Monday, October 26, 2009

Love Me Some Doll Clothes

I love dolls so it should come as no surprise that I love making doll clothes. The "clients" patiently endure fitting after fitting, and they never complain about my fabric choices. It's been many, many years since I've made doll clothes so now that I have a granddaughter of suitable age, I thought the time was right to indulge myself.

The clothes for American Girl dolls are large enough so you can add lots of fun details, yet still small enough so that they can be made from mere scraps. My granddaughter was the lucky hand-me-down recipient of one of her aunt's American Girl dolls - her Girl of Today (I was the lucky recipient of Josephina and, yes, I will eventually make clothes for her as well) and now I plan for her - my granddaughter, that is - to be the lucky recipient of a hand made wardrobe for her doll as well. I'll be using Simplicity 7083, which includes enough pieces for a nice-sized wardrobe.

I made the first piece today, a pair of white twill "jeans." They turned out well despite a few construction details that left me scratching my head, most notably a back seam opening where the fabric doesn't overlap. Instead, the overlap is constructed by offsetting the Velcro. No pictures of this because I didn't have any Velcro on hand, but I'll be sure to post photos when that's complete. Unless that works out a lot better than I'm imagining, I'll probably modify the pattern to add an overlap before making the pants again.

They do fit the doll beautifully. After I make the matching jacket, I'll post a photo of the outfit on the model.

I added some embroidery on the hem/side seam of the right leg of the pants. I used a vine stitch on my sewing machine to stitch the leaves, then added hand-worked French knots. I'll do something that coordinates when I make the jacket.

I constructed these little pants entirely using my sewing machine, by first zig-zag finishes all the exposed seam allowances, then stitching the seams. I would have used my serger (you see how bold I am becoming!) but I didn't have enough spools of white thread to pull it off.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

An Ending and a Beginning

When I made the decision not to make any kind of hoody out of my Skullz fabric, I knew it meant the end of my beloved, faithful sweatpants, as my intention was to cut them apart to use as a pattern for a new pair. Yes, I could have purchased a pattern - I actually have a pattern for sweatpants - but my old pair was so comfy that I wanted another pair just like them.

To be honest, my sweats had long ago passed retirement age. How long ago? My husband nearly wept with joy when I told him I was going to cut them apart. Me: But they're comfortable! Him: You look like a homeless person! Me: A comfortable homeless person! It would be tempting to describe them as ratty, but that's not really fair to the rats of the world.

It took about two hours to pick the sweats apart and steam out the permanent bagginess in the knees and seat and produce this pattern piece. Because my fabric was bordering in the "not quite enough" range, I cut off 3 inches at the top with the intention of adding it back with a solid black casing. You can see I also pinned out some length in the crotch; roughly 2 inches in the back and tapering to 1-1/2 inches in the front.

Here's a close up of the part that's worn through. This is probably the main reason my husband thought they made me look like a homeless person. By way of explanation, I have extremely short legs combined with cold feet. It seemed natural to pull the excess length down onto my feet. Sort of like open-toed footy pajamas.

Now for the big surprise...I used my serger! Some of you might know that I don't have a warm relationship with my serger like I do with my sewing machine, the incomparable Lily. Actually, I'm fairly terrified of my serger. I think that's partly related to being spatially challenged and the serging process being so final. And partly related to high speeds and sharp, moving knives.

I've had my serger for over ten years and this is only the second time I've used it on an actual garment. It's not an expensive serger; it is a Kenmore and I received it as a gift from my parents (who knew nothing about sergers; I was surprised they even knew of sergers). But even with my lack of serging expertise, it produces what I think are very credible results.

It had been years since I'd sewn a pair of elastic/drawsting pants and I'd forgotten how fast it is! Before you knew it, I was ready to hem them up. I had serge finished the bottom edge before sewing the pants together. To finish, I folded up a 1 inch hem allowance and top-stitched it from the right side. I like the way it looks on the inside and the outside. Not quite as nice or easy as a cover stitch machine, but close enough.

Things I'll do differently next time:
  • Make sure I have enough fabric. The sewn on casing is functional but looks kind of funky. Not that it's a big deal; these are strictly for around the house wear, but I'd still prefer self-fabric.
  • Make a smaller opening for the drawstring and do a better job of stabilizing the area.
  • Redraw the legs to make the finished pants slightly less tapered.
  • Give more careful consideration to the elastic/drawstring.

The new sweats are fine, but don't seem as comfy and warm as the old ones. I'm not sure if that's due to differences in the fabric or because the old pair had elastic at the ankles while the new pair does not or the changes I made to the pattern. Or if it's just in my head.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


I bought this sweatshirt fleece last January and it's been aging in my stash ever since. Yes, I got strange looks from both my husband and my youngest daughter when I brought it home. I'm not sure why I fell in love with it. It may be that I'm entering my second childhood prematurely.

