31 December 2007

Look Out Behind You!

This is the time of year when I like to take stock of what has happened over the past twelve months. It's a way of looking back to figure out how to go ahead in a more productive way. I strongly believe in learning from past failures and triumphs. Each experience in my life has taught some lesson, be it large or small, so I put a lot of stock into history. So, of course, I had to take a look back into my sewing year, too. Here are the highlights:

* I sewed up a personal best 150 projects (which included everything from simple tank tops to evening wear).

* I used up 282 m (308 yd) of fabric, which is also an achievement for me.

* I won the Timmel 2007 SWAP contest. I still can't believe I took the prize on this one because there were 30 other amazing entries.
* I won the Timmel 2007 Summer Contest. Again, all the entries were fabulous and I was so honoured to be chosen.

* I designed a full fall/winter wardrobe SWAP (all three phases). Of the 28 garments in this wardrobe, I have completed 17 and two are in progress.

* I also designed and completed a black/brown/cream fall/winter wardrobe SWAP (phase one). I will be posting about this soon.

* I improved my sewing skills, mainly due to reading everything I can get my hands on and by using so many vintage patterns (these patterns are a wealth of sewing info).

* I purchased a new sewing/embroidery machine.

* I purchased a serger (my first).

Not a bad year, if I say so myself! But, although I feel it is important to look to the past for knowledge and inspiration, I don't believe in dwelling on what has already been. So, I am looking forward to a productive 2008, full of challenges and learning opportunities. I also look forward to deepening friendships with the many wonderful people I have met through Stitcher's Guild and this blog.

Look out 2008...here I come!

30 December 2007

I Have the Urge to Serge!

A few posts ago, I mentioned that I had just bought a serger. I have never owned a serger before and in all honesty, I was getting along fine without one. I'd sew a seam and then I'd go back and zig-zag the seam so that the fabric wouldn't ravel - not difficult to do, just a bit time consuming. Although I didn't need a serger, I had been contemplating the purchase of one for several months now. I read every bit of info I could find - I wanted to make an informed decision. Well, ideally, I wanted the Babylock Imagine, but after getting a price quote of close to $2000 (this included the machine, 6 feet and taxes), I figured I might want to try out something less pricey just to be sure that I really wanted a serger.

So, when I saw that Sears had their two sergers on sale, I went to check them out. One machine retails for $649 (on sale for $449), the other machine retails for $349 (on sale for $279). When I asked the saleswoman about the differences between the two, she convinced me that the less expensive model was just as good as the other model. So, I figured I'd go for the less expensive one and pocket the $170 difference.

To the left is a picture of my new machine. It's not fancy - it doesn't have jet-air threading and it doesn't have a bunch of bells and whistles. However, I have put this baby through its paces the last few days and I am really pleased with it. It is a Kenmore 16622 and it has everything that I need for now:
  • cutting width adjustment up to 7.3 mm
  • decorative stitching
  • differential feed
  • rolled hemming stitches
  • picot edging and narrow hemming
  • pin tucking
  • overedging
A concern for me was how noisy this machine was going to be. The saleswoman implied that it was a bit loud. However, I don't find it loud at all - it's really not a lot louder than my sewing machine when it's cranking along at top speed.

I was also a little worried at first about threading this machine; at first glance it looked so complicated. However, I sat down with my manual and figured it out. Now, after one mishap (I forgot that the loopers and needles have to be threaded in a specific order), I can thread this machine completely from scratch (without tying on) in approximately 2 minutes. Not bad for a novice, eh?

All in all, I'm glad I went for an inexpensive starter machine. At some point, I will likely upgrade to the Babylock Imagine (or another high end serger), but for now my little Kenmore is plenty. If I do purchase another machine, I will likely get a dedicated coverstitch machine and then look into a higher end serger. But, time will tell!

