Saturday, August 15, 2015

Flashback Skinny Tee bonanza!

Slowly, surely, I am getting the hang of this whole sewing thing. Because I am stubborn and want to figure things out for myself, there is a lot of trial and error - t-shirts with popping seams, too-tight necklines, and wavy hems (still working on that last thing). Frustration, muttered curses, a deep breath, another try, a better result. I am learning.

I also tend to forget that there are things like online classes one can take to improve one's skills without so much frustration. Whitney recommended a Craftsy class on sewing with knits that I'm mighty tempted to take. Eventually. Soon?

I rarely knit the same pattern more than once, occasionally twice, but I'm much less adventurous with sewing patterns. I find something that I can make successfully without royally screwing up, and I will stick with it forever.  As a result, today's endeavors resulted in two acceptable shirts for Anya, all the same pattern as before: Flashback Skinny Tee from Made By Rae

The first is in a zebra print. The fabric is a cotton (maybe with a bit of spandex? it's stretchy) interlock I picked up on sale at Hancocks at least three or four years ago because at the time Daniel wanted zebra PJs or something. I obviously didn't get around to making the PJs but I kept the fabric, so now Anya gets a zebra shirt! There's enough left she could probably have shorts or leggings to match if she wanted, but I bet she doesn't.

You can't tell from the picture above, but the hem is a little wavy. I used a twin needle because I like the look of double stitching, but it kind of stretched out the bottom in a way that it won't bounce back. I don't know if this has to do with some property of the fabric, or the fact that it's not top quality (it's not bad, but I'd say middling at best), or just that that type of stitching just doesn't lend itself to hemming stretchy fabric. Otherwise, the shirt turned out pretty nice and it fits Anya quite well, with a bit of extra length in the sleeves.

Buoyed by my success with the zebra print, I finally mustered up the courage to cut into some nice fabric. About two years ago I bought a couple pieces of Robert Kaufman Laguna Jersey. I had to order it online! I believe that was the first and thus far only time I ordered fabric online, despite being tempted many, many times before and since. You just can't find knit fabric locally outside of chain stores around here, except for Gayfeather Fabric on the east side, and while that shop is lovely and the owner is nice as can be, there isn't a wide selection of knits.

But I digress. The Laguna jersey is so nice. It's soft and light and stretchy without losing its shape. I had a yard each of turquoise and tangerine (colors Anya picked out two years ago when I bought it, and thankfully still likes) and I was afraid to cut into either piece and ruin them with my piss poor sewing-with-knits skills. Not that this fabric is extravagant luxury silk or something, but I still wanted to do it justice and try not to waste.

As you can see, it worked out.

Anya is pleased.

She even put up with modeling not one, but two long-sleeved shirts today, even though it was absolutely vile outside: upwards of 90 degrees and very humid.


Interested in more details? Here is a useful tip: using good materials will affect not only the outcome of your project, but your level of frustration during the making. Sewing with fabric that is good quality and easy to work with will be much more enjoyable than sewing with fabric that is mediocre. Or crappy. I absolutely know this already with yarn and knitting supplies, and it was good to have this reminder today.

I left the bottom edge raw because I don't have the huevos to risk another wavy hem. Still learning. ..
I didn't finish the edges or seams with a serger. I have one, but I'm not entirely comfortable using it on knits. When I do, the edges stretch and it doesn't look as neat and finished as it should. I don't know if it's user error (probably) or if I would benefit from a better machine (probably that, too, but that's money I can't spend) but since knits don't fray I'm not worrying about it.


Because hemming knits still kind of makes me twitch, I opted for cuffs to finish the sleeves. I've done this with all the t-shirts so far. I don't have 1x1 ribbed fabric for it (I'd have to order that online, too, and I don't want to bother for such a small quantity, plus how do you match colors anyway?) so I used the same fabric for cuffs and neck as I did for the main pieces of the shirts. The zebra print and blue are stretchy enough it was fine, but for less stretchy knits I would just cut those pieces on the bias; I did that yesterday for the striped tee and it's fine.

Last, I had a revelation this morning. I was messing around with the zigzag trying to figure out the best stitch length and width to avoid popping seams and I stumbled across a stretch stitch on my machine. MY MACHINE HAS A STRETCH STITCH SETTING. HOW DID I MISS THIS BEFORE?? The stretch stitch is wonderful and may have changed my life. It's #16 on the stitch menu of my Pfaff, it's called the "stretch tricot stitch" and it's a total thread-eater, but it's indestructible. I defy you to try and pop one of these seams!

Now, I've got one more tee to make for Anya - color: tangerine! - before I run out of knit fabric. The question is, now that I'm on a roll, do I order more and keep cranking them out? Or move on? I can't decide. What do you think?

