Archive for March, 2008

A Valance, In the French Style

March 31st, 2008 No comments

Just when you think you’ve found the perfect valance, another one comes along:


This one’s from France, early 18th century “linen plain weave with silk and wool embroidery in half-cross and cross stitches”. That blue would work very nicely with the walls of my sewing room. It’s actually a bed valance, but just the same . . .

You can see this, and a few other items of interest, in a very small room off a main gallery on the second floor of the Philadelphia Art Museum.

Categories: Fun Tags:

Folkwear 153 – Siberian Parka

March 29th, 2008 6 comments


I’ve wanted to make this parka for decades. Two years ago, I found a lightweight upholstery tapestry fabric that seemed just right for it. The primary colors are a muted olive green, a dark gold, and a muted rust. I wanted a serious winter pullover, so I also bought rust microfleece for the lining.


Last year, I finally put it together. The essential design is very simple; it’s really just a batch of geometric lines. For my version, I eliminated the yoke seams closest to the center line, partly because my fabric was relatively thick, and partly because of the complications of matching the pattern. I also combined the two pattern pieces for each sleeve, eliminating the lower seam, for the same reasons.


I made a size small. It was the right choice, since I added an almost-bulky lining. If I make a single-layer version in the future, I’ll make an extra-small. Other reviews I’ve read pointed out that the sizing tends toward the huge; I agree!


For cutting I had to lay the fabric flat. Matching the fabric motifs was time-consuming, and adding the lining contributed to making this project much bigger than necessary. There’s nothing complicated about the essential construction, though, and this coat could probably be made up in a couple of hours with a different fabric choice and no lining. Above is the back view, showing the hood, and, below, a detail view of the front where the hood is attached to the yoke.


The pockets are the only real challenge; it’s critical to mark them carefully on the front before you stitch. The instructions call for only one line of stitching, which doesn’t offer much security if you plan to use them vigorously. I didn’t like the look of a double row of stitches, so I took advantage of the slight pile of my material and just sewed over my original line of stitches a second time.


I added small hooks and D rings on thin webbing straps inside the pockets; I don’t carry a bag or purse when wearing this parka, and like to secure my belongings when using large pockets.


The lines of the hood were a fabulous surprise — the curve around the face is beautiful, and the neckline looks great whether the hood is up or down. (Sorry, no face shot to show that curve, but take a look at the pattern; you’ll see how nicely it works.)

Here’s the back view with the hood up:


My photos make my coat look a little limp; with me inside, it’s got a lot more flair (literally) — much like the Folkwear photo below. This is one of my all-time favorite coats, and I’m really eager to make it again (and again and again!). It’s amazingly easy to wear while running around town, and there’s nothing better for riding the subway in deep

It’s not exactly easy to remove, and, made of my heavy-duty fabric and lining, it can be very warm if you’re spending more than a few minutes indoors.


I could see this in melton wool, polarfleece, a corduroy or even a sweatshirt fleece. Folkwear shows it in this plaid; very sophisticated!

Folkwear Patterns can be difficult to find. I own several boxes of them, bought many years ago, but ordered this one from Ursula’s Alcove, and was very pleased with the pleasant help and fast shipping. It’s worth shopping around; some sites charge ridiculously high prices for Folkwear; comparing prices can save you lots.

Categories: Coats/Capes/Wraps Tags:

Simplicity 3583 – Zabuton, Zafu and More

March 28th, 2008 6 comments

If you’re interested in making meditation accessories, this Andrea Schewe pattern has a slew to chose from. The items I made are a little different, but this pattern has instructions for what looks like a fairly traditional zafu, as well as a wedge-shaped cushion like ones I saw at my meditation class, and a zabuton.


Suggested fillings for the zafu are poly fiberfill and buckwheat hulls; traditional is kapok, which would probably be horrible to work with, but nicest of all to sit on. If you want to experiment with various cushions or bolsters, this pattern could save you a lot of time, and let you get to mindfullness with minimal fuss.

Simplicity are on sale for 99 cents this weekend (March 28-30, 2008) at Joann’s (at least out eastward, where I am); I picked this one up just in case.