29 December 2007

Here We Go Again

It's that time of year, when people start to make their New Years' Resolutions. I have been mulling over a few ideas myself. However, before I get too far ahead of myself thinking about 2008, let's see how I did in 2007. Below are my resolutions in green) from last year, along with a grade:
  • I will sew mainly from stash. I will only allow myself to buy 1 m of fabric for each 5 m of fabric I sew up. If my stash gets any larger, I will have to buy a semi truck so I can use the trailer for storage.
Well, the good news is that I definitely maintained the 5:1 ratio. The bad news is that I bought 5 m for each 1 m sewn, instead of the other way around! I guess I am just not one to be controlled around fabric. (Quite the revelation, eh Carolyn?) Oh, and by the way, I haven't (yet) purchased a semi for my fabric, I just got more creative about my storage. GRADE: F

  • I will test drive all the new sewing machine feet I have bought in the past year. They aren't doing me much good nestled in the cute little box I bought for them - they must start earning their keep!
I had really good intentions on this one, but early in the year, I bought a new sewing machine and the feet don't fit it. However, the new machine came with a bunch of feet. So, have I worked with any of them? Um, not really. GRADE: D

  • I will use patterns more than once and develop some TNTs. I tend to use a pattern, keeping note of all the changes I will make the next time I use it. However, I rarely actually make the pattern again (when it comes to patterns, monogamy is not my strong point - I guess I'm just a pattern harlot).
I have sctually done prety well with this one. I now have TNT versions of all the major clothing groups (pants, skirts, jackets, T-shirts, tank tops, cardis, coats, dresses). I could easily whip up a simple, but well fitting outfit in an afternoon. GRADE: A+

  • I will sew at least every other day - even if it's just a single seam.
Although, I didn't always sew every other day, all year long, I did get alot of sewing done. GRADE: A+

  • I will sew all of the boring stuff I never want to sew, but really need to sew (like white T-shirts).
I did well with this one. I sewed up a ton of basics this year - for both my husband and me. My husband is now the proud owner of 25 short sleeve T-shirts, 5 long sleeve T-shirts and 3 pairs of sleep pants. I have augmented my short sleeve T-shirt and tank top cache admirably. GRADE: A+

So, what to resolve to do this year??? Let's see...
  1. I'll start with fabric (why not, hope springs eternal). I'm going to be a bit more modest in my attempts at sewing down my stash this year - maybe, then I'll have a hope in heck of sticking to my plan. Here goes: I will allow myself to buy 1 m of fabric for each 2 m sewn. Wish me luck!
  2. Now, on to patterns. I really, really want to sew up more stuff from BWOF, so I vow to sew up 12 garments this coming year.
  3. As well, I want to sew up a bunch (a minimum of 8) of vintage Vogue Couturier Design, Vogue Americana & Vogue Paris Original patterns. I have the patterns, I have the fabric, now I just need to do it.
  4. I have had my new sewing/embroidery machine for almost a year now and I have yet to embroider anything, so I want to learn how to embroider.
That's it - four resolutions this year. I think all the above are very do-able, so maybe this time next year, I'll have all A+ across the board!!

26 December 2007

Shannon Tested, Zombie Approved: Modern Fashion in Detail

One of my favourite posts to read on other peoples' blogs are the ones in which book suggestions are made. I absolutely adore a good book - be it fiction, historical, biographical, educational..., heck, I love them all. One of the requirements for the home my husband & I hope to build in the near future is a library. The thought of shelves packed floor to ceiling with books, a roaring fire, two overstuffed chairs and a shared ottoman sounds like my version of heaven.

So, I figured I would start to incorporate book reviews into my regular blog post schedule. I enjoy finding about about new books and books that are new to me. I plan on focusing most of my reviews on sewing and fashion books. So, without further ado...

