Summer Solstice Lace Shawl

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Hello again everyone! Yesterday was the summer solstice, a day I really love. The sun doesn’t go down until about 9pm here, the days are hot and the evenings are warm and beautiful… *sigh* I love summer.

On Saturday I finally finished a shawl I was working on way back in February. I actually cast off the shawl in February, but I didn’t consider it finished—it was all white, and I knew I wanted to dye it. Saturday was the perfect opportunity to do that. My spinning/knitting group has an annual dye day in the summer up at the alpaca ranch, where we all bring various things to dye, usually yarn and fiber, and go crazy. Handpainting, kettle-dyeing, ombré… it’s all there. Naturally, I brought my shawl to work on.

Here’s the “before” picture, with obligatory cat photobomb (Tigger and Maggie like to drink out of the faucet, and they’re always hoping I’ll turn it on for them.) I gave it a quick steam-iron block just to see the size and drape of the shawl. Not bad!

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This is step 1 of the dyeing process. At home, before dye day, I kettle-dyed the shawl using a Jacquard acid dye in the color “brilliant blue.” When in doubt, use brilliant blue! I’ve used it a couple of times and it is truly brilliant. I overdyed a handwoven scarf once with it, and it practically glows.

The kettle-dyeing process is the most lazy of dyeing methods. Essentially, I mixed up the dyestock (a cup of boiling water + scoop of dye powder), poured it into the dyepot full of water, and tossed in the shawl. As the water heats up and simmers for a while, the dye strikes the fibers. I did stir the shawl around a little, but mostly I ignored it. This is how the uneven mottling of the kettle-dye is accomplished—if the dye can’t reach all the fibers evenly, it will strike in different concentrations. If I’d been aiming for a solid color, I would have had to make sure the shawl was fully immersed and had room for the dyestock to penetrate fully and evenly (with more stirring.)

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(Some of the visible mottling is from the dyejob, some from the tree-dappled light.)

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And this was the final result. I handpainted on a Procion (?) dye called “Twilight”, which is a darker blue, starting at the top center and lightening gradually toward the edge. Then I added a little shading on some of the “V” shapes at the edge. The result is something beautifully shaded all over. It’s hard to get this in a yarn-dyed process; this sort of big-picture color manipulation is best done after the object is constructed.

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Once the shawl was rinsed and mostly dry, I steam-blocked it with my iron. I do sometimes do a full wet-block with lace, where the piece is soaked and then pinned out, but this shawl does well with only a steam block, and I didn’t need it to be much bigger (a benefit of wet-blocking.) The scallops are done by ironing towards the edge—you want to use a fair amount of pressure to push the edging out, and a LOT of steam. It gets almost as good a result as pinning the scallops, with a lot less effort. Also, steam-ironing is great for lace—it gives the piece an incredible drape that you don’t get any other way. Even when I wet-block, I also steam iron to get that drape effect.

How to iron out the edging scallops:

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Result: ironed on the right, unironed on the left. Remember, no matter how you do it, always block your lace! The yarn needs to be opened up to show off the pattern.

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I’m very pleased with the result of this shawl. It’s large enough to be comfortably warm, has lovely drape, and is my absolute favorite color. (It’s what color my hair is supposed to be—but the blue in my hair fades much faster than the shawl blue will!) Of course, a wool/cashmere shawl is not the most suitable garment for the summer solstice, but it will be great to have on hand when things start cooling down!

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The pattern for this shawl is Vernal Equinox. The yarn is Knit Picks’ Capretta (80% merino wool, 10% cashmere, 10% nylon) originally in cream.

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Simplicity 2700 Pinstriped Trousers

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I finally have a finished sewing project to show you again! To be honest, these pants didn’t actually take that much actual sewing time. I’ve just been so busy lately that there hasn’t been time to work on them! I’ve also had a couple of other projects underway, including revamping the storage in my studio. But I finally got these finished up and honestly, I think they’re pretty awesome.

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The pattern is my standard modified Simplicity 2700 “amazing fit” trouser block. I slimmed the leg down like I did on my last pair, except this time I actually remembered to make the changes to the pattern (I’m so detail-oriented, lol.) The original pattern is a wide-leg but these are slimmer through the thigh and then flared toward the bottom. I also redrafted the waistband (again) for these. The main change I made was to omit the fly front and install an invisible zipper at the right side seam instead. It’s a bit less fiddly that way and doesn’t interfere with the pinstripe lines. But mainly I did it because it was easier.

