New House, New Workspace

It's been just over a year since we moved into our new house, so it's about time I show you where I've been sewing all this time, don't you think?

As you can probably tell, I've claimed the attic. I'm not going to lie, it's pretty wonderful climbing up to this private space of mine every day. Add a window seat and it's pretty much my childhood dream come true.

What my 10-year-old self couldn't imagine, was how unbearably hot attics can be in the summer. With this year's constant heat warnings, I haven't been up there much since June. I've set up a folding table in our spare room for sewing and I do my editing work at the dining room table. It works, but it's irritating having to run back up there for one thing or another. Hopefully I'll figure out a solution to that problem next year. But let's be honest, I might not. Maintaining a house is hard, guys.

The Pinterest lust was strong when I was planning out the space. But when it came down to it, practicality had to take precedence. This is a workspace after all -- it has to work. I also firmly believe that you need to live in the space for awhile before settling on decor decisions. All the Pinterest pretty will have to come over time.

So the first room is more of an office space, with my computer, filing cabinet, yet-to-be-unpacked boxes, etc. I also set up my ironing board in here. And the second space is for everything sewing related.

There's not a lot of natural light and I moved that sewing table around to every possible configuration trying to capture it, but it turns out that the pot lights in the second room were better than what I was getting through the little window, so I went with that. I like having my computer desk in front of the window anyway. So it's all good. I just have to go to another room in the house to take photos.

I may change that back shelf into a skinny desk eventually, so I don't have to move my serger. A taller cutting table would be optimal too, to save my back. But, again, it works for now, so for now it stays.

Finally, my favourite addition to the room has to be my new office assistant. Meet Pekoe! If you follow me on Instagram, you will have seen many photos of him already. Some of his favourite ways to "help" include chewing notches in my patterns, unwinding embroidery thread, and keeping my office chair warm. Haha! All kitten hijinks aside, I absolutely love being a cat mama! When you work from home, having someone around to talk to (even if they can't talk back) makes a huge difference in your day. And, I have to say, it's pretty peaceful to sew with a sleeping kitten next to you. Just sayin'.


Me Made May Recap + Lessons from a Crash Course in Sewing Knits

Staying true to my lazy blogger status, here I am writing about Me Made May in August. I could just blame summer (and summer cocktails), but honestly, when I had some free time, I chose to spend it sewing. And that's a good thing. One of the reasons for my little creative hiatus is to reignite my love of sewing again, so it's working! Me Made May definitely had something to do with that. Let's talk about it.

This year, I pledged to wear handmade as often as I can and to supplement with vintage or repurposed the rest of the time.

As you can tell from the 28 photos above, clearly I underestimated how a tiny handmade wardrobe could be stretched across a month if you really put your mind to it. I'll admit, some days were tough, like those chilly, wet mornings in early Spring when you're facing a closet of sundresses. But it was also satisfying when I did find a way to make it work and discovered a cute new outfit in the process. Sure, I repeated many items, sometimes the same top three days in a row (don't judge), and it helped a lot that I made a bunch of basic knit tees, as they could be mixed and matched in so many different ways. Oh the power of basics. Which brings me to my second pledge...

I'm always been really intimidated by knits, even though I love to wear them, so I've decided to face that fear head-on and only sew with knits this month.

I'm so glad that I made this pledge. There were many times throughout the month when I was just dying to make something familiar and easy in a woven cotton. But because of this pledge, I forced myself to power through my fear and frustrations. I'm proud to say that I finished the month with 3 Lark tees, 2 Hemlock tees, a knock-off tank dress for my mom, and a heck of a lot more confidence.

It was basically a month-long crash course in knits, and I learned a ton!

Sewing with knits isn't hard. In fact, it's probably the easiest and quickest way to a completed garment. But you need to know a few tricks before you get to the easy, whip up a dress in an hour part. I spent hours scouring the internet, trying to unlock the secret. Turns out it wasn't just one secret. In the end I pretty much just mashed all the advice on the internet together and things started to look OK. Ha! I'm never 100% happy with my double-needle top-stitching (is anyone?), but I found if I followed these rules, I was generally happy with the outcome. Hopefully they help you too, if you've been struggling at all with knits.

