Archive for the ‘Tips’ Category


December 18th, 2010 5 comments

I finished a whole slew of my very favorite fall/winter tops just before taking a recent trip.  These are polos (those of us in the USA would probably call them “turtlenecks”)  from BurdaStyle’s 09/2010 issue, pattern number 121:

They’re all made in some variation of JoAnn’s silky polyester/rayon knit, which has the distinction of being the only fabric I’ve bought at JoAnn’s that hasn’t had some unfortunate issue.  (The only issue with these cuts was the careless chopping done by the sales person at the cutting table, but that’s for another day.)  These tops weigh nothing, and roll up so compactly that I could have packed ten of them if I’d wanted to!  The colors are deep and rich, and the fabric’s very nice to wear — perfect for everyday or traveling, all-around.

I used my new serger to add stabilizing tape, about six inches of it, to each shoulder seam.  There’s a slot in the presser foot that perfectly feeds 1/4 inch twill tape under the foot so that it’s sewed automatically into the seam.  This process could not have been easier.  Whoo-hoo!

Summerset Banks  has a fantastic (and illustrated!) explanation of a great finish for this collar, and I used it on each of these shirts.  Check it out if you’re making this pattern; you’ll be glad you did.

Summerset also suggests tagging the back of the shirt, which is good advice, since it’s almost impossible to tell the fronts from backs at first glance.  She uses a little bit of folded ribbon, but I dislike tags, so I just added a short, white, line of zigzag stitches.  I can spot these easily inside the tops.

This assembly line was also a chance to use one of my ancillary presser feet:  Pfaff’s “seam guide foot with IDT”, which  made short work of my hems.  It’s got a small blade-like edge on one side, and seam allowance markings all along the very wide foot:

I wouldn’t call this exactly a necessary accessory, but it really is an incredibly efficient way to keep my hem stitches the same precise distance away from the edges.  When whipping out multiple items as rapidly as possible, this is a great advantage.  If things get too rote, my mind tends to go numb; this is an antidote to forgetting exactly where I should be stitching that hem.

Related: Burda “Polo” #121 09/2010

Categories: Tips, Tops Tags:

What’s Wrong With This Picture? (UPDATE)

December 18th, 2010 6 comments

(Other than the fact that what’s wrong is not too obvious from my less-than perfect photo?)

12/29/10 — UPDATE:  OH, SO MUCH LESS IS WRONG THAN I THOUGHT!!!!  Friends, I have wallowed in ignorance, and I have whined and puled about this screwdriver unfairly.  MEA CULPA!  And, to Baby Lock, my sincere apology.

This screwdriver is NOT supposed to fit into the rear screw on my serger.  The rear screw is a stabilizing device, used solely to hold the plate in place.  When changing the plate, one unscrews only the front screw, and lifts the plate upward without disturbing the rear screw.  Somehow I missed this.

Learn from my mistake — take the free class offered by your sewing store.  And don’t write any blog posts until you have.

This is the screwdriver that came with my Baby Lock Lauren serger.  It’s a little difficult to see here, but you can’t actually fit the supplied screwdriver into the rear screw.  That’s because the screwdriver is too long, and can’t reach the screw without banging into the serger.  (12/29/10 — AND, DUH, IT’S BECAUSE YOU’RE NOT SUPPOSED TO REACH THE SCREW!  Sigh.  I’d really rather be infallible, but hey .  .  . )

You can completely forget about fitting the screwdriver blade into the screw; that’s not going to happen — and if you jam it in partway, at an angle, to make it fit, and try to use it like that, you’re risking stripping the screw head, which is not good.

My screwdriver is probably just like the one supplied with your serger, and just about as useful.   Nicely done, Baby Lock; this is truly idiotic.  Is there some law that requires manufacturers to just throw any old screwdriver into accessory kits?  I’m quite sure that Baby Lock is not alone in committing this particular transgression.