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I’m pretty proud of a few things. One, these fit great. (The back view is a little more wrinkly than I’d like, but those go away if I hike these up a smidge.) The fabric is a fabulous stretch cotton that I bought ages ago; the lycra gives them a good deal of stretch which makes these really comfortable. The rise is not quite a high-rise, which doesn’t look very good on me, but it’s higher and more comfortable for me than a low-rise (which is all I’d be stuck with if I were buying pants.)

The other thing I’m proud of is my stripe placement. I matched the stripes to make chevrons on the center front seam, the center back seam, and the side seam (the zipper side is not as good—one day I’ll learn how to make waistband overlaps that match properly!). I also matched the stripes at the slash pockets and on the belt loops. I omitted a center back belt loop because it would have obscured the neat chevron effect.

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Other than that, the construction was pretty straightforward. Once you get the fitting down, pants are really not that tricky to construct—even the slash pockets are pretty easy, especially if you’re using the same fabric for the pocket as the pant so you can omit any facings. The innards are serged, nothing fancy. I debated adding welt pockets, or fake welt pockets, or pocket flaps, but in the end I decided not to make these pants too busy (and I didn’t want real pockets because I thought there might be funny lines on my butt. Trufact.)

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(There is a spider-shaped light spot in my hair. Did you know humans can get spots just like other furry creatures? I have at least three spots in my hair, I think.)

Ultimately the goal here was just to let the fabric do the work. It’s pretty awesome fabric, but it’s kind of loud for dress pants—in fact, the fabric had sat for long enough on my shelf wrong-side-out that I forgot how heavily contrasted the navy is to the white stripes. I do like the effect, though—although I probably will wear these with solid tops and jackets.

I’m hoping to have one of those solid tops to share with you next week, but like I said, I’m pretty busy, so we can only hope! Peter and I are getting ready for a show on Saturday, and those always take a lot of work and a lot of prep.

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“More treats, hooman!”

Alpacas: A Good Source of Fiber

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For most people living in the US, Memorial Day means a holiday from work, barbecuing in the backyard, the beginning of summer. For me, it means one thing in particular: alpacas.

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Just look at these adorable little fuzzy things! They’re impossible to resist. They’re like anime characters with their giant eyes and funny hair.

Anyway, every Memorial Day for the past few years, I’ve taken the opportunity to go help some friends with their annual alpaca shearing. To me, it really is irresistable: cute animals (not just alpacas, but llamas, horses, cats, and lots of dogs), great people, and incredible vistas of the Utah mountains. What could be better?

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Now, shearing day is just the beginning of the process of making beautiful alpaca textiles. The fleeces have to be collected and stored for later processing; eventually they become beautifully soft yarn. Alpaca is both softer and warmer than merino wool, and has a silkier, denser quality; certain kinds of alpacas, called suris, have even silkier and longer fleeces. Blended with wool, alpaca fiber is excellent for sweaters, hats, mittens—anything that needs warmth or softness. On its own, or blended with silk, alpaca can make lace with a beautiful halo and drape. There’s not much you can’t do with it!

Shearing day can be a lot of work. There are a lot of alpacas to get through (20+ most years, plus four llamas) and the process is fairly involved. Each alpaca is hobbled—they’re shy creatures and don’t much appreciate being handled, so this is the safest way to get everything done, and the alpacas aren’t hurt at all, although they are very annoyed. The blanket fleece comes off first—this is prime fiber from the shoulders, sides, and back. It tends to be the longest and the finest, although often covered in hay if the ‘paca is a roller! Usually my job is to collect the blanket fleece as it comes off the animal.

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We pull the fleece off and bring it to the “skirting table”, where we pick off the very short pieces that sometimes get left behind as part of the shearing process, and any obviously unusuable fiber. This is, in my opinion, the best part—I get to handle the whole fleece, which is always incredibly soft, as alpaca tends to be, and has interesting color variations throughout. That fleece above could practically be considered “pink” with the white and red-fawn colors.

