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sewing clothing

Sewing and Self-Compassion

sewing and the art of self compassion whipstitch blog

Years ago, I was teaching a sewing class to brand-new seamstresses.  It was an introductory class, and there were six women there.  I gave my usual second-day-of-class pep talk, and then outlined instructions for the next project we would tackle together before sending them off to the cutting tables with their fabric to work independently while I circulated and offered individual help.  It was a relaxed evening, and everyone was in good spirits and excited to try something new.

When all the other students got up and left the table, one woman remained.  She sat with her hands in her lap, under the table, her head bowed low to look at them.  She was very, very still.  Now, I’m not terribly gifted at reading other people’s body language, but even I couldn’t miss that this was a woman exhibiting signs of distress.

I sat next to her and in my best cheerful, please-let-this-be-nothing-because-I-lack-skills-here tone, said, “What’s up?”

And she says, her voice extremely quiet and filled with tears, “It’s just that I’ve been trying for three years to have a baby and I can’t get pregnant, and I just can’t have this be one more thing I’m a failure at.”



That is heavy stuff.  She was hurting, and her pain was very real and very deep.  It wasn’t about sewing, but it was also about sewing. You know?

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Back to School Wardrobes: Inventory

So, I bought all the kids new shoes and it made me feel pretty confident about starting off the school year with all the boxes checked and all their clothing organized.  Which led me to think/realize that their drawers are filled to overflowing with garments, but that I don’t know (1) which ones fit, (2) which ones are horribly and embarrassingly stained, or (3) which ones the kids actually like enough that they’d be willing to put them on without necessitating a bribe.

back to school wardrobes step 1


I can’t know what I want to add if I don’t already know what I have.  (If magic were real, then I wouldn’t need ANYTHING–a girl can dare to dream.)  With the shoes, part of what made that particular shopping trip so successful was that I knew exactly what categories they each ought to have shoes to fit, and I knew exactly what shoes they had already in the closet that would suit each category.  Which is to say, I didn’t go to the store and see a bunch of cute shoes and bring them all home, and then realize that our girls had four pair of sparkly flats and no sneakers, or that our boy had three pair of (ugh) light-up cartoon character shoes with Velcro closure but not one pair of shoes for church.  You see the flaw there–and I think if we’re all honest with ourselves, we know that while we’re saying aloud, “I would never shop for school clothes without a list!” we also know that we have all been guilty of doing just that.

flat piping on shorts slant pockets

lobster shorts post here

The other thing that inventory helps me achieve–or at least I’m hoping it will, since I haven’t really done this before, and am thinking about the whole process differently than I have in the past–is giving our children unlimited choices within limited options.  This is a Montessori idea that I have always loved.  In a Montessori classroom, children can choose any activity they like–from the activities the teacher has set out on the shelves.  Which is to say, they have complete freedom within a highly orchestrated universe.  It isn’t that the teacher controls their choices–her role is to encourage them, over time, to continue to reach for new and challenging work that will stretch their skills rather than allowing them to return again and again to something they can do easily.  It is that the teacher specifically engineers the available options to provide work that will make the choosing itself an enjoyable activity, and to minimize the number of times that a child must be turned away from a selection.

whipstitchier on instagram | girls handmade tee

Heather Ross tees post here

I’m totally certain I can successfully apply this idea to my kids’ wardrobes.  I want to make sure, by doing an inventory and identifying needs, that they have every garment they could need for any forseeable event.  And then I want to give them total freedom to choose.  And if they don’t always match?  No worries–I like an eclectic selection, myself.  And if they choose something grossly inappropriate, like a swimsuit for a funeral or shorts and sandals on the snowiest day of the year?  We have an actual conversation about why we wear what we wear and when–which, honestly, is asking the grown-ups to challenge our own ideas of what’s OK and what isn’t.

yoke tunic lotus pond fabric

Lotus Pond post here

So.  Inventory.  Using our own days and general activities/commitments as a guide, I’ve created a PDF printable to use to check off each garment I think our kids are going to need in the coming months.  Rather than have lists of clothing categories, I mainly went with lists of ACTIVITY categories–it doesn’t do me much good, as a mom, to plan their clothing based on arbitrary ideas of how many shirts and pants they might need, and then hope they’ll have the right KIND of shirts and pants when an occasion arises.  It makes a lot more sense, to my mind, to think about where we ACTUALLY GO and then plan clothing for those events specifically.  So these checklists include school clothes, church clothes, pajamas, those kinds of categories.  And we are one of those old-school families who still have “play” clothes, and change into them at the end of the school day to keep our school clothes nice–play clothes tend to be last year’s things that aren’t as nice but aren’t rags yet, and that I don’t mind them rolling in the mud while wearing.  (By all means, if you have suggestions for how to improve these checklists or for things I’ve left off, let me know in the comments!)  Download here for girls or here for boys, or by clicking the images.

