The warmer days of Spring have finally come!  I'm not quite as reactive or fatigued now as I was during the colder months. I've even left the house twice in the past month (quick trips to pick up milk or drop off a package) without having a major reaction after. After months of just sitting on the couch, it feels good to do even small sewing jobs that keep my mind and hands occupied.

 The work on my fitting muslins had been rather slow (okay, it pretty much ground to halt from New Years until the end of March), but I've recently been able to make some progress. The second draft of the moulage and the first of the skirt muslin are ready for my instructor to review. I should have both a well-fitting bodice and skirt sloper very soon-and in time to draft and sew some warm weather clothes.

During the months when I wasn't mentally sharp enough for measuring and drafting, I started working through my stack of unfinished and/or damaged quilts. In February I repaired this one:

It was given to my parents by a church member when my dad pastored in Michigan. The maker said the pattern was called Rock Candy Mountain. It had a few small holes from when my mom spilled bleach on it and the binding was almost completely worn away. I used Moda Bella 30's Solids in colors that matched as closely as possible to both patch it and replace the binding. My sister saw this when she was here earlier today and said it reminded of her of when she was little. She was born during our years in Michigan and was definitely very little when this quilt was new.

In March I finally finished hand quilting and binding a top I pieced several years ago. This is a Camille Roskelley pattern but I can't remember its name. I looked at her website and didn't see it, but maybe I just missed it. I made it shortly after I had completely changed the design scheme of my home from burgundies and greens with dark stained antique furniture to aqua, green, and red (and lots of other bright 30's inspired colors) and painted furniture. At that point I didn't have a lot of quilt fabrics that matched my new color palette, so the prints in this one are a bit repetitious and lacking in contrast. I machine pieced all of the straight lines before switching to hand quilting for the curvy ones. It's not my proudest quilting achievement, but it's done and it keeps us warm on chilly evenings:

Now I'm working on this beauty, which came to me by way of a church member when my dad pastored in California. It was from the member's mother's estate and I was deeply honored to be trusted with it. It's a Trip Around the World made of blocks that are approximately 1" square. There are so many wonderful prints and solids in this hand-pieced top. I'm quilting it by hand on the diagonal and hope to have it done in the next month or so. My daughter had already spoken for it, so once it's bound it will be shipped back to California:

I've also been tinkering with old sewing machines. Over the past month, 2 more vintage Singers came my way. First this celery green Featherweight from my husband's grandmother's estate:

Dottie Mae (named for Grandma Dorothy Mae) was made in 1964 and had been stored in a basement for several years, but was still in very good shape. I've already cleaned, oiled, and lubed her, but still need to play a bit with the tension and the belt to get it just right. I didn't bother to open the motor because the visible wiring looked good and the motor brushes weren't worn enough to need replacing. I did swap the original white belt for a new one because it was cracked and smelled of musty basement. It, as well as the box of attachments, owner's manual, case, and badge went into a big plastic bag full of cat litter. I'm hoping this will be enough to remove the smell. If not, some days in the warm sun might help. I might even try some cheap vodka on the case. I seem to remember hearing that this will remove odors from old luggage. It's worth a try.

I had been looking for a Singer 201-2 for quite some time. Many vintage sewing machine enthusiasts consider the 201 to be the "Cadillac" of Singer sewing machines, with the best straight stitch ever produced. There are always quite a few on Ebay, but the ones that are already restored and serviced end up selling for more than I want to pay. At the same time, many of the sellers' machine descriptions say "I don't know anything about sewing machines" or "the wheel turns" (which doesn't guarantee that it makes a stitch or that the motor runs), but the prices on even these are still much more than I'm willing to pay for a fixer-upper. I eventually found one on Etsy that was being sold by a quilter who had actually used it and the price was right. It arrived this week and I'm quite pleased to own it:

Still in the process of cleaning/servicing, so some of its parts are missing here
This one was built in 1937 and arrived with many years of old, hardened oil inside. I have already given it a good cleaning and applied fresh oil and lube where needed. The timing was off slightly, which was quickly corrected with the help of a PDF of the adjuster's manual I found online; it now sews a perfect straight stitch. The tension assembly-though it worked just fine-is a replacement that has some plastic parts, so I bought an original assembly on Ebay and will install it once it arrives (though I may need to use the newer springs from the replacement assembly). The motor was missing the fiber washer (ordered and in the mail) and I decided to also replace the lower spool pin and the bobbin winder tire; though still functional, the tire was looking a bit old and the lower spool pin had lost most of its chrome finish. Other than that, all that was needed was some polishing and waxing.