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Once the blanket fleece comes off, the rest of the “wool” follows. Some of it is considered second-quality fiber, from the legs and neck; the rest gets tossed, as it’s not worth the effort to process it or work with it. While the shearing is going on, the alpaca gets their nails trimmed, their teeth checked, and they get a whole going-over to check for any health problems or signs of impending crias (the technical term for a baby alpaca. That little brown-and-white one at the top is one of last year’s crias.)

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Unlike the last few years, this year we had rain and threats of more rain. Ultimately it meant we only got through the “girls” yesterday instead of all of the alpacas plus all four of the llamas. You can see the llamas above smirking that they don’t have to get shorn yet! (Llamas are a bit more work to shear, mainly because they’re much bigger than alpacas and tend to put up a proportional amount of fuss.)

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In the end we got 14 alpacas sheared, including the two crias from last year. Don’t they look happy to be naked? Well, I expect they’d be a bit happier if the weather would stay clear, but either way they’re now ready to be cool for the summer.

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Alpacas and horses? It’s not exactly “sheep and horses” but really, how could I resist?

Making the Deep Blue Sea Dress

Today I’m going to walk you through how I constructed my Deep Blue Sea dress. I had some guidance from my pattern source book, The Party Dress Book by Mary Adams, but in other ways I was on my own. Making your own design can be exhilarating, but challenging, as there’s no one there to walk you through every step or make sure you didn’t forget anything. I found it helpful to make a checklist of everything I needed to do.

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Sketching and plotting

The first step was to sketch out what I wanted to create. This was the phase where I had to be serious about figuring out if the time I had would be enough to finish the project, but also the phase for throwing designs on the page and seeing what I liked. Sometimes that’s the most fun part! It’s also really cool to come back to your sketches and see how well you executed your vision.

I like to make notes on the side of my sketches to plan out fabrics, notions, and techniques I might use for the project. You can see I’ve also sketched out other stuff on the page; some of it might make it to a final product, and some of it might just stay on the page. Everyone has more good ideas and intentions than they can pull off in a lifetime; this is why we have stashes and project queues.

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The bodice design on the left is the design I ended up using for the final project. I liked the idea of a “deep blue sea” dress. I knew I wanted to use the dark blue satin I already had in my stash, and I wanted the organza overlays to be blue as well, so “underwater” was a fitting theme. You can see I also sketched out a flower and vine possibility, and sketched the dress as a whole (originally it had shoulder-swoopy-bits as well, but I omitted those in the final.)

Sample, sample, sample!

Once I had an idea, the next phase was to make sure it would work. It always, always helps to sample beforehand if you really care about what the final product will look like. This involved two phases: making a bodice muslin and testing the embroidery and fabric combinations. The muslin was easy; I cut out the pieces from the book’s pattern, basted them together and whacked in a zipper, and from there I just pinned out the excess (my dress form helped a lot with this.)

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I bought undyed organza from Dharma, which is a much less expensive source of silk fabric than almost anywhere else, as long as you don’t mind your choices being limited to white or black. Fortunately I know how to acid-dye and have the dyes on hand. I tossed the silk into my dyepot (after a good long vinegar-solution soak) with Jacquard “Brilliant Blue”. In the meanwhile, I grabbed some satin scraps and embroidery thread and hit the machine to test out if I could really do the kind of embroidery I was planning on, and if it would work.

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The fabric combination was a go, and the embroidery, I decided, would be fine. I couldn’t figure out how to get the satin to pucker less, but by testing the organza overlay I’d already planned on, I knew in advance that it would be fine, because the puckers wouldn’t show.

Embroidering the front panel

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Now, how to get my sketched-out design onto the bodice panel? First I thread-traced my construction-stitching lines onto the fabric, so I knew where my edges were. Then, with my sketch close at hand, I took a chalk pen and drew out the design on the back of the fabric (it’s a crepe-back satin, so this was much easier than if it had been satiny on the other side, too.) It took a view variations to decide on something I liked, that worked with the proportions. Then I thread-traced the design. (Helpful hint: do this in the final embroidery thread! I wasn’t really able to pick out most of the thread-tracing under the embroidery, and it would have worked better if the colors had matched for where the thread peeked out.)