Screen Shot 2014-08-05 at 9.37.13 PM Screen Shot 2014-08-05 at 9.37.21 PM

I’ll share the results for each of our three kids-still-at-home in the coming days this week.  We have one tween girl, one school-age boy, and one preschool girl who all need to examine what they’ve got and what they don’t.  That’s a fairly wide range of ages for the current crop of sewing patterns, but I think it’s a good representation of ages that other moms I know have at home, so hopefully by working some of this stuff out in front of all of you, it’ll be useful to others!

kids shorts summer 2014

kids’ shorts post here

Part of this endeavor is organization, obviously.  A good start to the school year is much more likely if we’ve got at least the majority of our ducks in a row.  Another part of this is frugality, although I have mixed feelings about how forthright we’re being in that regard.  On the one hand, I have literally never, never in my entire 19+ years of being a mom, EVER done the traditional “back to school shopping” extravaganza trip.  Not once, honestly.  It’s not on my agenda, it’s not really in my nature (having been raised by parents and grandparents who I swear were Puritanical enough to have sailed the Mayflower and made good time on a single tank), and I don’t like the whole hype and expense that surrounds it.  At the same time, there are things that I WILL be buying for our children because in the cost/benefit analysis, even though I can make them at home, I’m not sure it’s worth it to do so (I will under no circumstances be knitting my children socks just to have them lost or abused in the mud; I still have not made the kids underpants, although the idea intrigues me; and while I will sew a zillion knit tees, I probably will purchase solid-colored ones rather than making them myself).  So I think we’re sewing much of their school wardrobes to save money, but we’re willing to spend money if it’s more economical in the Big Picture to buy rather than invest the time to sew.

mock ribbon tie on fanfare flannel pants

Fanfare flannel jammies post here

When I ask myself the major reason I like and want to sew for my children, it really is the satisfaction I get out of heading out of the house and realizing that they’re all wearing things I have made myself.  I have stopped waving off compliments when people learn that I’ve sewed for the kids, and instead take every “You made that?!?” as an opportunity to spread my agenda: I genuinely think everyone ought to sew, and that it will bring people together in ways that very few other things could do.  So when I lay out these list and stack up their “keeps” and their “donates” and their “throw aways,” I won’t just be thinking about all the money we’re saving by stash shopping for fabric to sew up their school clothes.  I’ll be thinking about how fun it is to see them all arrayed in home-sewn clothes, and the memories they’ll have and share with others down the road.

handmade kids clothing group shot

Next post: Our tween girl’s inventory results, along with her list of To-Sew and links to patterns and fabric to get us there.

Sheer Shirtwaist Dress: Preparation

Not too long ago (when I was doing the sewing for the new book), I went on…well, a binge.  A fabric binge.  I refuse to apologize for that, actually, because some of the best fabric purchases I have made have been tucked in amongst other things–you know, like when you’re buying a bunch of fabric, and a piece that you might not have gotten otherwise suddenly gets added to the cart because your resolve has weakened or because the price was too good to pass up, and you get it home and realize it was TOTALLY the best thing you bought that day.  You know, like that.

Well, this linen was one of those:

It is the dreamiest shade of lilac.  It is 100% linen but with metallic threads running through it.  And as if all that wasn’t enough, it’s also a woven windowpane plaid!  LOOOOOVE.  It’s drapey, believe it or not, and has a soft hand with lots of movement and a nice weight.  I got three yards, no idea what I would do with it, but loved the color and put it in my cart, which then filled up to the point that I didn’t edit this piece out, and BOY am I glad I didn’t.

I got it home and looked at it and re-folded it and wondered about it.  Each time I’d go “shopping” in my shelves for fabric for a new project, I’d peek in at this one and wonder what it would be.  Then one evening, lying in bed, waiting to fall asleep, I knew: a shirtdress.  A smart little 1950s-era collared shirtdress, maybe with a touch of safari flair.  The problem is, this fabric is pretty sheer:

And I don’t know if any of you have noticed, but slips are getting more and more rare these days–it’s not like in the actual 1950s when you could get one at the corner drugstore.

