Very grateful to have arrived home safely after having a great week sharing the love of sewing in North and South Carolina. My heartfelt thanks to the great staff and customers at Viking Sew ‘n’ Quilt in Greenville, SC; Heirlooms and Comforts in Central, SC and House of Fabrics in Asheville, NC. You showed me truly warm Southern hospitality. Every group of sewing enthusiasts I have the privilege to meet reinforces the fact that these are some of the loveliest people you’ll ever know. I love to witness the community of sewing that exists around the country and the profound positive impact it has on people’s lives. Keep sewing, everyone!
This past week I’ve been really challenged by a commissioned garment. The patternmaking was relatively straightforward but the whole thing is thread embellished - in bias plaid, no less! I’ll be posting a photo once it has “gone public”. Although my brain hurts, I am glad that I never run out of challenging things to create. Maybe that’s why I tend to goof up on simple things more. I’m so used to having to concentrate hard on what I’m sewing…take away the challenge and I lose interest and don’t pay sufficient attention. At least that’s the excuse I’m going to use today!
I think that’s why my hyperactive brain likes sewing so much. Studies have shown that it uses more areas of your brain than nearly any other sort of “creative” activity. When I start a project…I think about color, texture, textile performance characteristics (drape, recovery, ease, breathability, care requirements, tensile strength, opacity, thermal comfort, etc.), degree of wearing ease needed, special construction options (because I rarely construct it like the pattern instructions specify), fitting challenges…the list goes on and on. And that’s before I even get around to the nitty gritty of cutting it out to match patterns, naps, grainlines…and the mechanical act of actually sewing it together in a competent manner. No wonder my poor brain is racked on a regular basis. But it sure beats boredom.
Love Silk? I had a super fun conversation about silk with the amazing Christine Cyr Clisset of Thread Cult (of Daughter FISH sewing blog fame) earlier this year. You can listen in via her website (or better yet, subscribe to the awesome Thread Cult podcast!): http://daughterfish.com/?p=4379 And yes, it’s true - I did have to reschedule our first conversation because I was on midwife duty for one of our sheep. Silk….Wool…Fashion Sewing…Sheep….welcome to my world!
Our lamb crop has not increased yet (still two ewes to go) but our babies are growing up before our eyes.
The big news is that our tiny preemie Daphne is nursing on her own!
She has come a very, very long way from barely being able to stand on her own and nurse from a bottle. Now that she is understanding where her food is really coming from we are staying away more so that she bonds better with her real mommy. She still baas and comes running when she sees me.
My nickname for Daphne is “Fuzzbutt”. I love my little Fuzzbutt and she likes to be snuggled. Who couldn’t love that?!? She is just such a tiny little thing and loves to follow me around the pen.
Kate loves to get in the pen with the babies. Look how big half-sister Elizabeth (“Lizzie”) is compared to Daphne! Lizzie is only 2 days older than Daphne. Lizzie is very vigorous for her age and thinks she is very grown up already.
Of course all of the lambs (there are 10 so far) are growing fast. It’s been very hot this week so they spend a lot of time napping. Sometimes they are mostly in a big pile and other times they are spread out with their siblings.
The lambs are also practicing to be big sheep already. Here is firstborn Natalie pretending to eat hay with momma Nell. Nell’s girls are just enormous!
…and now it’s time for us to go out and feed little Lizzie her bedtime meal (mommy Jacklyn is still only somewhat cooperative). Have a great weekend!
Yes, indeed - the lambs are here. I apologize for the “radio silence” but it has been an extremely busy time - a lot of work and constant care right now. I have been perpetually covered in every possible sheep bodily fluid (and not so fluid) off and on - we are doing huge amounts of laundry these days. It’s such a glamorous life we lead!
But…here are some of the photos you’ve been waiting for!
First, there was Nell - our Wensleydale ewe. We were really worried about Nell as she is an older ewe and very over-conditioned (sheep talk for fat). She had a bout of pregnancy toxemia at one point and we weren’t sure if her babies were going to make it. But here they are as newborns - Nicole (in multi) and Natalie (in red) - two huge, healthy baby girls.
Kate, our young livestock guardian dog, was totally fascinated by the babies. Here she is getting some nose time with Natalie.
Next, Tara, our youngest Corriedale ewe, had her twins. She is a first-time mommy and was very nervous. But she is a good Mom and Leia and Luke are doing very well as you can see.
Next, our Romney ewe Jocie, another first time mommy, had her two boys. Joe and Jake are adorable little boys - as you can see they are very black! I was relieved to see some colored lambs at last. I was beginning to worry that all we would have was white lambs. The polled Rambouillet ram was white…mommies are colored.