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Fitting and constructing the bodice

Because I’d already done a decent fitting in the muslin, this wasn’t too tricky. However, the organza made everything even slipperier than the satin. I hand-basted the organza to the front panel to keep it from shifting (it still did, but less so) and then hand-basted the front panel to each side panel. After that it was fairly straightforward stitching.

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Adding boning and interlining

This was the part where I mostly wished I had more guidance. There wasn’t any provision for boning in the book, that I remember, but I knew I wanted mine to be boned—the structure helps the dress stay up, for one thing, as well as keep its shape. At this point I pulled a lot of advice from the interwebs. What I decided was to make an interlining out of cotton flannel (the idea being the flannel smoothes any bumps behind the fashion fabric that might show) and attach the boning to that. I had a hard time finding any advice on where to put boning; in the end I kind of guessed. Jury was out on whether to continue boning straight up the princess seams over the bust, or end under the bust line; I decided to put boning all the way up. I used spiral steel boning and I figured my bust line could use the extra filling-out.

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(The best part about interlining is that no one will ever see. I went with fun fabric because of that.)

In the end my final boning channels were placed thus:

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This seemed to work pretty well. By this point I had done fittings on both the outer bodice and the interlining. When it’s really crucial for something to fit and stay up, more fit-checks are definitely a good thing. (Also: make sure and wear the foundation garments during fitting that you plan to wear at the event! This means you have to have them beforehand.) I planned not to wear a bra with this dress, because I hate strapless bras, so the bodice was fit close enough that if I did wear a bra, it would look weird, but it fits perfectly without.

Sewing the skirts (oops…)

Pretty straightforward step that I somehow managed to screw up. I cut two circle skirts, one of organza and one of satin, French-seamed them and then stitched them together at the top. Then I stitched them to the bodice. Then I realized I’d sewed the outer skirt on inside out. Oh, and did I mention I used an extra-short stitch on these? *groan*

Creating the lining

At this point I went to a friend of mine for help. She alters wedding dresses professionally and had good advice all the way through my process for getting good results from this dress. She advised making a lining that extended further down my torso, to my hips. The idea is that the lining is fitted very tight, and then boned. The tightness over the hips wants to go somewhere narrower, like the waist, which forces the rest of the dress upward—no bodice falling down! I did this pretty much to spec, adding boning (I used Rigilene for this, not having enough spiral steel, though the spiral steel would have been better) in different places than the first boning, at the middle of the side front and side back pieces. 

The zipper is attached to the bodice and the lining, but not to the skirts. The skirts have a slit to accommodate the zipper, and then they are meant to be snapped closed over the lower portion. This part got a little messed up—I wasn’t able to get the clear snap I wanted to use for the organza in time, and then I accidentally sewed two male snap-ends onto the underskirt and only found out when it was too late to fix it. A handy safety pin came to the rescue there. 

The skirts were both hemmed using my rolled hem function on my serger. The lettuce-hem adds a nice floaty effect and it was much easier than bothering with a narrow hem. 

   

(Tigger had to help. He’s completely attracted to blue fabric, probably because it shows off his orange fur the best.)

  

Wild Blue Yonder

Hello again! It’s been a little quiet around here, but that’s because I have been pretty swamped trying to finish my latest ambitious project… my new party dress!

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The idea for this project came, as so many great ideas do, at the last minute. You see, my big brother both graduated from college last week and commissioned as an officer in the Air Force. The commissioning was a big deal, and formal dress. Now it’s true that I could have reached into my closet and pulled out a couple of options that would have fit, including dresses that were handmade, but I decided I wanted to make something new. Commissioning has a special place in my heart, because my brother was able to complete something that I tried to do, but couldn’t finish (I did three years of ROTC, but medical issues prevented me from continuing from there.) So I wanted to make something special.

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The other reason I decided to dive in was that I had just borrowed the book The Party Dress: How to Sew the Best Dress in the Room by Mary Adams from the library. A lot of the book discusses ideas or design process by the author, but the last section discusses how to make your own party dress based on a few different design options provided by the author (all of them were princess-seamed bodices with circle skirts). One of the design options available included an organza overlay skirt, and Mary Adams also discusses a few ways to make contrast panels interesting in the front bodice. So I sketched up a few options and went to work.

