Category Archives: Sewing

creative-hours

To Hogwarts and Beyond

I cannot believe that it has taken me so many weeks to show you another cute project I made for the baby shower!

HogwartsOnesies3

Why yes, they are onesies printed to look like Gryffindor robes.

HogwartsOnesies2

I got a panel of fabric from Spoonflower, and it was basically a cut & sew kind of thing.

HogwartsOnesies1

The onesies are adorable now that they’re done, and my extended family is a huge bunch of Harry Potter fans. So we all got a book-worm-y thrill out of them. But can I talk about my frustrations a little bit, too? This is my first time ordering from Spoonflower, and I learned a lot of important lessons.

That’s crafter’s code for: I should have planned more carefully and done more research and not tried to do anything at the last minute.

None of the pieces on this particular yardage were labeled (it looks like if you order newborn size, they are). So it took extra effort to figure out how things went together, and in particular, how to do an envelope neck (I still ended up doing it backwards, but aesthetically it was better that way, and it will function).

When you do a garment from an unlabeled panel, there’s no handy list of required notions to reference! I forgot about snaps until the 11th hour. But, thank goodness, my mother-in-love had a snap pliers and spare snaps on hand. So the very morning of the baby shower, we put the finishing touches on.

I’m also not sure about this fabric, the organic cotton knit. I am anxious to hear how it wears. It doesn’t seem to have the stretch recovery I would want in a baby garment, although I think it will be fine (it’s just not perfect the way you always want gifts to be). I’m left wondering, would the cotton/spandex blend have been better?  So… online buyer beware? I would now heartily recommend ordering a sample book first – it’s only $1, and it’s a whole heck of a lot easier than knitting and washing a swatch (which you should always do! I shout, as I’m in 3″ into an extremely complicated sock without doing a single stitch of swatch).

creative-hours

Holiday Dahlia

dahlia1
Photo taken at the Pennsylvania Guild of Craftsmen’s store in downtown Lancaster, PA

I’ve had the opportunity to wear my holiday dress a lot this year! My first stab at a Colette Dahlia, an extremely successful wearable muslin. The pattern was fabulously easy to follow, of course, and gave me the opportunity to learn how to use my blind hem foot, use bias tape, and insert an invisible zipper.

Since this blog doubles as a sort of project journal, let me also catalog the things I want to adjust next time: make the neck opening smaller; maybe adjust the bodice to be smaller for my tiny bust; I think I might prefer the look of larger contrasting bias tape; I forgot to add any pockets!; and last but not least….

dahlia2

Use a different technique for finishing the inside hems. I’ve been relying on some of the serger-like stitches my machine has. And overall, I think they work well. But they also inevitably look sloppier and more frayed than store-bought clothes. Maybe I should get zigzag shears? Or finish the insides with bias tape, too? Or finally figure out how to do a french seam? Let me know your favorite finishing techniques, and I will work my way through them as only an obsessed sewist can!

creative-hours

forward motion

Some folks are happy with a goal-driven all-out sprint towards the holidays with their crafting (I just read my daily dose of Yarnharlot and almost cried, but Stephanie seems to love her process). Some people break into hives at the mere mention of a crafting deadline. I fall somewhere in the middle – I wouldn’t be happy if I wasn’t making anything. But I see no reason to let my irrational ambition take over the holidays – because, unfortunately, I do take deadlines seriously.

I limited myself to sewing superhero capes for my son and his BFF, and creating a cardboard stepstool so that he can learn to wash his own hands. Plus I’m making steady progress on a few baby shower gifts that need to be done by mid-January.

As I truck along on those few handmade things, I’m mostly thinking about my theme for next year. In 2014, my theme was “say no” (I had just had a baby, and wanted to create realistic expectations of what I was going to get done). In 2015, my theme was “say yes” (try new things, meet new people, accept a challenge again).

photo-2

I’ve done well with both of those things. I set ruthless priorities in 2014, and it’s actually become kind of a habit to think, “Is this necessary to my creative life, does it contribute to the family, does it strengthen my relationships?” and if not, I just say no, with ever-decreasing levels of guilt.