Then, in the last few days we had a major lamb explosion! First there was Jacklyn, one of the Romney first-timers. I had checked during the night like usual but when I went out at 4am, I heard crying! I found baby Lizzie trapped in a corner of the corral, still wet, dirty and crying at the top of her lungs. I found Jacklyn elsewhere but she was scared and didn’t want anything to do with Lizzie. Thankfully Lizzie is an only child and is a very, very, determined little girl! We work with Jacklyln to feed Lizzie and Lizzie may yet convince her mommy to adopt her again. Every day is a bit more improvement. Meanwhile, she thinks Scott is her daddy and follows him around.
Then, the next day Eiryn, the other Corriedale mommy, delivered her first set of twins. As you can see they are particularly cute - their big white patches on their heads are almost like little Mohawks! Eiryn is a very good mommy and her twins are already huge. Penelope is shown above with her Mom and below is Pete.
Then yesterday morning our tiny Daphne was born. Her mom, Delilah, is another first-time Romney mommy (the last of the first time mothers, thank Goodness!). Delilah had some complications so she delivered Daphne early. She was barely alive - I had to swing her around to get her airway clear and get her breathing again. She would barely swallow. But 24 hours later she is getting stronger all the time and now can even stagger around a little bit on her own. She still is not quite strong enough to nurse (and her mommy isn’t feeling completely well yet) so she is getting bottle fed around the clock. So now she thinks I am her mommy and while I was kneeling down milking her real Mom she crawled onto the backs of my legs and went to sleep.
Two more ewes to go…both have had lambs before so we are hoping for an easier time with them. Scott and I are very tired but glad that so far everyone has survived and is growing. Hoping for the best!
Layers of silk doupioni garment pieces waiting for interfacing.
Working hard on something special for Pfaff convention in a few weeks. I forgot how much pattern drafting makes my brain hurt! Even though I am “cheating” by using a vaguely similar looking (to my inspiration/vision) commercial pattern, there is still much alteration to be done to make creativity a reality. I’m really rusty but the skills are there and slowly making their way back to the surface.
I keep reminding myself: 1) It’s only fabric I’m risking. Not world peace or something similarly important. Just fabric. In this case, silk. Silk is caterpillar “spit”. No biggie. Just fabric. 2) There is no innovation without experimentation. And no experimentation without the occasional detour/failure/creative solution needed. 3) The whole is truly greater than the sum of its parts. Working to keep the big picture - how all the elements will come together - in mind so I don’t lose sight of the overall vision. This will be a runway garment so I want it to flirt with being a little “over the top” but I don’t want it to continue on over the top downhill into overkill-land.
…and, of course I am practicing. That’s the practice garment (think muslin; I prefer to make my muslin from identical or at least very similar fabric) stacked on the mannequin. Hopefully my pattern alterations are accurate and it will all come together beautifully!
Just returned from my semi-weekly yoga class and am back to work at the cutting table. Since I am recuperating from a back spasm that hit right before Sew Expo, the whole ergonomical mechanics of sewing have been on my mind lately (and a very good reminder why I need to take breaks and go to yoga regularly).
I am headed back to Japan for more silk study in May. The tour director, Glennis Dolce, and I were roommates during Sew Expo and so of course there was much discussion of the upcoming tour during the week. One of the many topics that came up was the physical demands of staying in a traditional Japanese inn. These hotels do not have Western-style beds. Guests sleep on traditional futons placed on tatami mats on the floor. I had never thought about it before (being a “youngish” person in decent health) but it can be very challenging for many people to get up off the floor from this position.
As a result, I have made a promise to myself - that I will make it a goal to always be able to get off the floor. That may seem pretty simple but if you think about it, it’s a survival skill that will inevitably become more difficult with age. I’ve adjusted my workspace so that I stand at my sewing machines and worktables (to minimize sitting and hopefully encourage strength, balance, and better posture) but the yoga is here to stay. We don’t always think about the physical demands that sewing can bring until injuries bring them to our attention. Maybe it’s time for sewing fitness classes. Let’s get off that floor.
The Studio is in full-blown pre-show preparation mode so it’s more than a little frantic around here. About 70 student kits to prepare as well as preparing materials for the Friday Sampler, Meet the Teacher and the Beginning Sewing Forum at Houston.
Thinking about quilts and quilting makes me think about cotton thread. I use practically every kind of thread in my sewing machine, except perhaps linen (but if I can get my hands on a nice weight of linen sewing machine thread I’ll sew with it, too!). They all have their uses and advantages - and disadvantages.
