Saturday, December 29, 2012

Grandmothers and domestic arts

I was visiting my family in Ottawa this week and I got my grandmother talking about knitting. I love how grandmothers can be counted on for sharing our enthusiasm for the domestic arts!
Mimi showcasing her work of art -- in her words, this is "the easiest thing to make." Right...
Mimi also showed my sister and I her vintage knitting books -- ladies seemed to wear a lot of makeup for cross-country skiing in those days!

So many sewists have wonderful stories of of growing up in a sewing environment, and of being taught to sew by their grandmothers -- myself included. I came across a really good one in Debbie Stoller’s Stitch 'N Bitch (2003):

The handwork of my grand-mother and great-aunts seemed to provide comfort and serenity. Seated at these family gatherings, their purposeful motions gave them a focused air of self-containment, an earthly solidity. They were, after all, women who had learned their craft as children, and who had practiced these skills throughout their lives – before and after the birth of children, the loss of husbands, and through two world wars. (p. 3)

"Those girls are handy with a needle and thread," my mother would often say, proudly about her daughters. The sight of my mother’s heavy gray sewing machine set up at the end of the dining table was so familiar to me that it almost seemed like another sibling, and when she wasn't sewing, she was knitting, or embroidering. (p. 5)

After talking to my grandmother about knitting, but also after seeing my aunt's mind-blowing embroidery work (I MUST do a feature on her at some point), I'm really itching to broaden the scope and go beyond sewing this year. In that sense, the book my mother gave me for Christmas was most appropriate -- thanks mom! It will be a good starting point, but I'm sure I will still need your expert guidance for those difficult parts.

How quickly did you learn to knit? Did your mother or grandmother teach you?

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Happy Holidays to all!

Thank you so much for your continued support this year and all the best for 2013!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Fabric Shopping at Mood

So I went to Mood! Straight from the airport, to be precise!

Trumbelina advised to go there with a game plan, explaining that she had a better experience when she went with "anal-retentive reference card with swatches and yardages for specific projects." Well, I wish I had taken her advice! I found the size of this place and the choice of fabric just... overwhelming! I walked up and down, between the wool and silk, the linen and the jersey... back to the wool again. I finally decided on some black bouclé with lurex highlights for a Chanel-style, three-quarter-sleeves jacket, as well as a ponté in a flattering colour for my skin tone (although the picture bellow doesn't do justice to its true redish gray colour). 
Other than that, I was calmly minding my own business when all of the sudden I see a big yellow afro... wait a second, that's... Kooan Kosuke from Project Runway season 10! Apparently, he works at Mood.

And a few minutes later, another celebrity!


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Beyoncé Dress

...because Beyoncé would approve of this dress.
Fabric: double knit (acrylic and lycra)
Pattern: Vogue 1314
Not having worked from a pattern in a while, I felt like trying a new method: I retraced the entire pattern by overlapping the Vogue with my bodice and skirt blocks, like so. I was able to correct the most problematic areas of the pattern right away. I got the angle of the shoulders and armhole area just right, which are usually super tricky since my body calls for for shapes that have absolutely nothing to do with the original patterns. This method also enabled me to get the torso-to-hip curve bang on from the first try. You would never tell that this dress is actually a muslin -- a very wearable muslin!

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Katheryne's Peplum Skirt -- Revealed!

Meet my sister Katheryne: After completing her chef training, she decided to pursue her passion for food with a B.Sc. in Nutrition. Now, she is preparing for her dietetics internship interviews, for which she will need to look very smart... and wear this skirt!

I've already talked about the muslim and drafting -- after several rounds of alteration to the pattern, we finally got it just right.

The goal was to make a clean skirt that could easily be integrated within her wardrobe. She had asked for a peplum skirt, partly because she never managed to find one off the rack that espoused the contours of her figure. Good thing she has a sister who sews!

What did I learn?
Do not attempt to make peplums with a unstable fabric.
I repeat: Unless you really know what you are doing, do not attempt to make peplums with unstable fabric.