And of course, in 2015 I published my first sweater design. Challenge accepted and enjoyed. I also tried yoga, started guest blogging for Lancaster Transplant, and I made an effort to meet new people and invest more love and energy into my existing network of fabulous folks.

photo-1

Both of those were necessary resolutions to my creative life – when I stopped and looked at it carefully, the only ones that made sense. So what’s necessary this year?

I think it might be “more with less.” Or maybe it could be rephrased as “do the best with what you already have.”

In the micro: I have a yarn and fabric stash to work from. I have the incredible Creative Reuse Center nearby. I want to take creative aim at spending less money with less intensive use of new materials in my work.

In the macro: I have been given enough resources, skill, and support to make a life I’m really happy with. I often lose sight of that, feeling like there isn’t enough time or money to go around, or mismatching my ideas with my reality. But really, truly, I can and should focus on using what I have in the best way possible.

Please tell me I’m not the only one examining and re-examining my life as I stitch. What are your themes and thoughts for the holidays and the new year?

creative-hours

the cutest winter coat

Every now and then* I get a little over-ambitious.

*all the freaking time

Last month my ambition led me to think that I should absolutely, completely, whole-heartedly sew a coat for my son for the winter. I had about a yard of dark gray wool in stash, and I pictured an adorable little double-breasted dress overcoat. Instead, after about half an hour of Googling, I settled on this Little Goodall pattern.

foxcoat2

Can I tell you the saga of this coat? Let me tell you the saga, please please, please.  There are a few useful tips at the end, but if you want the full feeling of living through punchline after punchline of sewing mishap, read happily onward.

First of all, I impulse-bought the pattern.* I called Joann’s, and yes, they had it in stock, and they set it aside for me. I swung by on the way home from work, and also picked up the contrasting colors for the fox’s face, and a flannel lining fabric (not pictured above for reasons that will become obvious), and buttons and thread based around the gray wool. I also picked up some wool batting, because I thought it would be smart** to quilt some extra layers in there for extra warmth.

*I know, I know. Never impulse buy!
**trying to be smart results in more crafting-related deaths*** than any other single reason
***project deaths, that is

Then I got home, put the new fabric in the wash, laid out the pattern, and realized that I didn’t have enough gray wool.  Like, not nearly enough gray wool. I also realized that the smallest size of the pattern is 3T, and, as you may or may not know, my kiddo isn’t even 2 yet.

OK, well, we’ll roll up the sleeves and he can wear it for more than one winter, I thought. That’s smart, it’s going to take a lot of effort to sew a coat. And he can layer sweaters underneath. It’ll be fine. Right? It’ll be fine?

Lack of outer fabric was a problem, though, a true-blue serious roadblock. I know our Joann’s doesn’t carry any 100% wool that I could use for the outer layer (and my knitter’s snobbery was kicking in. Wool is the warmest. I wanted all wool, not 10% wool felt). I hopped online. And realized that it would cost another $40 to buy and ship the kind of fabric I wanted. I love my son, but an $80 coat? Even spread over a couple years’ use and counting in the fun I would have making it? It seemed like a little much.

So I put the project in timeout (this happens a lot in my studio). And then I had a brainwave – I got the gray wool from Lancaster Creative Reuse a few years ago. Maybe I could get some more wool there!

Lo and behold, LCR came through for me. They had several options, in fact, all under $5. I settled on the thicker, camel-colored, herringbone weave you see in these photos.

Now I had gray thread, gray buttons, and lining fabric that didn’t match my camel-colored wool.

Back to Joann’s. Return the buttons. Return the thread. Buy the right buttons. Buy new thread. Buy three times as much thread as you will need, because you think the quilting will use a lot (spoiler alert, it doesn’t). Excavate a new lining from stash (super cute doggies, no?).

foxcoat3

Then let’s line up all the layers (outer wool, thick felt interfacing, batting, and lining fabric) and realize oh cuss, just quilting these layers together will max out the height of the foot. What am I going to do when it’s seam-time?

