that I knew I’d be wearing someplace magical with the man I love.  That part of it–the delight of sewing something that I knew I would wear and enjoy and be proud to show off–made any inconvenience seem so tiny in comparison.

Man, how many things can do that?  Make you so excited to see the other side that you don’t mind any of the irritations along the way?  True love, and the act of creation.  Those are the ones that spring to mind.  How inspiring that making something with our hands can provide the same powerful emotion that we experience when we share our hearts with someone!  Sewing is as close as we get to magic, y’all.  Velvety, lovely magic.

Sewing Buddies 2014 NOW OPEN!


Wayyyy back in 2010, I launched an idea based on a simple survey: pair up willing volunteers with one another to serve as sewing pen pals and keep each other motivated throughout the course of one year.  It was a means of helping all of us achieve our sewing goals, and I was very nearly overwhelmed with the number of people who signed on and took part, and so excited to see how they got on together!  Every year since, I have repeated the process, matching up willing folks from around the globe who are looking to play along with a friend.

sewing buddy button

This year marks the FIFTH anniversary of the Sewing Buddy Project, which I had to triple-check to truly believe.  Crazy, crazy town.  Over those years, with the multiple iterations of the project, I have toyed with various methods of making the Project more interactive and exciting.  We Buddies have had varying levels of success, ranging from some really excellent Sewing Buddy Challenges to, quite honestly, some real flops, which I’d like to pretend didn’t happen (everything in crafty land is lovely!! we never make mistakes or have things blow up in our faces, never ever!!) but it totally did and it was kind of a bummer.

This year, I’ve really labored over whether and how to adjust the Project to adapt it to the growing needs of all the former and future Buddies out there, to capture the enthusiasm we all have in abundance in these early days of a new year, when Janus is busy looking both forward and back, and to offer something substantive and of on-going value that would bring people together.  I thought, briefly, about closing up shop on Sewing Buddies and letting it drift quietly away.  I thought about keeping sign-ups closed and only working with existing Sewing Buddies to refine the Project, but not grow it.  I considered, if I did move forward and invite new folks to participate, if more communication with me was the answer, or if I should just make a blanket statement that I was serving as a matchmaker only and after that, y’all were on your own.  A sewing yenta, if you will.

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From the 2012 Sewing Buddy Challenges

The folks who love Sewing Buddies, and who really connected with the people they have met through the Project, REALLY love it, and I didn’t feel good about saying “So long!” to those who had really gotten the vision and run with it.  I get daily emails from folks who have stumbled across the Project on the web and missed the deadline to join, and who want to take part, so something was cooking out there in the virtual ether–something that made people want to reach out and connect with one another, and at least some of those people thought this was a good way to go about doing that.  My gut and my heart both tell me that matching two folks up and sending them off to sew with no follow-up and no on-going infusion of ideas–to sew with the wolves, as it were–isn’t the answer.  My mission has always been, and continues to be, to lead people to passionately love sewing.  Part of that mission is my sincere and deep desire to champion the cause of the modern home, beginning with needle and thread–and a home is built with relationships much more than it is with ideas.  So with that in mind, I made some lists and checked them twice, considering all my options, and made the decision to bring the Sewing Buddies with me into 2014.  Not just that, I have developed a NEW FORMAT for the Sewing Buddy Project that I think will really, really get you excited.  Because if a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing well.  Or at least, enthusiastically.

You ready to hear all about it?

Sewing Buddies, Now With Video

Honestly, you know how sometimes you have ideas and you wonder why it took you so long to think of them?  This was one of those times.  Here I had spent months building a new blog and a new online class site (the sheer volume of work involved in developing those new sites is part of the reason that I delayed launching the 2014 Sewing Buddies last November, as originally planned), and it didn’t occur to me to USE that new format as a means of bringing the Buddies together!  What better way for us to all play together than to give us our own online space, right?  Once the penny dropped, most of the details fell into place.