You will quickly discover that part of the fabric will always be on bias, because peplums are cut in a circular shape. In a fluid fabric, the bias-cut part stretches with gravity, resulting in asymmetry. For my first try, although the pieces were cut with mathematical precision, one peplum was markedly longer in the front, while the other was dramatically longer in the back. I've had to unstitch and recut the peplums twice before I understood what was going on. The solution was to let the peplums stretch with gravity, snipping them so that they looked symmetrical again before very carefully attaching to the garment. I also ended up lining them with cotton to given them more structure and stabilize them, but was in no way a miracle solution.
Hand-stitched zipper: virtually invisible on the outside

Would I make this skirt in this fabric again? Not in a million years!

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Sneek Peak

Inspiration: Bootie-licious, double-knit dress by hot-babe Dibs from Dibs and the Machine.
Lord know the original pattern picture wasn't going to convince anyone. I vote Dibs should serve as the new pattern cover model!

Friday, November 30, 2012

Mood's, here I come!

I'll be spending the next couple of weeks in New York, with a few days in Montreal and Québec City to round things up at the end. I would love to get together for sewing drinks if you are in the area (just email me). Also do let me know if you are aware of any sewing events or get-together planned!
What are my plans for New York? Many fabulous things, with the first one being a trip to Mood's. After watching season after season of Project Runway, it would be an understatement to say that I'm looking forward to Mood's!
Oh and don't worry, I won't forget you while I'm away -- I've prepared tons of cool posts for you!

Hope to see you in NYC, Montreal or Quebec city!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Sewing for Others: Katheryne's Peplum Skirt Muslin

I'm making my sister a peplum skirt for her birthday (in October... whoops). The various slits on the skirt are an original design of mine... Kidding! It occurred to me that we still hadn't photographed the muslin when I began cutting it up for redrafting, so I rushed downstairs with said garment and ordered my sister to change for the picture. Poor Katheryne had just woken up, was still in her pajamas, and only agreed if her face were to be left out. Oh, the mistreatment.
I used McCall's 2129 as a base (which I used in 2010 for this and this). From that point, I drafted everything else.
She wanted a tighter fit -- a proper pencil skirt -- and so I took in quite a bit on every seam so that the skirt would hug the contours of her figure. I also created additional panels to allow for tucking in the peplums neatly, as well as a back slit to allow for walking, since she asks for next to no ease.

The fashion fabric will be a polyester print in mock wool finish. It's hard to see here, but it has a lot of drape.

In other news, I went for a quick trip to the Fashion District this morning to pick up some organza for interlining. I discovered that King Textiles had moved -- and had increased their prices, it seems. $27 for 2 yards of polyester organza + 3 yards of cotton muslin seemed a bit much. But maybe I've just been spoiled by the one-Euro-a-meter clearance section in Granada! In any case, I was thinking on the subway ride home that some pointers for fabric shopping in Toronto would be useful.

Any Toronto sewists reading? Has anyone come across a Toronto fabric-shopping guide?


Saturday, November 24, 2012

Confetti Fanfare Renfrew Top

You had gotten a sneak peak of part of this shirt earlier this week; now you get to see the whole thing!
Fabric: 4-way stretch knit purchased this Spring at Simply Fabrics in Brixton, London
Pattern: Sewaholic Renfrew Top + sleeves modified using my ruched sleeves tutorial (part 1 and part 2)

What did I learn?
- This was my second Renfrew top so it came together super fast.
- I had never worked with such a slinky fabric, but I learned that it's not that scary! It might be tricky to cut, but it is also extremely forgiving.
- Having a serger is not necessarily a must for knits, but it sure makes for clean seams. Now that I've experienced how wonderful it is to have a serger, thanks to my mother's machine, it will be hard to go back to zigzag!

Jeans: Levi's Curve ID skinny low rise in Bold Curve
Isn't the Renfrew Top just a tee-shirt?
Someone made this comment earlier this week (not to pin-point at the person if you are reading, it was a good comment!). I actually thought the same when the pattern came out, but somehow I've changed my mind. Getting caught in the hype is certainly part of the reason, but I also came to the conclusion that yes, Renfrew is just a tee-shirt, but guess what I end up wearing everyday? And yes, Renfrew, is just a tee-shirt,
but it's a tee that fits my body to a T, and it's also made by me.

Tops like these are so great for traveling: You can throw them in a suitcase, they take next to no room, and they will never look wrinkled.