Thursday, August 13, 2015


Update on t-shirt sewing (because I know you are all just waiting at the edge of your seats!)...This morning I remembered reading about using zigzag stitch on knit fabrics so I spent some time fiddling around with it and look!

I made a shirt that hasn't ripped!

It's cute (as is the model, obviously) but the fabric is from a cheap remnant I picked up at a chain store (Hancocks I think) so I'm not sure how it will hold up. It's not cotton and probably won't breathe and will pill. 

Even so, Anya has a new shirt for fall and I may be ready to try this pattern out on fabric nicer than what I picked up at yard sales and clearance racks. She is a willing and patient model and deserves better, no?

Also, I've been knitting. It's just too hot for modeled photos of alpaca neckwear. Stay tuned because I have lots of fun stuff coming down the pike. 

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

handmade wardrobe challenge

Lately I've been listening to the Curious Handmade podcast. I love Helen Stewart's calm voice, her lilting Australian accent, and - when she has guests on the podcast - her warm and gracious interview style. Since the beginning of the year, she has been talking about her efforts to simplify, to declutter her house, and focus on the things she really wants to accomplish. I can identify with this to some extent, as I'm constantly trying to simplify and declutter. Really, who isn't these days? Love it or hate it, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, which I have not yet read but have moved all the way up to no. 150 on the waiting list at the library, has struck a chord with many the American consumer, me included.

In the latest episode of her podcast and on a recent blog post, Helen Stewart announced the Curious Handmade Wardrobe Challenge and I plan to participate if I can. I like that she's giving it three months, which is a nice leisurely time frame; August is for planning, while September and October are for making and wearing. Fall is the perfect time to wear those hand knits, after all, and two months is [theoretically] plenty of time to screw up a bunch of sewing projects before you finally get something right. Or is that just me?

There are a few things preventing me from just jumping right in, mostly having to do with the logistics of my life right now. The new semester/school year starts up in a couple weeks, so I'll be busy with various work obligations as usual, and then there's the Big Renovation scheduled to start around the same time. While my sewing space isn't part of the remodeling, everything from the kitchen and Anya's room will have to be relocated for several weeks, and given how small the house is to begin with, I have a feeling this will encroach upon that space.

There's also the fact that a lot of times I suck at sewing. I really do. I made two Beatrix tops last month. The second one definitely turned out better than the first, and I might actually be confident enough about it to wear in public.

The kids and I made several successful pairs of shorts and even a t-shirt for Daniel. This boosted my confidence somewhat.

So I tried making a shirt for Anya using the same pattern (Flashback Skinny Tee from Made-by-Rae) in her size...

...and my confidence faltered when she tried it on and immediately two seams snapped. I learned the stubborn hard way from extreme ignorance experience from making Daniel's t-shirt that I can have stretch thread in the bobbin only, and regular thread on top. What worked for one shirt did not work for the other. I know I chose the right size, and now, after some helpful comments from others on Instagram, I'm pretty sure fabric choice was largely the reason it didn't work. I used a couple of Stuart's old t-shirts, which are knit jersey that is not particularly stretchy.

Old t-shirt fabric isn't something to cry in your milk over, and since all I'd really lost was about an hour of my time, this evening I decided to chalk it all up to a learning experience and try again. This time I cut the pieces out of a stretchier fabric I got on clearance (I think at Hancock's, nothing special) with the specific intent of learning to sew better with knits. It's cheap fabric, not even cotton I bet (it stuck to the iron), but there is a lot of it to hack up and practice my skillz.

I sewed a bunch of practice seams and gave them all a good yank to mimic the stress a sleeve seam would undergo when the wearer in question is an active second grader. Every single one snapped. I tried different stitch lengths, different thread, nothing worked. I'm at a loss here. It's not my machine (I have a nice one). There are plenty of sewists in blogland who sew simple clothes on regular machines with knit fabric, but success is eluding me on this one. So many variables here: fabric choice, thread choice, stitch length, maybe I just yanked too hard, or maybe it just wasn't meant to be.

I should take a class or some lessons - I can take a free sewing lesson from the dealer where I got my machine - but the timing isn't great with everything happening in a few weeks. I know there are good online classes out there. I prefer in-person teaching and learning situations, but given how hard that can be to arrange, maybe I could check it out on Craftsy or Creative Bug or something. Anyone out there have recommendations for rookies at sewing with knits?