In previous years, to become a Sewing Buddy, I asked that folks leave a comment on a blog post–I then sent out an email to all the commenters, asking them to give some details about themselves.  Using each of those responses, I matched up Buddies in pairs, all over the world–over 200 Buddies last year alone.  It is a time-consuming process, but one that I genuinely enjoyed and that led to some really stellar pairings.

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THIS year, I’ll be taking advantage of the new class interface to create a home for us, an online group where Buddies can interact with one another and stay updated while sharing links and ideas and successes and failures with the rest of us.  Plus, using the class interface allows me to add VIDEO to the mix!  In an effort to keep all the Sewing Buddies active and involved and excited, I’m adding monthly video and project ideas as part of the fun.  Each month, Sewing Buddies will be invited to view a brand-new just-for-you video to keep your sewing mojo cooking–with interviews, project ideas, free patterns, exclusive tutorials, giveaways, and discounts that only Buddies can share.  You’ll also get opportunities to compete with your Buddy in challenges and membership in the Sewing Buddy Flickr group to share what you’re working on, year-round!

I have some really fun plans for incorporating not just video, but more communication into the mix, too–seems like, for nearly all of us, motivation falls off as the year goes on, and I want your Sewing Buddy to be your very best (virtual) sewing friend, someone who shares this fun thing with you and gets you excited and inspired and gives you someone to yammer on about every single one of your sewing plans and projects this year.  Between video sessions and the power of a dedicated online space, Sewing Buddies are more NOW than ever before!  Heck, you and your Buddy can even Skype each other to keep the fun going!

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From the 2012 Sewing Buddy Challenges

What Getting (and Being) A Sewing Buddy Means for You:

Becoming a Sewing Buddy is a fun opportunity to meet other folks who love sewing.  That’s it, in a nutshell.  I hope you’ll find that the videos, challenges, giveaways and other fun stuff that comes along as 2014 unfolds add to that for you, but at the core, the Sewing Buddy Project is about making this virtual sewing community immediate and tangible for each of us, by giving us a friend to share ideas, make nerdy sewing jokes, challenge us to keep our goals, and to grow our sewing with.

As a Sewing Buddy, you’re agreeing to follow these (very broad) guidelines:

  • Agree that you will leave no email from your Sewing Buddy un-answered.  A Sewing Buddy is a pen pal who loves to sew, and pen palling with your pen pal is the best way to get that all going–remember what Gramma said: to have a friend, you have to BE a friend.  Simply replying to each message as they go back and forth will build your commitment and resolve.  If your Sewing Buddy-ness goes no further than encouraging emails once a week, that’s awesome!  It will keep you on-track to meet some goals or to challenge yourself in a way you might not have otherwise.  If you both decide to start your own Flickr group or joint blog or do some mail exchanges, even better.  At a minimum, though, resolve to always answer your Buddy’s emails–any other participation in challenges or contests is completely voluntary.
  • Branch out and get a new Sewing Buddy, even if you’ve already been rocking it with your 2010 or 2011 or 2012 or 2013 Buddy.  You can never have too many friends who sew!  You can keep your other Buddies and learn great stuff from a new one.  Isn’t friendship awesome?
  • Sewing Buddies can be at any skill level and do any type of sewing.  We welcome beginners, intermediates, advanced and lots of mixy types at in-between-y skill levels.  Don’t quilt?  Maybe your Buddy can help you learn!  Don’t sew garments?  Maybe the two of you will start together!  The only requirement is that you’re willing to communicate and interact with one another.  That’s it!
  • Sewing Buddies can be from anywhere in the world, as long as you’re willing to communicate in English.  We’ve had folks from Britain, Australia, Denmark, Sweden, Spain, Portugal, Brazil, Canada, Austria, South Africa, New Zealand and a host of other nations participate, and you can, too!  I can’t promise you’ll get a Buddy who is geographically near to you, but isn’t that part of the fun, that discovery?  Hooray for international diplomacy!
  • Be on the lookout for contests, challenges, secret passwords, and even (gasp!) meet-ups designed just for Sewing Buddies!  We’ll have our monthly Sewing Buddy video along with the discussions those lead to, but there is plenty more that we can do–and I’ve taken suggestions and comments from past Sewing Buddies very seriously as I work to make this the coolest pen pal experience you’ve ever had!

