The New Sewing, part 1.

I don’t know why, but I caught the sewing bug a few weeks ago. I am fully aware that I have a short attention span and that my interest flits from project to project…sometimes it’s painting, sometimes it’s photography, sometimes it’s fixing things up around the house. But right now all I want to do is sew. And when I sew, I want to make clothes. Not curtains, not cushion covers, not tablecloths. Clothes.

The only problem with this is that I have not had great luck sewing clothing in the past. And it is very frustrating to stay up late finishing that dress/skirt/blouse/thing and find out, in the end, that it either screams “I made this myself” or is just so unflattering that it’s not worth wearing more than once before it is condemned to the dark recesses of the closet.

Despite my previous track record, however, I’ve decided to have another go at sewing a few bits of clothing for myself and for Camilla. To separate my current wave of enthusiasm from my previous endeavors, I am calling it The New Sewing and have established a few rules:

1. I will look through my own clothes (and Camilla’s) before sewing something from scratch to see if I already own anything that could be made more wearable through simple alterations.

2. I will sew to meet a specific need and not just for the heck of it.

3. I will not buy fabric unless I have a very specific project in mind, and I will check my current stash first to see if I can use anything I already own.

4. I will make sure that the fabric is appropriate to the project and is a wearable and flattering color or print. (I’m thinking of some specific “short sleeve plaid flannel shirt” and “blue/brown prairie print skirt” fiascos here.)

4. I will take the time to prewash the fabric, make measurements, baste seams, sew a muslin, serge the edges, and whatever else it takes to make a fully-functional garment that is designed to be washed and worn for many years.

5. I will seek out and pay for good patterns if I think they have a better chance of fitting myself or Camilla than buying cheap ones or making my own.

Well, that’s a pretty lofty list and I’ve already broken, um, a few of these. But I feel that it’s good for me to at least start with these points in mind, especially since it’s very easy for me to get an idea in the morning and want to start making it that afternoon. But good sewing really doesn’t work that way. Picking out fabric, washing it, finding a pattern, cutting it out, making adjustments, sewing and picking out seams, hand stitching buttons…all these things can be so slooooow. But I need to learn patience. And I really want to become a better seamstress, which isn’t going to happen if I just slap some fabric together and call it good. Practice doesn’t make perfect if your practice is always sloppy.

I’m now going on week two (three?) of The New Sewing, so I’m obviously running a little behind with my blog posts. But I can show you one of my first projects, which — I am proud to say — produced my baby’s first mama-made garments. Unbelievably, I had not sewn anything for Camilla thus far. Usually I find so many cute things at the thrift store or Target that I decide that it’s not worth the effort, and for really complicated clothes (jackets, jeans, button-up shirts) I still think that’s a better use of time and resources. A few weeks ago, however, we found that the babe was running low on pajamas and that gave me an idea. You see, my darling mum gave me an old and incredibly heavy serger for Christmas that was still sitting in my closet because I was strangely terrified to use it. But what better first serger project could there be than jammies? Good fit isn’t essential and no one will see them besides family. (Oh, and everyone who reads this blog.) Plus, I am predisposed to be forgiving because she just looks so cute when she wakes up with scrunchy hair that I won’t even notice a few wonky seams.

So, that’s what I did. For fabric, I went to the Goodwill on their 99 cent tag sale day and came home with a pile of extra-stretchy t-shirts. I have to say that, if you’re trying to sew baby pajamas, old t-shirts are really where it’s at. They’re pre-shrunk, they come in way more colors and patterns than the knit fabric at JoAnn’s, you can find them with a lot of different weights, softnesses, and stretchiness, and you have the option of using the existing t-shirt hems instead of sewing your own. Score!

From t-shirts to pajamas...

For patterns, I used the 90-minute shirt tutorial on Made and the baby tights tutorial on Made by Rae with a few adjustments (i.e. no feet). I wish I had made my patterns a little bigger since these fit perfectly right now and I had been hoping for something a little loose. But I can easily adjust my homemade patterns the next time around.

They look better when she wears them.

I cut out five shirts and five pairs of leggings but have only finished a few since I need to rethread my serger in black before doing the others and am therefore finishing every single project I can think of that uses white thread. These are the first ones I finished and I admit that they don’t look all that great on the table. The fabric I used for ribbing was way too thin and ended up looking really wavy after I serged it. (Side note: the only solution I could find online to this problem is to adjust the “differential feed,” but my machine is so old that I can’t do this. Do any experienced sergers out there have any other suggestions?)

The other jammies.

But, I think they look pretty cute when they’re worn by the model.

I need to make the neck opening a bit bigger next time around, but I can still squeeze the shirts over her head.

The "I don't want any" face.

See how enthusiastic she is about her new jammies?

Oops, the pants are a bit low.

I accidentally made the waist too short on this pair of leggings…oops. My baby wears lowriders.

Standing.

Oh, can I also take a minute to brag about her standing prowess?

Helping mommy with the laundry.

It comes in very helpful when you want to help mommy do the laundry.

Did you SEE what was in there?

Which is evidently waaaaayyyyy more fun than she realized.

Silly mommy.

Modeling her new jams.

This is the other set I finished.

I wrapped the ribbing around the unfinished edges instead of just sewing it on top, and I think it looks a little bit cleaner.

Sounding her barbaric yawp.

I made this set from an old long-sleeved tshirt of mine and was just able to eke out both the shirt and the pants.

It’s a little hard to see, but I was able to re-use the decorative hem for the pant cuffs and shirt bottom.

Oh, and the color matches her eyes.

Pondering my camera strap.

Which are usually fixated on whatever fascinating object is dangling nearby.

Running from daddy.

Unless the foot monster is coming.

Beware the foot monster!

You think that you are fast…

He got her anyway.

…but HE is faster.

The foot monster!

And when he catches you, he will eat you up. With kisses.

New teeth.

Which makes you smile like this.

(More sewing projects to come, as soon as I can get some decent photos…)

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On the wall.

I put the fabric hoops on the wall last night (it made me nervous to think of them lying around, waiting to get spilled on). For once, I followed the Martha-recommended method and actually taped paper cutouts to the wall first. I’ve always avoided this because it seemed too time-consuming, but it was entirely worth the extra effort.

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I got to shuffle the little circles around, stare at them, and shuffle them some more without hammering any extra holes in the wall. Plus, it’s hard to hold seven fabric hoops up to the wall at once and actually see how they look together.

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This is the new view from the dining room into the kitchen. There’s one more tiny hoop on the top right that you can’t see because of the doorframe.

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I like the fact that the hoops are all made from the same fabric. I love the other samples of this method that I’ve seen, but some of them can be really busy if there are 8 or 10 different types of fabric. This one print is plenty for me.

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The only regret I have is that the installation is a little more, er, girly-looking than I had planned. Since getting married, I have tried very hard to curb some of my feminine decorative impulses. Josh is a very patient guy, but I don’t know how women with extreme-vintage houses manage not to drive their husbands nuts (or maybe they do). So, I keep most of my turqouise-and-pink finds in my craft room and choose more manly colors for the rest of the house. Except for the pink, purple and red flowers shown here.

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I’m also going to squeak in a photo of one of my favorite decorations ever, a (Josh-approved) Japanese parasol mobile that I got from a friend. Erin, if you happen to ever read this blog, I will hang this mobile in every house I ever live in.

I’m going to visit a little craft fair during lunch break tomorrow, so this will be the last post of the week. Hopefully, my sewing machine will be fixed any day now and I’ll get to spend the weekend struggling with 7-ft fabric panels (curtains, anyone?). I hope you all have plenty of fun stuff to do, too.

Fabric hoops.

Ever since I saw this suggestion for displaying fabric in embroidery hoops on the Purl Bee, I wanted to make some for our kitchen. (Obviously, I wasn’t the only one to see it…some other bloggers made really cute versions of their own.) I decided that this was one of the only legitimate uses I could find for my precious meter of Liberty* fabric, which I’ve been hoarding until I could find a way to get maximum decorative value and mimimum regrets a year later.

*I hadn’t heard of Liberty until I spent Christmas in London a couple of years ago. My mother, who had been living there for a couple of months, told me that we HAD to go to the store together to look at the fabric. I wasn’t sure why she was so excited but happily obliged and boy-am-I-glad that my mum has such good taste. The building itself is incredible (it’s made from timbers of old sailing ships), and the fabric floor is totally overwhelming. You can see some samples on Purl Soho, although I think there were a lot more in the store. It took me at least half an hour to pick the print I did, and while I sometimes scratch my head as to why pink and red was my favorite color combo, I’m so glad I bought something.

So, I took my fabric off the shelf a couple of days ago, ironed it, and started. chopping. it. with. scissors. (Kind of a bad feeling.) I realized right away that the print was a little too thin, so I cut some muslin squares for backing.

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I tried to get the edges to fold back when the hoops are hung so I wouldn’t have to glue them down, but that didn’t work. So I spent last night chatting with some other crafty ladies and brandishing my mini glue gun. I hated gluing the fabric, but I think I can still cut it off the hoops in a few years when (as one friend said) I’ve decided that I really wanted to use it for a quilt instead.

One quick note, if you decide to try this project at home: it only looks good if the fabric is perfectly taut, and the best way to do that is to make your outer hoop only slightly bigger than the fabric + inner hoop. You can tug the fabric around to fix some floppy spots, but I found that squeezing the top hoop over the bottom one leads to the best results.

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Unfortunately, a pile of fabric hoops on the counter is as far as I got…gluing took a long time, and I want to be really careful when I hang these so I don’t put extra holes in my newly-painted kitchen wall. But I should be able to show you the finished project tomorrow.

Reasons why this is a really, really great decor idea:

  • It’s cheap! (Unless your fabric is expensive.) I’ve been accumulating embroidery hoops at thrift stores for a while now, and none of them were more than $1.
  • The hoops are circular, which is a nice shape-change from all the rectangular frames out there.
  • Textile art is really sweet.

Maybe the last one is a little subjective, but I’m really liking the look of fabric on the wall right now. And speaking of fabric, I picked up two more pieces at the thrift store yesterday. Neither are very big, but the colors are so springy that I couldn’t leave them there.

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Fabric scraps.

These days, when I walk into a Goodwill/Salvation Army/Thrift Store, I almost always head straight for the housewares section. I used to make a beeline for the clothes, especially dresses, but the new apartment has changed that. Great fabric or linens + good prices – trip to JoAnn’s = happy Paula.

I diligently searched every thrift store we went to last Saturday for nice printed fabric to use as curtains or a wall-hanging. No real success on that front, unfortunately, but I came away with two bags stuffed full of scraps for $1.70 each. I didn’t want to open them in the car, so it wasn’t until the next day that I realized what fun prints were in them.

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There are a bunch of little (as in, 3″x4″ to 10″x12″) scraps of red, white and blue fabric..

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..and some fun browns and greens.

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These plaids and prints are a little larger – maybe 1/4 of a yard.

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These last two, though, are the biggest (1/2 yard-1 yard), and I LOVE them. The green and blue print, above, is quintessential “vintage” fabric in my eyes. And it’s authentic, not a reprint.

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The pattern on the more coarsely-woven fabric, above, is also fun. It’s more graphic, and I’d love to use it for a pillow except that the colors don’t really match any of my stuff.

Now I just have to figure out to do with all the itsy-bitsy scraps (I’m not really a patchwork girl) and the bigger pieces. But that’s not a bad challenge, right?

I also said that I’d show the results of our little furniture swap. The pic below is of the original furniture arrangement, which bothered me for a couple of reasons (the darker stain on the cd tower, the hodge-podge look).

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Enter the cabinet whatsit that I got at the Goodwill a couple of years ago for $20 (one of my few Goodwill furniture finds – it’s usually so picked-over that there’s nothing nice).

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Voila! The short bookshelf and the cd’s move next to Josh’s desk, videos go inside the cabinet, and the tv is at a better viewing height. Three cheers for re-organizing your own furniture, which is definitely the cheapest design solution I’ve ever found. The stain on the cabinet is a leeetle bit more red than the oak bookshelves, but I’m going to try not to let that bother me.