Well, I’ll figure it out, I thought. And started to quilt. This turned out to be a secret stroke of genius for keeping my edges roughly even. There’s actual useful piece of information #1: quilt your layers! It’s good!

quilted

Let’s skip ahead a few days to the actual seaming: yes, the many layers are a bit of a problem. I get the body constructed, though. I even get the hood put together, the eyes and nose appliqued on, and the hood attached to the body. Tip #2: go ahead and use the longest stitch length your machine has. There’s no other way to go when you’re dealing with this much stuff. 

Setting in tiny sleeves, though? Not gonna happen on the machine. I sewed them in by hand. This took days. But it is sturdier than you might think. I doubled my thread and used a back-stitch, put on pretty music and took my time.

The lining is added separately, at the very end, and I decided there was simply no way I could manage that on the machine, either. Plus, I always meant to learn how to do more than whip-stitch things. Here before me, I had the perfect opportunity to improve my slip stitch.

Are you sure you can't speed this story up, Mom?
Are you sure you can’t speed this story up, Mom?

OK, OK. Let’s get to the very last punchline. I did finish the coat, over the course of a month. It is super cute. It is also super big. And last year’s down winter coat, the one I was sure would be too small? The one I was in such a rush to replace? I decided to put it on S, you know, to make myself feel better about all that work.

It still. freaking. fits. 

creative-hours

love for my tools

tools-1

The day, almost the hour, after I received my new birthday tools, I put them to good use: steaming the swatch for my Knittin’ Little submission.

And then remember when I made Greg that new pair of jeans? A huge part of why they look so good are my new birthday tools.  That, my friends, is a new iron to replace the travel iron I’ve been using since 2004. And a sleeve roll to iron on top of (perfect for sticking in jeans legs, too, when you press your seams).

I super love them. Good tools make everything easier. I couldn’t resist sticking them on some lovely hand marbled paper and styling them up like queens and kings.

What’s your favorite tool? Do you also harbor an unhealthy love for your iron?

creative-hours

slow fashion: KNOWN

This week’s #slowfashionOctober prompt is the one I wish I knew the most about:

favorite sustainable resources / “local” / traceable fabric and yarn origins / traceable garment origins / reference books, films, videos

Let’s start with what I do know.  I’ve been pinning a few made-in-Americasingle-breed, and eco-friendly yarns. The knitting designs I’m working on next use some of these.

And I do a lot of sewing with thrifted fabric – including these two beauties that are destined to be the brightest work blouses you ever did see.

fabric4

But really, truly, fabric is hard. I’m heartened to hear that I’m not the only one who thinks so.  There are many options for organic fabric, but in order to tell if your fabric is made safely, or is fair trade (much more important to me, personally, than local or organic, but you may have different priorities), you have to figure out not only which country it was made in, but perhaps which specific factory, and then learn something about the manufacturing rules that govern each country and/or individual factory.

Compared to indie yarn suppliers, fabric is a few steps (a lightyear) behind on  transparency.

However, after creeping (i.e. reading) lots of great posts from other sewcialists this week, here are a few new things I’ve discovered (and am pretty excited about):

  • This Etsy shop sells Fair Trade fabric, and it’s not all cotton
  • Alabama Chanin is now producing organic cotton fabric you can  purchase
  • Organic Cotton Plus, Honey Be Good,  has a Made in USA section
  • This is crazy, but apparently a lady named Sally Fox is breeding colored cottons (and raising sheep now, too)
  • And last, but possibly the most exciting of all, Offset Warehouse contains lots of details about the manufacturers of their fabric. The link I included there takes you to info about their Cambodian-produced fabric. Cool.

There, some extra reading for you. Until you digest it all (it took me a few days!), if you have good ideas on how to dispose of worn-out clothing, I want to hear about it.

creative-hours

slow fashion: LOVED

There’s one thing that I don’t understand about the knitting world: the concept of knitworthiness. Basically the concept is this: you don’t want to knit something for someone who doesn’t care two beans about hand-knit items, or won’t take care of them the same way you would. The implication is, even if you love someone dearly, the theory is, that doesn’t mean that person is inherently knitworthy.

I disagree.

