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Category: Sewing Inspiration

Sheer Shirtwaist Dress: Preparation

August 16th, 2012 — 11:34am

Not too long ago (when I was doing the sewing for the new book), I went on…well, a binge.  A fabric binge.  I refuse to apologize for that, actually, because some of the best fabric purchases I have made have been tucked in amongst other things–you know, like when you’re buying a bunch of fabric, and a piece that you might not have gotten otherwise suddenly gets added to the cart because your resolve has weakened or because the price was too good to pass up, and you get it home and realize it was TOTALLY the best thing you bought that day.  You know, like that.

Well, this linen was one of those:

It is the dreamiest shade of lilac.  It is 100% linen but with metallic threads running through it.  And as if all that wasn’t enough, it’s also a woven windowpane plaid!  LOOOOOVE.  It’s drapey, believe it or not, and has a soft hand with lots of movement and a nice weight.  I got three yards, no idea what I would do with it, but loved the color and put it in my cart, which then filled up to the point that I didn’t edit this piece out, and BOY am I glad I didn’t.

I got it home and looked at it and re-folded it and wondered about it.  Each time I’d go “shopping” in my shelves for fabric for a new project, I’d peek in at this one and wonder what it would be.  Then one evening, lying in bed, waiting to fall asleep, I knew: a shirtdress.  A smart little 1950s-era collared shirtdress, maybe with a touch of safari flair.  The problem is, this fabric is pretty sheer:

And I don’t know if any of you have noticed, but slips are getting more and more rare these days–it’s not like in the actual 1950s when you could get one at the corner drugstore.

And that’s when this idea was born: a semi-sheer shirtwaist with an underdress.  I’m pretty excited, I’m not going to lie.  I like the idea of NOT lining this fabric, and letting its sheer-ness remain, but being able to wear it in polite company with a sweet little batiste underdress to maintain my modesty.  I’m planning to work through it gradually, around and about other projects, and share details with you as I go along: the pattern selection and adjustments, the drafting of the underdress, the construction to account for all the sheer-osity, and then a final reveal.

I love projects that combine the traditional with the unexpected, and I think the plaid-ness of this fabric combined with the sheer-ness of it does just that.  Looking forward to having more details to show you next week as I begin the construction!

1 comment » | Clothing for Her, fabric, Sewing Inspiration

Sewing Buddy Challenge WINNERS, plus Challenge #2!

July 5th, 2012 — 9:40pm

In 2012, there are over 100 pair of Sewing Buddies, and they have been going like gangbusters since the spring!  These folks are virtual pen pals, sharing their sewing skillz and inspiration with one another, sometimes learning and sometimes teaching, and seriously, making me so excited to see how just the simple act of sewing can take us beyond geographic boundaries and age and even style, bring people together who otherwise might never get to know one another, and make them fast friends.

In April, I set a challenge for our Sewing Buddies, and they totally stepped up to the plate with some really awesome sewn projects.  The challenge asked each pair of Buddies to create two final stitched pieces: one for a male and one for a female.  Those were the only guidelines–they could have been boy/girl gifts or he/she sets, anything so long as both Buddies did some of the sewing and the final projects were he/she themed.

I loved, loved, loved seeing the photos come through on Flickr, and was genuinely inspired by the ways that the challenge was interpreted–how cool to think that most of these Buddies have never met in person, and are using the World Wide Internet Web to communicate and plan and execute these projects!!  In the end, though, there can only be one.  Winner, that is.

Announcing: the Sewing Buddy Challenge #1 WINNERS!

This was such an incredibly hard decision–I loved something about every one of the entries, for real.  In the end, though, it was a question of which projects did the best job of embracing the challenge and making a real PAIR of projects, showcasing the skill and work-togetherness of the Buddies.  I did, however, decide to give prizes for first, second and third place, so I could brag on more of you Buddies out there!

THIRD PLACE WINNERS:  Nicole and Jennie with their Adventure Bags!

These are so, so cute and show not just how the ladies came up with projects that fit the theme, but also worked together to choose fabrics and style their sewing.  Great job!  Both of you will receive a fat quarter bundle of fabrics (pot luck, my choice) delivered right to your door!

SECOND PLACE WINNERS:  Elisabeth and Rebekah with their dolls!