Play with your machine settings.
This is the hardest part, but the most important, in my opinion. It's a very delicate balance and it takes a lot of playing around, but you'll be so much happier with the result if you take the time to get it right, or as close to right as you can. Then write it down! Haha! Every machine is probably different, but for mine, I lowered both the top and the bobbin tensions. Top (3), bobbin (1/2 turn). I also increased the foot pressure. I've always ignored this dial, but it really makes a difference with knits (and chiffon, for that matter... but that's another post for another day).

Use a walking foot.
I know it's annoying to put on, but get out your tiny screwdriver and just do it. It prevents any weird warping and stretching, especially for hems. I see this all the time on ready-to-wear hems and neck bands and I hate it.

Use a clean stretch needle.
I had better results with stretch as opposed to ballpoint needles, for some reason. Don't know why. Also, stabilizers tend to gum up the needle and cause skipped stitches, so make sure you clean it periodically. After every hem, if need be.

Stabilizers are your friend.
I used Wash Away Wonder Tape on hems and Pellon Knit-N-Stable Tape on necklines and armholes. It just makes everything 10 times easier. Trust me.

Not all knits are created equal.
Because the level of stretch can vary so much. This may seem obvious, but to someone used to working with woven cottons, I found this fact to cause the most fit problems.

For one, it's tough to choose a size when everything stretches. I made the Lark tee in both a size 4 and a size 0 and, honestly, it was hard to choose which one looks better. It's weird.

Two, neck band patterns can't be trusted. Both the Lark and Hemlock patterns came with neck band pieces, but neither of them fit quite right. They were either too small, causing puckers where I struggled to ease it in, or they didn't lay flat. I found I had a much better result if I measured the neckline first (or what I wanted the finished neckline to be) and angled the joining seam. This Colette tutorial demonstrates it really well.

My final pledge was to kick-start the blog again and post all the makes I haven't written about since I fell out of the blogosphere last year.

This was a success as well. I wrote blog posts for my four Laurel tops and dresses and my Darling Ranges dress. If you haven't had a chance, I hope you'll take a moment to check them out.

I'll admit, by the end of the month I was happy to wear some of my ready-to-wear clothes, and to not have to take a selfie of myself everyday, and to sew with gloriously predictable woven cotton again... but all in all it was a wonderfully inspiring experience. Maybe it's the accountability of it, maybe it's seeing your Instagram feed full of inspiring projects and talented sewists everyday, but there's something about this challenge that makes me more productive than any other time of the year. It ignites something in me that makes me want to sew all the things all the time. I can't wait for next year!


Closing Sale

You may have guessed this was coming, but did you know it would be this big? A certain U.S. politician might even call it HUGE! 

50% off everything in my Etsy shop! Woo!

That's robes for $40, aprons for $20 and $25, tea cosies for $15 and zipper pouches for $7.50. A few surprise gifts will be tucked in randomly selected orders as well. 

Get it now or get it never, guys. Seriously. I'm not making this stuff again. Click here to check it out.

And regarding the Canada Post strike that may or may not happen tomorrow, I'm still taking orders, but know that it may be delayed getting to you as a result. 


Riding High: Darling Ranges

The Darling Ranges dress pattern by Megan Neilsen is definitely a favourite of mine. I've sewn two sleeveless versions in the past that may need to be retired soon, as they've started to show exactly how much I love them. So a third DR has been on my mind, and I was itching to try the version with sleeves. Then I spotted this adorable horse print in my stash. It's super soft and slinky, which would also be a first for me, but it seemed to have the perfect drape for these billowy sleeves. And I was right! Yeehaw!