Here’s what you need instead. It’s called a “thumb screwdriver”, and it’s perfect for tight spaces just like this:

You can get them at any hardware store, and they aren’t even expensive.  Just really, really useful.  Mine takes drill bits, so I can slap in whatever screwdriver size or type point I want to use.  I’m propping it up for the photo, but, of course, you’d normally hold it between thumb and index finger and just turn it.

This one is  made of metal and has a nicer-than-most gripping surface; it’s a little harder to find than the ones with plastic handles, but a generally better tool.  Worth the search, in my book.

An alternative is the “angle screwdriver” which usually comes with a slot head on one end and a Phillips head on the other:

It’s not quite as easy to use in a space like the one on my serger, but it will work in that kind of small space, and it’s very handy around the house in general, as well as in the sewing room.  Also available everywhere, except, of course, in your mfg-supplied sewing machine accessory box!



Project Records for My Serger

Categories: Machines, Tips, Tools Tags:

Project Records For My Serger

December 10th, 2010 1 comment

I vowed that I’d really get to know my  new serger this go-round, and have been devouring various resources.  Much to my surprise, my low-bump Baby Lock Lauren serger came with an excellent DVD, which I’ve watched, and found very helpful.  But the best resource has been Nancy Zieman‘s Serge with Confidence which has languished, unread, in my library for several years.

In Serge, Zieman suggests using “Serger Reference Cards” to track projects.  She shows commercial cards in the book, but I can’t find them on her site, and have never seen them in a store.  I thought these were a good idea, though, so I whipped up my own, tailored to my specific preferences:  That’s my card in the photo above, hot off the printer.

My word processor  has a template for index cards, three to a standard (US) 8.5 by 11 inch page, so that’s what I used, filling in the fields as I liked, and leaving a space at the bottom for samples of the work in question.  Once they were printed, I cut them with a guillotine-style paper cutter; scissors would have worked, too.

My template wastes paper, but did allow me to avoid creating my own index-card-table-template, which would have been a pain, especially in my somewhat kludgey software.  I might do that later on — in the meantime, let’s just say that I’m not going to be running out of bookmarks in the near future.

I use a Linux computer, which isn’t particularly user-friendly for these kinds of features (but wonderful for the important stuff!).  If you use a more common OS, you might have a more sensible index card layout in your word processor software.  Or not  .  .  . but it might be worth checking to see.

Just for fun, I used font colors corresponding to the colors on the tension dials for the needles and the loopers on my serger in the place on the cards where I’ll record the tension settings.

I printed the cards on cardstock (a heavier weight paper with a very slightly slick surface on one side).  Cardstock is available at any office supply store and makes for a heavier, more durable “index” card.  That might matter if you’re attaching samples to the cards.

To finish them off, I used a “decorative corner punch” to round the corners.  That’s a “fun” thing, too, but also sensible, as squared-off corners are likely to fray and get sloppy over time.  Eliminating them means that I’ll be able to handle these cards without making a mess of them.  I’ve left enough room at the bottom for stitching/fabric samples.  Here’s the first one I used, with sample attached:

Many people find sergers to be overwhelmingly frustrating, and having this kind of tool to refer to is just the ticket to reduce some of that frustration.  I’ve never found my serger to be particularly frustrating, but I have found it a pain to have to re-invent settings for new projects when I can’t remember settings that were second nature say, last year.  Now I’ll have documentation:  Perfect!

If you’re eager to develop the best possible relationship with your own serger, I highly recommend Serge with Confidence.  The projects might not send you — they’re not particularly to my taste — but you’ll be amazed at what you can do with a serger, and Zieman will walk you through every thing you could conceivably need to know about using one.   If you’re thinking about buying a higher-bump serger than I did, you  might want to take a look at  Serge before you shop; it would be a great tool for evaluating your needs and desires before you and your wallet step out.

Categories: Books/Magazines, Machines, Tips, Tools Tags:

OT: New Life for a KitchenAid Mixer

November 18th, 2010 4 comments

This is off-topic, but it’s such a handy thing to know that I’m sharing anyway.  My KitchenAid mixer — a 4.5 quart model — is at least 30 years old (I inherited it), and it is a workhorse.

