Monday, September 28, 2020

I Can't Believe I Made This

Photo Credit: Embroidery Library

It broke three needles and it almost broke me, but I persevered and was victorious. 

Do you know those thousands of emails you get from fabric vendors, peddlers of embroidery designs and, of course, Wawak? The ones that you mostly delete before opening unless you have a pile of cash on hand begging to be spent. Yeah, those.

I happened to open one the other day from Embroidery Library (my favorite online retailer of machine embroidery designs) and saw a project that seemed so far-fetched, so out of the realm of what was possible on a home sewing machine that I knew I would have to try it: embroidered rope baskets.

I'm not going give detailed instructions on the process here, because I am linking to them instead because Embroidery Library's instructions are excellent and the photos they have included are far better than what I could hope to provide with my cell phone and no tripod. Rather, I'll outline the issues I faced and some tips for you to use when you try this. Because you will try it.

I followed EL's instructions exactly, except that I didn't have spray adhesive on hand. This is used to adhere the flat coil of the bottom of the basket to the stabilizer before you hand stitch the coil to the stabilizer. I skipped this step and proceeded directly to stitching the coil to the stabilizer. This may have led to the only real issue I faced while stitching out the embroidery...needle breakage.

I'm not sure if it was due to the lack of adhesive or the design being too dense or what, but the bottom of my basket, which was perfectly flat when I started, "bubbled" up in unstitched sections. Then, when the embroidery moved into the bubbled areas, the needle would break. And break And break.

I finally figured out that I needed to take the frame off the machine as the bottom distorted and press the bubbled sections flat before proceeding. After the first few colors, I did this at every color change. I'm not sure if the adhesive would be strong enough to prevent this. I'll try it on my next basket and see what happens.

I'm also not 100% satisfied with my color choices. I'll chalk that up to being an inexperienced embroiderer. If I had used all the information available to me on the screen, I could have made better color choices. Specifically, I'm referring to the small box highlighted here that shows what part of the design, exactly, will be stitched with the current color. It was only after I had stitched several colors that I noticed this and realized just how useful the information was.

I also need to work on my basket making skills. When I first started building up the sides, it seemed as though the basket would be very, very shallow. I overcompensated and ended up with the top of my basket being a little too tight. And, sadly, when you hold the basket up to the light, you can see daylight in some places coming through between the layers of the rope coil. Just a little, but still.

Tips and Observations
  • It is extremely difficult to stitch the coil when it's less than about 2-1/2" in diameter. Go slowly and keep the "line" between the coil and the free end of the rope lined up with the center of your presser foot. 
  • I found that I needed to add a second row of zigzag stitching perpendicular to the first line stitched across the initial coil to begin the basket.
  • I used a 4 mm wide zigzag to stitch the coil. The instructions call for 1/8", which converts to about 3 mm. I'll do this on my next basket, now that I'm more confident with the process. 4mm is fine, but probably more visible than you really want.
  • If the bottom coil of your basket becomes "bubbled as the embroidery stitches out, remove the frame from the machine and press the bottom flat. I a pressing cloth and steam.
  • To avoid being able to see daylight through the sides of your basket, hold the free end of the rope very snugly against the coil as you're stitching. This is easier to do when stitching the flat coil than when building up the sides of the basket.
  • It's also quite difficult to stitch the first few rounds as you begin to build up the sides of the basket. The instructions tell you to "Place your and under the base and tilt it up. Be careful but keep your hand as close as possible to the foot of the machine." I found that the basket pushed my hand away from the foot. I think I may have been trying to place my hand too close to the foot.
And here is my finished product. It measures 9" across, 3" tall, and used approximately 79 feet of cotton clothesline. The embroidery design is Lavender Blooms Hummingbird from Embroidery Library. The entire project was stitched with my new-to-me Brother Dream Machine.

I'm embarrassed to say I didn't really keep track of how long it took me to make this, but I think it was somewhere under five hours. The design itself required an hour of stitching time, not counting thread changes and taking the hoop in and out for pressing, so I would say the lion's share of the time was taken up with the embroidery.