The finish and decals aren't perfect. It has had some rather obvious paint touch-ups over the years and there are several areas that are no longer shiny, but this speaks to me of it history. I can't begin to imagine how many yards of fabric have passed under the needle through its centuries of use. These machines were built to last and this particular one will probably still be completely functional when I'm too old to use it. 

I plan on using the 201 as my primary garment sewing machine. Since it didn't come with a case (and it's so heavy that I don't think I would like to lift it onto and off of a table anyway), I'm going to look for a cabinet that will fit it. In the meantime, it will sit here on my desk/sewing table and remind me of the generations of sewers who used it.

I now own 5 sewing machines: 4 vintage Singers and a Husqvarna Viking I bought back when I worked for a dealer. I'm thinking of eventually selling the Viking, if only to make way for a Red Eye treadle machine. Just kidding! Or not?


New Books, Suzy Furrer Pattern Making Classes, Plus A Craftsy Coupon

In my previous post I mentioned that I had purchased a couple of textbooks and was taking some online classes.No,  I'm not working on a degree or taking anything worth college credits (nursing school was enough for me, thanks). I'm just learning some practical skills that will help to improve my handmade garments.

First, I was very fortunate to find this textbook dramatically marked down a few weeks ago. It had been on my wish list for a long time and the Amazon price had been $95 for as long as I had been watching it. For some reason it dropped to just $59 for a few hours one day in December and I was able to grab a copy before the price went up again:

Fitting and Pattern Alteration by Liechty et al

Fitting and Pattern Alteration came highly recommended by several sewing bloggers as well as Sewing Pattern Review members and had been on my wish list for several years. Some consider this to be the best book on fitting and altering patterns (it is used as a textbook at many design schools) and I'm pleased to add it to my book shelf. I have skimmed this book and it is full of information. I think it's going to be a great resource for altering existing sewing patterns.

I'm even more excited about this book:

Building Patterns: The Architecture of Women's Clothing by Suzy Furrer

Building Patterns is used as a textbook in design schools and the author recently filmed a series of pattern making classes for Craftsy; two were released in December and another just this past month. My husband bought the first two for me as an early Christmas present and I grabbed the other as soon as it was available. I thought I'd recap and review them here for anyone interested in learning how to draft patterns or who might be wondering if the classes are worth the price (they are SO worth it!)

But first, some background: Suzy Furrer studied with couturier Simmon Sethna and went on to found the Apparel Arts school of fashion design. She bases her design on moulage: a skin tight fabric "mold" of the body. The moulage is then used to draft a sloper, which includes wearing ease and is the basis for pattern design.

Patternmaking Basics: The Skirt Sloper is the first (and probably the easiest) of the 2 basic drafting classes. It begins with measurement-taking, then Suzy shows how to use those measurements to draft, sew, and fit a skirt sloper muslin. After that, she covers several design options, including A line, flare, circle, pencil, and pleats. She also shows, step-by-step, how to draft waistbands, yokes, pockets, flounces, peplums, facings and linings, plus how to adjust the sloper for knit fabrics. She finishes up with information on production patterns for those who will be drafting for commercial production.

I have watched all of the lessons for this class but have not begun to draft my skirt sloper (I was more interested in doing the bodice moulage first). The instruction is very clear and concise.

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The next basic drafting class is Patternmaking Basics: The Bodice Sloper. In this class, Suzy again begins with measurements, then takes the viewer step-by-step through drafting the front and back bodice, sewing the moulage, and fine tuning the fit. After this, she shows how to add ease to create the slopers. She then discusses design options and demonstrates how to draft a bodice sloper for knits.