And that’s when this idea was born: a semi-sheer shirtwaist with an underdress.  I’m pretty excited, I’m not going to lie.  I like the idea of NOT lining this fabric, and letting its sheer-ness remain, but being able to wear it in polite company with a sweet little batiste underdress to maintain my modesty.  I’m planning to work through it gradually, around and about other projects, and share details with you as I go along: the pattern selection and adjustments, the drafting of the underdress, the construction to account for all the sheer-osity, and then a final reveal.

I love projects that combine the traditional with the unexpected, and I think the plaid-ness of this fabric combined with the sheer-ness of it does just that.  Looking forward to having more details to show you next week as I begin the construction!

Still Room in the Fall Wardrobe and Pants ecourses!

I have been absent lately, busily humming away on three different major projects that are getting ready to come to fruit, and I’m just about to poke my head out and share them all with you (I really think, sincerely, that you’ll be delighted when you see what I’ve been working on, and it’s all about to land at the same-ish time–woot!).

Right this minute, though, I’m focusing on and really loving my two garment e-courses, which I’m teaching concurrently this year: Fall Wardrobe and Sewing Pants.  So far, I am delighted–beyond delighted–with the students and their questions and how excited everyone is to conquer clothing and really make some beautiful garments for themselves!  I think I have spent so much time over the past three years sewing for others and sewing for outside projects that I had almost forgotten the sheer joy of sewing something for ME.  Lately, I’ve been reaching to grab that back, and I am so, so tickled to be finding it in these online classes.

I still have a small handful of spots left in each class, and I would love to have you join us!  Take the Fall Wardrobe class and make four garments: a top, a skirt, a dress and a jacket; or take the Sewing Pants class and master three styles of pants (drawstring, fitted side zip, and fly-front) while answering questions about fit.  There is still plenty of time to jump in with the group and get going! Click through to learn more and register, and I’ll be back to reveal some of the things I’ve been cooking in the wings!

Martha Pullen School of Art Fashion 2012

Dear heaven, I am EXHAUSTED.  I realize that it’s a total First-World Problem, but I have been too tired to blog.  Seriously.  The Martha Pullen School of Art Fashion last week was intense and so fun, and I came back really in need of a loooong nap.

Just some highlights for you all:

School was Thursday through Sunday, but I was also there for three “pre-day” classes.  On Wednesday, we drafted our own A-line skirt pattern and constructed a skirt with an invisible zipper and contrast hem band.  These ladies are superstars.

On Tuesday, we made the Tova top from some really delicious linen.  Most of the ladies hadn’t worked with a pattern printed from a PDF before, so this was a great chance to do that–plus, we all finished tops that day (including me!).

Speaking of PDF patterns, on Monday I shared with my class the new strapless dress pattern from Stitch Savvy!  (And yes, I did just sneak a pre-order link in there.  That just happened.)  These dresses ROCKED and I was SO thrilled with the results.  Everyone went home with a finished or all-but-the-hemming-finished dress, and they were seriously cute.

The School provides kits of all the materials needed for each project, so when students arrive, there’s a bundle waiting for them with their name on it.  Zippers, buttons, hooks-and-eyes, fabric, interfacing–it’s all packed up by the kit crew.  What a great way to start a sewing project, am I right?

Thursday through Sunday, we worked on our Baby Lock machines and two Vogue patterns: a dress and a pair of fly-front pants.  I think my favorite part of these two days was that although we had students ranging in age from 15 to 75–really–and in all sizes you can imagine (from teensy-tiny but tallish to petite and short-waisted to tall and lean to curvy and busty), these two garments looked great on every. single. one of them.  Really not making that up–I was so pleased and excited to see that all the ladies left not just with garments they’d sewn but with something they would WEAR.  What a great way to spend a week!

The School is primarily an heirloom sewing school, and some of the projects by the other instructors were OFF THE CHARTS amazing.  The quality of the sewing and skill at this place was out of control and I came away SO impressed by what they’re doing.  To a large degree, I think that heirloom sewing gets dismissed by a lot of modern seamsters–not all of us need pintucked christening gowns or care to work with lace.  But the techniques that these folks are using, and the care and skill they put into their garments, was really inspirational.  I saw some cool pocket techniques I’d never thought of, some machines I didn’t know existed (did you know there was a sashiko machine??), some garment construction I hadn’t seen before (for both women and children), and such meticulous work that I came back renewed and inspired to tackle some projects I’ve been dreaming of but haven’t quite taken the plunge with.

Add to that the fact that every single person there was SO lovely and kind and thoughtful and truly dedicated to making sure it was a great experience.  Every student was enthusiastic and excited and asked great questions and was open to trying new techniques.  Every instructor was happy to introduce themselves and offer assistance.  There were just loads of cool people, and I came back with almost no voice from talking and talking and talking for eight days straight.  I can’t say enough good things about the whole experience–my only complaint is that I am WIPED OUT.  It’s a long week, and I need me some sleep!!