This fabric was a bit of a game-changer. It feels professional, like it could very easily have been from a store. It's ridiculously comfortable — I was tempted to wear it to bed. But best of all, it's given me the confidence to sew outside of my quilting cotton comfort zone, which opens the door to a whole new world of sewing options. Very exciting!

I feel like I finally nailed the fit this time too. There was always something just a little off with the other two. Third time's a charm I guess.
  • removed 1" from shoulder seams
  • lengthened bodice by 1"
  • lowered bust darts by 1"
  • lengthened bust darts by 3/4"
  • interfaced button plackets
  • stay-stitched neck (both front and back)
  • still need to add a hook and eye or inside button at the waist 

The main challenge with this fabric wasn't actually the texture, but the tiny pulls that kept appearing out of nowhere. I ended up reversing my button placket so I could cover some of the pulls. Is this the sign of poor quality fabric? What should I have done to prevent this? 

Unfortunately we pretty much skipped Spring this year and went straight to a blazing summer heatwave, so I've only had the chance to wear it out once. But that's alright, it gives me a chance to pick up a pair of cowboy boots and a hat to really complete the look. Ha!


Colette Laurel: The Tops

And then there were four.

In addition to the two Laurel dresses I showed you last week, I also made two Laurel tops that have had a ton of wear this Spring: one in grey chambray and another beautiful nani IRO print in double gauze.

Let's start with the green nani IRO, because it's my favourite item in my closet at the moment. It's comfortable, fits great and can look both dressy and casual. I must wear it a lot, because Mike has started calling it my "everyday green top", sung to the tune of "Everyday People". Haha! Feel free to sing along as you scroll through.

I made very similar adjustments to the top as I did with the dress, again in a size 2: lowered the armhole, widened the back darts and lowered the back dart apexes. I found the top too short as well, which is odd, because I always cut at least 2 inches from all my hemlines. Does that mean I'm long-waisted? I ended up having to add a hem facing to make it work. Which of course I sewed the wrong way around the first time. Doof.

I fully intended to eliminate the zipper and use one back piece, but forgot to account for the seam allowance, so had to take it in along the center back anyway. Double doof.

And again, I used French seams and hand-stitched the bindings.

This grey chambray top was actually the muslin for my dress. (A muslin is the test version of a garment.) Originally it had lacy cutouts along the hem, but it ended up being too long so I was happy to cut it off to test the top version and the sleeve flounces.

I was surprised that I liked those sleeves as much as I do. I think part of the reason it works is because it's a solid colour, so the extra "flare" doesn't compete with anything. Does that make sense? I think I'll be more keen to try more details that I'm resistant too now, so that's a good thing.

For some reason this top ended up a little too tight once I washed it. See the wrinkling around around the arms and chest? I'm 90% sure I pre-washed the fabric, but it was pretty old, so who knows. It's still wearable, once it stretches out a bit, but I find myself tugging at it sometimes to get it to behave. Part of the reason I make my own clothing is so that I don't have to pull and tug and feel uncomfortable in my clothes, so this bugs me. But it's still pretty cute, so I'll wear it for awhile longer. Maybe I'll make a larger copy in the fall.

After four Laurels, I figured I'd be done with this pattern for awhile. I carefully folded up the patterns and filed them away in my pattern binder. But today I found an amazing summery fabric that just screamed Laurel to me. So I guess you'll see Laurel #5 soon enough!


Colette Laurel: The Dresses

Shift dresses are not my friends. Every shift dress that I have ever tried on in a store has looked and felt like a large sack swallowed me whole. "Swimming in it", as my mother would say. That's why I have always been wary of the Laurel pattern by Colette, despite seeing so many lovely versions pop up online over the years. Good for them, I thought, but there's no way that's going to look good on me.

Flash to four years later. It's the middle of winter and I'm craving something new and cute that will be both comfortable and warm -- a dress with a looser fit, with sleeves, and that can be worn with leggings. The Laurel immediately came to mind. After a few years of practice, it seemed I finally had the confidence to tackle this pattern and the adjustments I would need to make it work for me.