A while ago, though, one of the bowls flew off the mixer while I was using it, and I realized that it no longer locked in place.  This is potentially dangerous, so I quit using the mixer until I could figure out what to do about it.

I think this mixer is literally the only  “Made in USA” thing that I’ve ever owned that turned out to be a quality item; it does what it does incredibly well.  Maybe the new ones are just as good as this one, but I didn’t want to replace my old friend if there were any way to save it.   Why toss a perfectly good machine if it’s avoidable?

And it was avoidable!  All I needed was a new “mixer bowl lock plate”:

Five bucks on Amazon!  (Plus another five for shipping, but, hey, a new KitchenAid would be a couple of hundred dollars .  .  . and, the truth is, I’d probably not have replaced it, considering how few baked goods we eat now.)  For ten dollars, and about three minutes to replace the old base,  I’ve got my mixer back!

I’m sure the lock plate is available elsewhere, too, but I can vouch for the company (Seneca River Trading)  that fulfilled my order through Amazon.  I had the part within days, and made bread with my repaired mixer this morning.

Making bread is the last domestic thing I’m doing for the next three days:  I’m declaring a Sewing Mini-Vacation, beginning the minute this is posted.  The next few days belong to Au Bonheur des Petites Mains!

Hello, FTC!  This is a hobby blog, and I have no affiliation with Amazon, KitchenAid, ABdPM, Seneca River Trading or any other corporation I might have incidentally mentioned in this post.

Categories: Tips Tags:


November 17th, 2010 1 comment

I’m expecting my first batch of Au Bonheur des Petites Mains patterns any  minute now, and am beside myself with anticipation.  ABPM, as they’re known in a number of French blogs, are patterns with a very different twist.  (See the English version of their site, courtesy Google Translate, here.)

None of these happen to be in the set I’m waiting for, but they are on my short list for the next purchase.  This is, according to Google, a “cowl neck shirt”:

A “down fold shirt”  (that’s “down” as in “fold down”, not as in “feathers”):

And a “round collar coat”:

There’s more, much more!  The model garments are heavy on grays, blacks, and somber accents, all of which work well with the rather edgy, even flamboyant designs, but that doesn’t mean that we have to stick with those schemes ourselves, of course.

I first “met” ABPM through Shams’ blog, Communing with Fabric.  If you go to this link, you’ll read about the start of Shams’ ABPM adventure; if you click on “au bonheur des petites mains”  under “labels” at the bottom of that post, you’ll be taken to all of Shams’ ABPM posts.

Shams has an incredibly helpful French glossary, which I’ll be relying on, as well as a US size chart, in this post.  I don’t think there could be any better preparation (or inspiration!) for using ABPM patterns than reading Shams’ posts.  I’ve set aside the next three days so that I can make my first ABPM pattern, and, like any good marathoner, I’ve been training, first under Sham’s tutelage, and also by reviewing a bunch of French blog posts which highlight other ABPM creations.

Here’s the one that led me to the rest:  It’s  Je Couds Au Bonheur des Petites Mains (“I sew Au Bonheur des Petites Mains”), which looks like a collaborative effort, with a bunch of links to creative blogs worthy of some attention on their own.

Don’t read French?  Copy and paste any French URL into Google Translate, and you’ll see web pages that, if they’re not exactly French, will be close enough to figure out what’s going on.  As for me, there’s a stack of fabric, notions, and anything else I thought I might need waiting in my sewing room for my first ABPM project.  Tonight, though, if all goes well, I’ll be translating the instructions.  I can’t wait!


ABdPM 20013:  Fit and Interlining

ABdPM 20013:  The Hood

ABdPM 20013:  Miscellaneous Report

ABdPM 20013:  The Lining

ABdPM 20013:  C’est Fait!