That’s it!  I’ll begin matching names in the magic whirly-bin of Sewing Buddy Science on January 14, 2014.  Sign-ups will close January 19, 2014 at midnight.  Pairs will be notified no later than January 26, 2014 and the first Sewing Buddy 2014 video will go live on January 31, 2014!

To participate in the 2014 Sewing Buddy Project:

  • To add your name to the list to be matched with a Buddy, register through the Sewing Buddy “class” page.  For the first year in five years, I am asking for a nominal fee to cover the costs associated with hosting the video for the group–just $3 for the entire year.  I’m hoping that isn’t too off-putting, and if there is anyone who wants to participate and doesn’t have the financial resources to cover the $3 fee, I have arranged a limited number of scholarships to make sure everyone who wants to participate is able to do so!
  • Once you’re registered, you’ll receive a confirmation email from me with a request for you to name a favorite color, and a number between 1 and 10.  I’ll also ask you to suggest an “activity” for Sewing Buddies to participate in during one quarter in 2014–these suggestions are wide open, and a have no bearing on what Buddy you get; they’re for research purposes only, I promise.  You will also have immediate access to the Sewing Buddy group on the e-courses site.  There, you’ll find a welcome video along with a couple yummies to get this party started!
  • I’ll use the responses in the emails I receive along with a super-scientific system here at the Whipstitch Labs to match you to the PERFECT Sewing Buddy based on a four-fold formula that’s much too complicated to write about here but that is really awesome and time-y wime-y space-y.
  • I’ll send an email to the both of you giving introductions in proper Victorian style (a lady never spends time with someone to whom she has not been properly introduced), and then like a mother whose chicks are leaving the nest, I’ll step back and watch as the friendship flourishes.
  • You and your Buddy will make the initial contact and see where it leads you!  Contests?  Maybe.  Inspiration?  Certainly.  Life-long friendship?  Golly, I hope so.

That’s it!  I’m really looking forward to hearing more from all of you this year, can am so pleased so many of you are looking to continue the Sewing Buddy love.  Hooray!

sewing buddy icon

One Little Word Wall Hanging: Resources

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In an effort to get off on the right foot with my 2014 One Little Word, I’m stitching up a wall hanging for myself.  I’m working on mine today as my husband and I fly off–just the two of us, no kids–for a quick weekend trip.  All those miles we’ve been saving up?  Using those puppies for two plane tickets and a hotel in a warmer locale for two days, and starting our year off a little closer to one another.

While I’m flying, I’ll be stitching!  If you’re joining in on the One Little Word action and would like to stitch yourself a wall hanging or pillow or pin cushion to keep your word in front of your eyes this coming year, check out some of the resources below to build your skillz.

Welcome to 2014, y’all!  It’s all happening.

Cross Stitch

I’ll be cross stitching my wall hanging, which I suppose is a continuation of my 2013 obsession.  I’m using a combination of backstitch outlining and block letters filled in with counted cross stitch.  Should you want to do the same, build your letters using one of these alphabets:

Screen Shot 2013-12-31 at 3.49.01 PM hosts over 40 different cross stitch alphabets, all free to download and print.  Combine letters from one or more alphabets to spell our your word in stitches.

Screen Shot 2013-12-31 at 3.51.57 PM has a wonderfully classic PDF printable Times New Roman cross stitch alphabet, which I’m using to build the body of the main letters for my OLW.  The smaller text, which will appear above and below the main word, will be in backstitch–I’m using a slightly modified version of this alphabet from New England Classic Stitch for those:

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Maybe you’d rather not have an Aida cloth base for your wall hanging/pillow/whathaveyou, or maybe you don’t love cross stitch the way I do (it’s OK, we can still be friends).  Embroidery is always a good option.  DesignsInStitches has about a zillion free fonts, many of which can be used as-is or adapted–like this one, which could be cool with or without the stippling on the interior of the outline:

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If some of those are too traditional for you, you can always try Sublime Stitching’s alphabets, some of which are now available for instant download:

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You might just not be an embroidery floss kinda person, which is cool.  Or maybe you want something more substantial to showcase your word–a lap quilt, a mini-quilt wall hanging, or a full bed-sized quilt.  You can totally patchwork these letters, y’all.  It’s awesome.

