Sunday status report

This week has been hectic, but I’ve made some bits of progress on a few projects.

I finished these footies. Not very exciting, but they’re done!  This is Another Crafty Girl sock yarn, and I love, love, love its squishy soft sproinginess. Really delicious stuff. I usually keep a pair of socks-in-progress in a little knitting bag in my purse, but I haven’t reloaded since finishing this pair of footies a couple of days ago. I have to remember to do that before tomorrow, when I will be spending a bit of time in a waiting room and certainly clicking away on new footies.



I’m past the halfway point — actually, at about the 2/3 mark — on the secret test knit. Can you guess what this will be? The construction is unexpected, and of course, the lace stitch work is camouflaging the actual shape and dimensions here. I’m pretty excited about this project, though. It’s going to be pretty cool when it’s done.



And, because I’ve been using plastic grocery sacks as project bags lately — oh, the horror! — I decided to whip out a stack of new project bags. These are folded so I could get them all into the picture. The three shoe print bags on the left will all be very large bags, large enough for coats and jackets. They’re folded in quarters here. The others will be standard shirt/sweater size, and are only folded in half, so this gives you a sense of their size. I have ribbon for the ones on the right (shown, the gray iridescent stuff) and for the shoe print, but not for the ones in the middle.



Finally, I have just barely started the Missoni tunic dress thingie. Just a bit of seaming, hardly even worth mentioning. My main focus has been on finishing the test knit because I have a deadline for that. Sewing is a little slow as a result.



I’m nearly done with a maxi skirt, too, but have been stymied by a complete lack of ivory lace hem tape in any of the area sewing stores. I can’t finish the hem without it. This is a very light, almost weightless voile, and I don’t want to weight the hem. So fusible and lots of stitching lines won’t work. I need to attach the lightweight lace tape and hand tack it, but that won’t be happening until stores restock the Wright’s display.

What are you working on now?



Okay, so here’s the new skirt

Nothing special — I just happened to wear the new skirt yesterday and thought I would post a photo to replace the hanger shot from last week. I love the way this skirt wears and feels, but it needs a lining or a slip. Despite being a smoother-than-average cotton ribbing, it kept sticking to my tights.


I bought the sweater last week at Carson’s. They’re having the Goodwill sale now, and believe me, I have clothes to donate and trade for discount coupons. This sweater in red was just interesting enough to come home with me — plain enough for everyday wear, but that fringed cowl elevates it from being just another sweater. Sweaters and tops are a fairly safe purchase right now because I think I’m about as small as I’m going to get up there. With only eight pounds left to lose, and with my hips and legs still fairly, um, generous in proportion to the rest of me, I suspect most of the last eight pounds will come from this hips down. My mouth to god’s ears, right?

I also bought these great Vince Camuto booties last week. I think Vince Camuto is about the most interesting label in the mid-range department stores these days. He’s sharp and urban and sleek, and he’s never dull or basic. I like to put a bit of pizzazz into shoes, bags, jewelry, and other accessories because it’s an easy way to change the overall look of a simple garment, and I think these boots with black tights do the job here, adding a whiff of a city vibe. Imagine this skirt instead with a close-fitting tee, bare legs, and kitten heels, and it’s easy to see how the accessories make a big difference.


Yes, I know, the fashion magazines have taken to calling this style shoeties instead of booties, but really. I have my limits. Shoeties is an awful word and shall never again be typed by my fingers. But I do still really like this pair. They’re perfect for fall, the silver buckles and zips add a little shine, and the heel height is super comfy. Plus they’re right on trend — I think all I really need now are knee boots and snow boots, and I’ll be in pretty good shape for footwear heading into the cold dark months.

Do you have your eyes on any particular items to freshen up your fall wardrobe? What will you add to your closet soon?


In which a trip to the Art Institute yields a pair of pajama pants

I am fortunate enough to live a short train hop from the Art Institute of Chicago, one of the world’s truly great museums. I take advantage of this fact a couple of times a year. When I was in my moody, hormonal teenaged phase, in fact, the museum was an escape hatch for me. Hop the train, flash my student ID and museum membership card, and I could spend an afternoon reminding myself of all the beauty in the world. It was soothing, and it was wordless — an important attribute of any escape for a writer.