What about y’all?  When was the last time you went someplace and were so inspired when you go back that your palms itched to get sewing?  Because I see some very cool, modern pintucks and stitching in my future…

Boys Pattern and Fabric Pairs: Making Selections

I’ve got a round-up today of patterns that are great for sewing boys’ clothing, along with some suggestions for what fabrics you might already have lying around that would sew up great!  Check it out over at Cook, Clean, Craft–and thanks to Narelle for inviting me to play along!


Smokin Red Pants!

I love, love, love my new paaaaants!!

These turned out even better than I expected.  I love the fit, I love the details, I love the length, I love them.

The color ROCKS, and it’s just the right weight–it’s a really great organic twill, and now I want it in every single color they manufacture.

The welt pockets are dreamy, and the pocket bags are all made from Ambience lining, which is so luxurious.

The waistband facing is of a French General fat quarter I had from ages ago, in one of those great Moda silky weaves that feel so nice.

This is the Vogue 1051 pattern I’m using next week at the Martha Pullen School of Art Fashion in Hunstville, and in my Sewing Pants e-course in August, and it went together so smoothly!  I cut a straight size 12 and made some small adjustments to the shape of the waistband to better suit my banana waist.

I also decreased the flare on the pants legs very slightly, to make it less dramatic–I want these to be my all-the-time pants this fall, and I needed something a little but more everyday than the way the legs were originally drafted.

I made another pair as shorts, as a wearable muslin, to make sure I had the fit right before cutting into this twill, and I’m planning a khaki pair with red welts, because I can, and a cropped pair in navy linen.

Did I mention I love, love, love these pants??  I feel like a superstar, rockin’ it out in Holly-the-wood.  I love these pants!

My poor eldest, forced to take these photos.  She said, “They’re good.  I mean, mostly.  Some of them are pretty silly.  I mean, most of them are silly, but there are some good ones.” Bless her.

Fall Wardrobe and Pants e-courses now registering!

It’s official: registration is now open for my next e-courses: Fall Wardrobe and Sewing Pants!  These classes will begin in early August, right around the time that the kids are starting to prepare to head back to school and we begin to find ourselves with a few more minutes each day to do some sewing and learn a new skill.  Strangely, despite the oppressive and unrelenting heat, August will also be time to begin thinking about sewing clothes for ourselves for the coming fall and winter months–I know, it seems as hard to believe to me as I’m sure it does to you, but one must plan ahead if one wants to have the pleasure of wearing hand-made clothing while the season is still ripe!

In the past, I have vigorously limited myself to one e-course at a time, specifically because I want to make sure that each of my students has the chance to ask questions and get answers without feeling as though they’ve been lost in the crowd.  This time, however, I’ll be offering both the Fall Wardrobe e-course and the Sewing Pants class concurrently.  The Fall Wardrobe class is designed to cover the foundations of sewing clothing with a pattern through making a number of garments, and when I offered it last year, I included a pair of pants.  What I found was that most folks wanted to spend more time on the pants than the five weeks would allow, and some folks wanted to work on ONLY the pants.  So this year, I’m offering the two side-by-side but limiting the enrollment in each–the total number of students between the two classes will be equal to my usual limit for a single class, but taught in two different “venues” online.  That way, the Pants folks can really drill down and focus on making pants, and the wardrobe folks can cover more territory with their four garments, and everyone gets the same amount of attention and feedback.

I am suuuuper excited about both these classes, and hope that you will be, too!  The Fall Wardrobe class is making a woven sleeveless top that goes with or under anything, a lined dress with fabulous pocket detail, a great skirt with two variations, and a crisp jacket that looks incredible on everyone.  The Sewing Pants class is making three styles of pants (drawstring, side-sip and fly front), and focusing on fit and pattern adjustment to hammer out those fit issues so many of us have.  The patterns are really clean and classic, the techniques are timeless, and if past e-courses are any indication, the folks in the class will be delightful and fast friends.

See all the information on the 2012 online sewing classes on the e-course page, and learn more details about both the Fall Wardrobe class and the Sewing Pants course!  Register soon, y’all–there are only a few spots in each!

Tova Top in Heirloom Linen

Seems like the entire World Wide Internet Web is talking about the Tova pattern, so it was high time I made one for myself.  I chose a deliciously lightweight heirloom linen in a subtle lilac check–love!

