Essential Sewing

I was going to write a post about the fail that is my new dishcloth that I knitted (knit?) while on vacation, which makes it now look as though I wash dishes with a pair of underpants, but I’m so busy washing with it that I didn’t get a photo.  Another time.

Instead, why not skip over and read the description of the Essential Sewing e-course that starts on Monday? I’d love to have you join us!  Looks to be a really cool and exciting group–can’t wait to see it all come together.  Register here through Monday.  (Psst: I’ll tell you a secret, too.  I never did get around to taking down the early bird discount, so why no take advantage of my neglect and save yourself some dough on your registration?  It’ll be our secret!)

His Heart Grew Three Sizes That Day

Conversation with my husband, over freshly washed fabric.

Me: So, tell me which one of these you want to have for your pajama pants this Christmas.

Him: Wait, are we all getting pants?

Me:  Yes, we’re all getting matching Christmas PJs, and we’re all going to wear them at the same time and be happy.  But you get to pick which fabric you like for yours.



Him:  Pants, or pants and shirt?

Me:  Do you want the top, or just the pants?

Him:  I think I’ll be OK with just the pants.


Him:  I like this one.  (holds up folded, pre-washed fabric)

Me:  Are you sure?  You don’t want the flannel version?  Because it comes in flannel, too.

Him:  No, this one.

Me:  Really?  Because they’re for Christmas.

Him:  This one. I don’t need more flannel.  All my other pajama pants are flannel, and I need some I can wear the rest of the year.

Me:  But they have the Grinch all over them.

Him:  I don’t understand your point.

Stay tuned, y’all.  Holiday sewing is about to commence.

BONUS! Ruby Star Spring Apron Over-Skirt Tutorial

Did you love the Ruby Star Spring A-line Skirt?  Because I love it.  And when I originally envisioned it, I saw it in my mind as two layers, one a simple, clean skirt that can be worn all spring, summer and fall, and another an apron overlay that can sass it up or be worn over pants all fall and winter long.  Isn’t it darling??  So, today, a simple tutorial for an apron-styled overskirt to wear with your Bee Skirt, or to pair with skinny jeans through the rest of the school year!

Bee Apron-Style Over-Skirt

  • 1/2 yd Ruby Star Spring cotton/linen blend (or another fabric of your choice)
  • one piece 4″ x 28″ for the waistband
  • interfacing 4″ x 28″
  • coordinating thread
  • ridiculously wide ribbon in a coordinating color

Apply fusible interfacing to the wrong side of the waistband piece, then press under one long edge 1/4″.  Set aside.

Make the miters in the skirt corners and set in the hem.  Do this by pressing under 1/4″ on the two short sides of the 1/2 yd panel and the lower long edge.  Use steam–you’ll want them nice and crisp.  Then, turn under another 1/4″ and steam some more.  Give it the old elbow grease.

Open out all the folds at the corners, and with a ruler, mark the point of intersection of the fold lines.  Draw across the lines on a diagonal right where they meet–this is where we’ll stitch to make a good, clean miter at the corner of the skirt hem.

Fold the fabric into a corner, right sides together, lining up the marks you’ve just made.  The line will be folded in half, and you’ll be using it to guide you to make a clean 45-degree angle.

With the first pressed edge folded in, stitch across the line you’ve marked, securing those edges in place.

Trim the seam, and pop the corner to the inside.  It will carry the second pressed edge along with it, and make a lovely, tidy little mitered corner.  Repeat on the opposite lower corner and press in place.  Stitch the hem from the upper raw edge, down one side, pivoting at the corner, then across the lower hem, pivoting again, and up the second short side.

So pretty!  Now we gather the upper edge and prepare to attach it to the waistband.  Run a row of gathering stitches at a 1/2″ seam allowance from the upper raw edge.  Run a second row of gathering stitches–your longest straight stitch–at 1/4″ seam allowance.  Leave nice, long tails.

Draw up on the gathering threads like moving a window curtain along a curtain rod.

Place the gathered skirt front against the waistband, right sides together, leaving a 1/2″ overhang at each end.

Pin in place along the waistband, and adjust the gathers so they’re evenly spaced across the waistband.  Stitch in place, using a 1/2″ seam allowance and keeping your gathers nice and perky–don’t smoosh them flat, but rather run over them where they’ve been gathered.

Press the seam allowance toward the waistband.  Now, we add in the ribbon ties.  At each end, where you left the 1/2″ overhang, fold the waistband right sides together.  Slip the ribbon between the two layers.