I'm so happy to say that with some patience, and several yards of tracing paper, I ended up with a dress I absolutely love. In fact, I loved it so much I immediately sewed another dress and two tops. Four garments is definitely worth the effort.

I don't know if you can technically even call this a Laurel or even a shift dress anymore, I made so many adjustments. Regardless, I still find it easier to make half-a-dozen tweaks to a pattern than start from scratch. 

My bust and hip measurements both fell at a size 2, and figuring the waist didn't matter too much for a shift dress, I went ahead and cut all my pieces at size 2, with the following modifications:
  • Lowered armhole by 1/2"
  • Took in waist by 3/4"
  • Back darts: lowered apex by 1", lowered bottom point by 1-3/4", and extended width by 1/4" (it should be noted that I have a pretty deep lower-back arch)
  • Left out the zipper and cut the back piece on the fold (removed 3/4" from center back -- 5/8" seam allowance plus an extra 1/8")
  • Shortened by 4" (I wanted a mini for winter, knowing I would always wear it with tights. My second dress is intended for spring/summer and at least 2 inches longer.)
  • Handstitched the bias binding and hems

Here you can see how I cut the armholes (remember, I was cutting a size 2). 

Here you can see how I took in the waistline.

Here you can see my adjustments to the back darts. The inner black line is the original. The outermost red is what I ended up with. Clearly there were a few attempts before I got it right. Haha!

It should also be noted that I took my time to match up the plaid here too, adjusting my patterns to be able to cut in a single layer. There are tutorials from both Colette and Grainline on how to do this. Side note: did anyone see The Great British Sewing Bee season 4 premiere on Monday? I wanted to help them with their stripe matching so badly!

Finally, here is a closeup of the super cool quilted plaid that I used. See how the back is a loose weave? It's constructed like double gauze, but thicker. I have no idea what it's called and would love your input if you have any thoughts. 

Anyway, moving on.

With a muslin and a "good copy" under my belt, it was time to break out the big guns, a.k.a. my precioussss, a.k.a. Nani Iro double gauze.

The only things I did differently from the green plaid were a shorter sleeve, a longer hemline, and French seams. 

The main challenge with this print was lining up all those stripes. In a word, impossible. Unless you have yards and yards of this, in which case you either own a fabric store or are extremely wealthy, (both of which make you very lucky), you have to do your best to match some of the stripes. I chose to match the biggest, boldest ones as best I could, figuring those would be the most obvious. So the sleeves and the bottom set of dark grey. I think it was a good choice.

I left out the zip again, but kind of regret that decision. It fits over my head, sure, but it usually requires a couple strong tugs and I cringe every time. A zipper would be a hell of a lot easier, and gentler, to remove. Imagine those seams ripped open one day? My heart!

The stripes got a little mangled in the back darts too, but that doesn't bother me too much. It's always wrinkled back there anyway. Ha!

Next week... the tops!


Me Made May 2016

Happy Me Made May! That time of year when your crafty friends flood your feed with selfies. Hopefully that pleases and inspires you. If not, you may want to find something else to do for the next 31 days.

If you'll recall, last year I participated for the first time and it was so successful in motivating me to sew more wearable garments that I doubled the size of my handmade wardrobe! I'm excited to join again this year and, although I still don't have enough pieces to wear handmade every day, I have some lofty goals.

I'm always been really intimidated by knits, even though I love to wear them, so I've decided to face that fear head-on and only sew with knits this month. I'm hoping to make a couple t-shirts, leggings and a maxi dress.

I'm also promising to kick-start the blog again and post all the makes I haven't written about since I fell out of the blogosphere last year. Better find that tripod.

Finally, I pledge to wear handmade as often as I can and to supplement with vintage or repurposed the rest of the time. Let's hope that the weather warms up soon, so I can break out my sundresses.

You can follow along with my progress on Instagram and all the other people participating by checking out the hashtag #mmmay16.

Let's do this!


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