The sewing on these is so lovely, the detailing so sweet, and the way these Buddies planned out the dolls to look as though they could be hanging out together is just awesome.  I adore these two!  Congrats, ladies!  You’ll both receive a half-yard bundle of fabrics (pot luck, my choice), delivered right to your door!

FIRST PLACE WINNERS:  Penny and Kristy with their Camping Outfits!

These two take the cake–they’re just so much fun!  These Buddies used great co-ordinating fabrics, chose complementary pattern styles, and really thought through what project they could sew that would embrace the whole theme.  Everyone who has seen them has ooohed and aaahed over them, and deservedly so.  I’m so pleased you’re both winners!  You’ll both receive a $30 gift certificate to the shop, to use as you please!

HONORABLE MENTIONS:  There were so many really fabulous projects that I can’t resist showcasing some honorable mentions:

These giraffe quilts are darling, and make great use of the theme–they’re the same pattern, but use their variation in fabric to make them boy/girl friendly.

These HST pillows also use the same design and mix things up with the colors and prints they’ve chosen–I love these!

I adore these outfits (and the acorn fabric that they’re made with!), and would totally be proud to send my children out of the house wearing these.  Aren’t they crazy detailed and super cute?  Love!

The car seat quilts here are delicious–I love that they’re made with the same fabric collection, but that they’re matching without being too matchy-matchy, and that these Buddies worked totally bi-coastally!

Spectacular work, all you Buddies.  I am having SO much fun seeing what you all have been up to, and LOVING the motivation that these challenges are providing.  I can’t get over how quickly so many of you have gotten to be friends over the Interwebs, and how cool the sewing is that’s springing from that!  And so…

Sewing Buddy Challenge #2

The next big announcement: the SECOND Sewing Buddy Challenge!  This time, we’re focusing on COLOR as our theme.  Sewing Buddies, your task–should you choose to accept it–is to create two projects that coordinate or reference one another through the use of color.  I’m leaving that pretty open for how you’d like to interpret it–you can make two projects using the same color palette; make two projects where one piece is in a color that complements the other piece (say, one of you makes a blouse that’s orange and the other makes a skirt that’s green, because those colors are opposite one another on the color wheel); make the same project using different colors on each one, but in a planned manner to accentuate the pattern or design; or create a color-based theme that runs between two sewn items.  I’m leaving the specifics up to your very creative Sewing Buddy minds, but the theme of the challenge is COLOR.

Get to it, Buddies!  Challenge #2 opens today, and the deadline to submit entries is September 20, 2012.  Winners will be announced on or around October 1, along with the final 2012 Sewing Buddy Challenge!  Best wishes to all of you!*

*Non-Sewing Buddies are always welcome to participate!  Just make your project using the theme and add it to the Sewing Buddy Flickr group–with a note saying “just for fun.”  We’ll all be inspired by what you’ve created, and will hope that you’ll dive in and get a Buddy next year!

6 comments » | Sewing Buddy, Sewing Contests & Competitions, Sewing Inspiration

Sewing Buddy Challenge #1

June 15th, 2012 — 4:03pm

Earlier this year, I matched up hundreds of happy folk with one another as Sewing Buddies, and then challenged them to complete a sewing project that would take BOTH of them to win!  Today was meant to be the deadline to submit photos to Flickr for the project, but I have EXTENDED the deadline through midnight on Monday, June 18, 2012.  Sewing Buddies, to enter, simply upload photos to the Sewing Buddy Flickr pool and label them Sewing Buddy Challenge #1.  I’ll be announcing winners next week!  This thing is still wide open, y’all, so if you and your Buddy thought you were out of time, you’re still in it!

In the meantime, check out some of the projects that have been submitted already:

Note:  Don’t have a Buddy?  You can still play along!  Upload your project photos according to the guidelines.  Please note, non-Buddies aren’t eligible for prizes, but I’d love to showcase your sewing!

