In which my December make-cation is off to a rather dodgy start

Okay, so technically, I’m not on vacation yet. I still have some work to do for the university over the next several days, and I’ll be popping into the family business to push some paper early next week. But classes are not in session, and I’ve edited my last manuscript of the year, so my desk is mostly clear. It feels like vacation just because my workload is so drastically reduced all of a sudden.

Today was supposed to be an at-home day because the foundation repair guys had to come and bang and rattle around in the basement again.* Of course, with an at-home day, and only a few measly hours of work to do, you can imagine where my mind went. Time to play with textiles! Yay!

Except first this happened.


That sucker bent like a boomerang and basically locked itself inside the bobbin cage. With two layers of fabric on the shank, of course, because I was mid-seam when it happened. Guess how long it took me to get this needle free. Hint: long enough that I decided to take a tea break in the middle of fighting to dislodge it.

So. Okay. Needles bend and stuff. I got that sorted, and returned to my project, the final pair of fleece track pants and the final warm thing. I’m a little sick of sewing fleece by now, but this set is nearly finished, and I expected to wrap it up today.

Except then this happened.


The bobbin ran out and I only had this much thread left on the spool. I still had to topstitch one armscye seam and attach the hood, so if the bobbin had held, this might have been enough to complete the project. Am I the only one who things it sucks that a fresh spool isn’t enough to complete this simple outfit? The spool was marked as having 125 yards, but I’m quite sure that is overstated. If the spool had really had 125 yards, there would have been leftovers.

And of course, I couldn’t just pop out to get another spool because workmen and their muddy boots were swarming the place today. I had to wait for them to wrap for the day before I could go pick up more thread.

What’s a crafty girl to do? I took a quick inventory of my already cut projects, and as long as I was going to make a thread run, I went ahead and checked that I had all the notions etc for those projects.

And then I made these.


What the heck. They were cut and ready to sew, the final pair of cotton pajama pants that I cut out late in the summer. These take no time at all, and that’s one less pending project in my sewing room. I don’t even remember what fabric this is — something from a quilt shop, no doubt, but I can’t guess which one. This gives me four pairs of woven pajama pants, and that’s enough. Even if I get reeeeeeally lazy about doing laundry, four ought to be enough.

I thought I had more projects cut and ready to sew. But other than the fleece-in-progress, I only have one wool skirt, two summer sundresses, and a couple of muslins for coats. If I’m actually able to spend my time sewing instead of surgically removing bent needles and moaning about short spools, I can easily knock out the skirt and two sundresses before Christmas. As our country friends might say, God willing and the creek don’t rise!


* For those of you who know me in real life, yes, foundation repairs AGAIN, but the engineer says that this is really for sure the last time they have to fix something, and they mean it this time you guys so stop laughing already. For everyone else, my house cracked in half about five years ago and the repairs have been epic. The problem stemmed from a collapsed underground stream in my neighborhood, and because of the way the land shifted, they’ve had terrible times fixing the house.


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?


Everyday French Seams

Normally, we think of French seams as a technique to use with sheer fabrics. However, because I like the clean interior finish of a French seam, I do a modified French seam wherever I can on a wide range of light woven fabrics, sheer or not. My modified version of the French seam accounts for the standard 5/8″ seam allowance in commercial patterns, and ends up around a quarter inch wide instead of the 1/8″ or narrower seam we would hope to achieve on a sheer fabric. Here’s how I do it.

Step One.

With wrong sides together, stitch a 3/8″ seam.


Step Two.

Trim the seam to about half its width (so between an eighth and a quarter inch).


Here’s a view of the trimming without the scissors in the way.


Step Three.

Press this seam three times.

First, press it flat to set the stitches. (Because we always do this, with all seams, to set the stitches.)

Second, open out the fabric and press the seam allowance to one side, like so. This is optional, but it opens up the seam and makes it much easier to do the next (third) press.


Third, flip the fabric around so that right sides are together and press the seam flat. This preps it for the final stitching.


Step Four.

Stitch this beautifully pressed piece using a 1/4″ seam. This, plus the 3/8″ from the first stitching line, equals the standard 5/8″ seam allowance. Because you trimmed the seam allowance in Step Two, no bits of seam allowance should poke through to the right side after this seam is sewn.


Step Five.

More pressing! But you know the old saying — good pressing makes good sewing. First, press the seam flat to set the stitches. Then, press the encased French seam bit to the back from the wrong side. Then, just because I am a bit nutty about a perfect press, I press again from the right side to ensure a smooth, even seam.


And that’s it. For this pair of blue broadcloth pajama pants (McCall’s 6249, same pattern and mods as the voile pair in the previous post, with fabric from The Needle Shop), I used this seaming method on inner and outer leg seams. It gives a clean, durable seam. For the crotch seam, I used a standard plain seam with a zigzag overcast on the raw edges. Because these ordinary, everyday, 5/8″ French seams are a little bulkier than their trimmer (and, let’s admit it, more professional) cousin, they’re not so nice in a crotch seam. Ahem. No further information needed on that one.

Here are the finished pajama pants. I am now the proud owner of two whole entire pairs of pajama pants that fit. So now, if I decide to be a lazy bum on both weekend days and not really get dressed or leave the house, I can do that. Go, me?


What do you like to wear on your at-home, too-lazy-to-dress days?


Lawn Pajama Pants

I’m in a weird limbo state with my size right now. I’m about 14 pounds from goal weight, which is enough to make a difference in the way fitted clothes will fit. But it’s also close enough that I can start making some items in my goal-weight size and wear them now. Anything that’s fairly loose or flowing, anything that requires only minimal fitting and tailoring, can work now. Sort of.

Which leads to this pair of pajama pants. Until I made these, I had zero pairs of pajama pants in an appropriate size. Now I have one.

018The fabric is a gorgeous, lightweight, smooth-as-glass lawn purchased a year or two ago from The Needle Shop. I was browsing their inventory, brushed my hand across this bolt, and had to have a couple of yards. I wasn’t sure what I would make with it — the print is a little too loud for ordinary day wear, but it worked out perfectly for pajama pants. I tend not to actually sleep in pajama pants, but I like to have a couple of pairs on hand for at-home days. They’re comfortable and relaxed, and sometimes we all need a day where we lounge around in lazy clothing. Now I can do that again, with my one and only pair of pajama pants that fit. lol

Here’s one of my favorite tips for working with a very light cotton such as lawn, voile, or batiste. Pretreat the fabric twice. In this case, because I plan to wash and dry the pants in the machines, I ran the fabric through the washer, then the dryer, then the washer again, then the dryer again. Light cottons sometimes need the double treatment to complete any preshrinking. That was certainly the case with this fabric. It shrunk pretty well on the first washing, but it came out of the dryer off-grain. The second trip through the laundry room shrunk another inch out of the overall yardage and restored perfect grain.

The pattern is McCall’s 6249, a very basic pajama set. I made minimal changes to the full-length pants — shortening 3/4″ above the hip and 1-3/4″ below the hip. It has a cut-on waistband, and ordinarily, I refuse to use a pattern with a cut-on waistband. I mean, I’m not making RTW in a third-world factory. I don’t need to rely on cheap shortcuts that prioritize corporate profits over quality and wearability. (Not that I have strong opinions on the current state of RTW offerings, cough cough.) I can use a sewn-on waistband and get a better fit and finish. So I debated altering the pattern to create a true waistband, but in the end, I just went with the pattern as drafted. I will have to take in the waistband elastic around the time I reach goal, and I’m probably going to regret this waistband decision right around the time I have to use my seam ripper on this delicate, perfect lawn. A sewn-on waistband just stands up better to this kind of repair.