I have watched this class in its entirety as well and have worked through the first few lessons. I hit a snag with some of my numbers not adding up and contacted Suzy for help before my holiday sewing hiatus. By the time I was ready to get started again, Suzy had drafted a moulage based on my measurements and figured out what I was missing. I wasn't expecting such personalized help and this only further adds to my overall positive impression of this class. As in the previous class, Ms Furrer is very easy to understand and explains every step very clearly.

The next class in the series, Patternmaking & Design: Creative Darts & Seam Lines, builds on the material covered in The Bodice Sloper. In this class, Suzy Furrer covers dart manipulation and dart variations, plus princess, babydoll, empire, A-line, swing, and double breasted lines. I'm halfway through watching this class and am already able to look at ready-to-wear garments and see how the darts were manipulated to achieve the new design lines.

Ms Furrer has indicated that her next classes will cover necklines and drafting dresses (yay!). Several Craftsy members (myself included) have requested  that Craftsy add additional classes and the majority of requests have been for sleeves and pants. In the meantime, I have her book and plan on working through each of those lessons on my own.

The prices for these classes are higher than the other classes I've taken on Craftsy, but the depth of the material covered and the quality of instruction make it worth the cost to me. If I were to add up the cost of all the patterns that I've bought and fabric that I have wasted trying (unsuccessfully) to get a good fit on my own, I could have paid for these classes several times over. Besides, I have discovered that I love to draft-perhaps even more than I love to sew. When I consider the fact that I have a hobby that not only provides me hours of mental and creative stimulation, but also has the potential to produces a well-fitting wardrobe, I'd say that this is a bargain.

The 4th installment in the Suzy Furrer pattern making series has been released on Craftsy. Click here to save 43% off the price of Pattern Making + Design: Creative Necklines. I don't know when this offer will expire, so grab it while you can!


Red Velvet Recap (and Reading, too!)

Wow. The holidays took up a lot more of my time and energy than I had anticipated. I'm still kind of recovering from my pre-Christmas prepping spree (house cleaning, baking, etc), but it was worth it to have both of our kids here for several days as well as spend time with my extended family.

Slinky rayon: not a good idea when sewing a pattern for the first time

The Red Velvet dress was completed on time for the Sew Along and it ended up fitting really well-especially for my first time using the pattern. I did have some issues, though, with the fabric I used. The burgundy rayon jersey was just a bit too thin and slinky/slippery. Sewing it was tricky and wearing it? Well, I guess I need to invest in a new slip, because layering this dress over tights or leggings results in a clingy-ness unsuitable for public viewing.

That angled line is the final cutting line. I took this one in at least 3 times before I was satisfied with the fit.

This pattern was altered several times to adjust the fit and I suspect much of that was also due to my fabric choice. The final bodice pattern is so much smaller than my finished Tiramisu pattern. I am going to sew up the RV again in a slightly heavier cotton/lycra jersey and suspect it won't need to be taken in quite as much. Still, it was a great learning experience and I did end up with a new dress that will be wearable as soon as I make or find a slip.

I've been on a sewing hiatus since Thanksgiving (and in rest/recovery mode since Christmas), and have had a lot of time to kill. I'm all caught up on the Call the Midwife, Downton Abbey, and Dr Who Christmas specials as well as the newest season of Sherlock. We've been watching a few episodes of Foyle's War every week, and I've been working my way through some other series' on Netflix (and have a long list of others on my watch list).

I've also been reading-and not just stuff on the internet!. A few weeks ago I decided that I would like to read all of Agatha Christie's books in order. This decision was somewhat nostalgia-based. My dad gave me my first Agatha to read one year at Christmas when I was a preteen: Holiday for Murder (aka Hercule Poirot's Christmas). I was hooked and went on to read as many of them as we had in the house (Dad has a tendency, when he finds an author that he likes, to buy every book written, so we had quite a few of them).