I like the Refrigerator Magnets alphabet Elizabeth Hartman released earlier this year a lot for this project; it has the added benefit of providing you with three sizes of lettering, so you can adjust your text to fit the size of the final project:


 American Quilting magazine also has a free downloadable alphabet that would work for this project–these come only in a single size:

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I’ll share progress on mine as I go along, plus some cross stitching tips–I’ve already been forced to take out one letter because I wasn’t satisfied with the spacing, and I’m now in the process of swapping floss colors on another section to get better contrast and make it really POP on the wall.  Good thing we’ve got this flight ahead of us–and that I’m in no rush.  Two days into the New Year and I’m already rocking out on the margin, y’all.

How about you?  Did you choose a word for this year?  What is it, and what are you doing to keep it in the front of your mind here in these first few days of the year?

One Little Word: MARGIN

I love this idea of having a word for the coming year.  Ali Edwards has done it for the better part of a decade now, and I must have seen it a couple years back, going around the social media circles.  Memorably, in 2012, I chose a word for my coming year–something really tangible and meaningful and far-reaching.  It made me feel inspired and excited and wondrous.  I felt like I had really stumbled across a concept that tapped right into so many of my own thoughts, and spelled out in a way that so completely echoed the way I like to view the world.  This was an opportunity, I remember thinking, to create a focal point and to follow it through the year.

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Blue Velvet Cocktail Dress: World Prom

After all that work planning and sewing and staying up late and drinking coffee, I got exactly THREE photos of me wearing this magnificent dress.  Here she is, in all her post-party glory:

handsewn blue velvet cocktail dress

Getting shots of the dress NOT on my body is way easier than getting them ON my body.  For example, here’s a classic:

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That’s RIGHT, baby.  We were shutting. it. down.  But the dress?  You can’t exactly see it so much.

Where you CAN see it is right here:

blue velvet dress photo booth prom picture

That is PROM, baby!  Which is nice, because no one ever invited me to prom, which means I never went, which makes me like the girl Annie Potts talks about in Pretty In Pink.  (My husband is about done hearing this story, but it is a part of me, so.)

I’m a little disappointed, I’m not gonna lie.  This venue is dreamy, and I had really hoped to get some pictures of this beautiful, classic dress in front of the rustic wood barn walls and the lovely, upscale antiques that fill it.  This photo was taken early in the evening, before guests had begun to arrive, when the photographer was testing the backdrop (it was later taken down–after my chance was gone, sad trombone).  But my husband and I were having such an awesome time, and so many of our friends were there, and the music was so good and the drinks were going around…I just never quite got back to the photographer to have another shot taken.

But then I thought: why do I need to have them taken only there?  What I mean to say is, what’s stopping me from taking this dress on a WORLD TOUR??  So I present to you: The Blue Velvet Cocktail Dress Prom Picture Around the World Tour 2013!

eiffel blue velvet

leaning tower blue velvet

taj mahal blue velvet

maori heads blue velvet

macchu-picchu blue velvet

chichen blue velvet

coliseum blue velvet

great_pyramid blue velvet

stonehenge blue velvet

mount rushmore blue velvet

Sigh.  What a dream, right?  I would totally take prom pictures in any and every one of these places.  And maybe even UNDERWATER?

blue velvet underwater

But really, why stop at a WORLD tour?  Let’s make it COSMIC!

blue velvet on mars

Prom pictures for the whole universe, from Mars to wherever!  Heck, even Pluto gets to be a planet in this scenario.  Prom for everyone!!

Happy New Year, y’all.  May your next twelve months be filled with laughter and adventure.  See you there!