Overall, I'm extremely pleased with my results, even though my basket is a little lumpy and you can see some daylight through the sides. I'm calling it a "wearable muslin" and it's sitting on a side table in my living room as I type this. This project is well within reach of even beginning sewers and machine embroiderers, so what do you think? Does this look like something you'll "have" to try?

Monday, March 4, 2019

Another T-Shirt

So, hey, now that I have a TNT t-shirt pattern, I can just whip one out whenever I want, like the fast sewists do.

I got the idea for this off of one of Peggy Sagers' YouTube videos. (Peggy's videos should be designated as a national treasure. Subscribe to her channel. Seriously. Do it right now.) I'm not a huge fan of cut-ion sleeves, so I opted to make mine with set-in sleeves, but I still think it turned out really cute.

Peggy says in the video that this is "quick." It may have been quick for her, but it took me the greater part of an afternoon (four hours) to get my pattern ready. So keep that in mind.

To be honest, the top reminds me a little bit of the Frank Gorshin Star Trek character. Are you old enough - or enough of a Trekkie - to know what I'm talking about? If you are, leave a comment below. If you aren't, there's a clue at the end of the post.

Making this top required some slicing and dicing of the basic #195 pattern and, as I said above, that took me most of the afternoon and well into the evening. Because I'm spatially challenged, I carefully held each pattern piece up to my body to make sure that, when cut, each piece would be cut of the correct fabric for so that I'd end up with the proper effect. This led to notes on each piece, like, "Left back...cut one with this side up" and "Right front...cut one with this side up."

Because the sleeve pattern didn't require any modifications, I made notes on both sides: "This side up for left sleeve" and "This side up for right sleeve." I held the pattern piece up to my body on both sides to make sure I was getting it right. Way to be thorough! Go me!

Unfortunately, I still got the sleeves wrong. Fortunately, the sleeves for this pattern seem to be completely symmetrical so I just turned them around and it worked out. I'm still wondering, though, what's a spatially challenged person to do? How can I ever aspire to doing these sorts of things right the first time?

Existential questions aside, once the I had the pattern pieces ready, the t-shirt sewed up quickly. I finished the neckline, sleeves, and hem with black foldover elastic. I like it around the neck. but I'm going to cut it off the sleeves and hem and coverstitch them instead. I just feel like the elastic on sleeves and hem gives a little too much of an activewear vibe.

I did cut the body pieces a little larger than I did for the teal t-shirt. This is because both fabrics for this shirt are lycra blends; the teal tee is cotton/rayon interlock. I was wary of the lycra fabrics being too clingy, so I wanted more ease.

The only other thing I have to say about this is that the fabrics are a little mismatched. The houndstooth check print has a little more body, and the black is slightly thinner, and decidedly softer and more drapey than the print. But they joined together without any puckering and seem to be getting along rather well so...I'm happy.

Frank Gorshin as Bele, "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield"

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Silhouette Patterns Fitting Trifecta Tour, Part 2

I was lucky enough to be able to attend the Seattle event of the Fitting Trifecta Tour with Peggy Sagers of Silhouette Patterns on January 25 and 26th, 2019 in Seatac, Washington. Peggy travels the country, teaching women how to make the clothes they sew fit properly on their bodies, with as little fuss as possible.

My notes from the workshop follow. I didn't take notes at the workshop; these are written from memory so there may be a few gaps.

Saturday Morning
During the Saturday morning workshop, we fitted Silhouette #3400, Three-Piece Yoga Pant. For this session, I was lucky enough to be Peggy's fitting model. What a bonus to be fitted by the expert!

Peggy started off by talking about LCD and how it relates to pants. She discussed what she thinks is a point of confusion: What is normally called "crotch depth" is actually a length measurement, and what is commonly called "crotch length" is a depth measurement.