I found a list for the suggested order of reading online somewhere (probably a Christie fan site) and was ready to get started. Unfortunately, Dad's Agathas had been stored in a closed cupboard, along with several other books, many of them second-hand. They had taken on a musty smell that would be faint to most people, but was too much for my hyper-vigilant mast cells. Fortunately, though, I was given several Amazon gift cards for Christmas and used them to buy a Kindle as well as the first few books on the list. So far I've read the first four and would be reading the fifth one now, but the newest Flavia de Luce was delivered last night and I MUST know what happened to Harriet, so I've started on that instead.

A few days ago, I realized that all of this reading is a good sign that I'm slowly (So. So. Slowly) making my comeback. Just a year ago, I was just too tired (and foggy-headed) to read a book, let alone a magazine. My attention span was so greatly reduced that I couldn't commit to watching a movie (at home, on the couch, in my pajamas, even). 

But here I am, watching entire t.v. series' and reading  books (entire books, lists of books!). I've also been investing my time in learning new things. I didn't just spend my Christmas money on fun stuff. I bought a couple of text books and am super excited about one of them because it's the companion to some online classes I've been taking. But that's another post for another day.


It's About To Get Busy In Here

The current view of my cutting table. I use Kraft envelopes to organize PDF and self-drafted patterns.

I've been slowly working on some new patterns and now have not one, not two, but three TNTs (Tried and True patterns): Cake Espresso Leggings, Cake Tiramisu Dress, and Sewaholic's Tofino pajama pants. This past week I drafted a lounge pant pattern and a sweat pant pattern and am hoping that they will be TNTs as well. 

For the lounge pant, I started with the Laura pant from Maria Denmark and then tweaked it a bit to (hopefully) fit me: I raised the waist considerably, lowered the knee, lengthened the lower leg, reduced the hip curve a bit (my hip curve is nearly non-existent) and created more of a flare in the lower leg (using my Lululemon pants for inspiration). Then for the sweat pant, I took apart an old pair of Loft sweats that are now a size too small (as well as faded and stained) and used them as a base pattern. I graded them up to what I hope is my size and then did the same adjustments that I did with the Laura pattern. Though it's possible that I could have used the same pattern for both pants, I'm guessing that a pant made from cotton/lycra jersey should fit more closely than one made from sweatshirt fleece.

I still need to fit  a t shirt pattern and I hope to do that this week. Then I think I'll have everything I need to sew my new basic, casual winter wardrobe:

  • Sweat pant in black 100% cotton sweatshirt fleece (I need to find more of this in charcoal)
  • Lounge pant in gunmetal gray cotton/lycra jersey (90/10, I think)
  • Espresso Leggings in cotton/lycra jersey: 2 or 3 pairs in black, 1 pair in gunmetal, 1 pair in charcoal, and 1 pair in eggplant stretch cotton velveteen.  I'd love to make a pair in silk jersey too, but am still hunting for an affordable source. 
  • Long sleeve t shirts in cotton/lycra jersey: black, red, white, charcoal, black and white stripes, and whatever else I find on sale when I make more fabric orders in November.
  • Tunic length tops (cut from the Tiramisu pattern and maybe some hacks of other patterns too): Cotton/lycra jersey in black, charcoal, black and red paisley (though this may be a dress instead), and then one or two more in merino jersey (gray/black striped and raspberry). I might have a piece of teal rayon/lycra jersey to use as well. 
  • Pajama pants in black/gray/red plaid flannel and maybe another pair in Alabama Chanin organic cotton jersey in a dark blue gray shade called Deep (this fabric is pricey, but I bought too much for another project so I might as well use it)
I'd still like to draft a pattern for a stretch woven casual pant, but that can wait until after I've gotten some of these pieces done. I suspect that the above list will keep me busy enough for awhile anyway.

I'm really looking forward to receiving the Coco knit shrug and Carmine knit jacket patterns from Cake Sewing. I think I'll have enough leftover fabrics to cut a few of these to coordinate with my tunic length tops and leggings. I just got the Red Velvet dress pattern in the mail this week and will be sewing and blogging about that during the Red Velvet Sewalong in November. And yes, I have fabric for that too!