Categories: ABdPM, Tips Tags:

Thrift Store Rescue: Jacket Repair

April 28th, 2010 No comments

Sometime back in 2008, I saw this jacket at a thrift shop, and fell in love with it.  Why?  Because it’s weird, that’s why.  It’s a kooky variation on what used to be a classic Columbia winter jacket.  This one is made of the same clear nylon jade/purple/black colors, and has the typical color-patching, but it’s a pullover, and the cut is much trimmer than a typical Columbia-type jacket.

It also has zippers all over the place:  under that snap placket; at the center front (the fit’s so trim that you’d need to unzip to run); under each arm; and up one side.

The problem was that much of the hem had pulled out, and the nylon lining, naturally, had begun to disintegrate.  Not so badly that it couldn’t be fixed, though.  I was pretty sure that, among the very few non-sparkly woven trims at JoAnn, I remembered one with jewel tones not unlike those in this jacket:

Not only were the colors compatible, but the pattern seemed just about perfect, too.  Here it is sewn in  place on the coat:

In the few spots where the lining had unraveled especially badly, the trim was just wide enough to bridge the gap.  I sewed it in place with tiny, nearly invisible stitches, since I didn’t want stitching lines on the front.

The new trim not only solved the problem, but made the inside just as full of crisp, sporty pizazz as the exterior:

You’d never know that the frazzled lining had almost turned this jacket into a discard.  Now it’s my favorite early fall, late spring coat.

Categories: Jackets, Tips Tags:

TSA-Friendly Belt

April 27th, 2010 2 comments

Ah, TSA.  How you’ve changed our lives.  How difficult you’ve made it to travel in normal, human, clothing.  For an upcoming trip, I am wearing a t-shirt tunic and leggings on the plane because that will get me through screening more expeditiously than anything else, and because, after surviving the horror that is the modern airport, I want to feel comfortable once I’m in that tin tube.

I’d rather be wearing pjs, but, hey, this is the closest I can get.  In a concession to not looking as if I’d just dressed for breakfast, I’ll be wearing a belt.  Not an interesting belt, and, heaven knows, not a belt with any metal — enemy of TSA — in it.  I’ll be wearing this belt:

It’s elastic, 1 1/2 inches wide, with what is called a “ladder buckle” connecting the ends.  Here are the components:

I sewed heavy-duty hook-and-loop tape, as wide as the elastic, to each end of the belt, making sure to leave a lot of room for adjustment.  Once actually on board I don’t want to end up bifurcated by a too-tight elastic band around my waist, so being able to readjust the size without depending on the elastic alone was a must.

It doesn’t bother me to wear the flat buckle in the back, so I can wear the belt as it is above on Miss Bedelia, or turned around so that it looks like a contrast waistband, or a plain elastic cincher.

You can buy ladder buckles at most (if not all) EMS stores (they’re behind the counter, ask to see the delrin or nylon buckles), at REI, and at  sporting goods/adventure stores that sell webbing.  They’re often on a rack by luggage or camping gear.

Categories: Accessories, Tips Tags:

Cuffing Travel/Trekking Pants

April 20th, 2010 2 comments

Every pair of travel/trekking pants I own has a bunch of features I really like, but no one pair has every feature I like.  The particular pair I’m posting about here are nearly perfect, but the legs are much wider than I prefer for most uses.  Most such pants have tabs, snaps, or some other way to cinch in the legs, but this pair doesn’t.  That’s because they have side seam zippers so that the legs can be easily pulled over hiking boots:

That’s a great feature, but on me, these legs are waaaaay too wide.  I needed some way to rein in that yardage!

There was no way to find fabric that was exactly like the one used for the pants,  so I bought a half-dozen buttons and sewed two small loops made of 1/8th-of-an-inch elastic.  I sewed two buttons just close enough to hold the elastic loop next to the pant leg.  Then I sewed a third button on each leg far enough away so that stretching the elastic to reach it made the pant leg as small as I wanted.