  • All background photos via Google image search, with apologies to their respective owners for our photobombing.  All hack-job photoshopping skillz my own.

Sewing a Velvet Cocktail Dress

Each year for the past four years, my husband’s firm has thrown a Christmas party.  The first year, it was a lovely and classy affair in a floor-to-ceiling glass penthouse venue, with views of the lights across our city.  The year after, it was a small-but-enthusiastic bunch gathered in a converted polo barn in the heart of town, complete with live band for the first half of the evening and karaoke for the second half, gourmet popsicles served straight from a cart on the dance floor, and (perhaps my husband’s most inspired contribution) a photo booth for the capturing of ridiculous moments inspired by an open bar and an all-80s-band (the best in Atlanta, BTW, you should totally go hear them play).

barn ext

The past two years have taken that theme and raised it to a whole ‘nother level, with the excitement ratcheting up alongside the guest list each holiday season.  It is, hands down, the best Christmas party in the city.  And for three of the four years, I have sewn my own holiday couture in which to rock down to Electric Avenue.  (Literally–see link above and photo below.)


This year, I began thinking about what I’d sew pretty early on–I suspect that before my birthday in September, I had already envisioned what I wanted the final dress to be.  Never mind that things so rarely turn out identical in every respect to something we dreamed up in our heads (particularly garments)–what matters here is that I care enough about this party that I was already dressing for it far in advance.  I never do that, dude.  I was notorious when I taught school for getting veeeeery rare compliments on my appearance from students–invariably on days when I was forced by an errant laundry situation to resort to wearing something gasp! that had to be ironed. I am generally content with choosing my clothing at the eleventh hour, and don’t often plan outfits in advance.  This party, however, makes my husband soooo happy, and we have the best time there together, so looking pretty and feeling festive boost my planning way higher than it ever is in regular life–like, months higher.

I knew I wanted velvet.  I have zero explanation for why, except that it seems luxurious and regal and sumptuous and very seasonally appropriate–something about velvet says rides in a sleigh with a fur stole, doesn’t it??

On a shopping trip with my only-ever-hung-out-online-before friend Brooke, we headed to Gail K here in Atlanta, and I found just the thing: midnight blue velvet with just the right amount of heft and drape.

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Originally, I envisioned this as a version of a Ralph Lauren dress (similar to this), with some kind of beaded drape at the back.  I was planning to work with this pattern and adapt it to my design:

Vogue 2931

And then I came to my senses and realized just how much work it would take to adjust the pattern.  Plus, this style is really more suited for a crisp fabric with a lot of body, not a soft and drapey fabric like velvet.  In my stash (of all places), I found this Vogue pattern, instead:

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It was a little bit of a gamble, to jump in with a n unfamiliar pattern with just a few days before the deadline.  Oh, did I not mention that?  I was about 72 hours out on this party when I finally sat down to sew and switched patterns.  Eleventh hour, indeed.

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I made an entire muslin out of a cotton, just like a good girl.  I deliberately did it in a print, one that I thought I’d be able to wear later on, all things going according to plan.  The fit was vastly better than most out-of-the-envelope patterns I’ve tried–feedback on Instagram has led me to believe this is frequently true of vintage Vogue patterns (either that, or vintage Vogue patterns are just drafted for busty, short-waisted girls).

I launched into cutting the velvet–eeep!  It wasn’t super crazy expensive–which is how I know it isn’t silk–but it also wasn’t cheap, so I wanted to be sure I did a good job of cutting.  I have said it for years: sewing really is 90% cutting, and if you do a good job of that step, you’re home free for the rest of it.  I cut everything out, carefully, carefully, and naturally STILL had a cutting error on one of the back panels.  So that set me back another 45 minutes.  I bootlegged a solution (determining that I could add a smidge with an extra seam and then hide the whole Franken-mess in the pleated back panel where it would be largely invisible), and moved ahead with the bodice.