Modern Fashion in Detail
By Claire Wilcox & Valerie Mendes
Photographs by Richard Davis
Line Drawings by Leonie Davis
The Overlook Press (1991)

This book is one of my favourites and I have paged through it more times than I can count. I reach for it again and again when I am in need of some sewing or design inspiration. Unlike other books of this genre, this book is different in a very spectacular way. All the photographs of the garments are taken in extreme close up, focusing in on a particular sublime detail, rather than on the garment as a whole. This allows the reader to get up close and personal with the intimate details of a couture piece. The result is a breathtaking view of the world of fashion in a new way and is a must have for anyone interested in textiles and fashion. It is chock full of exceptional photos of clothing from over 40 designers, including styles from every decade of the 20th century. Other fashion books that I own show the entire garment in a long shot, which is wonderful to get the "impression" made by the entire ensemble, but often the tiny details are lost. It is with this book that I became a true believer in the old adage, "god is in the details."

The book begins with a short foreword that explains the focus of the book. We are invited to marvel at the time and skill required to make unique quality clothing - from the workrooms of skilled seamstresses and embroiderers of the early 1900s to the ateliers of today's couture workshops. The collection presented here is a portion of that obtained by the Victoria & Albert Museum, which contains works of the world's premier fashion designers. The acquisition policy of the museum is two-fold. First, the core of the collection consists of pieces created by internationally known couturiers - the garments presented are examples of each designer's unique vision, executed exquisitely in lush fabrics and embellishments by master craftspeople. Second, other pieces are worthy of study due to their impact on the fashion scene, rather than their construction details - clothing that was influenced by "street style" or pop culture.

The chapters in the book are organized nicely by theme:
  • seams
  • gathers, tucks & pleats
  • collars, cuffs & pockets
  • buttons
  • bows
  • beads & sequins
  • applied decoration
This provides focus to the book and allows the reader to easily skip to a section of particular interest. Within in each section there are eight to seventeen examples of each theme. Each entry consists of a close up photo of an important detail in the garment, line drawings (usually front & back) and a write up. The photos range in size from a quarter of a page to a two page spread, with each photo taking the viewer in closer to the garment than could ever be hoped for during a visit to the V & A museum. The full length line drawings are a special treat for the home sewer, as it makes "borrowing" an idea all the easier! The write up that accompanies each photo includes a description of the garment, the fabric and embellishment used, the name of the designer, a note on what makes the piece special, a date and the owner (if applicable).

The designers included in this book run the gamut, from the traditional to the outrageous. Listed below are a few highlights:
  • Cristobal Balenciaga
  • Pierre Balmain
  • Pierre Cardin
  • Coco Chanel
  • Christian Dior
  • Mariano Fortuny
  • John Galliano
  • Hubert de Givenchy
  • Madame Gres
  • Christain Lacroix
  • Mainbocher
  • Jean Muir
  • Yves Saint Laurent
  • Elsa Sciaparelli
  • Emanuel Ungaro
  • Madeline Vionnet
  • Vivienne Westwood
The garments presented are diverse and awe-inspiring. Whether you're looking for a brief retrospective of 20th century fashion or just some amazing eye candy, I cannot recommend this book highly enough!

20 December 2007

Alive & Kicking

First off, thank you to everyone that left their well wishes in response to my last post. Sometimes, I wish I could gather up all my sewing/knitting/fiber art buddies from around the world and create a new country. We'd call it something like, Sewtopia or United Fiberdom. We would all move there with our loved ones and live a blissful existence. Everyone would get along (I'm sure we would all respectfully agree to disagree if an issue did arise). We'd all have closets full of stylish well-made clothes, fabulous sweaters and every bed would sport a lovely quilt. Every house would boast a large sewing studio, flooded with light. The studio would be equipped with a huge stash closet (of course), filled to the brim with beautiful fabric and yarn. There would be a TOL sewing machine (with embroidery capabilities), serger, coverstitch machine, embellisher and a custom dress form in every studio. I have drawn out what my dream studio would look like below (click to enlarge):

We'd get together on a regular basis to exchange ideas and inspiration. Ahh, I smile just imagining it!! So, anyone care to join me?