The pattern is everything I’d heard it was: clean and straight-forward to assemble, with a great fitting sleeve and nice details that make it look high-end without a ton of extra effort.  The sleeve especially pleased me, since I really, really appreciate a sleeve that goes in cleanly, without a ton of wrangling.  This one reminds me of the Schoolhouse Tunic in the way it fits with so little easing and finagling.

I hemmed and hawed a bit on what size to make.  The M is for bust 35-36, and the L for bust 37-38, but I measure 36.5 over my bra, so I was torn.  Ordinarily, I’d jump in and make the smaller size, since I know I prefer a slimmer fit, but I’d heard that the Wiksten tank is snugger in the bust, and I didn’t want to risk it with this linen.  So I went with the L.  It’s looser than I would have chosen, but I think that’s a good thing–because I tend to get things that fit more closely to the body, I don’t have a lot in my closet that is loose and easy like this.  And in trying it on, I realized that the few things I do have that are easier in fit I wear over and over, so I’m pleased to have something new that I can throw on for carpool or put over my swimsuit or just wear on those not-feeling-my-skinniest days.  Which happen more frequently the further behind me 35 gets, but that’s another story.

This sleeve hem is pretty nice, too, with the itty bitty cuff and the loose fit.  I imagine in the dress length, maybe in a pinwale corduroy, I’d love this in the winter and fall.  The fit of the inset is nice and easy, too, and so soft and unstructured over a simple camisole.

I was hesitant to make this with no interfacing, and had to turn to Twitter this morning when I realized the pattern doesn’t call for ANY.  What??  No interfacing?  But really: she doesn’t use any interfacing.  And a big part of me, the one that’s been sewing for a long time, pushed back on that HARD.  Because how do you make a placket and a collar with no interfacing, right?  I’m super glad I elected to trust the pattern and my fabric choice, because I think the loose and relaxed result is just the right note to hit with this shape.

I’ll be teaching a class using the Tova top this summer, too, as one of the pre-day sessions at the Martha Pullen School of Art Fashion.  If you take the BabyLock school, or any other school during the last full week in July, you can sign up for any of three additional days ahead of time, making one project each day.  If you’ve been wanting to do a retreat but haven’t found one, or if you’d like to refine your garment-making skills, it’s such a fun chance to do that–and they have lunchtime prizes and lots of goodies to go along with everything, too.  It’s like summer camp for grown-ups, but with sewing machines!

I think the part from this pattern that probably benefits the most out of having guidance when you haven’t used the technique before is installing the yoked inset.  There’s a trick to getting the corners to fit and having a smooth result that gets easier the more you do it–but isn’t it always nice to have someone blaze the path and give you some pointers to get it done?

I’m not entirely sure what this look is on my face, but I think I was trying to show how comfortable this top is to wear–I’ll for sure be making at least one more, probably a stripe.  My one regret is that I didn’t cut the inset on the bias:

I love, love, love this fabric, but if I had one thing to do over, I’d have cut these checks on the bias for the inset and the cuff, to add a little visual interest to the top as a whole.  I’m thinking for a striped version, it’ll have to be a mix of directionality in order to keep this simple shape spiced up. Other than that, I think it’s totally dreamy!  I’m wearing it right. this. second.  And I’ll be wearing it Thursday night to suck up to the local PTA as we head to our first meeting before our #2 child goes to the local public school.  I’m hoping this top will hit just the right note of chic-but-confident-and-relaxed so that they’ll want to play with us.  Ah, the suburbs!

Date Night Redux

I find myself in the same boat I’ve been in before, and so I thought a flashback post might be in order. My husband and I are heading out to an event tonight that’s “black tie optional,” and I don’t have anything to wear. A fact that I realized yesterday, naturally. The dress in the post below doesn’t fit any longer, since I was nursing when I made it and the…ahem…bustline is a bit more generous than strictly required these days. So I’m spending part of my afternoon figuring this out (and the other part denying that in 7 hours I’ll need to magically have a fancy dress that will make my husband proud). Wish me luck!

So, it’s 11 am on Tuesday. And I sort of lazily think about the rest of my week. I’m mulling over the classes I have to teach on Tuesday and Thursday, and then I wonder: What am I doing Wednesday night again?


I am attending a very, very large social event with my husband and massive numbers of older men in his profession. No pressure or anything. Also: NO DRESS.

I had planned to make something to wear, and had it on the calendar. And then I stacked some things on top of the calendar, and moved the stack to a stool in the corner and avoided going through the stack for a while, and now there I was: 36 hours to go time and nothing to wear.

So I did what we do when we sew: I got sewing. Boo-yah.