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I feel like, with a style that has a fitted bodice and a gathered, full skirt, the bodice is where your energy and efforts should really be invested, from a sewing perspective.  I knew that folks were more likely to notice errors and flubs in the bodice, and that I really wanted to look my prettiest (translation: thinnest, let’s be honest, now), and so I worked to invest the majority of my time here.  I opted to underline the entire bodice with a black cotton flannel (pre-washed/shrunk, naturally), to give it more body and heft without adding too much stiffness.  Given the fit later, I think this was totally the right choice to make, and am really pleased that I did it.  I cut the underlining using the same pattern pieces as the bodice, then basted them together with my longest straight stitch, with the wrong side of the velvet to the flannel.  After that, I treated both pieces as one for the rest of the construction.  The flannel really stabilized the whole bodice, and was much easier to sew than I’ve been led to believe velvet often is, which was nice for me.

Nearly all the construction stitches were done with my walking foot, flannel underlining notwithstanding.  I had read in my research (most notably here and here) that velvet likes to “travel” while stitching, a function of the pile of the fabric.  No matter how you pin and stabilize, apparently, edges shift and move about.  I didn’t have the world’s worst experience of that, but I did switch to my walking foot after the very first (test) seam, which came out terribly puckered.

After assembling the bodice, the lining was assembled the same way, this time out of Ambiance rayon, purchased from Vogue Fabrics.  They didn’t have exactly the midnight color I wanted, so I went with a deep, deep navy, which looks in these photos like silver, making me think that a silver lining might have been kind of cool, but it’s done now so no use looking at the past.

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Lining the notch was going to be an obvious challenge, so I opted not to think about it too much at this stage, and just focus on getting the best fit out of the bodice that I could possibly get.

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The skirt went together without a hitch–or at least, without any hitch in addition to the weird extra seam I was forced to sew to correct my cutting error.  Attaching it to the bodice went smoothly, too, except for the waistline: because this pattern calls for the bodice to be lined but not the skirt, I didn’t have any guidance for how to make that happen.  Now, ordinarily, that’s not an issue and I’d simply sew the skirt lining to the bodice lining and then attach the lining to the outer dress.  Done and done.  In this case, I wanted to catch the skirt lining in the waistline seam, to give it some more support.  Which made attaching the skirt and bodice tricky, since that same waistline seam involves two Y-corners and some weird finagling to get it all lined up.  There may or may not be some funkiness on the interior behind that front apron placket section.  I might consider my usual make-two-dresses-one-of-lining-and-attach-at-neckline technique for the summer version of this–honestly, at this moment, I don’t really remember my thought process for why I didn’t do it that way on this version, but I know it must have been a good reason.

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At that point, who can resist a fitting, am I right??  This was my most-liked image on Instagram all year, and truthfully, the encouragement over there gave me the motivation and accountability to push through this project at 2 am when I really was pooped and not sure it was worth it.  Waking up and trying it on and having it fit so nicely–well, that really made it worth it.

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Trim came next.  The pattern calls for all of this trim to be (1) wider and (2) hand-stitched.  Oh, my.  Even if I had not been on a tight deadline, I doubt I would have hand-sewn every inch of this ribbon in place.  Actually, it’s not even ribbon: I used a satin bias tape, because I couldn’t find a narrow-enough ribbon in the right shade of blue.  This was all machine-stitched in place to cover the waistline seam.  I love the idea of it, but because of the way the satin reflects light, am not sure it’s as slimming as the dress was without it.  However, leaving it off wasn’t an option (the seam was pretty ugly) and removing it now isn’t an option (once you sew into velvet, that’s pretty much where it lives–crushing the pile leaves a mark that’s virtually impossible to remove, so this trim isn’t going anywhere), so I’m going to live with it.

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I did add a pretty little bow, which I quite like.

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And there’s the final dress!  This is on display in my studio at home.  Very pretty, very flirty and fun to wear.  Next post: photos of the dress on me, all prom-style!