Pin in place, then stitch top to bottom, right at the edge of where the side hem begins.  You’ll be trapping the ribbon in the middle at the same time, so do take care that it’s placed right sides together with the skirt front–if your ribbon has a shiny side, for example, that should be face down here.

Trim the seam allowances and flip the ribbon to the right side.  It will draw the waistband with it, nice and clean.  Isn’t that cool?  Press the waistband in half, then pin the lower, pressed edge in place so we can topstitch it down.

From the public side of the skirt, topstitch close to the lower edge of the waistband, backstitching at each ribbon end.

Tie an exaggerated and delicious bow, and kick-start your dancing shoes!  Magnificent!

Wear it over your Bee Skirt or pair with dresses, pants or jeans every season of the year.  Sassy!

FREE Pattern Download: Ruby Star Spring Bee Skirt!

Local Atlanta fabric designer Melody Miller is a dreamy lady to know.  Her new fabric collection, Ruby Star Spring, is just out in the softest, most luxurious cotton/linen blend, and she asked if I would be willing to work with her to create the perfect skirt to showcase the central print: a pixellated bee.  Would I?!?  Um, OK.

Basically, this is the conversation, but on fast-forward–look and see how sweetly she cajoles when she has a great idea:

I love bees, I love skirts, I see no downside here.

These fabrics are such a great blend of edgy and chic–and you really can’t imagine how soft they are to touch and how buttery they are to sew with.  The bee graphic is large–almost 12″ across–so to showcase it, we decided on a clean, simple, universally-flattering A-line skirt.  The design has two options: it can be lined or have a simple and quick bias-tape finish at the waistline.

Because the fabrics are 60 glorious inches wide, it takes very little yardage to make one of these skirts–depending on how faithfully you lay out your pieces to highlight the bee, as little as 3/4 of a yard.  Awesome, yes?

Skip over to download your FREE copy of the Bee Skirt pattern, then check out the video tutorial below, which covers basic construction, installing the invisible zip, creating the bias-faced waistband, and hemming.  You’ll have your very own perfect skirt in no time!

Wanna Help Me House Hunt?

So, we’re living in a rental and looking for a new house to buy.  Don’t get me wrong, not having a mortgage is pretty hot, but the rental is actually a teeny bit smaller than the house that we just sold because we needed more room, so we’re a little bit ready to say farewell to the In-Between House and fall in love with our Forever House.

We’re hoping to find a home we super, super love and stay there for 20+ years, or at least until the kids are all out of the nest, or at least at least until the sky falls–whichever comes first.  So I’m bringing the noise and the picky to this house-hunting party.  Are you picking up what I’m putting down?

In our searches, we found this one:

It’s a modern house on a wooded lot in a good neighborhood.  We like the exterior a lot, and love that it’s got a late-70s-contemporary thing going on, but still feels a little like a tree house.  Lots of windows, plenty of light, that kind of thing.

Sadly, in 2000, the owners (who are the original owners, and quite frankly should have known better) did a remodel and made it all…like this.  SUPER traditional.  Moulding, woodwork, trim, whatever you want to call it: it’s everywhere.  Every floor-to-ceiling window, every nook and cranny, the two-story bookcase, the stairs.  All very, very traditional.  The work is exceedingly well done, and actually very pretty–it just SO doesn’t look like it belongs in a house with this exterior.  The mismatch is giving me a hard time.

Now, I should say out loud that there is no house in the world that is turn-key ready for me.  There just isn’t–most of us want to put our own stamp on a home, and if you’re at all crafty or DIYey, you’ll have that compulsion more strongly than others.  So for me, I don’t want to buy a house–no matter how great a deal it is, because we are prepared to super low-ball these people made a huge lowball offer–unless I know it can be the house I want it to be.

My question is: what would you do?  I mean, this all might be a rhetorical exercise anyway, since they could very well completely and somewhat rudely rejected our offer (we put THREE on the last house I loved, and lost it every time, so it’s totally within the realm of reason that seemed almost certain we wouldn’t get this one, either).  But ignoring issues of budget or time or skill, if you were to buy a house like this one, what would you do to make the insides match the outsides??

Oh, Pants.

I have a friend, a British friend, who makes me laugh non-stop.  Mostly when she doesn’t intend to make me laugh.  She falls down a lot, loses things constantly, once found $450 in cash in the pockets of her dirty laundry.  And when she does these awesome, ridiculous things, she’ll say, “Pants.”  Like, a kind of British swear-that’s-not-a-swear.  The first few times she did it, I wasn’t really sure what was happening, and kept looking to see if she’d sat in something.  What she really meant was, “Something has gone mildly wrong and I feel irritated by the result.”  I love that term.  Pants.