Fitting the Pants


Do you like where the crotch is hitting you? If not, pull the pants up or down until you do. NO SCOOPING or otherwise changing the crotch curve. What a revelation! We've been conditioned to think that waist seam of the pattern is sacrosanct and must be left unaltered at all costs. Instead, we go through muslin after muslin, fiddling with the crotch curve to the point where it probably would have been easier to draft the pattern ourselves. There was literally no one in the room for whom the crotch couldn't be made right simply by moving the pants up or down, and there were 30 to 40 women of all different shapes and sizes.


Do you feel comfortable in the pants? Are they too tight or too loose? Small adjustments to the circumference of the waist and hips are taken at the side seams. If there is a lot to take in or let out, consider starting with a different size.

The circumference of the legs is taken only from the side seams above the knee, then equally from the side seam and inseam below the knee.


I needed all three corrections.
Also, this back view is horrifying.
Start on the back of the pants. Is there droopiness under the tush? We nicknamed this problem "cowl back." This is addressed with a horizontal dart taken at the fullest part of the seat, starting in the middle and tapering to nothing at the side seams. This must be addressed before anything else.

Someone asked if this would have the effect of making the crotch too tight. Peggy responded with a visual that included a ruler and a tape measure. I didn't take photos (of course) so I'll try to explain it.

Imagine, if you will, a ruler. The top of the rule is the waist. An arbitrary point halfway down the ruler is the crotch line. The tape measure is held in place at the waist and crotch line, with enough slack between the two points to curve out and approximate the shape of someone's bottom. Peggy then demonstrated how she could fold a tuck into the slack of the tape measure without moving the crotch line. Question answered.

After taking the dart at the hipline, there may still be horizontal drag lines below the seat. These are addressed at the crotch line by taking a dart that starts at the inseam and tapers to nothing at the side seam. A corresponding dart needs to be taken on the front of the leg.

Corresponding darts on front leg at
crotch and knee. Cat whiskers
 pinned out at center front.
There may be still more drag lines lower down on the leg. These are generally caused because the pants are hanging up on the calves. To eliminate these, a dart is taken just above the knee, starting at the side seam and tapering to nothing at the inseam. Again, a corresponding dart must be taken on the front of the leg.

Then we looked at the front of the pants. Horizontal wrinkles or cat whiskers are pinned out in a dart that starts at the center front seam and tapers to nothing at the side seam.

The alterations made on the muslin can be transferred to your flat pattern, or you can use the muslin as your pattern.

After everyone was fitted, she spent some time talking about how hard it can be to let go of old ideas about fitting (she specifically mentioned scooping the crotch curve) and reiterated that it really is as simple as her method makes it seem.

I'll be making a pair of altered yoga pants soon and will have a post here. I'm still unconvinced that knit pants are going to be a good look for me; I felt naked and exposed with them on, but I will, at least, be able to wear them around the house. I may be able to wear them in public if made in a very heavy ponte knit.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

A New TNT Pattern!

I put the fitting know-how I learned here to work and made a t-shirt using Silhouette Patterns #195, Sweater Set.

I used a 60/40 Cotton/Rayon blend purchased a Joann. Based on my experience at the workshop, I again cut a size two, then made two adjustments to my flat pattern. I took a deeper dart at the shoulder seam, removing 5/16" at the shoulder point and tapering to nothing at the neck edge. I also made a swayback adjustment by means of a fisheye dart just above my waist. I slashed my pattern tissue from center back to side seam (not the cutting line!), then overlapped the cut edges at the center back by 3/4", tapering to nothing at the side seam.

And rather than making a shell, I added 3/4 length sleeves.

I am really pleased with the results, but there are two changes I want to make before sewing this again. First, I want to shorten the darts by, maybe, 3/8". They do end within the bust circle, but I would prefer it if they didn't come up quite so far. Second, I'll length the top by about 2". It's wearable, but I'll be more comfortable with the additional length.