Categories: Home Tags:

Vogue 7640 Jacket with Draped Lapels

March 27th, 2008 No comments

This is another strangely-shaped pattern (like Miyake’s Vogue 1476), and I actually marked “sleeve” “collar” and “shoulder” in big letters on the front jacket pattern piece, one side of which resembles a mad architect’s idea of the outline of a suspension bridge. You might save some time and aggravation if you do the same.


I made the jacket in an acrylic plaid in black, brown, white and teal found at JoAnn’s (the only immediately accessible fabric store where I am at the moment). I actually love the plaid, and wish it were in a soft wool instead. The jacket looks fine, but the drape would be softer in a better fabric, and also feel wonderful to wear. The acrylic just doesn’t quite do it.

In the envelope illustration, it looks as if the armholes are dropped off the shoulder. In actuality, they fit as if in a tailored jacket — except that the jacket front flows from the shoulder line. An interesting combination, but not exactly what’s illustrated. I’m reserving judgment about the tailored sleeve caps. I’m not sure they’re exactly what I wanted. Otherwise, the jacket does flow and fit as shown on the packet.


The jacket has another curious quality — the back is straight across, which isn’t exactly what you might expect. It feels short when worn, but I think it looks fine. I shortened the sleeves, which I always have to do, and did a Hong Kong finish on the seams, which worked well.


I think I may sew it again. It made up very quickly, and could be really wonderful in something very soft — kind of like a sweater with a jacket’s style. I loved doing the mitered corners! Next time, though, if I use such a loosely-woven fabric, I’ll make the turned hems a little larger. Managing a 1/4th inch edge in a loose, bulky weave is a bit tricky.

This is a fun, little versatile jacket that I’ll wear with jeans, trousers, a dress I already own and probably a skirt or two. It might be great for traveling, too, as it can span anything from casual to almost formal.

I wish I’d made it in a nicer fabric; I get compliments every time I wear it. I wish the fabric felt as good as the jacket looks.

Categories: Jackets Tags:

Sign Your Work

March 26th, 2008 2 comments

I sew a tag into everything I make. I bought several spools of this ribbon, printed to look like a measuring tape — perfect for someone who sews.


This is my ‘signature,’ an easy, quick way to identify the clothing I’ve made, without using an expensive custom label. My choice wasn’t very imaginative, but you could do just about anything; check out the ribbon selections at different times of the year and see what you can turn up to reflect your personality.


This little tag is also very helpful when pulling on simple shirts or pants — it’s the quickest way to be sure I’m wearing the front at the front.

Categories: Tips Tags:

Pick-A-Pocket Dress

March 25th, 2008 No comments

Erin, of the wonderful blog A Dress a Day, posted this photo today, of a vintage offering on eBay:


I may try to make something similar. Much more exciting than my Travel Vest, don’t you think? But, wow, just as functional — or maybe even more so!

Check out the auction; it expires in only five-and-a-half-days.

Categories: Fun Tags:

Sewing Workshop Haiku Jacket

March 25th, 2008 No comments

This is an Asian-influenced jacket with reversed lapels. Sewing Workshop’s current pattern is the Haiku 2, which is a shorter version; I used the old pattern, which I much prefer. According to Sewing Workshop, the length is the only difference between the two patterns.


I made a small, which is over-sized for my size 8 frame. I love it anyway, and wear it all the time! The fabric was a mid-weight mini-tweed in shades of black with white. The jacket’s actually pretty heavy, though, as there’s a fair amount of yardage.

The jacket hem is turned toward the front of the jacket, exposing the wrong side. This isn’t obvious on the pattern cover. I faced the hem with tape to avoid this effect, and stitched the lapels in place across the bottom with the hem. Unfortunately, the hem instructions were not at all clear, and the pattern pieces are counter-intuitive, so I had to progress very carefully.


I shortened the sleeves quite a bit. I still roll them, and love the feel and look, but in retrospect, I probably should have shortened them more, so that I could wear them unrolled. They may add a bit too much to the bulky feeling.