Okay, now back to reality. My surgery went well yesterday, although I am sporting 9 more holes in my body today than I was yesterday. The anaesthesiologist had a fourth year medical student with him. The medical student was told to start my IV and after two attempts in my left hand, then two attempts in my left elbow, the anaesthesiologist took over and finally got the IV into my right hand (if you're counting at home, we're up to 5 holes). Two other holes were created in my abdomen for the medical equipment (the gas tube and the laparoscope), one hole on the left hip was from the morphine shot afterward and I have one mystery hole on my left shoulder (I have no idea what that one was for). Oh yeah, did I mention that I have a terrible phobia of needles (I know, the irony of a seamstress with a fear of needles is not lost on me)? So, being used as a pin cushion all day long was really stressful. Besides that though, I came through with flying colours. Today, I am really sore (as can be expected), but I figure I'll be feeling good enough to mess around with my new serger tomorrow or the next day. All I have to say right now is thank goodness for codeine!!

18 December 2007

Just a Quick Note

I apologize for my distinct lack of communication lately, but I have had other issues on my mind. I am scheduled to undergo laparoscopic surgery tomorrow. Without going into detail, I have always had issues with severe monthly pain and hopefully this surgery is a step on the road to recovery. I go into the hospital tomorrow at noon and I should be home by supper time. I hope it all goes smoothly.

As soon as I am feeling up to it, I will be back to blogging as I have a bunch I want to write about. I bought a serger (my first) and I have a bunch of finished garments I want to show you all. Talk to you soon.

13 December 2007

I am Weak

Okay, so you all knew it was coming. Here's the scenario. Fabric Mart sends out a notice that the whole website is on sale at 20% off. I tried to ignore the email. I tried not to look. I tried to be good. I tried not to add anymore fabric to my overflowing fabric cupboard.

Um, yeah - who am I kidding? I am weak in the face of a fabric sale. Especially when two TDF fabrics that I have been drooling over for the last few days are part of the sale. So, here's the damage:

Gor-gee-ous Double Faced Camel in Plaid
- I envision an amazing reversible coat a la Jackie Kennedy. I thinking of using the pattern shown - I adore the version with the ties at the neck and the patch pockets.

A-maz-ing Cashmere/Angora/Wool Blend in Chestnut - I want to make view B or view C of the vintage pattern shown below. So pretty!

Hey, what's two more pieces of fabric at this point?

9 December 2007

LH Cowl Neck Top & European Pants

A couple of posts ago, I invited you into my fabric closets and this prompted a few questions that I forgot to answer in my last post. So, better late than never, I always say:
  • nancy k said, "My question for you is do you have this all indexed?"
Being the "Queen of All that is Obsessive Compulsive", of course I do. I use an Excel spreadsheet to keep track of all my fabric. I have cells for Fabric Description, Fiber Content, Width ("), Length (m), Fabric In (m), Fabric Out (m), Fabric Remaining (m), Use, Pattern Used, Vendor, Cost per Meter, Cost per Piece, Total Cost (incl. taxes & shipping). When fabric is purchased online, I enter it into the database and highlight the name, so I can find it quickly and check it off when the box arrives. When fabric is completely used, I gray out the name. This allows me to quickly see what fabric I have on hand, what fabric is due to arrive and what fabric is gone. I also include pattern suggestions on this page so I don't forget which fabric is to be used for which garment. I have included a screen shot of a portion of my set up (just click on the image to make it larger).

  • Isabelle said, "Can I come over and play? Please :)"
Isabelle, you are always more than welcome to come by and play. I would be honoured if all my sewing friends could visit and then we could go fabric shopping together!!

  • Anonymous said, "Quick question for you - do you do anything special to help protect your wools from the dreaded moths?"
I have never had a problem with moths. They don't seem to be a problem where I live. Also, I tend to wash most of my fine fabrics in Eucalan, which is supposed to naturally deter moths and fleas.