As life would have it, I myself am having some PANTS moments.  I’m working on a lot of pants right now.  And hoping for the best.  These are in a viciously lovely wool tweed–also very British, but in a 30s kind of way, with a wide leg and a zip fly.  I’m videotaping the construction of these for my current e-course–step-by-step never looked so good.

These fabrics are waiting their turn. The top is a Shetland wool herringbone I’d thought I would save for a suh-weet jacket one day, but have decided would make the most fabulous fully-lined pants.  The corduroys are slightly stretchy, and will be perfect for this fall.  And let’s not discount some velveteen–I know I’m going on a limb here, but I think a nice velveteen, in a smooth-waisted pant with a straight leg?  I am feeling it.

If you’re wondering about the Lisette pants–the answer is, I didn’t get around to making them.  Maybe I will, since it will still be roastingly hot through at least Halloween (can I get a witness?  hello, Southerners!) and I could fully rock that sailor look well after Labor Day.  Hmmm…  And the mattress stripe IS red and white, what with football season coming.  Oh, pants.


Don’t forget: still time to register for the Essential Sewing e-course starting in a couple weeks!  Get your core skills mastered through video, audio, photos and personalized instruction.  All content from this e-course will remain live and available to participants through the end of 2011–nearly four months!  Find all the details on the e-course page, and take advantage of the early bird discount!


This is only one of SIX (or maybe more) giant piles of fabric I’ve begun amassing for my next book.  I have some really (REALLY) amazing apparel fabrics on order, and not a few more in my virtual cart(s).  I might be on a binge.  So far, just a lot of folding and re-folding, but plenty of pattern testing and sample-making is on the horizon!  I love this part: where I get to make all the different variations on a design that really should exist out there in the world.  YES, it should come in corduroy!  YES, it should have piping!  YES, you can use a zipper or buttons!  YES, it can be five feet tall!  YES, YES, YES!

Don’t forget: still time to register for the Essential Sewing e-course starting in a couple weeks!  Get your core skills mastered well before this new book hits stores.  All content from this e-course will remain live and available to participants through the end of 2011–nearly four months!  Find all the details on the e-course page, and take advantage of the early bird discount!

Major Deadline

I am up against a major deadline today, and feel very much like this:

Cross your fingers and say a prayer for me, people.  I’m going in.

On Sewing with Plaid Fabrics

I will head over to TJ Maxx or Ross later today–our oldest has her very first high school pep rally on Friday, and she needs a shirt in team colors.  Since it’s her first year at a new school, we don’t own a single thing in this entire house that is the exact right shade, so I’ll be hunting through the options on the discount rack at my favorite discount retailers (because that’s SO totally how I roll) to find something that’s (1) the right color and (2) not slutty.  For a junior in high school, that’s a tough combination.  Her after-school practices are already running so late that there isn’t time between now and then for a mother-daughter shopping date, so Mommy’s going to take one for the team–literally.

Wondering what all that has to do with sewing plaid fabrics?  Give it a minute–I’m getting there.  While I’m shopping my off-brand retail stores, I’m sure to see some fabulous in-season garments by big(gish)-name designers that don’t seem to have any business being marked down 70% (even in this economic climate).  And I would wonder, “Hmmm.  What’s wrong with it, I wonder?”  That’s how I like to wonder, mostly: as obviously as possible.  And preferably aloud.

A large proportion of the time, those garments have some small construction error that means they didn’t meet inspection standards for the brand.  Like, know how you’ll find that tag that reads, “Inspected by #8″?  These didn’t get her stamp of approval.  (For my favorite version of this ever, check out the Monk episode “Mr. Monk Goes to a Fashion Show.”, which I will now totally be watching in the background while I type this.)  Many of those garments have tags on them that read “Irregular.”  That’s frequently for little mistakes, like that the plaids don’t match at the seams.  (See how we came back around there?)

Alice + Olivia pants

Matching plaid fabrics takes a little more yardage, in order to ensure that there is enough room to manipulate the pattern pieces so they fall on the fabric’s repeat just right.  The mark of higher-end garments has always been that the plaids match well, and the mark of knock-offs is frequently that their plaids don’t match at the seamlines.  If you’re making your own clothing, do you really want to put in all that time and effort cutting and pinning and sewing and fitting just to have it look like a cheap knock-off when you’re done?  No, dear.  No, you don’t.  Trust me.