In my opinion, the main disadvantage of cotton thread is the potential for LINT! This is a photo of my sewing area after embroidering a pair of jeans with a cotton thread. You may be thinking that this was the result of cheap thread. Not so! This was a high-quality, mercerized cotton thread. But even a strong, smooth cotton thread is going to shed a bit when using a combination of a sticky stabilizer and high speeds through denim.
Here’s the rest of the story:
Even I was surprised to see the “felt pad” that had been created underneath my bobbin! So it was time for a little deep cleaning with the vacuum cleaner. I tried to get away with using a little brush but couldn’t help nudging a few clumps through the holes in the bobbin area.
I like to use one of the readily-available vacuum cleaner adapter kits for cleaning out my machines. They have very small tips - miniature versions of normal vacuum tools - that do a great job of getting the lint out of the nooks and crannies.
And don’t forget your tension disks! Given the mess you can see here - you can imagine there is some lint in those areas, too. Lint build-up in the tension disks affects stitch quality. Make sure the tension disks are open all the way (presser foot up) before you try to clear out any lint.
When using a vacuum to clean your machine - be sure that your sewing machine is turned off. I was advised by a repair tech that vacuum cleaners generate a lot of static electricity. Turn off your machine and leave it off for half an hour before you turn it on again to allow that static electricity to dissipate. I work in a dry climate where static electricity is a problem - I have stopped my embroidery machines in their tracks by touching them when I was “charged”. No damage occurred but it was definitely a shocker. (Sorry, couldn’t resist!) I now use dryer sheets to occasionally rub down my machine embroidery area and have invested in a large anti-static mat that is grounded to steel to help prevent static problems in the future.
So…by all means use whatever thread you like, but remember to keep your sewing machine clean! You will both be happy you did.
The other day I had a rare treat - Pati Palmer stopped by on her way to a family gathering. It was so great to see Pati - always an inspiration and an incredible mentor. If you’ve never had the opportunity to attend one of Pati’s lectures or (better yet) her workshops in Portland, I highly recommend them. If I’d known we were taking pictures I might have dressed a little better for the occasion! But Pati looks great as she always does. She was curious about my fleece production, so I showed her some samples of my flock’s wool:
New to the Studio Library: Patternmaking For A Perfect Fit
At the recent American Sewing Guild Conference in Houston, I had the good fortune to meet and chat with Steffani Lincecum, the author of Patternmaking For A Perfect Fit - Using the Rub-Off Technique to Re-Create and Redesign Your Favorite Fashions.
The timing couldn’t be better. I found a fantastic chiffon blouse this summer while consignment store hopping that I really want to “knock off” as it is very chic and flattering. Luckily, Steffani’s book is all about how to make a new pattern based off of garments you already have. If you’re looking for a book about drafting patterns from scratch - this isn’t it. Patternmaking For A Perfect Fit offers two different methods for recreating a garment - the paper rub-off method, which is essentially a flat-pattern method that uses pins to trace out seamlines and details. The other, which I had not heard of before, is the fabric rub-off method, which is a draping technique. Both are described not only with very clear and comprehensible text but also with clear and detailed illustrations and photographs. She covers rubbing-off patterns for skirts, dresses, blouses and handbags. Yes, handbags! So there is a section for accessory fans as well.
Steffani doesn’t simply explain how to rub-off garments. She explains how to estimate yardage, take measurements and even sprinkles throughout the text a wealth of sewing information and instruction. I especially appreciated her tips explaining things like “why we use wide seam allowances” using real-life examples from her 20+ years of professional movie/film/theater costuming career. I really appreciate this, as so often instructions tell us to do something - without ever explaining the “why”. I always want to know why! Plus it is great to be learning from someone who has learned from many years of experience working with many different bodies and garments.
The more I read through this book the more impressed I am. If you have some favorite garments that you’d like to recreate (such as vintage garments that are too fragile to wear), this is the book for you.
I think most textile lovers also adore scarves. Why wouldn’t we? It’s just another way to adorn ourselves with fabric, after all. Unfortunately, scarf tying can be a bit of a mystery to many. I’ve had a lot of fun teaching scarf tying classes (I was taught when I worked for French clothier Rodier - a very useful skill!), but luckily in this modern age you can find lots of tutorials online.
Here’s a link to one I really like (click the title above) - and I’m happy to see they’re offering it as a downloadable print-ready .pdf (for a fee). I wish they’d just go ahead and provide a link via a web publisher like Lulu.com but it’s intended that you can print your file via your local print shop if you would like a bound copy (and don’t want to run 50 pages through your home printer).