I also lined the pockets, as I really use them, and wanted them to retain their shape. I made French seams, as flat-felling my loosely-woven fabric would have driven me mad.

This is a great jacket, and I’ll definitely make it again. Although it’s a big jacket on me (and probably would look stupendous on a tall woman), it’s a joy to wear. I might try to alter it down a size — especially if I plan to wear it in a professional setting. It’s just a little too big on me to work as well as it could in a non-casual setting. It’s lots of fun to make, easy to wear, and full of great possibilities for a range of fabrics.

Categories: Jackets Tags:

Green Pepper F847 Norwester Hat

March 21st, 2008 No comments

When I joined a local hiking club, I learned, much to my surprise, that hikers in my state share the woods with hunters in (at least during bow hunting season). Not surprisingly, blaze orange gear jumped to the top of my acquisitions list. Visible headgear was an absolute necessity, but I couldn’t find anything in orange in stores except baseball caps, and I loathe baseball caps. Sewing something was the obvious answer. I settled on Green Pepper’s Norwester Hat:



This looked like a great hat, and it turned out to be even better in person. There are two versions: one with a brim that’s symmetrical all the way around, and a more traditional version, lengthened in the back. I made the long-brim version.


For hiking, I omitted the earflaps and the velcro (I knew I’d only wear it with the brim down.) I didn’t make any other alterations; medium size turned out to be perfect for me.


The pattern instructions were clear, and the pattern itself well-drafted and easy to use. The only real challenge this project offered was material — literally. It turns out that different states have specific requirements for hunter’s blaze — and orange ripstop isn’t it. Of course, I wasn’t trying to meet any legal requirement, but common sense seemed to dictate that I should go for the greatest visibility possible. (That is, if I planned to so anything as un-sensible as walking in the woods in the first place.)


I solved this problem by buying one XXL polyester hunting vest, and a second vest made of orange blaze mesh. (By the way, this made for a very inexpensive hat. I think it was about three dollars for both vests.) There wasn’t enough contiguous fabric on the tabard style vest to permit cutting the brim sections all-in-one, so I had to piece it, but that worked out fine. (The seam you see centered in the picture below is the one I added.) I used the mesh to line the crown, making the hat cooler and lighter to wear.


The prospect of looking at the world from under a bright orange brim didn’t thrill me, so I made the underside of black ripstop — very kind to the eyes. I wanted the brim to stand out on its own, but to be completely foldable and crushable, so I used a very thin, lightweight fleece for interfacing. It was a great choice.


The instructions call for an internal band, but I wanted to be able to cinch the hat while it was on my head, so I left a half an inch or so of the rear crown seams open and threaded nylon webbing through them. A one-half inch nylon buckle allows plenty of options for adjustment. The underchin strap adjusts with a cordlock; see how I made it by reading this tip.

Hats like these were worn by fishermen in storm conditions (and may still be?); their best feature is that lengthened brim in back, which sheds water. That’s the feature I like best on my hat, too: that sweeping brim keeps the sun off the back of my neck.

Categories: Hats Tags:

Kwik Sew 2843 – Travel Vest

March 20th, 2008 8 comments

One of my dreams is to manage day trips without carrying any kind of bag, yet also without leaving any essential (or desirable) accessory behind while out exploring. I’ve been planning a vest-with-hidden pockets for a long time in my head, and recently I spent an evening working up a ‘muslin’.


This Kwik Sew pattern was my starting point. I have a few vest patterns that are designed with lots of pockets, but I really wanted something with more shape. This one had the lines I wanted, although, in retrospect, how much shape can you have when you’ve got a dozen pieces of equipment hanging off your torso? I definitely wanted hidden pockets so that everything would be stowed out of sight on subways or when in crowds, and a clean, simple look on the outside.


I started by gathering together all the things I wanted to fit into the vest. Here’s the list: wallet, passport, keys, cell phone, digital camera, Moleskine notebook, MP3 player, earplugs, Nintendo DS (Spanish vocabulary and sudoku), comb, chapstick, pen, small flashlight, and a few miscellaneous items.