My original intention was to make a pair of sweat pants for bumming around the house. Working from home as I do, bumming around the house is a daily activity so the pants would definitely get a lot of use...but they wouldn't be a garment I would ever wear in public.

Which brings me to my dilemma. I love this fabric so much, I started wondering if maybe I shouldn't make a hoody, which might be a little more versatile. That idea was squelched when I measured the fabric. I have a scant yard and a quarter, and it hasn't yet been laundered.

That's probably not enough for a full on hoody, so now I'm thinking about a hooded vest. I wear activewear-style vests frequently, so I think it's a good option. I'm looking for opinions. Am I crazy to consider wearing this fabric outside the house? Vest? Sweatpants? Something for my granddaughter?

What do you think?

Monday, October 19, 2009

Book Review: Fine Machine Sewing by Carol Ahles

As stated in the introduction, "This book is for all sewers who want high-quality machine stitching, finishing, and embellishing without headaches, whatever their level of expertise." The book is an excellent reference and should not be considered as having value only to those interested in heirloom sewing.

Ms. Ahles covers such basic topics as fabric preparation, thread, needles, presser feet, stabilizers and tension, among others. She encourages sewists to maintain sample notebooks of their favorite techniques that include fabric swatches, presser feet used, stitch width and length, tension adjustments and any other information required to produce excellent results. Chapter 2, Easy Ways to Achieve Precision in Your Sewing, alone is worth the price of the book, discussing cutting and marking techniques and creative methods for guiding your fabrics to the needle.

Each chapter ends with a few frequently asked questions that expand on the topics discussed. Realizing that the same stitch might be given a variety of names by different sewing machine manufacturers, each stitch mentioned is diagrammed in the sidebars. The sidebars also include tips such as "Some machines have more than one feather pattern. The feather pattern with a straight stitch down the middle is usually the easiest to learn.

Aside from the wealth of how-to information, Ms. Ahles makes it clear that home sewists need not settle for mediocre results, when today's sewing machines are capable of so much more. The book encourages you to challenge your machine and yourself to achieve beautiful results.

Index/Chapter headings
Chapter 1: Getting the Best Results
Chapter 2: Easy Ways to Achieve Precision in Your Sewing
Chapter 3: Decorative Edges and Creative Applique
Chapter 4: Twin Needle Stitching
Chapter 5: Hemstitching
Chapter 6: Replicating Vintage Lace and Entredeux Techniques
Chapter 7: Fagoting
Chapter 8: Hemming and Re-hemming, Plain or FAncy
Chapter 9: Narrow Hemming
Appendix A: What to Look for in a Sewing Machine
Appendix B: Machine Settings for Decorative Techniques
Appendix C: Caring for Your Sewing Machine

PaperBack or HardBound? Paperback (199 pages, including appendices).

Does this book have clear illustrations or photographs? Yes.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Storing Patterns

As you might imagine if you saw the frightening state of my sewing space, I have "a few" patterns scattered about. While it's tempting to just stash them in a box to get them out of the way, I decided I might as well do it right.

Maybe it's just me, but I find most pattern envelopes to be terribly inadequate. They're flimsily made and once the pattern has been taken out and used, trying to fit it back into the envelope is nearly impossible in the absence of mad origami skillz.

My solution (yes, I have a system; the issue is to "use it.") is to store patterns in 9" X 12" catalog envelopes. Each pattern has it's own catalog envelope. I cut the orginal envelope apart. The front of the original envelope is pasted onto the front of the catalog envelope; the back of the original envelope goes inside with the pattern pieces and instructions. The envelopes are stored in banker's boxes, filed by pattern number without regard to manufacturer.

Catalog envelopes open on the short end of the envelope, unlike booklet envelopes which open along the top. Banker's boxes are sturdy, cardboard boxes that come in either standard or legal size with a variety of closure options (I like the kind that have separate lids). Both catalog envelopes and banker's boxes are available at office supply stores such as Office Max or Staples.

Three reasons why this works well for me. (1) The catalog envelopes fit perfectly in a standard banker's box. (2) After using a pattern, I don't have to spend hours refolding the pieces so that they'll fit into the original envelope. (3) When I want to buy fabric for a particular pattern, the yardage requirements (the back of the envelope) are ready to go with me.

Whew! It's Dusty In Here

But this is nothing compared to the condition of my sewing room. It's time to put some serious thought into organizing my sewing and work space so that the two can peacefully co-exist...and I can easily move from one to the other without have to moved piles of paper and other crap, er, important stuff. Even simple mending projects are piling up because I can't find my needles!

What you see here is the result of two hours of semi-dedicated labor (okay, I was watching Stargate Universe and cleaning at the same time) and you can see I still have a long way to go. I'm going to stick with this so I can get my sewing mojo back!