Red Velvet Sewalong Penelope House



Oh my goodness. You guys. All 6 of you. I finally sewed something that fits. The first time out of the box. Okay, I'm going to tweak the pattern a bit before I sew it again, but still. A wearable muslin. This has never happened to me. Ever. In fact, I've never sewn a pattern that turned out well enough to want to use it again. A Tried and True (TNT). I finally have one:

Yes, I know what you're saying: "What is this? A picture of the skinniest feet God ever made?" Well, it very well may be, but it  is also a picture of  my custom fit leggings.

 Look. They're long enough-even when I'm sitting. This in itself is a small miracle. I have a 34" inseam. NOTHING is ever long enough when I sit down. And, though you can't see it here, the waist? It's not cutting into me! And even better: it's sitting high enough that my "mommy tummy" doesn't bulge over the top. And! The waist doesn't pull down in the back: EVEN WHEN I'M SITTING!!!!! (and yeah, welcome to my world, where even ready-made leggings are too short in the legs and the torso).

This is the source of my new-found legging happiness:

It's the Espresso Leggings pattern from Cake Sewing and it is brilliant. Stephanie has made it possible for even a novice to draft a pair of perfectly fitting leggings. I took my measurements, used them to fill in the dots on the pattern, then connected the dots with a ruler. It was incredibly easy and fast. And as always, Stephanie includes lots of sewing with knits tips in the pattern as well as links to her website for in-depth how-to's and help. 

I sewed up this pair in about an hour and this was the first time I've ever hemmed a knit fabric. In fact, this was only the second time I've sewn a knit garment on a sewing machine. Like a lot of sewers, I had never sewn knits on a machine because I thought they would be difficult to work with, but finally decided to give it a try when I found Sewing Cake patterns and test fitted the Tiramisu bodice (which was set aside for awhile so that I could make some pajama pants and other things for the approaching cooler weather).

These were made from some cotton/lycra that I picked up on Ebay a year ago. I sewed them on my Viking 545 and used the overcast stitch (#7) and my walking foot. I like this stitch because it both joins the seam and finishes it in one step, but would recommend basting things together first to check for fit because this stitch is a pain to rip out. I used a simple zig zag to stitch down the waist band after the elastic was attached, and originally hemmed these with the same zig zag, but then discovered that I had overestimated my finished length so ended up just cutting them off and securing the side seams with a backstitch so they won't unravel. I did pull out a twin needle at that point and practiced hemming some scraps and will use that technique to hem my next pair.

I'm completely sold on the entire Cake pattern line. I've preordered all of the patterns in the new Red Velvet Collection and can't wait to start the dress, bolero, and jacket;  all 3 will be perfect layering pieces for the transitional weather of Fall. 

Now I'm hunting for the perfect fabric for my first knit dress. I'm also looking for fabric to make a LOT more leggings: more cotton/lycra jersey, maybe stretch velvet, some merino, and perhaps silk jersey for a base layer. But first I think I'll just kick back and admire my work for awhile:


Working on My Comeback

I've been missing for awhile. Again. My health went into a rapid several-months-long decline and my already low energy level tanked, so sewing/making things and blogging had to take a backseat.

We finally concluded that the wellness protocol I had been following was making me worse. My treatment plan was reassessed and changes were made. As a result, I'm on my way back to feeling like myself for the first time in years.  I've recently had urges to clean a bathroom or change the sheets or drag a chest of drawers down the stairs and out to the garage where I then painted it. I haven't had the strength to do any of these things for years. I also went to church last Sunday for the first time in months and was reminded again how much I have missed worshiping  with the people I love

So, my progress on fitting/drafting my patterns pretty much ground to halt for several months, but I'm getting started again and just in time. The weather is changing are warmer clothes are now a necessity. I'm starting with pajama pants because those can't be too hard, (right?) and they can be worn all day if I don't leave the house. I chose Sewaholic's Tofino pattern but revised it to be made without the side panel and piping since I'm in a hurry to make something warm for sleeping. I'm going to sew my fitting muslin today (which will actually be a pair of cropped bottoms because I didn't have enough fabric to make a full length pair) and hopefully can cut into nicer fabric tomorrow.