Needless to say there are also several excellent YouTube videos also floating around - so no more excuses! Let’s get out there and wear more scarves!
Flat-fell (or felled) seams are one of the workhorses of the fashion world. They are strong, yet attractive and work well for a variety of applications. Most people think of denim jeans when they think of flat-fell seams but this tidy seam-and-finish in one also lends itself well to other projects. I use it on silks, especially on home decor projects or casual jackets that will not be lined.
Traditionally, flat-fell seams are made using a felling foot and one of the seam allowances is trimmed away. I will show you how to make a flat-fell seam using standard presser feet and an untrimmed 5/8” seam allowance. This simple technique has been taught and demonstrated by many sewing experts including Margaret Islander and Claire Schaeffer.
Click on any of the highlighted/underlined sections below to see a photo of the step described.
Step Three: Stitch 1/2” away from folded edge. An adjustable edge guide foot works really well for this. Note: do not worry if you are not catching the raw edge of the folded seam allowance. What matters is that your stitching remains consistently 1/2” from the folded edge.
Here’s another “post from the past” regarding the technique of using clear elastic to gather fabric - a simple technique that yields professional looking results. I promised some sewing fans in Alaska that I would repost this - here you go!
I love the look of a lightweight fabric gathered into a shirt yoke, but I really, really dislike stitching gathering threads! Whenever I gather fabric using gathering stitches, it always seems like I either do not distribute the gathers as evenly as I’d like, or I get big tucks here and there, or - worst of all - I end up breaking one or both of the gathering threads and have to start all over again!
So, for several years, using clear elastic as a gathering tool has been one of my favorite tricks. I don’t recall where I first learned it - it may have been an article in Threads, in a book, or a video - I’ve seen it mentioned in many sources. But it’s a great time saver and will give you beautiful results every time with very little effort.
Vogue 1620 is one of my favorite blouse patterns, and is unfortunately out of print. I’ve had it for years. I especially like this pattern because it makes good use of those ‘bits and pieces’ of beautiful fabrics that I have in my ‘personal resource center’ (aka stash). The most challenging part of this pattern is that it incorporates a lot of gathering - there is no sleeve cap; rather the upper back and sleeve are all gathered into a shoulder yoke, and the bottom of the sleeve and upper back are gathered into a semi-fitted bodice around the waist and hips. The sleeve bottoms are also gathered into the cuffs.
Luckily, this is easily accomplished with the use of clear elastic. Clear elastic is extremely stretchable. So much so, that it is important to pre-stretch the clear elastic, similar to stretching a balloon prior to inflating it. Give it a good stretching, stretching by section if you need to. Measure the finished length of the section your fabric will be gathered into, and cut it that length. Trim the end of the clear elastic again just a little bit shorter (up to 1/2”) than the desired finished length. Gather your fabric onto the elastic slightly shorter than the desired length, because it’s easier to simply stretch the gathered fabric/elastic a bit when applying to the yoke, than trying to cram in a little extra if it is gathered too loosely. Use about 1/4” on each end for a tab to hang onto. So in effect you are reducing the length of your clear elastic up to 1” from the actual desired length of gathered material.
Next, fold the fabric to be gathered in half, and then into quarters, to determine where the quarter - distance marks are. Insert pins into the seam allowance to mark these distances. I will do the same to my clear elastic, and simply match up the pins together. This is the same type of ‘quartering’ you do when you apply a knit collar or cuffs to a t-shirt or similar knit project. If you are gathering quite a distance, you may need to divide the length into 1/8 or even 1/16 sections.
Next, sew the elastic onto the seam allowance, just inside the 5/8” (or whatever seam allowance you are using) mark, so that the elastic is not caught into the final seam. I use a standard straight stitch, grasping that little tab and the edge of my fabric to start and the first quarter pin or similar, stretching the elastic so that it is lying flat against the seam allowance. You will want to use ‘taut’ sewing - keeping the material taut both in front of and behind the presser foot while hanging on to the elastic. (I can’t show this while holding a camera!) Use your needle-down function so that when you stop to readjust your grip the needle will hold the elastic and fabric in place.
When you are finished stitching - it’s like magic - your fabric section is exactly the size you want it to be (or easily stretched gently to that size), and the gathers are perfectly spaced and of an even depth. Keep the elastic in place as you sew your gathered section to your yoke or similar.
I remove the elastic after my gathered sections are stitched in place. Gently tear the elastic from either side of the stitching once the gathered section is sewn in place so that the elastic does not remain in the seam allowance. If your fabric is too delicate to tolerate tugging (like this silk chiffon), it’s fairly easy to simply remove the stitches from the elastic with a seam ripper.