Sugarplum Dreams for All

This year, we finally sent out Christmas cards.  We have never, in point of fact, successfully mailed Christmas cards, ever in our entire married lives (or, for that matter, before we were married).  Every year since our wedding, I have purchased Christmas cards (usually I get them at the end of the previous season at 70% off, if we’re being totally honest, and save them for the next year in the same storage bin as the ornaments, so we discover them as we’re decorating).  And every year, somehow the days fly past, and I am never quite able to get the ball rolling or the list together or the darn things in the mail.

Not this year, though.  THIS year, we were fortunate enough to have the awesome Heather Ross design a card for us, and nothing lights a fire under your card-mailing behind like having someone you truly admire create an original artwork just for you.

heather ross christmas card 2013

Heather announced last September that she’d be designing a limited number of cards this year, and I immediately emailed my husband with the idea (you can now order gift certificates for commissions on Heather’s blog).  We’d both seen another Christmas card of Heather’s on a blog we read and love (you can see it here), and were really excited about the idea of having something with that same feeling for our own family.  I sent an (extended and entirely too wordy) email over to Heather describing each of the six of us, and she sketched and drafted something lovely.

This is the final result:

christmas card 2013 b

I just love it.  I love most that this is what we do every single evening, no matter where we are: after bath and teeth, we read stories together, everyone curled up on the bed, nestled amongst one another.  This is what I envisioned my family would be, before I had a family.  I wanted this kind of closeness and security and warmth for me and for my children, and I feel so grateful to have found it all.  Heather captured that emotion perfectly, and I’m so thrilled to now have this piece to frame for our home–in addition to the digital file for printing, Heather sent over two 9″ x 12″ signed prints for us to frame, and I just love them.

Christmas print with Nativity

For the cards, I sent the art over to PsPrint, and designed the whole shebang for them to put together.  These are 5″ x 7″–a little on the larger size for a holiday card.  I chose to do just a flat postcard, which seems to be the way holiday cards are heading these days, rather than the folded greeting cards of our youth.  I selected the matte recycled paper, which has this lovely weight and sheen to it, and is just the perfect medium for Heather’s soft lines.

writing Christmas cards

Naturally, I also pounced on a 65% off discount that was mailed to us late-birds at the very last possible minute so that I could capitalize on my failure to get them out earlier.

Christmas cards 2013

That’s right: in this, our inaugural card-sending year, with a custom portrait from an esteemed artist, I STILL managed to wait until December 23 to mail these puppies out.  BUT!  They are out, and I am delighted to know that the satisfaction that comes along with that is pretty filling.

Christmas packages

Our families, whom we will see on Christmas Day and the following Saturday, will receive theirs attached to their gifts, like tags.  I left room on the back of each card to write a note, and I think having a portrait of your nuclear family to share with your extended family makes something sweeter about the holidays.

Hope all of YOU sleep tonight with visions of sugarplums dancing in your heads.  Wishing all of you the joy and peace of family and full hearts this Christmas.

Men’s Jacket Series: Fitting a Men’s Coat

So this is the stage in this whole jacket-sewing process where we get to actually see someone wearing the jacket (muslin) and evaluate if it fits as it ought to fit, and hangs as it ought to hang, and has the overall shape and “slimness” desired.

mens jacket on model

My husband takes a 42 in suit jackets–which is to say, his chest measures approximately 42″.  The jacket does not measure 42″ at the chest, naturally, since that would make it challenging for him to breathe, and I prefer him less Smurf-like.  Most off-the-rack men’s jackets allow about 4″ of ease at the chest, and this pattern seems to be no different.  I was surprised by how similar the fit is here to jackets he has tried on at Banana Republic and Billy Reid.  This style is a little roomier than some of the jackets he’s tried at Sid Mashburn, which have a slightly more “European” cut, but I think that might be a good thing.  The challenge with a 42 jacket is that many of them are made for men with full chests–and full bellies.  My husband has broad, muscular shoulders (yum), but no gut–so a lot of lesser-quality off-the-rack coats just hang on him like he’s wearing another (bigger) man’s cast-offs from the thrift shop.  I was pleased to see that this style doesn’t have that look to it–because, wow, WAY less work for me.

mens jacket collar back

There are a number of key fit points that we looked for, using his preferences as a starting point and layered with what we know about how a men’s coat should fit–Esquire magazine does a really great job of compiling cheat sheets for this kind of thing, primarily aimed at shopping, but really useful if you’re sewing, as well.  See their article on How to Fit a Suit Jacket, as well as their guide Seven Ways to Tell if Your Suit Fits.