This is the same silk I used to make my Burda dress, but in a different colorway (I think that one’s “spice” and this one’s “poppy,” or something like that). The bodice is a McCall’s and the skirt is a vintage-look Vogue. Lining on the bodice is that wonderful Ambience rayon that I heard about from Amanda, and lining on the skirt is a lustrous poly china silk that I got on mega-sale.

The bodice took the most time, but was totally worth it. It’s actually a bodice with an overbodice–the pleated portion is separate, and has a full bodice underneath, for modesty. I love the whole overbodice thing, but wish I’d avoided the princess seaming in the underbodice. I also could have made it a size smaller. When you wait until the last minute, you don’t have time for last minute adjustments. Because you’re still putting in a hem 30 minutes before the car pulls out of the driveway. Just sayin’.

I love the fullness of the skirt, and didn’t even miss the crinoline I didn’t have time to go buy. What I did miss is the pockets I didn’t put in because I was worried I needed the extra 30 minutes to finish sewing. Which I did, but still. Pockets in a formal rock.

Hem: hot mess. There, I said it. I decided to reduce an inch from the hem, so rather than re-cutting all the pieces, I used the serger to take off the bottom inch while finishing the edge. Then, rather than easing out the fullness, I put in a super narrow hem by turning the serged edge under and stitching close to the stitches. Lazy, but it got the job done. The lining is even worse: I serged an extra two inches there, and left it undone. Which kinda stinks, because I meant I didn’t want to show off the yummy lime green-ness of it, which contrasted so strongly with the plaid in such a fabulous way.

I say all these things for a reason: generally, I recommend very strongly that we never apologize for our work. In fact, Stitch by Stitch Power Phrase #3 is “Thanks, it turned out really well.” We tend to point out flaws where other people don’t see flaws, and undercut the well-earned praise we ought to allow ourselves to accept. Shame on us. I’m making a point of sharing the flaws in this dress, though, because I think when a lot of projects–mine included–are blogged, only their best parts are pointed out, and it creates this illusion that there are some who sew perfectly every time and that YOU will never be as cool/perfect/talented/awesome. Totally not true. This dress looked great, and other than my forgetting to calculate my ridiculously short waist into the pattern, no one who was at this event of 400+ professionals ever knew that the hem was bootleg or that the lining was wonky. In fact, I got boatloads of compliments on my imperfect dress–which I accepted and was grateful for. I knew it wasn’t perfect. I also knew that if I’d worked to make it perfect, I would have missed out on a fancy party with my handsome husband in a tux where we got to have grown-up conversations and remember why we fell in love. And there is no way I would ever trade that for a flawless hem, y’all. No way.

Go. Sew. Be bold, and own your mistakes. They’re hidden from view, and are part of becoming better at what you’re doing. And most of the time, no one will ever notice. Not even your husband, when he holds your coat and tells you you’re beautiful.

Chain Stitching on Garments

Chain piecing is a simple technique that makes quilting vastly more efficient:


Very simply, chain piecing involves sewing a seam, then rather than cutting the thread and beginning a new seam, tucking the next piece of fabric beneath the presser foot and continuing to stitch.  It’s faster–you don’t spend all that time cutting thread, lifting and lowering the presser foot–and it’s tidier, since all your pieces are still attached to one another when you’re done.  I also think it encourages you to think differently about your sewing when you chain stitch: I am forced to think through my whole project, in a good way, in order to determine the most efficient use of my time in order to get steps completed with good precision but without dragging out the project.

I use this same technique when I make clothing, and it’s such a giant time-saver.  I started doing it when I was manufacturing children’s clothing, because I’d be making multiples of a particular style all at one time, so it made sense to stitch a side seam, then grab another shirt or dress and stitch the same side seam, over and over until I was making five shirts at a time, like an assembly line.  I don’t manufacture like that anymore–now I only sew for my own children rather than someone else’s–but I have adapted the same idea to make the construction of a single garment more streamlined.  And it’s so simple that it hardly bears mentioning, except that I do it so frequently I figured it might be useful to discuss!  I seriously love learning all the little secrets that other folks use to make their sewing something to be admired, and am always struck by how most of us have one or two tricks that we don’t even think about anymore but that have the potential to totally change the way someone else makes a project–I am sort of hoping this will be like that to you.

Start with a project that has many similar seams–in this case, I’m working on the lined bodice of a sleeveless dress. That means I have one bodice front, two bodice backs, one lining front and two lining backs.  They all get stitched at the shoulder seam, so four identical seams.  Right?  So I sew the first shoulder seam, but rather than cutting it and taking it off the machine, I tuck the next shoulder seam underneath the presser foot:

Here you see the right side of the bodice front, which is down on the feed dogs, and the wrong side of the bodice backs, which are right sides together with the bodice front.  I’ve stitched the one at the upper edge of the image, and now I’m beginning to stitch the one at the lower edge of the image.