Not too long ago, there was a pretty painting in the modern wing that, of course, I can’t find online anywhere. It looked something like this, except all in shades of green.

green circles

Use your imagination and see green

Naturally, I can’t remember the name of the artist or painting, either. In any case, I liked the painting quite a lot, enough so that when I saw its shrunken-scale near-clone printed on fabric at The Needle Shop, I bought a length in memory of the painting. I didn’t know what I would do with it, but I really liked the print because it reminded me of the painting.

It is now my third pair of pajama pants made from the same McCall’s pattern. I realize the run of pajama pants lately is a bit dull, but I’m almost done with them. I’m stopping at four. Three are finished now, and the fourth is cut and awaiting sewing time. These are good things to sew right now because I can make them in my goal-weight size, and I can wear them both now and later. They can be baggier later and still serve their purpose.


Pair #3 of 4

After the pajama pants are done, I’ll whip up a couple of nightshirts and robes, and that should take care of the lounge wear and night wear for now.

Do you find inspiration for sewing projects in places like museums?


A simple waistband alteration on paper

The other day, when I blogged about my 90-minute skirt, I mentioned that I removed four inches from the waist in the pattern. This alteration was made before I cut the fabric, an adjustment to the pattern itself. I find paper alterations to be easy and effective. They don’t take a lot of time and they make the final fitting easier. Here’s how I did this particular adjustment.

All you need are a tape measure, paper, a drafting ruler, and a dose of self-awareness. I have several different kinds of paper I keep on hand.


On the left is a bolt of Pellon (a brand of non-woven interfacing), available at any sewing store for around $3 a yard. I use my 40% JoAnn coupons on this stuff, buying the biggest bolt I can find so that I always have plenty. The pre-printed blue grid lines are one inch square, and that fact makes this stuff a worthy investment. It’s sheer enough to lay over the pattern tissue and trace, and if you know you’re moving thus-and-so line an inch, that inch is already marked on the Pellon. (Online sources: Amazon,, You can also sew this stuff, so it can double as a muslin for tricky to fit items like boned corsets. You can write on it with a Sharpie or other marking tool, but it is slightly prone to bleed-through, so mind what you have under it.

In the middle is a roll of plain paper. It’s slightly sheer, resists bleeding, and is about 18″ wide — I look for rolls in the 18-24″ width range, which seem to work best. This particular roll is from Staples, but this sort of paper is available at any office supply store. Look in the art paper area for banner rolls, but avoid Kraft paper, which is opaque. Something slightly sheer works better. I lay this paper right over the pattern tissue and trace the size I want, and then alter on paper from there.

On the right is an end roll of newspaper. A friend’s husband works in periodical publishing and he provided this, but you can often get these just by stopping into the local news office and asking. They ordinarily give away the end rolls if they have any handy. I know area school teachers who use this stuff for all sorts of classroom decorations, are projects, disposable table covers, and so on. It’s opaque, so I tend to use it to make copies of existing pattern piece — something I’ve done pretty regularly as I’ve lost weight and needed to adjust my slopers. I also use this when I decide I would like to take an existing t-shirt pattern and make it into a tunic or dress, for example — bigger alterations to existing patterns where I want to preserve the original pattern.

So, first I measure the pattern tissue at certain key points — in this case, the waistline, but I also measured hips. On most commercial patterns, the hip line will be 9″ below the waist line, so even if it is not marked, you can still estimate where the hip will be. (In my case, I measure the hip around 7-8″ below the waist because I am petite.) In this case, the hip was a good measurement for my body, but the waist was pretty big.


The smallest waist measurement for this particular skirt back piece was 9.5″. This piece is cut on the fold, as is the front piece. So, we subtract the 5/8″ at the seam allowance from the 9.5″ (9.5 – 0.625 = 8.875) and then double the answer because this piece is cut on the fold (8.875 x 2 = 17.75). The finished back piece will thus measure 17.75″ across the waist. The front piece was identical, meaning the finished waist would have measure 35.5″ wide.


This is where a bit of self-awareness comes in, but first we have to talk about ease. “Ease” is the word we use to describe the difference between body measurements and garment measurements. Positive ease means that the garment is larger than the body. Negative ease means that the garment is smaller than the body (often found in knitted garments). Wearing ease is the standard amount of positive ease that will make a garment fit comfortably at key measurement points, such as waist and bust — the measurements printed on the pattern envelope are places where ease is measured routinely. Then there is design ease, which is what the designer adds or subtracts to make the garment look a certain way. Cigarette pants have minimal design ease through the legs, and palazzo pants have a ton of design ease in the same place, which is why the two kinds of pants look so different. Also, woven fabrics will need more ease than knitted garments because knitted garments will stretch and move with the body in ways that woven fabrics will not.