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Travel knitting

I'm on the road with my kids. We drove up to New England to visit my brother and SIL and camped all along the way. It's been fun and look! I've even gotten a tiny bit of knitting in:

Sunday, July 19, 2015

sewing with kids: sunny day shorts and flashback skinny tee

My sewing mojo came back this summer, apparently. I strongly suspect it has something to do with the combination of me not really working (for pay) in the summer and my kids being old enough to let me get things accomplished while we're home. Sure, there are interruptions for snacks and card games and trips to the pool, but there have also been several mornings where they are content to read for an hour or so while I work on a project. I wasn't sure if this day would ever come, but it has.

Of course, after I use the machine for a little while, they get curious and want to use it too. There aren't simple requests for me to make them things, either. No, no. They want to do it themselves. This goes for both kids, mind you. And since I've learned to embrace these fleeting moments of creative interest as they come, I do pretty much drop everything and go with it - even if that means spending my entire Saturday sewing shorts in crazy colors instead of making something for myself.

Case in point: in the last week, Daniel and Anya and I have collectively made four pairs of Sunny Day Shorts, including three from start to finish since Friday. It's a free pattern from Oliver&S and it's a good one. (Let's not talk about how many not free patterns I have from that company that I have yet to make, a few of which only go up to size 8 so Anya will grow out of them lickety split...) 

It's too funny to see them choose fabric. They prefer knits, obviously since knits are comfy, but my stash of knit fabrics is really, really small. When this whole project started I had maybe five different pieces, including some leftovers from projects past and a couple cuts I got at a yard sale for a buck apiece. I also have two yards of zebra print (WHY??) that nobody wanted (imagine!). These kids, they love contrast. Bright blue shorts with a black waistband and yellow thread, please. 

Don't you just love those little knees??

How about another pair with red in the back, yellow in the front, and a green waistband? Coming right up!

The kids want to do a lot of the work themselves. I trace the pattern right on the fabric, piece by piece, and they cut it out. Would it be more accurate if I cut it out for them? Absolutely, but that would take out all the fun. Of course, they love using the machine, too. After a couple disastrous seams with Anya at the helm, I figured out that it works best if I take a chalk marker or fabric pen (actually, I prefer to use Frixion) and mark the seam so they can follow the line as they feed it through the machine. It's time-consuming, but again, it works and they're learning.

I also do all of the pinning and pressing (for obvious safety reasons), and I take care of the tricky parts, like feeding elastic through the casing and sewing up the waistband. But the rest, they can do.

This morning, Daniel asked if we could make him a t-shirt. That is a step up, but I have a pattern already (Flashback Skinny Tee from Made By Rae) so we went for it. This time, I did the cutting out (so much faster, so much more accurate now that I've figured out how to do it with a rotary cutter) but Daniel still wanted to do all the sewing.

Because it's a fitted tee that will endure more tugging than a pair of shorts, I wanted to try using stretch thread. I have Maxi-Lock stretch thread in a bunch of colors that I ordered a while back on recommendation from the Made-by-Rae blog. At the time I was probably being way too ambitious with my intentions of sewing knits, and sure enough, when I tried sewing with it, I ended up with a tangled mess. Stretch thread is tricky stuff. I put it all away in frustration. Fast forward a year or more and I found myself with a 9yo kid wanting to sew, a better machine...and the same problem. The bobbin stitches were all fine, but as for the top thread? Some stitches looked great, and some look like the thread was in the losing end of a fight with a giant strip of Velcro. It looked terrible.

More frustration. I took a little break, then did an online search. There's not a lot out there about sewing with stretch thread, but if you read through the comments on that MBR blog post linked above, there are some helpful suggestions (and several other people with the same problem, which was oddly reassuring). I went with the one where you leave the stretch thread in the bobbin but use regular sewing thread on top and lengthen the stitch to 3.0. It worked! I did a little happy dance.

Once we figured that out, Daniel's t-shirt was finished in no time. Some of the seams using all stretch thread look shitty on the inside, but they'll hold. He did the shoulder and side seams, and the bottom hem. I sewed the sleeve caps, hemmed the sleeves, and stitched on the neckband, along with topstitching it with a twin needle. By the way, hemming and topstitching with a twin needle is my new favorite trick for making things look polished.

As you can see, Daniel is pretty happy with his new t-shirt. He'll also be growing out of it next week, though, you think?

Tomorrow we leave for a road trip. I'm driving my kids up to Boston to see my brother and SIL. We're camping along the way and it's going to be a big adventure. Stuart will fly out next weekend to visit all of us, but he isn't coming along for the driving and camping part. Wish me luck! When I come back, I'll have more stuff to show you: a shawl, another Beatrix top, and socks. Oh my!

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Finished! Beatrix top

My Beatrix top is finished! Despite all the problems I created for myself (as detailed on the last post), I really am pleased with how this turned out. I don't remember when I last finished sewing a project for myself that I will actually end up wearing, so that's a win for sure. 

Last evening I asked Stuart to take a few pictures with the nice camera so we ducked out to the back yard for that. You can see Daniel climbing around in the background.

Buttonband is the reverse side of this fabric. Nifty, eh?

The plaids DO NOT MATCH.

Sewing this top has restored, at least partially, my confidence in sewing garments. Most reassuringly, it fits me really well, and I know I can go ahead with another one without making adjustments for fit. I know not to deviate from the instructions and that it's worth spending the time hand-basting the tricky parts, like the set-in sleeve and curved hem, before machine stitching.

I want to cut out another Beatrix top as soon as I pick out the fabric from my stash for it. Maybe I will even do that tonight.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Beatrix: a learning experience

You know what? I'm ready for my garment sewing projects to stop being "learning experiences" and start being just plain successful. 

I'm 97% done with my Beatrix top, and while there are a lot of good things about it, there are a lot of ways I goofed up, too. 

I'll say here that all of the issues are MINE. Rae Hoekstra's pattern and instructions are excellent. I should have followed them more closely. 

First things first: fabric choice. I had a big piece of reversible double gauze I bought on clearance at Gayfeather Fabrics (no up-to-date website to link to, I'm afraid) this spring. It's purple, and on one side is a large-scale plaid with a smaller scale plaid on the other side. If you know me and my tastes, you'll understand when I say I wasn't afraid to use it to try out a pattern for the first time. Purple is not a color I'm drawn to, and while I like plaids in theory, the one plaid shirt I own my husband says makes me look like a farmer. 

If you've ever sewed anything using plaid before, you'll know how important it is to match the plaids. When I cut out the pieces, I was absolutely meticulous about matching the plaid lines...and then I promptly changed my mind about which side of the fabric I actually wanted to face out, and it wasn't until I had sewed the main pieces together that I realized the large plaid pattern doesn't match AT ALL. Oh well. Too late now.

This was my first time using double gauze, and despite all the raving about it I've read online, I found it difficult to work with. Sure it's soft and drapy and feels lovely, but this stuff slides around so much that I was anxious about tracing the pattern accurately. Sewing it felt like trying to stitch two pieces of cotton candy together; at one point my machine (which is a very nice Pfaff just over a year old that was serviced only last month) kept trying to chew up the fabric in the throat plate. Also, the double gauze will fray if you so much as breath on it.

Because of the loose weave and delicate nature of the fabric, it stretches out of shape rather easily. I was distressed to find that even after stay-stitching around the neckline (as per instructions, Rae knows what she's doing, yo), my facing pieces Did Not Fit and were coming up short. I ended up stitching a line of basting around the neck so I could more or less gather it back into shape before hand-basting the neck facing on.

Actually, I did a lot of hand-basting: the facing, the sleeve caps, the can't go wrong when you stitch things securely into place by hand before sending them through the machine, I say. This is especially true when your fabric is so delicate that it's too risky to rip and redo any seams.

Let's recap here: new to me pattern, unfamiliar fabric type, matching plaids...and to add to my problems, I decided to do the button band facings a little bit differently than the instructions state. You see, since the fabric is reversible, I thought, "Hey, wouldn't it be clever to do the facings inside out to showcase the different plaid on the button bands?"

This was all fine and good until I realized I had a bunch of raw edges that would not have been an issue had I paid more attention. In the end, I cut some pieces of grosgrain ribbon to cover the raw edges at the top of the facings (if you look closely at the picture below, you can see that).

The hem was an issue as well. I didn't do the hem edge of the facing right, for one thing (WAY TO FOLLOW INSTRUCTIONS, SUZE) and then this *#&$ing fabric frays so easily I couldn't turn it under twice on those curves, so I used a stabilizing tape meant for using on knits, hand-basted the whole thing, then stitched it with a twin needle on the machine. It looks pretty crappy from the wrong side but okay from the right side.

I'm learning. It's okay. Right?

Despite all the issues I've outlined here in this post, I think this may be a successful top. My main worry at this point is that this won't hold up beyond one or two delicate laundry cycles, which sort of defeats the purpose of rejecting fast fashion, right? Anyway, as far as I can tell, the fit is spot on, and since proper fit is one of the biggest hurdles of handmade clothes, that's definitely a win. I'll be able to share more about that once I sew the buttons and buttonholes and wear it for real (rather than the held-together bathroom selfie I posted on IG a few nights ago!) I want to make another Beatrix top following the finishing detail instructions more carefully, certainly not in plaid!