I should have pictures of the entryway soon, since I spent last night giving it a first coat. The yellow-ochre is darker than I thought it would be (I’m glad I didn’t choose the darker shade!), but I think the room can handle it because it’s so small. I’m sorry that all the apartment photos have been so terrible – I’m trying to improve the photography around here, but I usually don’t get the chance to snap pics until it’s dark outside. The fabric had nice natural light because I, ahem, missed the bus this morning and had half an hour to clean the apartment and take photos. I briefly contemplated sitting on the couch and reading a magazine, but productivity won. As usual.

New fabric.

I told Josh that I was going to try to take it easy on the crafting for a little while, especially since Christmas is over and I don’t need to finish anyone’s present anymore.  I didn’t sew or knit a single stitch last night, which was a strangely good accomplishment (this weekend, however…).

So instead of new projects, I thought I’d take a few posts to show you some of my new fabric stash and introduce you to some interesting websites and blogs I read.

The trip to Seattle was very good for fabric.  I picked up two vintage pieces at a thrift store:

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I’ve become choosier about vintage fabric as of late.  I used to just scoop up anything that looked old, but now I actually stop and ponder whether or not I can really use that 70s neon pink and orange flower pattern.  The yellow fabric on top is more delicate than it looks – it’s a sheer buttery color.  The green at the bottom is polyester doubleknit.  I’m one of the only people I know who loves that stuff; I think it will make a perfect little short-sleeved jacket/sweater (I found one in an old Anthropologie catalog that I want to copy, but it’s not sold anymore so I can’t post a link).

Then, I got a few pieces at a quilting store in Bellevue that was – shocking! – having a sale.  Quilting stores rarely have sales, so mom and I made good use of the opportunity.

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The top two fabrics are vintage reprints and the last is from the Amy Butler collection.  I’m not sure what I’m going to do with the green stuff yet, but the yellow flowered print will be perfect for kitchen curtains (should we ever live in an apartment with a kitchen window).  I think the pattern would be a little much as a full panel, so I plan to make the main body of the curtain out of linen or muslin and add a strip of the print at the top and bottom.  The Amy Butler fabric was frightfully expensive – $10.50/yard – so I only got half a yard and plan to use it for the front of two pillows.  The color is a really nice ochre instead of the rather putrid yellow that’s showing up on my screen.

Speaking of which, all the colors in these photos are kind of messed up.  The best surface for photos in our apartment is the dining room table, but the table has one little light above it and is a long way from the window.  One of the things I like least about our place is the bad lighting – our apartment is shaped like a shoebox with two little holes on each end.  And because the roof hangs over us on both sides, we get about an hour and a half of real sunshine through each window.  That’s not very much.  It’s really hard for me to paint in the evening because I can’t tell exactly what color I’m using and have to keep taking things into the bathroom – which mysteriously has the best lighting – to check.

This apartment tangent also reminds me of a disappointment we had yesterday: I had really been hoping to move into an open apartment in a dear friend’s house, but that fell through.  Our lease doesn’t end till February, and someone came along who wanted the place right away.  Not only was it next to friends, but the apartment was large, nicely laid out, and I had ALREADY picked out all the paint colors I wanted to use (light brown in the study, ochre in the living room, light turquoise in the kitchen…).  Sigh.  As soon as I set eyes on a potential living space, I automatically think about 1) paint colors, 2) curtains, and 3) re-covering our little couch to match.  I’m sure we’ll find something great eventually, but it was sad to lose that particular place.

I’m out of time, so I’ll just list two websites that are relevant to fabric.  First is an online fabric store called Reprodepot Fabrics.  Reprodepot sells vintage fabric reprints of everything from children’s patterns to re-upholstery fabric, as well as patterns, notions, and gifts.  Second is a Portland-based online store called Superbuzzy, which sells Japanese fabrics and craft supplies. I’ll say now that I haven’t ordered anything from either store (yet) so I don’t know what their service is like, but I have read good reports online.

Last word: I am so oblivious!  I just looked out my window and it’s snowing madly with at least an inch on the ground.  Hooray!!