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I nicknamed this dress the “deep blue sea” dress, although “wild blue yonder” is appropriate for the occasion as that’s part of the Air Force song. In addition to all the blue (I really wanted a dress to match my new blue shoes), you can see the underwater influence in the front panel. I machine-embroidered a few wavy lines of seaweed and yes, some octopus arms to add some interest and give the impression of an ocean. (My jewelry is thematically fitting as well—I borrowed it from my mom, it’s made with black volcanic rock from Hawai’i.) The embroidery was done on dark blue satin and then overlaid with blue organza. The rest of the bodice was made only in the dark satin, as well as the underskirt, while the overskirt is also organza. The two different layers create an intriguing color effect. Mary Adams showed a lot of different ways an organza overlayer can be used for color effects, and I definitely want to experiment with other options in the future. The two different skirts also created a fun way of movement in the final product. And they’re circle skirts, so they’re perfect for twirling!

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(I, however, am not perfect for making twirling expressions.)

The really fantastic thing about this dress is that it fits perfectly. Because I was able to control the construction process from beginning to end, I could make a dress that doesn’t need to be hiked up over the course of the night, and doesn’t give me concerns about falling down and revealing anything it shouldn’t. That’s a big relief! The dress stayed exactly put no matter which way I twirled, sat, or bent. Now I can’t say I could have created this effect on my own before I started—I had some great advice from Mary Adams, tutorials on the internet, and a friend with a lot of expertise who was willing to give me advice.

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Next week I’ll talk more about the design and construction process for this dress. My main complaint to people as I was creating this was “this is a feat of engineering, not a dress!” so I’ll go more into detail about what it takes to hold this thing together and make it stay up.

Oh, and in case there was any doubt—I did get this done on time, even though it was a little closer to the wire than I’d hoped! I did the last hem on the day of the event, in fact. But it worked out, just in time for me to watch my big brother become one of the Air Force’s newest lieutenants.

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Woolgathering

It’s time to add some sheep to this “sheep and horses” business. Today I have some awesome handspun yarn to share with you.

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This was a very preciousssss fiber to me until I finally convinced myself to spin it. The colors are absolutely my favorite, and the softness and luster can’t be beat.

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This is the unspun fiber. Absolutely luscious, no? It’s a merino wool / yak / silk blend from the lovely Woolgatherings. It’s a really lovely blend to spin. Merino is the breed of sheep with the finest, softest wool—this is why anything labeled “merino” will cost more than generic “wool”. It’s very soft, of course, and adds a nice degree of bounce to the yarn, since the other fibers have no elasticity/recovery. The yak undercoat, for those who’ve never petted the fiber before, is incredibly soft and adds a lot of warmth. Silk, of course, is always lovely, and adds drape and luster to the finished yarn.

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I spun this using a long-draw drafting method (a fast draw that allows much more air into the yarn than other methods.) Long draw tends to make the yarn fuzzier than a smoothed-down worsted draw, but after plying, the fuzz is pretty minimal on this. I separated the fiber into halves and spun them in the same color order, offset by a bit, so I could have some degree of color unity but also get a nice heather from where the colors in the plies mix. It’s a 2-ply with a fair degree of twist in the plying round. (In spinning, you usually spin each ply with one direction of twist, then ply them together using the opposite direction of twist, so the yarn ends up balanced and not over-energized. I usually like to have a bit more plying than spinning twist, as I find it improves the strength and the overall quality of the yarn.)

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Here you can see the plying twist at work. When the skeins are hung at liberty, they will turn and coil in whatever direction has the strongest twist. “Age” of the twist matters as well; if the singles have sat for a while, their twist will go more dormant. You can see this with the second, green skein—those singles sat for ages before I plied them, and then I added a ton of plying twist.

Ultimately I got about 735 yards from 4 ounces, which is pretty good yardage. I’m planning on incorporating this into a woven wrap somewhere down the line, but it’ll be a while because I still have other things to spin to include—735 is a lot, but not enough for the project I have in mind. And spinning yarn strong enough to weave with can be tricky! But don’t worry, this yarn will be back sometime, and in yet another different form.

Lastly, some of you might be curious about what I use to spin. This is a photo of my current spinning wheel, Leia. She’s a Little Gem model from the excellent spinning wheel makers, Majacraft of New Zealand. Leia is actually a travel wheel, meaning I can fold her up into a padded bag that’s very easy to take places, even on the plane! (Do not try this on a very full flight. Trust me.) I like my wheels to go very fast, and while the Gem isn’t the fastest model of wheel out there, she gets the job done, and she’s very easy to take to knit night.