To start with, I wanted to know if the collar hit at the correct point on the back of his neck.  Now, he first tried the jacket on with just an undershirt, but we both realized pretty quickly that we weren’t getting an accurate picture of what was happening, so he changed into a button-up shirt with an undershirt beneath it.  The coat back upper edge should hit just at the base of the shirt collar, so that the collar (when attached) will lie on top of the shirt collar.  Nailed it.

mens jacket across back

One of the things my husband does every time he tries on a jacket, under any circumstance, is reach around to the front and cross his wrists–he’s testing to see if he has enough room across the back for his arms to reach without raising the jacket unattractively.  I don’t want to see a bunch of stretching or puckering across the shoulders, and he shouldn’t feel any pulling when he’s in a more-or-less normal position of reaching to the front.  Again, this pattern looks pretty good in that regard–we’re getting a little pleased with ourselves at this point, what with the fit working out fairly well right out of the package.

mens jacket front underarm

Next concern in the amount of room under the arms, particularly at the front of the jacket.  My husband especially struggles with those more European cut jackets, because the narrowness of the cut makes for smaller armhole openings, which pinches and binds on him at the front.  With both the undershirt and the collared shirt beneath the muslin, there isn’t quite enough space under the arms here–it’s not horrible, but it’s a little more snug than he would like.  Now, if I were to make this shirt out of linen, maybe it would be ok, since he’s less likely to wear an undershirt in the summer months, but if he were to wear a golf shirt or something along those lines, that would be even more bulky than what he has on now.  So first chink in the armor: need to adjust the space under the arms.

mens jacket check length

As long as we have this thing on him, we checked the length.  Obviously, it isn’t hemmed yet–you can see the little dogleg bit at the front edge there where the facings will attache and allowance has been made for hemming.  Taking into account that we’ll lose about 1″ for the hem, this looks pretty good–we want the coat to come to the fold in his knuckles when it’s finished.  Which is to say, when he cups his hand under the finished jacket, the finished edge should rest comfortably in his folded fingers.

mens jacket mark length

I marked that point on the muslin with a pin, so that when I do the hem, I’ll be able to check the length and get it right the first time.  Who wants to do it over again, right?

mens jacket button front

Final check, does it fit around the front?  This style has darts in the fronts and in the back, nipping in the waist just a bit for a slim profile.  That’s part of what I like about it–this doesn’t hang on him like a sack, it’s really a nicely shaped jacket (but without me having to do a ton of tailoring, since I am not a small Italian man).  There’s a 5/8″ seam allowance at the front edges, so taking that into account and placing one side over the other as it will be when he buttons the jacket, we want to verify that there will be the correct amount of space with the jacket closed–Esquire says he should be able to place his flat hand in with ease, but if he places his fist in, it will pull at the buttons.  Seems OK from here, given that we’re assuming a little on button placement.

mens jacket front underarm adjust

I marked this one change we’re going to make–opening up that underarm at the front to give him a little more room–and I’ll re-sew and re-test that fit.  From there, it’s time to transfer that change to the pattern pieces and then cut the fashion fabric.  This is the stage at which I always freeze a little bit, because up until now, it all feels a little like fun and games.  After this, we’re at The Show, and it’s the real deal.  So while I’m gleefully moving ahead, I’ll also be muttering hopeful prayers under my breath that it will all work out and the finished jacket will be flattering and fit well and look professional and he’ll be so delighted he wants me to make another one.

Wait.  Hang on.  Maybe thats not how I want this to work out…  I could inadvertently become a menswear factory on a very tiny scale over here…