6 comments » | Clothing for Kids, Sewing Buddy, Sewing Contests & Competitions, Sewing Inspiration

Taking Back Seamstress

June 14th, 2012 — 1:03pm

Last January, I had a conversation about the word “seamstress.”  I was lucky enough to be in Palm Springs at the Heather Ross Workshop, and even luckier to be hanging out one evening after the excitement was dying down with Gretchen and a whole host of other seriously cool ladies.  And as we’re all talking, we keep stumbling over what word to use to describe one-who-sews.  We tried “sewer,” but acknowledged that it looks, on paper, a lot like where-the-sewage-goes rather than one-who-puts-thread-through-fabric.  We tried “sewist,” but agreed that it’s a little bit pretentious–just a smidge, not a ton, and it’s not really as descriptive as we’d like, because you have to define the word each time you use it, which can be tiresome.  We floated “stitcher,” which has been my default for a while, but it falls a little flat, in all honesty.

And then Gretchen asked me, “How do you feel about ‘seamstress’?”  My answer:  “Ambivalent.”

Here’s what I mean: when someone would come to our house back before we moved, and need to pass through my studio space to get someplace else, I would often get asked, “Oh!  Are you a seamstress?” in an excited tone.  And I would be offended.  Part of that was because I was busy manufacturing children’s clothing at the time, and thought of myself as something higher and fancier than a seamstress, and part of it was that the word itself conjured up images of sweatshops and piecework and wage labor–not creativity and design and innovation.  So I would get my feelings all hurt, and complain that someone had “referred to me as a seamstress–as if!” I saw myself as MORE than “just a seamstress,” with the smallness that term implied.

At the same time, though, the term seamstress has been used for many, many decades and quite simply describes what it is someone who sews is doing: putting in seams.  The term is effortless, because you don’t have to define the word for your listener or reader; it’s universal, because it can apply to someone who does any type of sewing (although I acknowledge that it is more commonly used for garment sewing rather than crafts or quilts); and it has the added benefit of all its historic connections and connotations, granting us nostalgia and a sense of continuity with the past. It’s not a mean word, and seamstress-ing doesn’t have to imply that the work done is too blue-collar or too low-tech or too small-potato to be artful and sophisticated and urbane. A seamstress can be all those things.

As the months have passed and I’ve ruminated periodically on the term, I’ve become more and more a fan of bringing seamstress back.  I don’t like the push-back I felt when someone would “accuse” me of being a seamstress, that sense that what I was doing was SO MUCH BETTER and so FAR ABOVE what someone who is “just a seamstress” would do.  I didn’t like the picture of myself that painted, the slight arrogance, the self-importance, the idea that I saw my own sewing as superior to the sewing women (and men) have been doing for far longer than I have been alive.  I realized that my rejection of the term was about my own pride, and that I’d made the mistake youth so often makes: believing that I’d discovered and/or invented this thing, and not that I’d inherited it, that it was a gift passed down rather than my own creation. Owning seamstress, making that word something to be inspired by again, requires that I re-examine why I disliked it to begin with, and what it is I want to be able to say about myself and my sewing. I say we shake off the negative connotations that the word seamstress has accumulated, we take it back and make it a term to be proud of, an identity to embrace, something we would be flattered to be called.

I am a seamstress.  In the same way that some who acts is an actress, someone who inherits is an heiress, someone who governs is a governess…  Wait, that can’t be right.  Could that be part of why so many of us push back on seamstressing?  Because when a dude does it, he’s a tailor, which is mighty and can defeat seven with one blow, but when a lady does it the task is diminished?  When a man is a governor, he’s in charge of an entire state and when a woman is a governess she’s in charge of someone else’s children? That’s a load, right there. How irritating.  How last-century.

I am a seamstress.  I am one who puts in a seam.  And the seams I sew bind not just fabric, but my family and my friends, ideas and desires, hope and dream and play.  What I do is nothing to be ashamed of, it is something to rest easy in and to feel grateful and proud to be gifted to do.  Let’s stop being sewers–seriously.  And while I appreciate the intent of sewist, I worry that for folks who don’t sew, it doesn’t give an accurate picture of what I’m hoping to accomplish at my machine.  I don’t feel like a stitcher, which somehow sounds like you’d have to wear piggy tails to fit the term.  I want to be a seamstress.

Join me?

Feel free to grab the button and be a seamstress, too.  I think that would be awesome.

<div align="center"><a href="" title="Whipstitch"><img src="" alt="Whipstitch" style="border:none;" /></a></div>

**Updated to ask: Of course, if we take back “seamstress,” what does that make our fellas who sew? Tailors? Seamers? Might need your help with answering that one, y’all…

Updated x2: A fabulous button for all you SEAMSTERS! (See comments thread for more details if you just got here, y’all.)