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I know that spinning is unfamiliar to many people, so if there’s any questions I can answer about any aspect of the craft, I’d love to hear them! Everyone else—until next time!

Pink and Lace

Two things that normally don’t describe me at all.

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Short post today for a quick project. I started this yesterday afternoon and finished it in time for dinner. I love making t-shirts, they work up so quickly and I wear them so often, they get plenty of time in the rotation.

(Speaking of self-made clothes in the rotation—is anyone else a “saver”? I am constantly reminding myself that I don’t need to save my favorite clothes for a special day or occasion. If I didn’t remind myself, I think I’d wear my worst stuff all the time and never wear the good stuff! And the first wear is the most nerve-wracking, I think—I hesitated to put this on once it was done because I was afraid of ruining it, I guess.)

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I bought a couple of rayon jerseys from Koshtex on Etsy for t-shirts and undershirts. The pink was a bit of an impulse-buy, but I figured it’d make a good undershirt since it’s fairly close to my skin tone. Once I received the fabrics (they’re all fantastic, really soft, and with a subtle sheen. Highly recommend) I took a closer look at the pink, took out some lingerie stretch lace from my stash, and immediately decided the fabric was perfect for something “sweet”.

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I combined adding lace to the neckband and sleeves with a small gather in front (I added about an inch in width to the center front-top when cutting, grading the extra to nothing at the bottom. Then I gathered it when I attached the neckband. I do wish I’d done it a bit neater, the gather looks slightly goofy, but from farther away it’s hard to tell.) I used my standard t-shirt block from the Closet Case Nettie bodysuit pattern. Once I’d attached the neck band, I coverstitched the lace on top, and then for the sleeve hems, I pressed up the hem and then coverstitched it and the lace in place at the same time. I left the hem laceless; I will probably wear this tucked in at least some of the time, and I didn’t want to add bulk where it would show weirdly.

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While I’m not usually one for super-girly clothing, this is a nice subtle feminine piece that’s also very comfy and easy to wear. I imagine it would also look nice under a blazer or jacket. It’s a pretty cute variation on a standard t-shirt and I’m sure I’ll do something like it in the future.

I’m working on a pretty big project in the meantime; it won’t be ready to show off for a couple more weeks. And really, there’s nothing like having a lot to do, as having a lot of help getting in the way of me doing it.

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I’m sure Tigger thinks he’s helping… notice how the orange cat gravitates toward the blue fabric. Of course. *sigh*

Sewaholic Oakridge: Another Sign of Spring

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What better way to celebrate the arrival of spring (okay, here in Utah it’s really been spring since about February, but April is Officially Spring) than with fabric covered in flowers? Admittedly, this fabric is not your typical floral: it’s a fairly large print and completely lacks any pink or red at all. I simply can’t resist blue, that’s all; it’s an addiction. The pattern is  Sewaholic’s Oakridge bow blouse, which is another garment to go in the “office wear” section of my closet, which is presently rather lacking. I’ve had a goal for a while now to sew more office-appropriate clothes, in anticipation of actually getting an office job. Piece by piece, I’m gathering a wardrobe! This blouse is meant to fill a more feminine space than my previous Granville button-downs.

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The fabric is Fabric.com‘s Picasso rayon poplin. It has a lovely hand and drape. The combination of the drapey fabric and the loose cut of the blouse sometimes gives me the feeling of wearing pajamas, actually, which I suppose is a good sign that it’s comfortable! It’s also quite cool for a long-sleeved shirt, so it’s versatile enough to wear most seasons.

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The construction on this… well, it had its ups and downs. This was a project that could have been so much better if I’d just paid more attention, but I didn’t and it shows in ways I wish it didn’t. To start with, in my efforts to get optimal print placement on the front (no giant boob-flowers!) I failed to consider how much fabric I actually had. I ended up piecing the bow ties because I didn’t have enough fabric to cut them correctly; my ties are 4 pieces instead of two. I also should have shortened the sleeve and moved the bust darts in the same way I did on my Granville shirts; the patterns were drafted from the same block, so I knew they needed the same adjustments. It’s just that when it came to cutting, I plain forgot.