Since the fabric had a lot of drape, I omitted the elastic.
Have a nice weekend everyone!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Focus on drafting paper

I began drawing patterns on old newspapers, but it was not long before I abandoned that method because everything would get dirty from the ink. I then started taping regular 8.5x11 (A4) white sheets together, but that also became annoying -- when you're in the middle of your Nth version of a pattern and you are ready to throw your sewing machine out the window, the last thing you want to do is tape those goddamn sheets of paper together.

I found the solution at my local art store where they sell large rolls of tracing paper (architect paper). My last roll cost me around 20$ and lasted me over a year (but I'm sure you could find something even cheaper on eBay or Amazon).

Another useful thing to know: you can give your paper a quick iron on high heat, no steam, before drafting, so it lays nice and flat.

And finally, maybe I'm just slow on the uptake, but I discovered last week that cutting your paper by ripping it using a wide ruler instead of scissors is way easier. It's the same principle as how we cut parchment-paper for baking.

What kind of paper do you use for drafting? How is that working for you?

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Renfrew Ruched Sleeve Tutorial – part 2

Hello everyone, I hope you've had a good weekend! Mine was spent producing this tutorial. Kidding. I hosted friends over for brunch, relaxed on our roof-top Jacuzzi and worked on my thesis. As much as I love my research topic, I must say that I'm pretty ready to move on with my life and be done with the thesis. Just have to keep my head down and plough through the homestretch. Gah!

Now, about our ruched sleeves: We have already gone over the drafting of the pattern on Saturday. Today, we are covering assembly, in the second and final part of our Renfrew Ruched Sleeve Tutorial! Ready?

* * *
Start by sewing the front and back of your shirt, at the shoulders, reinforcing the seam with bias or stabilizing tape as per your pattern instructions. Resist the temptation to sew the side seams just yet!

Sew the collar to your Renfrew shirt, following the pattern instructions.

Put your front and back pieces aside for the moment, and take your sleeve pieces.

If sewing elastic:
Cut 2 x 8 in. elastic pieces. (I used 1/4-inch-wide elastic.)
With tailor's chalk or washable marker, draw a 12-inch line down the middle of your sleeve, starting 5/8 inch from the non-straight edge, like so. You'll be sewing the elastic on this line.

Stretch your elastic to sew it along the line. (See Tilly's post for some more detailed tips about doing that.)

All sleeves:
Take your sleeves pieces, and pin them at the top after folding them length-wise, as shown bellow. (Note: The shape of your pattern pieces will actually differ from these ones. These are prototypes.) Finish the seams.
Pinning the sleeves to the bodice: Match the shoulder seam and sleeve top seam, right sides together. Pin the sleeve to the armhole opening, making our way from the shoulder seam towards the underarm, on each side. You want to create 4 or 5 pleats on each side of the shoulder seam, like so.
Use your judgment in determining what size pleats you want. I used my thumb as a guide: roughly one thumb width between pleats, and one thumb width for each pleat.

"What kind of measurement method is this?" 
As my grandmother used to say: No one will walk around with a ruler to measure the spacing of your pleats.
Next important point: It's not very visible in the picture bellow, but you want each pleats to go towards the shoulder seam on the wrong side when you are pinning (as in picture). This will mean your pleats will go downward on the right side finished garment -- it's nicer that way.
Repeat these steps with the other sleeve, making both sleeves identical. Sew the sleeves in place. (I used a straight stitch.) Finish these seams.

Now we can tackle the side seams.
Depending on how precise you were in eyeballing your pleats, you might notice upon pining your sleeve, that one seam is longer than the other (you can see it a bit in the picture above). No biggie. Just make it match using your scissors. Also make sure both sleeves are the same length.

Complete the assembly of your shirt as per pattern instructions.

Voilà! You are now the proud owner of a ruched-sleeve shirt! I would love if you left any questions or comments bellow, and I will be very happy to help you out of any difficulty. I also welcome suggestions for improving this tutorial.

Thank you for reading, and good luck with your sleeves!