Happy Sewing! I hope you enjoy this time and frustration saving technique as much as I do.
…It’s worth posting again! My poor blog has been neglected of late, and it occurred to me that I have a large backlog of former postings from when I used to blog for Puget Sound Sewing and Craft that would be great to review.
Suddenly, the temperature has shifted and Fall is subtly making its future presence known. It reminds me that as the season shifts, so will my time need to transition from working outside on the ranch to inside the studio. Which means, for you, more blog entries!
Here in the Studio it has been a crazy busy summer. One of the great ironies of having a studio blog is that the more there is to talk about, the less time and energy that seems to be available to write about it!
I am happy to report that, although I am not going to post a photo of it today, the studio is 90% unpacked! I would say it’s more than that except that much of my textile collection is still residing at son Riley’s house. I’m not posting a photo of it today because I am in transition between unpacking/reorganizing from the ASG conference in Los Angeles in August and preparation for organizing the Washington State 4-H Fashion Revue competition which will take place for the next three weekends of September.
The American Sewing Guild conference in Los Angeles was a tremendous experience. It was my first opportunity to teach at ASG, and it made me very proud to be a member of such a diverse organization. I taught a Sewing with Silk class, a hand dyed and beaded scarf class and a lecture/demo on sewing decorative seams. The class participants were wonderful and I learned from them while they learned from me - the best classroom experience. In addition it was good to see old friends and new down in the vendor area. Shibori Girl Glennis Dolce was there with her gorgeous hand-dyed creations. Glennis will be teaching at the High Desert Silk Experience with June Colburn (also an ASG teacher and a phenomenal one) and me in February. There is some information on my front page (click the “Home” button) and on the Classes page, with more to follow. I can tell you this much: it will be a three day Round-Robin format, with each instructor offering two 1/2 day classes. The lucky participants will explore different facets of surface design on silk with June and Glennis, and learn all about silk textiles - and sewing with them - from me.
Tomorrow I head West to Puyallup for the Washington State 4-H Fashion Revue Finals. I’m expecting 80-100 youth from around the state to participate. I can’t wait to see what everyone has sewn this year. It is always so exciting; it is a special privilege to work with the young competitiors and watch them grow in stature and maturity every year. I feel like they are a little bit my kids, too!
Remember that September is National Sewing Month - if you don’t have time to create something wonderful, I hope you at least find moments to daydream about it.
A view of my new studio in the summer…right now it’s a lot wetter!
And so it begins - the enormous task of unpacking the studio. Boxes piled up everywhere. They even unloaded and boxed my pattern cabinet and all the drawers in my notions cabinet.
The very first things to “arrive” with me last Tuesday late afternoon were my sewing and pressing equipment. Actually, most of my fabric collection has been overwintering at son Riley’s house so many of my things have been here for weeks, if not months. But my sewing and pressing equipment (and knititing machines and spinning wheels!) traveled with me in the car. Not only because they’re the most precious things I own…but also because I was still sewing on a deadline! Oh, yes…leave it to my crazy life/schedule to have a sewing project to complete at the same time I’m moving 300 miles.
But - the garments are completed and have been FedEx’d to their destination, to be unveiled to the world later this spring/early summer. Hooray! Now the studio work can begin in earnest.
I’ll take some photos of the progress. At present, my beloved husband kindly rebuilt my actual sewing “bench” right away so that I actually put the finishing touches on the garments using a “real” sewing workspace. But everything else…ugh!
So think of me while I unpack and reorganize. Prepare to be amazed. :)
Something that I look forward to doing more of in future is garment design. I don’t normally do a lot of this from scratch - since I’m usually teaching a technique, not selling a design, it’s much faster and simpler to use a commercial pattern as a starting point for a project. However, it’s something that I miss sometimes - the process of creating a new design from scratch. I do it all the time with accessories and home dec but not garments.
So…I’ve invested in a size 8 professional dress form (the measurements fit the industry standards for most sample garments) and am starting to think about pattern grading. Found this great article on grading services (in case you don’t want (or have time/skill) to do it yourself). Enjoy!
So…I don’t normally like to do too much “commercial” stuff on my blog, but - what a great price on rotary cutter blades! And they have professional quality dress forms (for doing sample garments) for a good price, too. Love you, Overstock!
Palmer/Pletsch has a great quarterly newsletter that discusses fabric, color and style trends as well as sewing tips.
I am so excited to announce that Pati and I have created a new DVD that will be debuted at the Sewing and Stitchery Expo this week! You can get a sneak peek at the cover in Part 2: Sewing with Pati and Marta.