So. I know that for me, my waist measurement is just a notch over 29″ right now. And I know that with an elastic waistband, I measure the elastic piece to have an inch of negative ease, so about 28″ once it is lapped and sewn. This is the self-awareness part — I know that anything bigger than that, in an elastic waistband, will feel droopy to me and I’ll spend the day tugging on my waistband. The waist on that pattern measures to 35.5″, and I would want to use elastic to draw in 7.5″ of that, which seemed like a lot to me. I don’t like the way a very gathered waist looks on my body — dirndls are just godawful hideous on me these days. So I knew I wanted to remove some of that excess, and I started by marking a point 1″ in on the side seams at the waist on the pattern piece. Then I used my drafting ruler to draw a new curve from that point to the hip.


I also marked the alteration on the pattern piece, only because I know from experience that I can never remember what I did.


And that’s it. That 1″ adjustment on the front and back pieces removed 4″ from the waist, reducing it from 35.5″ finished to 31.5″ finished measure. I still used the 28″ waistband elastic finished measurement, so that meant the waistband was gathered slightly but not much. I also trimmed a bit off the waistband pattern piece, which was a plain rectangle with no waist shaping, so this meant simply hacking off four inches there, too, without worrying about waistband shaping.

This particular alteration is among the easiest to make, and I make it as a matter of routine on my skirt and pant waistbands.


The 90-minute skirt

I recently pulled on my go-to black skirt, only to discover it is entirely too big to wear. I should have realized this before I even tried to wear it — it’s a thrifted Banana Republic cotton sateen skirt in a size 10 rtw, and I’m currently wearing a size 6 for most rtw skirts. In fact, during my last shopping excursion, I even had to try on some 4s, though I ended up not buying any of them. In any case, into the donation bag went my size 10 black skirt, with my heartfelt thanks that it saw me through several months of dieting for a mere four dollars. I’ve bought very little clothing as I dieted, but that skirt was a real lifesaver on several occasions. Sometimes you just have to trade the running tights and yoga pants for something a little more polished, right?

So the upshot is, I needed a new all-purpose black skirt, and found a length of heavy cotton black ribbing in my stash. This fabric has been around long enough that I can no longer remember where I purchased it, but my best guess is Vogue Fabrics. I have a hazy memory of fingering some ribbed knits there some time ago.

Knits are a good choice for the moment. I’m about 8 pounds from goal weight — close enough to sew in my goal size, far enough that fit might change just a little bit between now and goal. But knits are pretty forgiving in the fit department, and a simple knit skirt with an elastic waistband will be easy enough to alter later, should the need arise.

I just happened to have this McCall’s pattern on hand for just such a skirt project. I chose View B, a straight-ish skirt with a 21″ length.


The only pattern alteration was to the waistband. I removed 4″ from the waist by tapering the pattern in one inch on either side from hip to waist, front and back. I did this to remove bulk from the waist area — this is a heavy ribbed fabric, and nobody likes the feeling of a lot of bulky fabric bunched up around the waist, right? Even so, there is plenty of room in the waist area, and I suspect I will use this modification even with lighter weight knits. (For a step-by-step of this super easy alteration, see this post.)

I chose to use a twin-needle topstitched hem, which is a little sporty, but this is a casual skirt so it works just fine. This is a little tricky to photograph on black fabric, but this picture kinda sorta shows the effect of the topstitched hem.


An unpressed hem! The horror!

From start to finish — cutting, stitching, fitting, and finishing — this skirt took an hour and a half. Nothing to it, really. I can already tell this will be one of those skirts I wear over and over in the fall: skirt, tights, boots, sweater, mix and match and repeat. It’s super comfortable and warm enough for a crisp fall day.


Not much hanger appeal! But I’m too lazy today to put on makeup and do the right sort of modeled pictures. Sorry! You can see from this picture that the waistband is pretty gathered despite the fact that I removed four inches from the waist. I’m so glad I did that. Can you imagine how gathered that would have to be with four more inches of fabric? This is why, before I cut any pattern, I measure the pattern pieces at the cross-back, bust, waist, hips, and length. These simple checks can help me tailor the garment on paper before my scissors get anywhere near the cloth. It’s surprising how often I have to reduce the waist on paper. My waist isn’t all that small, but I guess it’s smaller than the pattern companies expect it to be.

Do you do most of your fitting on the pattern or on the garment?



The final cutting … for now

I bought a length of really excellent flannel from The Needle Shop a couple of years ago.Really excellent flannel is such a rarity these days that even the highly knowledgeable seamstresses at Sewing Pattern Review recently had a discussion about this. There are a few sources, but really, good flannel is hard to find. This is why, when I spotted this superior bolt, I bought two and a half yards without even pausing to consider what I would do with it.

And I wasn’t entirely sure what I would do with it — the pattern is a little busy, but not dreadfully so. The gray and red is one of my favorite color combinations, so I knew I would come up with something. At first, I was leaning toward a standard shirt with placket and cuff sleeves, a yoke cut on the bias — your basic lumberjack shirt. But then it let me know it would rather be a nightgown. My house is always cold at night in the winter, and a warm flannel nightgown is always a good thing.


Cutting in progress

I’m using McCall’s 6249, which also provided me with my go-to pajama pants pattern. I spent a whole entire dollar on this pattern at a JoAnn’s sale, and it is proving to be a dollar well spent.


Unfortunately, this pattern is out of print, and I have it in the size 14-20. So I have to make the nightgown in a 14, which is a touch big, but it will have to do. For the pajama pants, I regraded the pattern to make it narrower. But after measuring the nightgown and comparing it to some sleep tees in my drawer, I decided to leave it alone. It will be big, but it will be dramatically smaller than the only other flannel nightgown currently in my drawers, a size XL bought last winter when I was around 50 pounds heavier than my current weight. This new one will be a huge improvement, and the old one is in great shape and will benefit someone at the charity thrift shop.

I’ve spent a lot of time cutting and working on a test knit, less time sewing, but I will have two FOs to show you before the week is out.

What is your go-to source for good flannel?


Cut-a-palooza continues with a Missoni-esque knitted dress

I’m in cutting mode right now, a mode I try to visit only occasionally because of the way it converts my eat-in kitchen into a disaster zone. I use a large counter for my actual cutting — the large Olfa cutting mat fits on it with about four inches to spare in width, and about five feet of extra length, so it’s a very convenient cutting surface.

At the moment, my kitchen table is piled with fabrics and patterns. The fabrics have all been prepped and are ready to cut. The patterns, I’m prepping one by one as I cut them. First, I always make a paper tracing of the pattern pieces, leaving the original pattern intact. Then I make any alterations on the paper copies, and after I finish the garment, I sometimes transfer these altered paper copies to a gridded pellon, the type that quilters use with the 1″ grid printed in blue. That final pellon is for patterns I’m likely to make several times. The pellon holds up well to abuse, much better than any paper I’ve used.


I am in the process of cutting this glorious rayon textured knit. In the store (Vogue Fabrics in Evanston), the sign mentioned Missoni, but this fabric was only $18 a yard. I’ve seen real Missoni bolt ends in Haberman’s (Detroit) and in the New York garment district, and I’ve never seen them retail for under $80 a yard before now, and usually much more than that. So either Vogue was giving us a smashing good deal, or this fabric might be leftover from the Missoni-Target partnership, or the store sign meant that it looked like Missoni rather than actually was Missoni. Regardless, it is a luscious textured fabric shot through with many colors, and it is going to make a fantastic dress.

I’m sort of frankenpatterning this one (McCall’s 6612) — using the cowl from the maxidress version (view D), the sleeves from the ruched version (view A), and the just-at-knee length from the plain version (view C).  This will make more sense if we look at the line drawings.


Is it a frankenpattern if we combine different views of the same pattern?

I didn’t have to alter this pattern much. This is a multisize pattern, so instead of doing the FBA to the size 12 front, I just extended to the size 16 from the lowest point of the armscye to just above the waist, on the front piece only. That’s the beauty of multi-sized patterns. Then, for the sleeves, I measure the armscyes on the front and back pieces, and picked a sleeve with a cap measuring a little more than an inch longer than the armscye. This will give me some ease through the sleeve cap, which I might have lost if I’d just cut the size twelve sleeve as-is after altering the bust.

This dress only has four pieces — front, back, cowl, and sleeves — and I expect it will cut and sew very quickly. And I think I might have enough fabric leftover to make a tee, though I’m not sure I really need two garments in this fabric. It might just go back into the stash until later, when I’m tired of the dress but still in love with the textile.

Am I the only one who overbuys fabric just because it’s gorgeous?