For part 1 of the tutorial, where I cover the actual drafting of the sleeve pattern, click here.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Renfrew Ruched Sleeve Tutorial – Part 1

A few of you have asked how I drafted the sleeves of the Pyjama Dress and I said I would make a tutorial. This type of dramatic ruched sleeve is achieved by adding pleats around the armhole, a square sleeve and, if desired, an elastic on the inside.

Note: I use Sewaholic’s Renfrew Top as a base in this tutorial, but you don't need it, because I also show you how to draft the pattern using your body measurements. You can still join us if you don't have the pattern!

This pattern allows you to make three types of sleeves with varying degrees of "puffball". View A, the sleeves of the Pyjama Dress, has a very even ruching. View B, is slightly more voluminous, which you can check out here. View C, the sleeves of the Cranberry Bliss, will give you that puffball effect.

Principle behind the ruched sleeve

A ruched sleeve is essentially about adding extra fabric to the top part of the sleeve. The simplest way to go about it to slice the top part of your sleeve and add extra fabric.
This store-bought shirt bellow appears to have been made according to this method. (I've worn this shirt too many times this year! The fabric has piled!)

But I wanted a sleeve with a bit more volume -- not only in the length of the sleeve, but also in the width of the upper part, for more of a "square" look, so the pattern you will make today will look a little different than the above.


Before we start drafting, we need to get our measurements.

Take your three quarter sleeve from your Renfrew pattern (pattern piece 6) and measure the narrowest horizontal part at the bottom of the pattern, according to your size. Alternatively, measure around the biggest part of your forearm (bellow your elbow) and add 1.5 inches. (In my case, for size 4, the value is 10.5 in. Measuring around my forearm, I get 9 + 1.5 = 10.5 in.) This is your value Y
Now measure the largest horizontal part at the top of the Renfrew sleeve pattern. Add one inch to that last measurement. Alternatively, measure around the biggest part of your upper arm (above elbow) and add 1.5 inch. (In my case, the value is 11, so 11 + 1.5 = 12.5 in.). This is your value Z.

Next, take your drafting paper and give it a quick iron on high heat to make it nice and flat. Don’t forget to turn off the steam! (You can do this with any wrinkled paper pattern as well.)


  • Draft a 23 in line in the middle of your paper (A to B).
  • Perpendicular to that line, on one end, draft a line with the length of value Y (points C to D), making sure that A-C = A-D.
  • On the other end, also perpendicular, draft a line equal to value Z (points E and F),  making sure that B-E = B-F.
  • With a ruler, join C to E, and D to F.
  • The next steps are shown in red and blue on diagram.
  • Measure two inches left of B and mark with G.
  • Now here comes the confusing bit:
    Where you place points H an I, will determine how much of a "puffball effect" you want. (This is what I was trying to demonstrate with the blue and red options on the diagram.) For zero puffball and an evenly gathered look (View A, the pyjama dress) measure 3 inches bellow E and 3 inches above F and mark with H and I respectively. For a very slight puffball (view B, the orange shirt I just made which I look forward to showcase fully shortly, not shown on pattern diagram here), measure 2 inches from E and F in the same way. Finally, for a total puff sleeve, '80s-princess-gown style is what you are after (view C, the cranberry bliss shirt) measure 1 inch from points E and F respectively.
    Essentially, the further away points H and I are from point B, the more of a puffball effect you are going to get. Does that make sense?
  • Join G-H and G-I using ruler.
  • Measure 8 inches left of point E and mark point J. Measure 8 inches left of point F and mark point K.
  • Draw a curved line to join J-H and K-F, mimicking the diagram.
  • Congratulations! You've just finished drafting your ruched sleeve pattern.
This pattern is intended for stretch fabric!
If your jersey-knit is medium to thick in weight, you will need to add a thin elastic on the inside -- as I’ve done with both the Pyjama Dress and the Cranberry Bliss. For extra fine jersey with a lot of drape, you can chose whether you want to put the elastic of not. I omitted it for the orange shirt in view B.

Cut your fabric pieces according to pattern instructions, replacing the original sleeve with the ones you've just drafted!

That's it for today, everyone! I will show you how to assemble your sleeves on Tuesday.

In the mean time, please feel free to post any question or comment bellow, and I will do my best-est best to answer as soon as possible.

PART 2 of the tutorial continues here, where I go through the steps of assembly!
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