When you chain stitch by machine, your needle doesn’t recognize that open space between the seams–it sews right over it as though it isn’t even there.  The first seam is sewn as usual–that is, you place the back edge of the fabric so that it just covers the hole into which the needle will disappear–and then once that near edge of that seam has gone under the needle, raise your foot off the foot pedal, tuck the next seam to be sewn under the front edge of the presser foot, and begin to sew again, as if it were a whole new seam.  Which it is, except it’s still attached to the previous seam.

You can keep doing this on and on and on, depending on how many seams you have to sew.  Here, I’ve done both the shoulder seams on the bodice, and I’m sewing the first of the two lining shoulder seams.  I’ll do all four before taking them off the machine to clip the threads between each one:

See?  Simple! The whole technique can be applied to making LOTS of one garment, assembly-line style; to making many similar garments, like sewing Easter outfits for your four children where each piece uses the same color thread (not naming any names here…ahem); or piecing a quilt where you have sixty bajillion teensy squares to match up.  It uses less thread, less time, and once you get the hang of it, is vastly more accurate with less repetitive stress.  It’s a win for everyone!

The Sewing Buddy Project 2012: Challenge 1!

Hello, Sewing Buddies!  I have been typing my little fingers to the bone the past week or so matching up folks from near and far, playing yenta so that stitchers here and there (and sometimes way over there) can connect and share ideas and get inspired and maybe even find the encouragement to make those projects that have been languishing and begging to be sewn.  This is one of my favorite things that I do, and each year it has gotten to be more fun and exciting to see who finds a perfect match and what they do with it!  I’ve heard from dozens of Sewing Buddies from the past two years who are still going strong, and I am super excited to see where 2012 will take us.

This year, we’ll be doing a couple of things that I haven’t done in years past.  First and foremost, Sewing Buddies will be eligible to win fabulous prizes by taking part in three quarterly challenges over the course of the remaining months in 2012: one begins TODAY and runs through June; one begins July 1 and runs through September; and one begins October 1 and runs through December.  Each will be different, but each will rely on the shared efforts of Sewing Buddies to win!  (Note: non-Sewing Buddies are more than welcome to participate–that would be awesome!  But only Sewing Buddies are eligible to win prizes.)

Challenge #1

The first challenge begins today.  Hooray!  Sewing Buddies, your task is simple: work together to complete the challenge.  These challenges are all completely optional, and if you and your Buddy determine that you’d like to skip one, no worries!  But what a fun way to win prizes, yes?  By communicating through email or snail mail, coming up with a plan and sharing skills and techniques and ideas, you’re sure to stretch your sewing at the same time that you work toward world sewing domination.

The task: Create a boy/girl project using coordinating fabrics in any sewn format you choose. 

The finished project will include TWO sewn pieces: one for a boy and one for a girl (or one for a man and one for a woman, if you prefer a grown-up version).  These can be stitched independently (one Buddy makes one while the other Buddy makes the other) or they can be stitched collaboratively (by shipping the pieces back and forth between you, with one person doing part of the project and the other doing the rest).  “Coordinating fabrics” can be a particular fabric collection, or colors that work together, or fabrics with a particular design theme.  Format can be clothing, quilting, home decor, bags, toys, wall art, embroidery, anything you can think of that involves needle and thread.

For example:

  • I am currently obsessed with brother/sister outfits, which would be great for this challenge–maybe one of you makes on and the other makes the other?
  • mini-quilts are spectacular for a challenge like this, and if you wanted, you could ship them between you with one Buddy doing the piecing and the other doing the quilting
  • a framed embroidery piece is lovely, and an unusual solution to making matching male/female pieces
  • what about baby toys?  that would work!

Remember, these do NOT have to be for children, though they can be, there is no required size, and this first challenge is specifically designed to be do-able regardless of geography–if you don’t want to ship anything to your Buddy, no worries!  The only requirement is that one sewn project is male-centric, and the other is female-centric.  Deadline for all prize-eligible entries is June 15, 2012.

I know you’ll do awesome things, and I can’t wait to see them.  Y’all should have all received your Sewing Buddy introductions by now, so use these next few days to cogitate and come up with a plan that suits you both!  In two weeks, I’ll set up a Flickr group for Sewing Buddies to which you can upload your photos as you get to know one another better.  In the meantime, be on the lookout for Sewing Buddy emails and periodic blog posts with tips and treats just for you!