  • Tiara said, "I was wondering if you use some sort of folding template to get your folded fabrics to be of uniform width."
I don't use a folding template, I just eye-ball it.

Thank you all so much for leaving such kind comments, I love reading each response. I hope that I answered all the questions. So, on to my latest creations:

: LH Cowl Neck Top (view A) & European Pants (view B)

: Both patterns comes in sizes XXS to XXL - I made XXS for the Cowl Neck Top & XS for the European Pants.

Fabric: Teal Boucle Knit from Fabricland and Brown Ottoman from Lucy's Fabrics.

Project Photo

: These are items number ten and number eleven for my fall/winter wardrobe. Originally, the top was to be the LH V-neck top and the pants were to be V2989, but I have been wanting to make the Cowl Neck top for a while now, so I changed my mind. As for the pants, I decided to go with a pattern I had made before after my issues with V2989 a few weeks ago.

Both these patterns have been made a million times before and reviewed just about as many times on PR, so I don't have much to add to what has already been said. However, I did want to send out a huge thank-you to Diane Egelston. She posted a tip on PR a while ago on how to remove excess fabric from beneath the butt. I have always had this problem with my pants, but I had never been able to correct it. Thanks to Diane's tip, I think I'm going to conquer this saggy butt problem. I made the alteration on this pair of pants and although they are not perfect, they are much improved. So, cheers to Diane!!

Conclusion: I have made the Euros before and I have always liked them, but this pair is my best yet. As for the top, I got a bunch of compliments when I wore it to work the other day, so it's a keeper! I will be making this one again and again - I love it.

6 December 2007

Quality Counts

I had a major revelation recently. For the most part, my stash consists of excellent quality fabrics. However, I am occasionally enticed by a "great deal". You know the kind - the fabric that looks great on the bolt (if you're in store) or on the monitor (if you're online) and the price is amazing. Sure you have a tiny nagging feeling in the pit of your stomach that maybe this fabric might not be the best, but it's only $0.99/yard. How can anyone resist that?

Now, don't get me wrong, maybe it is possible to find good quality fabric for $0.99/yard, but it's rare - very rare. Every once in a blue moon, a designer might commission a textile mill to create a large order of fabric and not all the fabric gets used up. The excess fabric may then be sold off for an exceptional price to a wholesale outlet that unloads this fabulous fabric at an insanely low price (hello, Fabric Mart). So, yes, it is technically possible to find some great deals on amazing fabrics. However, even those fabrics don't tend to sell for $0.99/yard. In my experience, if the fabric costs $0.99/yard, it will be an investment in disappointment. Cheap fabric usually displays one or more of the following dismaying characteristics:

  • it ravels at the slightest movement - just the process of moving the pattern pieces from the cutting table to the sewing machine can results in the disintegration of the cut edges
  • it hates the iron - ranging from the inability to hold a decent crease to melting at the mere approach of an iron
  • on the bolt it looks fine, but after one washing it shrinks horribly (and continues to shrink indefinitely on each subsequent washing) or falls to bits - if it makes it to the dryer, it fills up the lint catcher with oodles of fuzz
  • it sews up nicely enough, but the seams shred after one washing or even worse, on the first wearing
  • it smells weird - sometimes before washing, sometimes after, sometimes both
  • it feels weird - it's picky or sticky or just plain icky
I often hear seamstresses say the following, "Well at that price, I can use it for a muslin." I have even murmured this to myself in the past as well. If the cheapo fabric is used simply for a 'quick and dirty, throw it away after you've tweaked the fit' muslin - so be it, then it has served it's purpose. However, attempting to do anything beyond the 'test and toss' stage is foolhardy, in my opinion. Whenever I have attempted to turn a cheap fabric muslin into a cheap fabric wearable muslin, that's when it ends in disaster. The final product is never actually all that wearable (for all the bulleted reasons listed above) and I have wasted valuable sewing time. No amount of skill, patience and technique can make a cheesy fabric into a topnotch garment - so why waste your time?

I love creating a garment and the creation of that garment begins with fabric. Fabric should inspire and delight you, not frustrate and repulse you. It should be a sensuous experience for the senses - the texture, the body, the smell, the weight - it should entice you to work with it. Fabric should whisper your name and envelop you in the fantasy of its possibilities. Cheap fabric, no matter how good the price, cannot do this. It's like putting some Playdoh in the hands of a chimp and expecting Michelangelo's David. To put it politely, it ain't gonna happen.

Most of my textile sources typically offer only the best fabrics. I rarely wonder if I will be disappointed in my latest acquisition. It's only when I venture into the bargain basement zone, that I have issues. So, with the new year approaching, I have decided to take a vow of quality. I will respect my talent and I nurture it in the best way possible - by providing it with only the best raw materials. I will listen to my inner voice when it tells me to back away from the bolt. I will seek out beautiful fabric and eschew the 'too good to be true' deals. In a nutshell:

I will only buy high quality fabrics.

'nuff said

1 December 2007

Putting Out the Welcome Mat

On Siticher's Guild a while ago, some of us were joking around that we could go on a tour of the world, hopping from one seamstreses home to the next. And, although I love the concept of visiting all the wonderful women I have met through SG, I am realistic enough to realize that a trip that takes us throughout all of the US and Canada, to Europe, Australia and beyond is probably not in any of our immediate futures. So, I thought I'd invite you all into my inner sewing sanctum. Welcome to my stash:

Ever wondered what 780 meters (that's around 860 yards for the Americans in the crowd) of fabric looks like? Then, read on...

(caution: the following pictures are graphic evidence of addiction and single-minded obsession - not recommended for the sensitive viewer)

This past weekend, I got it into my head that I had to reorganize my fabric stash. I had been storing woven fabric in a guest room closet and on one side of an armoire, as well as all my knits on the other side of the armoire. I also had three large boxes of fabric right near my sewing machine (which resides on my dining room table until I can find a better location for it). I decided I wanted to consolidate all my fabric into one or two areas.

Next thing you know, I was off to buy a sturdy wire shelving unit. After helping my husband put it together and inserting it in the guest room closet, I started to sort my fabric. I was in organization heaven!!

I now have all my wovens (and a smattering of knits) in the guest room closet, sorted by warm weather fabrics (cotton, linen, rayon) and cool weather fabrics (wool crepe, wool gabardine, wool tweed, wool knits, coating weight fabrics, jacket weight fabrics, bottom weight fabrics, velvets, laces, silks). There is also a section for corduroy and bottom weight denim and cotton. If you look closely, you may recognize some of the fabric - acquisitions from Timmel, Fabric Mart, Textile Studio, Lucy's, Wazoodle, Emma One Sock, Sawyer Brook, Thai Silks, Fabricland, etc. At the bottom of the shelving unit are boxes containing my vintage patterns, BWOF and Jalie patterns. The rest of my "modern" patterns are in three drawers of a filing cabinet in the basement.

In one half of the armoire , I have rolled and stuffed the remainder of my knits. The knits include cotton interlock and jersey, as well as rayon/lycra and and few poly/lycra fashion knits. There is also some microfleece and stretch velvet.

I only have one small box of fabric near my sewing machine now, which holds the fabrics that are next on deck. This pile of fabric used to be taller than me, but most of it has been transferred to the closet now.

Although this reorganization really consolidated much of my fabric and patterns, all my notions (buttons, zippers, interfacing, trim, thread) are still spread out all over the house, in any nook or cranny where they will fit neatly and unobtrusively. My husband and I are hoping to build a new home in the next couple of years. And, let me tell you, I really look forward to having a dedicated sewing room. Then, all my fabric, patterns and supplies can be stored in one room, easily accessible. I swoon just thinking about it!

So, my friends, that is the tour of my fabric stash. So, c'mon, confess to me - how much fabric do you have? Do you stash like I do or do you buy specifically for each new project?