<div align="center"><a href="" title="Whipstitch"><img src="" alt="Whipstitch" style="border:none;" /></a></div>

33 comments » | Sewing Inspiration

Date Night Redux

May 11th, 2012 — 2:48pm

I find myself in the same boat I’ve been in before, and so I thought a flashback post might be in order. My husband and I are heading out to an event tonight that’s “black tie optional,” and I don’t have anything to wear. A fact that I realized yesterday, naturally. The dress in the post below doesn’t fit any longer, since I was nursing when I made it and the…ahem…bustline is a bit more generous than strictly required these days. So I’m spending part of my afternoon figuring this out (and the other part denying that in 7 hours I’ll need to magically have a fancy dress that will make my husband proud). Wish me luck!

So, it’s 11 am on Tuesday. And I sort of lazily think about the rest of my week. I’m mulling over the classes I have to teach on Tuesday and Thursday, and then I wonder: What am I doing Wednesday night again?


I am attending a very, very large social event with my husband and massive numbers of older men in his profession. No pressure or anything. Also: NO DRESS.

I had planned to make something to wear, and had it on the calendar. And then I stacked some things on top of the calendar, and moved the stack to a stool in the corner and avoided going through the stack for a while, and now there I was: 36 hours to go time and nothing to wear.

So I did what we do when we sew: I got sewing. Boo-yah.

This is the same silk I used to make my Burda dress, but in a different colorway (I think that one’s “spice” and this one’s “poppy,” or something like that). The bodice is a McCall’s and the skirt is a vintage-look Vogue. Lining on the bodice is that wonderful Ambience rayon that I heard about from Amanda, and lining on the skirt is a lustrous poly china silk that I got on mega-sale.

The bodice took the most time, but was totally worth it. It’s actually a bodice with an overbodice–the pleated portion is separate, and has a full bodice underneath, for modesty. I love the whole overbodice thing, but wish I’d avoided the princess seaming in the underbodice. I also could have made it a size smaller. When you wait until the last minute, you don’t have time for last minute adjustments. Because you’re still putting in a hem 30 minutes before the car pulls out of the driveway. Just sayin’.

I love the fullness of the skirt, and didn’t even miss the crinoline I didn’t have time to go buy. What I did miss is the pockets I didn’t put in because I was worried I needed the extra 30 minutes to finish sewing. Which I did, but still. Pockets in a formal rock.

Hem: hot mess. There, I said it. I decided to reduce an inch from the hem, so rather than re-cutting all the pieces, I used the serger to take off the bottom inch while finishing the edge. Then, rather than easing out the fullness, I put in a super narrow hem by turning the serged edge under and stitching close to the stitches. Lazy, but it got the job done. The lining is even worse: I serged an extra two inches there, and left it undone. Which kinda stinks, because I meant I didn’t want to show off the yummy lime green-ness of it, which contrasted so strongly with the plaid in such a fabulous way.

I say all these things for a reason: generally, I recommend very strongly that we never apologize for our work. In fact, Stitch by Stitch Power Phrase #3 is “Thanks, it turned out really well.” We tend to point out flaws where other people don’t see flaws, and undercut the well-earned praise we ought to allow ourselves to accept. Shame on us. I’m making a point of sharing the flaws in this dress, though, because I think when a lot of projects–mine included–are blogged, only their best parts are pointed out, and it creates this illusion that there are some who sew perfectly every time and that YOU will never be as cool/perfect/talented/awesome. Totally not true. This dress looked great, and other than my forgetting to calculate my ridiculously short waist into the pattern, no one who was at this event of 400+ professionals ever knew that the hem was bootleg or that the lining was wonky. In fact, I got boatloads of compliments on my imperfect dress–which I accepted and was grateful for. I knew it wasn’t perfect. I also knew that if I’d worked to make it perfect, I would have missed out on a fancy party with my handsome husband in a tux where we got to have grown-up conversations and remember why we fell in love. And there is no way I would ever trade that for a flawless hem, y’all. No way.

Go. Sew. Be bold, and own your mistakes. They’re hidden from view, and are part of becoming better at what you’re doing. And most of the time, no one will ever notice. Not even your husband, when he holds your coat and tells you you’re beautiful.

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3 comments » | Clothing for Her, Sewing Inspiration

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