I am REALLY excited about spending 2012 with all of you–nearly 175 Buddies this year!  Let’s get sewing, y’all.

Sewing for Kids Weekend with Rae and Karen!

I am a loyal reader of Made By Rae, and bought a copy of Sewing for Boys the week it came out.  So I am genuinely and personally thrilled to announce that March 23 & 24 Whipstitch is hosting these fine ladies for a Sewing for Kids Weekend!  Whoo-hoo!

I have read Rae’s blog for years–it was one of the first I read when I discovered the world of online sewing, and her kind and sisterly voice was such a welcoming one.  Rae does great tutorials (I’m especially fond of her Basic Newborn Pant and have given it as a shower gift a bunch of times), and sews for her two kids at an admirable pace–plus, her attention to detail and scientific precision mean you can always rely on her patterns and instructions (have you SEEN the Pierrot Tunic??).

I love her photos and her sense of humor, and that she’s always willing to venture into unfamiliar territory–like sewing with knit fabrics, in her recent Kniterviews Series (a must-read if you’re working with knit fabrics).  She even has a free pattern for a crazy-cute pair of handmade tights!

Karen Lepage is one half of the writing team who produced Sewing for Boys.  You may know her better as the lady behind One Girl Circus, or from the patterns she has designed for Patterns By Figgy’s.  Super talented, very funny, and with a clear vision of how to make clothes that kids love to wear and that moms love to put on them.  I was so excited to see her book come out, since there is still a giant lack of great stuff on the market today to sew for boys (despite the fact that boys are still 50% of the kids we make each year!).

Having these two ladies here in Atlanta is going to be a TON of fun, and we’ve been phone calling and emailing and tweeting back and forth nailing down all the details for you!

We’ll kick the weekend off with a Crafty Meet-Up at the shop.  Rae has done a number of these in Michigan, but the commute was way too long for me to get in on the fun–so now we’re doing one here!  Yippee!  Bring your own machine and project, and take over the shop on Friday, March 23 from 7 to 9:30 pm to join like-minded crafters for a pile of love and fun.  RSVP through EventBrite so we can plan to expect you–this event is sponsored by the Atlanta Modern Sewing Guild, and we’d love nothing more than to pack it out!

Saturday morning, join Rae and Karen for a FREE demonstration and Q & A.  They’re packing up samples and prepping ideas to share their Tips for Success when Making Handmade Clothing.  Making handmade clothes for your kids or yourself is so much fun, but you want to make sure that your work pays off! Karen and Rae will share tips on how to make sure those lovely handmade garments will fit, demonstrate easy (and quick) seam finishes to make those clothes last, and trouble shoot some common problems. They’ll talk about when it’s good to take risks and show examples with a bunch of garments they’ve made for their kids and themselves.  And it’s all FREE!  Be at the shop from 10:30 to 12 noon on Saturday, March 24 to get in on the fun.  Seating is limited!

Finally, to cap it all off, a fantastic workshop: making the Treasure Pocket Pants from Sewing for Boys!  These pants are great for boys AND girls, and are super, super cute.  Rae and Karen will provide the pattern and hold your hand as you work through this adorable addition to a child’s wardrobe, and workshoppers will leave the three-hour session with a completed pair of pants to take home!  Meet at the Whipstitch shop from 2-5 pm on Saturday, March 24 to get in on the fun!  See all the details and register for the workshop here.

Can’t wait to see you in a few weeks!  Read more details on Rae’s blog.

Mission Maxi Dress

I never got around to posting this dress after I finished it last summer, but with my Sewing Knits without the Serger class coming up next week, I got to thinking about this pattern.  It’s the Mission Maxi Dress from Jamie Christina, and it went together like a dream.  No serger, just a narrow 1/4″ seam allowance and some soft cotton jersey.  Honestly, I don’t think I would have ever chosen brown, but I had this fabric on hand and wanted to make a wearable muslin before I cut into my really yummy knits–and then I ended up loving the fit of this so much that I haven’t made another one yet.  Took a couple of hours or so, but has so few seams, and really is super straight-forward.  I’m hoping I can make at least one more for the coming spring and summer, since the length is just where I like it–right above my ankles–and it looks super cute under a cardigan.  Plus, it’s flattering in the fit, but not so revealing that a couple of extra lbs make me feel too self-conscious to wear it.  And out of this soft jersey, it is crazy comfortable to wear.  Let’s hear it for simple patterns that stitch up quickly and fit the way they’re supposed to!