I've got lots of other garments on my to-do list and will detail all of that in an upcoming post about Fall/Winter wardrobe planning.

I just want to finish up with some photos of my physical progress, because I want to have a record of how far I've come. I don't have any pictures from when I was at my worst (117 lb, yikes!), but this one was taken a few months before I hit that low point:

Spring 2012. My skin was just beginning to turn yellow here. And isn't my Boy pretty?

This was after a couple months of very slow weight gain:

  Fall 2012. Notice the flat expression and the jutting collarbones. My upper ribs were still visible at this point, though you can't see them here:

A few months ago:

Summer 2013.

And, finally, two weeks ago:

Rosy skin, dimpled cheeks, 150 lb and proud of it! And there's the dresser that I dragged downstairs by myself.



Alabama Chanin Swing Skirt in Carmine and Apple
And it fits. At least for now it does. It will definitely go to my sister if I gain much more weight.

I've already re-traced and cut this pattern in a size Large. I think this was an Extra Small or maybe a Small with an Extra Small waist. At any rate, my newest measurements called for a Large and I'm all about having room to grow right now, so Large it is.

I started a Fitted Top on Sunday night and finished it on Monday. I made the mistake of trying it on right before bedtime and discovered I was still off on the fit. I spent the night re-drafting that pattern in my sleep and woke up once or twice when I realized my dream self was not doing it right. By the next morning, though, the solution was pretty obvious and straightforward.

Ultimately, I had overestimated how much I needed to adjust for narrow shoulders but underestimated how much I needed to increase the bust. I think part of this is due to the fact that the old t-shirts I've been using for fitting muslins don't have the same amount of stretch as the Alabama Chanin fabric-though they're close enough to get me in the ballpark. I think the top is wearable as is, but did go ahead and add the newest revisions to the pattern. I now refer to the front pattern piece for this garment as "Frankenpattern" because it has been cut up, marked up, and taped back together many times.

Alabama Chanin Fitted Top in Deep
I've learned so much about how to fit a pattern by making these garments. I think the fact that I have been working with a knit fabric has made the process easier and much more forgiving. I now know what I can expect with any given pattern that involves the upper body: a narrow shoulder adjustment, a full bust adjustment, and a swayback adjustment. On sleeveless garments I may need to take a tuck in the front armhole and then transfer that dart elsewhere (whether that be to another dart or to a seam). And I will often need to do the same at the neckline if it is scooped much at all to prevent gaping there.

On this top I did end up creating a bust dart. It's possible I could have omitted it, but the idea of the Fitted Top is that it be fitted and I didn't want to sacrifice that. I looked around the internet and found some ready-made Alabama Chanin garments with darts, noting that the seam allowances on those were felled so chose to fell mine as well. I like the look of the top stitching on the dart too.

I'll wear the top with the swing skirt and a black bolero that I cut out yesterday and hope to have done by the end of the week. While I already had the fabric and scissors out, I went ahead and cut another Fitted Top, a Gored Skirt, and a T-shirt, all in black.

Right now I'm working on a Camisole top (also in black). All it lacks is the binding on the neck and arm holes. Fitting it has been much easier because of the princess seams and I don't expect to do anything more to this pattern. I also have a Corset in Carmine cut out and ready to stitch up and may start that later tonight. Once these 2 pieces are finished and their final fit approved, I will have the top patterns from all 3 of the Alabama Chanin books fitted to me-at which point I'll re-draw them on something sturdier than tracing paper. I'll also draw some neck variations for the t shirt and may try to morph its armscye onto the Fitted Top so I can add sleeves to that for next Fall/Winter. I'll also use my finished Camisole top pattern to draw the Tank top pattern and both of the dresses for those tops. 

And then I'll sit down again and sew.