I super love giving gifts to people. My first memory of my mother’s birthday (I must have been 3 or 4), was being given some money to walk next door to my grandmother’s book store and buy a gift.  I chose a t-shirt with a gigantic, sparkly pink flower (sorry, Mom).  It was so fun that I begged to do it again and again.  Pretty young, I started saving up my allowance to buy gifts on my own. Gifts and art supplies. Best of both worlds, I sometimes saved up to buy supplies for making gifts for people. We had a really fun Christmas one year, when the family budget was tight, and we all decided to either make or thrift things (or make with thrifted things, or thrift art supplies, double-espresso-shots of fun).

I can’t remember anyone ever being in the least unappreciative about what I made or gave. I never heard anyone say this is not what I wanted until well into adulthood – 23 or 24, I think (and in that case, it was truly helpful feedback, and easy to change, like I appreciate the shoes but these are not the right size). My childhood embroidery is framed and hanging in my parents’ bathroom, or was for many years. A painting I made in summer camp hangs in my grandparents’ house, even though of course it’s super childish. I don’t know if my brother has ever worn the stranded-colorwork-binary-coded scarf I made for him, but he was super sweet about the effort. People who love you? They’re going to understand that you make things out of love, and they’ll appreciate the gesture. And if you’re good, as you get older, you get better at identifying what giftees want, and giving better gifts (hand made or not).

So for this week, during #slowfashionoctober, let’s start thinking about Slow Gift-Giving.  The people you love are knitworthy. They are giftworthy, basically, and if you want to, you should just freaking make them something without worrying if they’ll dry clean it or not, or whether you’re wasting the many hours of making (although no pressure, man, you can’t spend 20 hours making a bespoke pair of jeans for everyone you love every birthday).

I’ve started thinking about this, and the people I want to make for this year, because there are, as I’m writing this, 83 days until Christmas, and I have a few special gifts planned for my Little and his BFF. Wish me luck with my time management, and good luck to you in any of your gift-making!

creative-hours

slow fashion: think small

Isn’t it ironic that the topic this week for #slowfashionoctober – SMALL – strikes me as one of the biggest? I could talk about sustainability, sewing for my son (sewing small things is so cute), how I deal with fabric/yarn stashes (or not)… but let’s start with one of the small, everyday reasons I love the idea of having a small, intentional wardrobe.

I don’t have any closets.

This is a slight exaggeration. My husband just built an upstairs hallway closet for coats and things (in a nook created by old, defunct chimney – it’s brilliant).

The end result of this is that I constantly feel that my drawers are very full. As you can imagine, this helps me question whether I really need this or that, and to clear out items I do not wear regularly, and ensure that everything matches very, very well.

I have to give massive credit, again, to Sarai’s wardrobe-planning blog series for helping me to think about colors, shapes, and my style in a very focused way. Turns out it’s basically gray, brown, pockets, and hand-knitted pops of fall color. I wear dresses with leggings, and short-sleeve blouses for work that I can layer with my handknit sweaters.

My husband is also very intentional about his wardrobe – he basically has a uniform: khakis, button-down white shirts, a few flannel shirts, a few heavier sweaters always made from the same vintage pattern. He always matches, he always looks classy, and he never has to think about what to wear.

He’s been holding on to one old, holey pair of jeans for several years, though – his favorite pair to date. They’re not made any more. We kept thinking, we could turn them into a pattern and re-make them, but until recently, neither of us had those sewing skills.

This year, since I’m feeling cocky about my first pair of jeans actually fitting, I decided to pull those holey jeans apart and use them as a pattern for a new pair, for his birthday. I ordered some khaki/jeans material from Mood Fabrics (how genius is their order-a-swatch-for-a-dollar thing?). Unfortunately, because of my insane schedule, I had to package them up unfinished – without hems or button-hole (and I won’t be able to finish them until late in October).

He was still happy. And he now has a bespoke jeans pattern, all his own, for as many more pairs as he would like.

photo

greg-jeans-1

P.S. Seamwork Radio launched a few weeks ago – and I really enjoyed the first episode! Put some sewing in your ears!

creative-hours

Slow Fashion: the way to avoid bad dreams?