This vest has three main pattern pieces: front, side, and back. I made outline drawings of the front and side pieces, and played around with pocket placement on paper. Once I thought I’d come up with a good layout, I got to work on the engineering. First decision: I’d leave the pockets on the original pattern alone, so that I’d have two conventional pockets in the front of the vest.


For the internal pockets, I measured each of my belongings, and decided how I wanted the bulk and weight distributed. The Nintendo went near the hem; cell phone and camera (both light and small) went at the top of the pockets, just under my breasts. Middle weight items (wallet, notebook) went in the middle pockets.


Here’s one side, before assembly. The top pocket is for the camera or cell phone, the middle for wallet or Moleskine, and the bottom for the Nintendo or something of similar size and bulk.

The cell phone and camera pockets are horizontal, rather than vertical. That’s partly because I’m female, and my bust gets in the way, but it’s also because those two things are the ones I want to grab fast. Those pockets are also the only open ones; they close with velcro tabs, also so that I can get to the phone and camera quickly.

The four main pockets all close with lightweight zippers. The comb, pen and small accessories pockets (including the MP3 pocket) are fairly deep, but open at the top. They’re somewhat protected, buried as they are far from the vest opening. Except for the comb and pen pockets, each pocket has a pleat to make it roomy enough for the 3D stuff I want to carry.


Yeah, I know. Great detail shots, eh? If you could see this, you’d be looking at the MP3 player pocket and a pocket next to it for earplugs.

Using the vest pattern pieces as a guide, I cut the pockets so that they would catch in the vest seams. Because I didn’t want to customize the pockets for each piece of equipment (next year the sizes may change), I made larger pockets with pleats in them for ease. This kept bulk down nicely, and also meant that I didn’t have to go to the trouble of fitting each item perfectly.

To stabilize the vest, and keep it from drooping when fully loaded, I sewed strips of 1/4 inch grosgrain ribbon at strategic points, running from one vertical seam to another. Those with sharp eyes may be able to spot some of these.


At first, I didn’t think I wanted a pocket across the back, but in the end, I changed my mind and did add a flat pocket on the back panel only. I figured that I might want someplace to stash gloves or a small hat or something of the sort. The zipper is under the flap you can barely see above.

I made the front of the vest exactly as Kwik Sew intended, with one little exception. I like being able to attach keys, and sometimes a subway pass, etc. to my body, so I sewed a snap tab into each front pocket. Here’s a picture of the ‘hardware’ I considered using:


I decided against adding the D rings; if I want to, I can add a D ring to one of the snap tabs. The velcro tabs (upper left) are for the phone and camera pockets. Incidentally, I made a mistake with those: I should have used the soft velcro for the tabs, and the stiff part on the pocket. I’ll have to be careful about scratching the phone or the camera when pulling them out past the tab. The snaps are mini anorak snaps from Dritz, attached to a double layer of grosgrain ribbon.

I also added a bit of grosgrain on the inside so that the vest can be hung on a hook — almost a necessity, I think, for coats and the like.


The vest made up surprisingly easily and quickly. The fabric is a silky polyester, possibly a microfiber, that I got when my mother-in-law and I took a fabulous trip to Field’s Fabrics recently. I used a Schmetz microtex needle.


However, something about the zipper wasn’t quite right; it looked as if the tape actually stretched a bit in places — quite a disaster. Even though this is supposed to be a muslin, I took it out and replaced it with velcro fasteners and a band with a decorative grosgrain strip. Not my finest hour. Sigh.

What does it weigh, fully packed? I’m glad you asked: 3 pounds. Feels like about ten! But, hey, it’s all hands-free.
Here’s the finished inside right:


And here’s the inside left:


The back pocket is big enough for a hat, gloves, and a fat copy of Foreign Affairs:


Now all I need is a guide to remind me of what goes in which pocket.

Categories: Jackets Tags:

A Chin String for Hats

March 19th, 2008 2 comments

To make a continuous loop for a chin string, slip a bead onto the string before attaching it to your hat. Holding the bead at the center point of the string, slip both cut ends through a spring toggle. Attach the cut ends to either side of your hat. The bead will keep the toggle from falling off the end of the string, and you have no messy knots hanging in front.


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