Cutting Your Pattern Pieces to Match Plaids Across a Garment

As you’re constructing a garment, taking the time to line up the repeat in the print or weave of the fabric makes a massive impact on the finished product–even if you can’t always tell how big a deal it’s going to be.  For example, on the (in-progress Lisette) jacket above, were the elements of the plaid–the whiter stripes with the red checks that run horizontally and vertically–to fall so they don’t create a continuous pattern across the garment, it breaks up the lines of the jacket and makes it look…off.  Sometimes you won’t even be able to put your finger on just what’s wrong, but you’ll know something is.  And it’s pretty easy to fix in advance, if you’re paying attention.

The important part to point out is that this all takes place at the CUTTING stage–if you don’t cut well, all the manipulating at the sewing machine and ripping out seams later won’t make a difference at all.  The secret weapon is the notches.  See them, up there?  And you thought they were just for matching pattern pieces to one another when you’re assembling the garment!  Oh, innocent seamstress!  Yes, that’s true, they are–but they’re also for matching up pattern designs and repeats as you cut.  The image above shows the side seam of the jacket front and back where they will meet–by placing the notches on the same element of the pattern repeat (in this case, the lower band of blackish-navy in the horizontal stripe), I’m able to ensure that as I sew, the design of the fabric will fall along the same repeated element across the entire jacket.


That way, once the seam is stitched, it all lines up nice and clean–creating the illusion that the fabric flows across the shape and lines of the garment, but allowing me to put in seams to shape the fabric to my body.  Take a look at the pocket welt, for example.  See how it doesn’t match the overall flow of the plaid?  That’s deliberate, because by interrupting the design at that seam, I call attention to the element of the welt at the pocket–but I don’t want that same kind of visual disruption on a seam line, where I’m working to create smoothness and flow.

This doesn’t just work on side seams.  It can be used for sleeves, as well, where it create a more subtle but even more high-end effect.  See the notches on the side front and the front of the sleeve, and how they match the fabric’s repeat?

And now see how once the sleeve is inserted into the jacket, the pattern will flow across not just the body of the jacket, but each sleeve, as well?  It creates a much more unified look, and while the average person on the street won’t realize that what they’re seeing is a neatly engineered repeated design across your garment, you’ll see a 183% increase in compliments on your work, and a 251% increase in gasps of, “Did you make that??”*

It’s a result that’s pretty easy to achieve: just locate the element you want to focus on as you cut, and place one notch on the first pattern piece in a spot that’s easy to duplicate–like the lower dark line here, or even centering the point of the notch on the red stripe, which is super specific.  Then, as you cut subsequent pattern pieces from your fabric, lay the correlating notches (the ones that will line up with one another as you assemble the garment later) on the same repeated element–it will be elsewhere on the fabric, but since it’s a repeat, you ought to be able to locate another spot that’s the same as the first spot, and….you see how this works.  (Incidentally, this can be applied not just to plaids but to larger-scale graphic or floral repeats, too.)  You’ll notice that I cut my notches OUT, rather than in–this makes it easier to pinpoint those bits of repeat and make certain I’m being accurate.  If, as you assemble the garment, you find your notches are off by a hair (less than 1/4″), like the image above, I think it’s OK to cheat a bit to preserve the overall integrity of the garment.  Just BTW.

Sewing Plaids with Fewer Mistakes

In the end, you ought to get a seam where the plaid simply continues across seams as though they aren’t there.  If you’re struggling with the fabric shifting as you sew–and many do, which is infuriating when you’ve spent all that time cutting super accurately–think about switching to your walking foot.  This was a revolution for me when I was first sewing plaid: by using the walking foot, you feed the fabric from both above and below, which helps keep the pattern repeat very nicely in line on both pieces of fabric.

No walking foot?  Try LOTS of pins–placing one every repeated element in the edge to be stitched, but no more than 1″ apart (really).  This will help stabilize the seam and prevent the puckering and shifting you’ll often see when sewing with plaids.

I’m off to finish my super-cute jacket–hooray for plaid!


Registration OPEN for the Essential Sewing e-course!

Registration is now OPEN for the Essential Sewing online e-course!  I originally taught this class in January, and hadn’t expected to offer it again this calendar year, but have had so many emails and tweets and inquiries that I’m going ahead and teaching the class once more, now that school is back in session and many of us have our schedules a little bit better under control.  Class begins September 12 and runs for six weeks online–you join in as your schedule allows, and go from zero to stitch in a flash!

The class is oodles of serious amounts of fun–check out all the details and register early!  I’m capping enrollment this time to ensure that I am able to really give everyone the one-on-one attention that will help you be the most successful.  I would love, love, love to have you join us!