Then I sewed each elastic loop permanently around the far left button.  The free loop slips over the button to the near right when the pants are being worn with the legs wide, keeping the elastic from flopping.  The far button is used to hold the loop in place when the pant legs are cinched:

A pleat is automatically formed under the buttons, and voilà, no more balloon-legs.  Or ticks crawling above your socks.  Much better.

Categories: Pants, Tips Tags:

Replacement Insoles

March 7th, 2009 No comments

My Merrell “Primo Chill Slide” mocs are wonderful to wear when you want the warmth of a boot without the fuss.


They originally came with a wool footlbed that was lofty and warm, just like the wool lining that fills the rest of the shoe. Over time the wool in the insole got crushed and flattened, and the shoes weren’t a slipper-like joy to wear any longer. Though the liners are theoretically replaceable, I couldn’t find them in stores, and trying to get them online seemed like too much of a pain, so I made my own.

Using super-thick felted wool, I made new liners. For the pattern, I traced the original insoles, and cut three pieces for each foot out of the felt. The original ones had a waterproof barrier to keep sweat from permeating the shoe itself, so I also cut a piece of thin, transparent vinyl to use as a similar barrier. The vinyl layer is second from the left in the photo below:


I used two layers of felt for the top of the liner, and put one beneath the vinyl. The idea was twofold: one, to make sure that the insole wouldn’t slip while I was wearing it, and two, so that the stitching keeping the vinyl in place wouldn’t be stressed too much while in use.

To make sure that I used them right side up (with that cushy double layer next to my foot), I stitched an “L” on the left liner, putting it where it would be least likely to irritate my foot. (Oddly, I couldn’t find matching thread for this dark raspberry material, so I used one of Gütermann’s rainbow threads.) I used a large zigzag just to hold the layers together; I didn’t want to use smaller stitches, because that’s a good way to perforate vinyl, and encouraging it to separate.


Here are my refurbished mocs (yes, I hate that orange and gray “M”!):


The wool isn’t lofty like sheepskin slippers (or the original liner), but it is toasty and very comfortable. Incidentally, I found this extra-thick felted wool in a bin at Michael’s; two pieces did the trick. (The choice of colors was really good, too — including a whole range of teals/greens. The wool was was pricey, though, I think about $3.50 a piece — smaller than 8.5 by 11 inches — so the by-the-yard price was ludicrous. Not bad for a pair of new innersoles, though.)

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Vogue 8323 – Scoop-Neck Top

August 11th, 2008 7 comments

I’d made the cowl version of this shirt previously and really liked it. Opportunities to wear it aren’t frequent, though, since the cowl is really exaggerated — fun, but not too practical for every day. I love the lines of this shirt, though, so I decided to make the scoop neck version.

Putting this one together couldn’t be simpler (or faster!). It’s got princess seams front and back, sleeves, and that’s about it. And a nice, trim look when you’re done:

My hem doesn’t look all that great though. I used an adhesive, iron-on tape to support it and keep it from stretching, but the results aren’t exactly what I want (though the look did improve with washing — after this photo was taken — for unknown reasons).

Love those lines! This is one of those maligned, widely-available cotton knits (I’ve got a lot in my stash for some reason), but they sew up beautifully — except for that hem problem. I need to do more work on this.

I’m getting very fond of this particular utility stitch on my Pfaff. I love the way it finishes the seams, and keeps them smooth — much nicer than the little ridge trimming the seam leaves:

Vogue has you finish the neck using bias tape, trimming the seam allowance, and turning the tape to the inside. Instead, I finished the neckline using a self-fabric band, turning it once over the seam allowance, and then “stitching in the ditch”. It worked really well, and gave a clean, neat look to the neckline:

That made my neckline 5/8ths of an inch higher than Vogue’s, of course, but it’s just right on me.

This top is a great alternative to the sloppy tee we’re all tempted to wear around the house. It’s super comfortable, easy to wear and care for, and so good looking! Even better, it whips up in no time at all. I’m sure I’ll be making more of these.

Categories: Tips, Tops Tags: