Yes, I Sew

I think folks look at me weirdly when they find out I made the clothes I have on. Usually my husband is proud to tell them. If they know much about sewing, I suspect they’re scrutinizing my clothes looking for mistakes. Possibly they recall Home Economics classes with dread and distain. Or else they wonder why I can’t afford store-bought clothes. Which is why I initially learned to sew. And why my mother sewed all my clothes until I took over. When I was in my early teens, she told me that I was “on my own” for sewing. She’d buy me the fabric, but after that it was up to me. I had four younger siblings that she had to sew for.

At about the age of 11 or 12, my youngest sister was totally shocked to discover that one could actually purchase already-made clothes at the store. Before that she’d assumed that everyone sewed. No, we didn’t live in the deep woods nor were my folks survivalists. Dad worked at IBM, we went to Mass every Sunday, and lived in the suburbs of major cities – Baltimore, Trenton, Youngstown, Pittsburg, finally ending up in Denver through my high school and college years.

So I’m not sure what people think about a person who enjoys sewing. Since my favorite types of fabric are seldom inexpensive, I’m sure I spend more on my wardrobe than if I bought them. This certainly holds true if I purchased similar quality in fabric, linings, style, buttons, and fit at a department or specialty store. If I even could.

How can I describe in one or two sentences the thrill of touching and playing with great silks, wools, cottons, and linens. About the sensitive creativity required to match the fabric to a garment pattern so they make a happy marriage. About the challenge of cutting out and sewing a garment so it fits well. How  I carefully select buttons and trims. How much thought goes into pairing blouses with slacks, and jackets with blouses, and shoes, and handbag and jewelry. How delightful it is to create a garment that perfectly compliments what I already own.

For example, I made a plain short-sleeved black silk crepe blouse styled like a t-shirt that goes with all of my slacks and jackets. And jeans.

How can I explain the joy of finding or creating the perfect t-shirt or slacks pattern that fits like a dream and that I can wear season after season? I don’t think I can say all this in a quick sentence. So instead I say that I “LOVE” to sew. It makes me happy. Then I change the subject.

I still haven’t forgiven myself for giving away all of my Yves Saint Laurent and Christian Dior, and Claude Montana, and Christian Aujard Vogue sewing patterns about 20 years ago?.I yearn for them. They looked great. They had style. Sure, today I’d need to modify some of the big shoulder pad looks, but those clothes were amazing.

Recently I’ve been cruising Etsy, Amazon.com, and eBay looking for size 14 Vogue Paris Original patterns, and Vogue American Designers. I find them once in a while. I’m building a new collection. I sew them. They look fabulous today, in 2014. So if you have any old patterns, let me know. I’m on the market and still trying to assuage my guilt for giving them away in the first place.

Summer Style – Sew McCall’s 6400

Summer's best look

Summer’s best look

When I first saw this asymmetrical top I knew I was destined to sew it for summer patio dinners that called for more than a t-shirt or camisole, yet were still casual. McCall’s pattern 6400 has all of 6 seams, and is very easy to fit and sew. I am wearing a size Medium, which fits size 12 to 14 in standard pattern sizing. It’s confusing to me, too. I wear a size 4-6 in ready-to-wear, making it essential to carefully read the measurements on the pattern envelope before cutting into the fabric.

I purchased this creamy polyester fabric last summer at Vogue Fabrics in Chicago. While I used to get push-back at home about my fabric stash, turns out it was simply a misunderstanding. My husband has come around to understanding the importance of the STASH. I’d never have found this creamy off-white/yellow novelty fabric or even a similar fabric at one of the 3 fabric stores here in Utah. And certainly not when I was looking for it. Finding the perfect fabric is a serendipity sort of experience. One needs to be in “the Zone” just as a sports superstar is in the zone when they perform seemingly super-human feats.

Finding the “right” fabric requires vigilance, practice, and planning. And for most of us, it requires out-of-town trips. I know this is true because when I lived in Denver, I often found the best fabrics in Aspen, Boulder, or San Francisco. That is once Wonder Fabrics closed it’s doors many years ago. Today I actually go to Denver for fabrics. Allyn’s just north of Cherry Creek is amazing.

My school, the Fashion Institute at Salt Lake Community College, offers annual field trips to LA to shop for fabric. Forget about taking an extra suitcase. Instead take stick-on address labels. Ask the shop to ship home your stash buys. Since you won’t be paying tax on out-of-state purchases, but will be paying shipping, the costs balance each other out.

I’d been wondering for months how I was going to sew this fabric. I’d look at it every month or so. Wondering. When I saw this pattern, I knew it had found a mate. The 3/8-inch cross grain “tucks” show off the asymmetry of the design. The short sleeve sets the stage for a great statement bracelet or ring. The fabric is a bit translucent, and looks best with light-colored slacks and a white or cream camisole. Dark ones would interfere with the visual impact of the top.

So far I’ve worn it for at home entertaining, dinner on the patio, evenings of bridge. The top isn’t au courant or highly fashionable, which is great. That means it will look interesting and timely for many summer seasons to come.

 

 

The Perfect T-Shirt – Vogue Pattern 8536

the perfect t-shirtI finally found it, then sewed it. And now I love it. “It” is the perfect t-shirt. Here’s why:

  • It has a close fit and shows off curves. But it’s not so tight that I feel uncomfortable or showy.
  • It has 1 1/2 inch slits on the side hems that adds a bit of interest at the hips.
  • The short sleeves are easy for summer. The pattern offers several variations for a v-neck and a surplice neck, as well as sleeveless, wrist ,and bracelet-length sleeves.
  • It has charm and is cut with a bit of attitude. It’s feminine.
  • The neckline can easily work with a choker, a pendant necklace, or a strand of beads.
  • It pairs well with white jeans, as in my picture, or a casual skirt, shorts, or capri-length pants for summer.

While the perfect t-shirt can and should stand alone as a favorite go-to item, the secret to a GREAT T-SHIRT LOOK is in the styling. Think carefully about how to wear each garment you sew. Here’s are the style factors I considered when planning the garment, and then wearing it:

  • As I chose the fabric, I knew a poly knit would be OK for summer evenings. I would have chosen a cotton or rayon knit if I had planned to wear the t-shirt for active all-day wear. The fabric is from Vogue Fabrics in Chicago.
  • When I selected the print, I asked myself these 3 questions: Is it dramatic? Is it animated? Does the color fit with my profile? Many years ago I worked with Personal Style Counselors in the California Bay area to create my personal color palette and to advise me on my personal fashion style. I am a dramatic/classic type with animation. This print works very well. (Personal Style Counselors is still doing color profiles and style coaching. You can check them out at http://www.pscjohnkitchener.com/an_index.html.)
  • Pairing it with white jeans gives a casual dinner alfresco feel to the t-shirt.
  • I added a pearl and chain link necklace and mabe pearl and gold earrings because  the pearls play up my secondary classic type but the necklace has a bit of a dramatic edge as the pearls are about 1″ long and irregularly shaped and the chain links are long and irregularly shaped. Pearls feel cooling to me in middle of a hot summer.
  • I wore – which you can’t see – aqua Sanita clog sandals with a cut-out pattern.

The t-shirt pattern will work well in a solid color cotton knit and other interesting prints for summer. I think it will pair well with blue jeans, too. And look good under a jean-type jacket or a black linen blazer for cooler evenings.

I plan to sew the t-shirt pattern with longer sleeves when the weather cools off.

 

 

The Bernina Sewing Machine – the no-more-tears approach

BerninaYes, I LOVE this machine. The decision to purchase it was tough. I wanted to find a way to justify the cost, but I couldn’t. Instead I purchased it based on emotions and the “no more tears” policy. My husband always suggests this approach when I purchase fabric. He recommends I purchase anywhere from 1/4 to 1/2 to 1 yard more than I think I need to eliminate tears when I get home. His suggestion seems extravagant. But I’ve purchased fabric out-of-town, preshrunk it when I got home, and the cotton shrunk so much that I didn’t have enough fabric to sew up the pattern I purchased it for. I preshrink everything except delicate silks. Again I consider this the “no more tears” approach.

Yes, I even preshrink wool by first zigzagging the cut edges, then putting it into the dryer with a bath towel that has been wet and firmly wrung out. Set the dryer on high for 20-30 minutes. Yes, this is super scary to do. If your wool is very loosely woven or has a very high nap, take a pass right to the dry cleaner so he can steam shrink it. Again, this is the “no-more-tears” approach.

Sewing is easier. I traded in my 6-month old Janome. It just couldn’t make beautiful buttonholes. And it couldn’t sew fine silk, rayon or poly. The Bernina does this with ease. I kept my old Kenmore (circa 1977) but will likely sell it or give it away soon.

I was concerned that a Bernina cost tens of thousands of dollars. It didn’t. I think I paid a bit more than $2000. And now, after 4 months of using it almost daily, it was an investment, not an expense. It sews everything better. It does so elegantly, with no tears. The special presser feet for edging and zippers and blind hemming and edge stitching make a big difference in the quality of my efforts.

The Bernina elicits emotions that I find odd. I’m happier when I sew. I have more confidence that I won’t need to wrestle with stitch quality or thread jams. Even winding a bobbin is easier because the winder has its own motor and doesn’t use the stitching motor.

I love that it offers me a reliable “no-more-tears” experience.

Fabric Store Review – JoAnns in Draper, Utah

Before you turn up your nose at this store, check out my finds: a chocolate brown wool crepe on the closeout table for $7/yd. I bought all 4+ yards of it for a pants suit. A fuchsia/plum silk shantung as an underlining for a fuchsia/plus tweed jacket. Silk is perfect for lining fabric. With my JoAnns app coupon on my iPhone, the effective price was $10/yd.  A linen printed with butterflies for a summer shirt.

Admittedly, I don’t find these bargains often, but I’m thrilled when I do. I’m a regular at JoAnns for notions: zippers, thread, interfacings, pins, buttons, and all the trimmings. It only takes a couple minutes to cruise the markdown table for a “find.”.

And, the sales clerks often will give me a cardboard roll on which to roll and store my silks. Don’t store them folded. It encourages the fabric to split and the threads to separate.

Quality: 3 stars. They carry lots of polyesters, fleece, and quilting cottons, so you won’t often find high-quality fabrics. But they do carry them.

Service: 2 star. Don’t count on getting sewing advice here. The sales clerks know how to measure yardage and stock shelves. If there’ a long line at the cutting table, get your ticket and number before you head for the fabrics. You’ll save time standing in line.

Online: They have an online store, but I’ve never used it.

Price: Low prices. Great coupons. Their pattern sales are a bargain.

 

Fabric Store Review – Allyn’s in Denver

embroidered silks at Allyn's IMG_0762Here is where I found the lace and pale blue fabric roses for my wedding hat and dress in 1972. Lots has changed in this shop – lots has remained the same. It’s still 5 blocks from my old house just north of Cherry Creek on 6th avenue. The once tiny shop has taken over the adjoining dry cleaner space and it’s now bulging with amazing laces, silks, beaded fabrics, feathered fabrics, cashmeres, trims, trims and yes, more trims. They have an entire room devoted to white and cream imported lace for wedding apparel.

I found thick and wide dark red/maroon lace to trim a Chanel-type jacket, dark purple stretch lace for a slinky T-shirt, embroidered sheer purple silk for an overskirt or light blouse to wear with a camisole. The selection and eye-candy appeal is worth a trip to Denver. Being there is like being at a fine fabric archive or museum. Only, the good news is that you can purchase what’s on display.

Quality: 6 stars. Nothing here is junky or looks cheap.

Service: 5 stars. The service folks sew, know their fabric, and seem proud to work here.

Online: Rumors are they will eventually sell online.

Price: Not as high as it could be. The older stock doesn’t seem to have been marked up, so you can find deals here. They have tons of inventory.

 

 

Fabric Store Review – Mood Fabrics – New York City

At first my eyes and brain couldn’t accommodate the vast selection of – well, of everything. Seemingly thousands of rolls of silk were piled 5 and 10 deep on tables and racks. They held prints, polka dots, chiffons, charmeuse, shantungs, crepe de chine. For blouse and shirts, I purchased a coral crepe de chine scattered with small white dots, an apple green silk poplin with black polka dots and a wide solid-green border which could be great for collar and cuffs, and a crepe de chine splattered with bright pastels.

Among the vast choices for men’s tweeds Pat found the perfect one for a sport coat ($20.00/yd.) I’ll sew, he’ll wear. Mood had an OK selection of buttons – we found leather ones for the coat.

I found a fuchsia/plum novelty Chanel-type tweed for a jacket which I’m sewing in Advanced Sewing at SLCC – Salt Lake Community College in the next couple weeks. I’ll probably bond the skittish loosely woven fabric to a very thin knit interfacing and then use a silk shantung interlining, especially if I want to do bound button holes. It was $50.00/yard – pricey, but a one-of-a-kind.

Quality: 5-star. Everything was eye-candy to a person who loves fabric. I didn’t see any “dud” fabrics.

Service: 4-star. I felt a bit rushed, but I WAS in New York City. Joe, my sales person was highly knowledgeable and energetic. He knew how to figure yardage, which is a blessing for me when shopping out of town.

Online: available, but I haven’t used it.

Price: Some fabrics are low – Pat’s tweed, some are high like my fuchsia/plum tweed.

Fabric Store Review – Tissu in Salt Lake City

Teresa, the owner has a knack for selecting fabrics. Her shop has fabulous prints and textures in natural fibers – silks, wools, linens, rayon and a couple polys. The mouthwatering choices are rare for this high-desert near high-mountain town. Teresa eschews the ordinary for the beautiful. I know you’ll find a wonderful fabric that’s worth your sewing time. Teresa knows how to sew and how to figure yardage. She carries wonderful buttons and couture notions, such as hair canvas and shoulder pads that aren’t made with poly foam.

I’ve purchased an unusual coat-weight multi-colored raw silk tweed for a Chanel-type jacket, turquoise coin-size polka dots on a cream background in linen and silk for capris, a fine silk with swirling pastel colors for a summer dressy dress, and a Chanel-type blue/pink/red tweed for a super warm jacket. Plus a thick dark red wool melton for a winter coat.

Quality of fabric: 4 stars.  Some of the fabrics are 5 star, but many are a bit lower quality.

Service: 5 Star. Teresa has a great eye and can offer suggestions for fitting issues, fabric coordination, and button selection.

Online store: not available. Visit in person.

Price: Not rock bottom prices, but fair and lower than the same fabric would be elsewhere.

Special features: The bridal and evening-wear selection is fabulous. Teresa loves lace and beading so visit if you need a really special dress.

 

Fabric Store Reviews – Britex in San Francisco

Imagine 4 floors of luscious fabrics right off Union Square between Geary and Maiden Lane in San Francisco. It’s been my favorite store since the 1970′s. The first floor holds internationally-sourced silks and woolens. The ceiling is so high and the stacks of wool are so tall, that the sales personnel climb library-style rolling ladders to reach them. The second floor is cottons and linens and casual fabrics, the third offers an extraordinary selection of buttons and notions, the fourth is totally remnants.

Quality of fabrics: 5 stars. Their selection is high-end, unique and deep. Beware the remnant floor – the prices are lower, but many of the pieces are flawed or soiled, but not all.

Service. 5 stars. Superb. They’ll ship my purchases to my home and the fabric arrivse about the same time I return. The sales staff knows how to sew and how to figure yardage. If you need to match a color or coordinate a fabric, they’ll be happy to send you swatches.

Online store: I haven’t used this as I prefer to talk with a salesperson directly and have them send swatches. The online selection is paltry compared to what’s in the store.

Price: Since you’ll be buying silks, woolens, and linens, expect to pay for quality.

This store is a must-visit. I am totally thrilled every time I walk in the door. In the 70′s, I’d travel to Britex once a year and buy enough fabric to last until my next visit.

 

Buying Fabric for Sewing

Chanel-type tweed, green and black dot silk poplin, multi-colored silk crepe, coral dotted silk crepe from Mood Fabrics, NYC

Chanel-type tweed, green and black dot silk poplin, multi-colored silk crepe, coral dotted silk crepe from Mood Fabrics, NYC

Choosing fabric is not so easy. It’s challenging. It’s fun. And it can be exasperating if a fabric store offers so-so, ho-hum, or tedious fabrics.

For me, a fabulous fabric needs to speak to my soul and my creativity. It needs to be a full-body pleaser.

Whether it’s a silk crepe-backed satin, a heavy wool, or a crisp cotton poplin, it needs to give me a pleasing sensuous experience. I need to like how it looks, how it drapes, how it feels, how it smells. Serviceable fabrics that act inelegant aren’t for me. Not any longer. Yes, I may need to hand wash my favorite fabrics, iron them, or send them to the dry cleaner but it’s worth it because of the creativity that great fabrics evoke from my inner being. It’s as if the fabric whispers longingly to my hungry creative self. And when I hear the siren call, out comes my credit card, and I become the owner of a couple to several yards of silk, wool, cotton, or linen.

Being the owner gives me responsibilities. Gives me work assignments. The fabric makes demands. It wants to be sewn. It wants to become a work of beauty, a work of art. It wants to be worn and shown off. It wants to be admired.

I take this responsibility seriously. I dream about how to style and design the perfect garment for the fabric. A dress? Perhaps for an upcoming event or evening out. A blouse or shirt? I wear them often. Pants, slacks? Loose or tight? A skirt? Maybe. A jacket? Oh, I love jackets, and coats, too. Should it have a pointed collar, long sleeves, cuffs or not? Will the fabric be best for winter chills or sultry summer days? Is it a 3-season fabric?

Will the garment have buttons, trims, pockets? Fabrics take their accouterments seriously. The wrong ones will ruin their beauty. My fabrics prefer a “je ne sais quoi” kind of appeal. They want to appear beguiling and effortless.

Each fabric store has a vibe. I like the scattered junky ones in which I can find amazing buys and natural fibers that may have been forgotten or passed over for years. The prim styores that are too orderly scare me away. I know they keep elaborate inventory controls so they turn their stock frequently; from experience I know that the buyer buys only what will sell best and fastest, most likely ignoring the gorgeous fabrics that whisper to the heart and soul of the artist sewer.

Out-of-town fabric stores demand exploration. I visit the best as I travel, usually taking a morning off from sightseeing to tour the fabrics. In my next posts, I’ll tell you about fabric shops in New York City, Dallas, Chicago, San Francisco, Denver, Bursa (in Turkey), and my home town of Salt Lake City.