The pattern instructions have you finish the neck edge by folding the seam allowance under and topstitching. Instead, I added a neck binding, following the instructions in this excellent video by Sarah Veblen.

This top represents some milestone moments for me. First, it's the first knit garment I have made for myself. Second...I USED MY SERGER. Okay, I basted it together on my sewing machine first, but still. And I used the cover stitch feature of my serger around the neck edge and for hemming.

Before I attended the fitting workshop, I was skeptical about adding darts to a t-shirt, but let me tell you...I AM A BELIEVER. The fit is amazing, and if you made the tee up in a print, no one would ever see the darts. I'm super excited to have a TNT t-shirt pattern. Finding one has been on my sewing to-do list and I'm happy to be able to check it off.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Silhouette Patterns Fitting Trifecta Tour, Part 1

I was lucky enough to be able to attend the Seattle event of the Fitting Trifecta Tour with Peggy Sagers of Silhouette Patterns on January 25 and 26th, 2019 in Seatac, Washington. Peggy travels the country, teaching women how to make the clothes they sew fit properly on their bodies, with as little fuss as possible.

My notes from the workshop follow. I didn't take notes at the workshop; these are written from memory so there may be a few gaps.

Friday Evening
The Friday evening workshop was to fit the shell from Silhouette Patterns #195, Sweater Set. Peggy started by talking about her approach to fitting, "LCD." L stands for length, C for circumference, and D for depth. When evaluating a garment, vertical drag lines indicate length issues, horizontal indicate circumference issues, and diagonal lines indicate depth issues. Adjustments are always worked in the same order...Length first, Circumference second, and Depth last.

Peggy demonstrated how these principles apply to the shell on a "fitting model" chosen from attendees.

Fitting the Shell


Do the darts end inside the bust circle? Do you like where they end? If the darts come up too far, remove a few stitches; if they don't come up far enough, add a few stitches.

The bust circle is an imaginary construct with the bust apex at it's center and ranges in size from 3" in diameter in the smaller sizes and and up to 5" or more, depending on the size of the garment. It is acceptable for darts to end at any point inside the circle, but they must not extend past the bust apex. Everyone in the workshop seemed to have different opinions on perfect dart placement, but as long as the darts end inside the circle, without extending past the bust apex, it's a matter of personal preference.


Does it feel comfortable? Is there adequate circumference? Look for horizontal drag lines to evaluate. Let out the side seams if necessary, or go to a bigger size. Is there too much circumference? Take in the side seams or try a smaller size.


Is there gapping around the arm scye? This is corrected at the shoulder seam. Remember, the shoulder seam, an angled line, is a dart. Gapping is corrected by taking a deeper dart.

Question: After you take a deeper dart at the shoulder seam, how do you modify the sleeve to fit? Answer: No sleeve modifications are necessary, because you restore the original arm scye to connect the new shoulder point with the underarm seam.

Question: Do you take an equal amount all the way across the shoulder seam? Answer: No, you taper to nothing at the neck edge. If you take an equal amount all the way across, you've adjusted length, not depth.

High round back is a depth issue. Before you make this adjustment you must pass the three-question test. 1. Is the neck too high (i.e., choking you) in the front? 2. Are the shoulder seams pulling to the back? 3. Is the back neck too low? If you can't answer yes to all three questions, you do not need a high round back adjustment. The solution to the high round back issue is to slash the back from stitching line to stitching line (at or above...sorry, I don't remember exactly where to make the slash*) the shoulder blades, allowing the back to relax. The shoulder seams are now free to move forward, Next, a piece of fabric is added under the slash and pinned to the garment. The top of the slash must be pinned first.

The swayback adjustment is required if there is pooling above the waist in the back. The solution is to take a dart just above the waist, starting in the middle and tapering to nothing at the side seams. Be aware that pooling can also be caused when a garment is snug enough around the hips that it can't move freely up and down over the hips during movement.  If you make a swayback adjustment and, afterwards, the back hem is raised in the middle, the swayback adjustment wasn't required. At this point, you have to decide if you wan't more circumference around the hips This is a personal decision.

Those are all the issues we discussed during the workshop. On thing that was striking was how many women (a large majority) had chosen a size that was too large, even many sizes too large.  Think about this when choosing your size, and even when evaluating your muslin for circumference. Many of the women had to be told their tops were too large; they couldn't see it themselves.

Unfortunately, I don't have before and after photos of my shell because, honestly, it was really, really good right out of the envelope. My partner did make a tiny change to the shoulder seam and a swayback adjustment, but I didn't think to have her take photos of it. I was skeptical about the concept of having darts in knit tops, but I am a believer now. This fit of this shell is pretty fantastic, and on a print, the darts don't even show.

As I found out, being able to attend a fitting workshop with Peggy Sagers is a fantastic opportunity, but you don't have to feel left out if you can't attend one. Peggy has generously shared a huge amount of information, for free, on the Silhouette Patterns YouTube channel. You can see her line of patterns here.

*My friend, Debi, who also attended the workshop says the slash for the high round back adjustment is taken just above the shoulder blades.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

What the Heck?

I was doing some online snoop shopping and I came across these "Side Zip Ponte Leggings" on a fairly major retailer's website. Okay, it was The Gap.

I was picturing an invisible zipper, but nooooooo. All I could think of when I saw the picture was, "OMG, I would die of embarrassment if I put in a zipper that looked like that." They'd have to pay me to wear them.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Lonely Garments Club

Who doesn't have a lonely garment? One that hangs in your closet and never gets worn because you just don't have the right thing to wear with it? I had just such a garment in my closet, so when the "Lonely Garment Club" contest was announced on Pattern Review, I thought it would be a good time to make something to go with it.

When I first considered entering this contest, I had envisioned a midi-length skirt made out of the same linen/rayon blend I used for this skirt. Before I made my final decision, though, I consulted my good friend, Polly, who told me that a midi-skirt might not be my best look. So I decided on a shorter skirt.

The pattern I chose was Simplicity 2226, a skirt with contoured waistband, lapped zipper and optional tie belt in two lengths, available in Misses sizes 6 to 18. I made the shorter version (because I am short, not because I wanted a short skirt) and omitted the belt loops.

This is a Learn to Sew pattern and the instructions are extremely detailed with excellent illustrations for each construction step. For example, the instructions for the lapped zipper insertion include four detailed paragraphs with very clear illustrations for each paragraph.

I chose a black linen/rayon blend that had been aging in my stash for at least ten years.

There are a couple of reasons I particularly like this pattern...first, it has huge, sturdy pockets. When I say huge and sturdy I mean they hang from the waistband and are easily large enough for a cell phone or a small dog. Second, it has gathers that add a nice fullness, but it is smooth over the hips.

I like this pattern a lot. It's well drafted and what I mean by that is that all the pieces fit together exactly as this spatially challenged individual would expect them to; there are no mysterious places where the seam lines don't quite line up and you have to guess whether you should east them together, chalk it up to poor cutting, or assume that your fabric has stretched.

Even so, I hit a few bumps along the way. After altering the waistband and assembling the skirt, when I tried it on, it was tooooooo big. I took the whole thing apart (so sad because my lapped zipper was p-e-r-f-e-c-t) and took the waistband in a total of two inches at the side seams; it was still too big! I'm still not sure if that was a drafting error on my part or if the fabric stretched that much.

So I re-re-drafted the waistband and re-cut. In addition to re-drafting, I also used a more stable quilting cotton for the facing. And I handled the waistband like it were made of the finest, most fragile silk. The resulting skirt fits as I intended it to, but in retrospect, I wish I had drafted the waistband to sit a little closer to my natural waist than I did. It literally can't fall of, but I feel like it's in imminent danger of falling of at any moment.

I will make this skirt again, but with a re-re-re-drafted waistband. I have a fun border print set aside that will be great for casual wear. I highly recommend it for everyone, but especially for beginners.