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I did remember to alter the cuff, which is good because I think the sleeves would have been completely falling off otherwise. My preferred cuff length doesn’t let the sleeve go over my hand. This meant I had to pleat in the extra sleeve width. I made the cuff narrower to compensate for the length of the sleeves, but next time when I remember to shorten the sleeves, I’ll use the full cuff width.

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The fabric is pretty shifty, which is normal for something with this kind of drape. I hemmed it using a self-fabric bias facing instead of turning-twice-and-stitching; in my experience the facing is a little easier to keep under control and prevent the hem from twisting. I french-seamed some of the insides, when I remembered (I was really scatterbrained during this project!) and serged the seam allowances when I didn’t. Instead of buttons, I added pearl snaps. I might go back and add more; I think I spaced them too widely for this fabric (4″ is my standard for button-downs, but the drape on this allows the front to gape open more easily.) The pearl snaps look nice against the fabric, and they’re more fun than buttons to do up.

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I think I have to make this pattern at least once more, if only to correct my mistakes on this one. I may change the neckline a bit next time, though… this is definitely a gaper. Don’t bend over too far. The weight of the bow really pulls the shirt down, so I think this might do better with a higher neckline—possibly a mandarin-collar with ties. It would also be interesting to test this with a fabric with more body—I think one could get fairly creative with the neckline and ties.

My next work in progress really doesn’t count as “office wear” and it’s pretty intensive… I’ll be hard at work for the next couple of weeks!

Spring has sprung!

And for an event rider, that means only one thing*: cross country!

Alas, there’s not much going on that I can show you in the crafting department (although there is still plenty going on behind the scenes!) so I thought I’d share my weekend adventure. I have an important clinic (training session) with a world-famous event rider, Lucinda Green, in a few weeks, so over the weekend Pete and I tackled the cross country course for the first time this year. Boy, it was a good thing we did. I’d rather get all the crap out of the way first! Let’s just say the cool weather and a new body-clip had Petey feeling fiiine. And he felt like expressing that with a few bucks. Maybe more than a few.

Fortunately, the only disaster was that I was so focused on staying on that I forgot to ride well. I think my trainer was a bit exasperated with me after telling me the same thing three times. But ultimately I did get the message, you know, eventually. We worked on basic cross country obstacles (jumping over logs) as well as more classic “cross country” type jumps, such as up banks and down banks. Those require specific techniques to ride, especially down banks, so it was good practice. And eventually I got the hang of it again!

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I’m looking forward to lots of good rides to come.

*This is not entirely true. Spring also means SHEDDING. SHEDDING EVERYWHERE.

Sewing Room Tips and Tricks

My latest projects lack hems and buttonholes, so I have no finished items to share with you. Nevertheless, I feel like I’m getting a lot more accomplished these days, so I thought I’d share my personal tips for getting the most out of your sewing workspace. These are tried-and-true, in that I didn’t do any of these things when I first started sewing, and then I learned that there’s a reason for doing them. I used to cut corners all the time! (I’m talking recently… I just threw away a piece I made no more than a year or two ago, no finishing inside the seams, facings not understitched or tacked down, seams straining from bad fit… the piece was a wadder, but it shouldn’t have been. If I’d taken the time not to be sloppy, it would have been great.)