Hello, my name is Mackenzie, and I’m kind of interested in Slow Fashion.

0d901c0

I used to have stress dreams that consisted completely of clothes shopping. I would need to wear something awesome for something important, and I would spend hours shopping. Nothing, of course, would fit, or it would all be in black or pink (which I don’t wear), or I would find something great and then it would fall apart at the seams when I tried it on.

And do you know what? I realized that since I have been sewing more of my own clothes, I have not had those dreams.

Avoiding bad dreams may be small motivation to go through the hours and hours of sewing and knitting that it takes to make your own clothes, but I’m not going to look a gift horse in the mouth.

remember that time I made jeans? Me, too. They're my current favorite pair.
remember that time I made jeans? Me, too. They’re my current favorite pair.

I sew (a little) and knit (a lot). I’m a full-time working mom with a toddler, and a knitting-design deadline looming, so I don’t plan on any ambitious goals this month for Slow Fashion October. But I do plan to spend some time reflecting here on the blog, about what I’ve made and what I’m planning to make. I’ll be more or less following Karen’s prompts for the month. If you’re interested in the topic, head on over to her blog and read the comments for lots of link love.

There are a lot of factors that make slow fashion worthwhile for me – I enjoy the processes of knitting and sewing. I hate buying something amazing, and then not being able to find that same thing again a year later (shoes and jeans, I’m looking at you). Nothing makes me feel prettier than competence (i.e. wearing something I made well). I have concerns about the labor conditions in the garment industry. I like to avoid waste. You don’t get much more efficient than a capsule wardrobe you can literally design and coordinate to your exact specifications.

Why do you make hand-knitting part of your wardrobe? Do you create any other elements of it?

creative-hours

jeans jamboree

finished jeans
Yes – that’s my Little in the background. “Photos, mama? I can haz?”

Momentous News: these things actually fit me pretty well. You may have seen the first selfie snap a few weeks ago if you follow me in Instagram – but, well, daylight hours and spare photographers are a little hard to come by around these parts. And I didn’t want to leave you with just one grainy selfie. I wanted you to bask in the glory that is a second pair of jeans.

Sorry I’m not sorry.

And y’all, I have learned so much. With the help of a few fake-o darts hidden at the pocket seams, some creative cussing, and a whole mess o’ naptimes, they fit. Did I say that already? They fit.

photo-(3)

Are you curious about lessons learned? Me, too. Allow me a quick recap:

  • What on earth kind of home sewing machine can actually make it through 12 layers of denim at a go? There were several areas – final top-stitching of the waistband and the belt loops in particular – that were just simply too thick to fit under the presser foot. There must be some smart ways to thin things down. Drop me a link or comment if you have a suggestion!
  • Flat-felled seams sound awesome. They’re no doubt durable. But they are just too thick for this material.
  • I need a little additional shaping around the waist area built into my pattern so I don’t have to fake darts at the 11th hour.
  • It’s more of a relaxed-fit pattern than a skinny-jeans pattern, despite my re-drafting the leg lines. Probably just as well, since this denim doesn’t have as much stretch as my store-bought pair.
  • I averaged a 1/2″ seam allowance ’round the whole thing, for those of you who were following my saga of annoyance. In a couple places, I might have slipped out to 5/8″, but I neglected to note exactly where. So for future pairs, 1/2″ it is.
  • You should always, always, ALWAYS double-check which side the button belongs on and which side the hole belongs on BEFORE you take a seam ripper to your pants. Or else you’ll end up with a hidden patch on your otherwise lovely jeans. Not going to lie, it took me a week or two to recover my courage and put on the finishing touches after that mistake.
  • And on the note of buttonholes – my automatic buttonhole stitches didn’t work for jeans. Thread and fabric too thick for those tiny little stitches. So I set a straight stitch at 2.4 mm and created a slightly sloppy square of stitching instead. This worked, once I figured out which side the hole belonged on.

You know what comes next, right? I get cocky and royally mess up a pair of jeans for my husband. I can practically smell reality knocking.

photo-(4)

And when it does, you’ll know where to find updates!