  1. Stock up on needles. You’re supposed to change your sewing machine needles every 3-4 hours, or every project or so. How many of us actually do that? I used to skimp on changing needles because I didn’t want to go buy any, or the shop was closed by then, etc. But making sure your needles are sharp will prevent skipped stitches and needle jams, which can really throw off your groove! I generally try to pick up a new pack of needles every time I go shopping. They sell nice multi-packs of Universal needles in different sizes at my Joanns, which are always handy; if I’m running low on ballpoint/stretch needles or Sharps, I’ll pick up those instead. If you never have a shortage, it’ll be easier to change needles since you won’t have to worry about running out. Another useful thing: if you use Schmetz needles, here’s a printable guide to the color bands they use to differentiate between needle types and sizes.
  2. Stock up on bobbins. Wind a few ahead of time in your most commonly used colors. That way you don’t have to interrupt your sewing time quite as much when you run out of bobbin thread, or worse, have to unwind an old one to even start winding a new color. Bobbins tend to be pretty inexpensive, and they’re good to have on hand.
  3. Toss your stash every so often. I don’t mean go throw it out! Toss your stash like you toss a salad (I stole this term from the Yarn Harlot, by the way. She is fabulous.) Go through all of your fabrics, reorganize them if necessary, or if you’re me, straighten the piles they’ve gotten stacked in. (I like to see what I’ve purchased! This means things usually don’t get put away very well.) Check things over for damage—moth holes, sun bleaching, the cats got into it, that kind of thing. This is great to do because it will remind you what you have—if you have a “deep” stash, it can be like going shopping, except since you already own it, it’s all free! You may want to go through your patterns and notions during the stash toss, as well. You can make sure they’re organized and, again, remind yourself of what you have. If there’s stuff you don’t want to have, now’s the time to get rid of it!
  4. Set some good background sound. Now, I realize not everyone gets a great choice of background noise—some people are sewing in the living room and keeping an eye on the kids, some people are in a cramped dorm room, everyone’s making the best with what they have. But if you can, set yourself some good grooves. (I don’t like headphones since I’m running back and forth from machine to ironing board and wielding hefty scissors; if you do use headphones, be careful to keep them out of the way!) Music can be great—if you tend to get stressed at the machine, pick something calming; if you tend to get bored, pick a playlist that lights you up. I also love listening to podcasts and audiobooks; it keeps my hands busy and my mind entertained during long stretches of sewing. You may have to tweak the volume to hear over your machine, or pause your audiobook when you get to a puzzling set of instructions, though; trying to focus on two things at once is a recipe for disaster.
  5. Sample, sample, sample. It’s the golden rule, really. If you get to any point when you’re not sure about the instructions, or the technique, or the fabric, etc. take the time to test it. Trust me, this will really save your bacon in the long run! Sampling can mean testing on a scrap of your intended fabric, like you should do with buttonholes. It can mean testing the technique on whatever fabric comes to mind—this is a good idea when you’re learning how to do plackets, or bound buttonholes, or welt pockets, anything like that. It can mean testing your needle/fabric/machine settings/interfacing combination, which you should do with exactly the combination you intend to use, otherwise your results won’t be accurate. Or it can mean simply basting your next seam instead of stitching it, if you’re not sure it’ll turn out right; that way it’s much easier to rip back if it’s wrong. Yes, sampling feels like it can slow you down, but in the long run—and I mean the long, lonely minutes with the seam ripper in hand and swear words on your lips—it will really pay off.
  6. If you’re trying to improve your sewing skills, not just make whatever garment is in your hands—or if that garment itself is proving obnoxious and difficult!—and you find yourself overwhelmed or frustrated, just take it bit by bit. I used to have a really low frustration threshold when I sewed, which is why I took so many shortcuts. As soon as I’d hit something hard—if I had to rip back, or I didn’t entirely understand the instructions, that sort of thing—I’d give up, and try to come back later with new energy. This is a pretty slow and frustrating way of doing things! Bit-by-bit is the way to conquer this. I learned to tell myself, “yes, I’m annoyed now; let me just do one more seam, and then I’ll quit.” It helped. Usually I found myself doing more than one seam; even if I didn’t, I hadn’t left myself at the hard part, and I’d conquered whatever had frustrated me. This is a great way to build confidence! Or, if I was trying to do “proper” sewing techniques and not take whatever shortcut occurred to me, I’d just try one less lazy technique. “This time, I don’t have to take time for a muslin, or try the fancy new topstitching technique I saw, but I will do flat-felled seams the whole way through.” It’s a good way to ease into better habits, and the sight of those awesome-looking flat-felled seams will encourage you to set higher standards for yourself.
  7. A caveat to the above: never sew when you’re so mad you want to throw things out the window. Nothing good can come of that. Nor should you sew when you’re exhausted or drunk. Trust me, scissors and needles and sewing machine motors will not be kind to you in that state. If you find yourself frustrated a lot, it can be helpful to push just a little bit past that, to improve your confidence; but when you’re really fed up and mad, go do something else. Even if you’re on a deadline. Trust me, long hours with a seam ripper are not going to help you with that deadline.
  8. And lastly: get good helpers!IMG_5411

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Well, they think they’re helping, anyway. ;)