Behind the Times

Whew! I’m still trying to catch up blog-wise since our computer crash (we lost 100+ photos through that whole mess). So, we’re a bit behind the times with posting some completed projects.

My mom’s birthday has come and gone once again, and once again, I made her a new bag (the woman used to just have one bag and carry it until it died, so I’ve taken it upon myself to ensure that she has an appropriate wardrobe of bags for various occasions). Last year, it was the Amy Butler High Street Messenger Bag. This year, it’s another Amy Butler pattern – the Downtown Purse (I’ve made a few of these, they’re the perfect gift to show off some special fabric; check them out here and here.)

Check it out…

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This one was made using some great mid-weight cotton sateen from Joel Dewberry’s Ginseng line (the same line Josh used for his “Shoeberries“), and I lined with some quilting weight cotton from Anna Maria Horner (I think… Eeg, I usually save the selvage so that I can remember this stuff). Check it out – the lining looks like those wicker chairs everyone in the eighties had.

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Please tell me you know what I’m talking about…

Once again, I narrowed the front flap just slightly so that I could attach the straps into the lining rather that on the exterior (it looks so much nicer, in my opinion). This time, I used an oversized orange wood button to create the closure and shortened the flap by about an inch to create the space the button needed. I kind of think the button’s the best part of the bag.

Josh also screen printed my mom some custom logo’d pillow cases and a T-shirt; unfortunately, the photos were eaten by the monster than killed our computer… We’ll try to arrange an on-site photo shoot so that we can show those off, too.

Oh, and she didn’t seem to notice that itty, bitty imperfection

~Sarah

Not Knitted

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I used to knit a lot. I taught myself when I was still in college and really, really enjoyed it for a long time. However, about this time last year, I started having pain in my right index finger and wound up with tendinitis. Really, really painful tendinitis. This was shortly after I started my current job and I had a mouse set up that I wasn’t used to. In fact, I hadn’t used an actually computer mouse (I’ve used laptops with touch pads for a long time) in ages, and it seems that they don’t really agree with me. So, in a short period of time I managed to damage my hand pretty severely. Anyway, it doesn’t hurt anymore but one of the long-term issues is that I really cannot knit at all. I’m sort of okay with it, unless I into yarn shops, like I did recently for the Craft 06 Release Party that Diane and Susan hosted at Twisted here in Portland. I think it’s not so much the missing knitting, but being reminded that there’s something that I can’t do. That really pisses me off.

Anyway, what my most recent jaunt into a yarn shop also reminded me of is that my mom (who does this sort of thing quite often—she’s cool that way) had recently bought me some very cool mohair and wool black sweater knit fabric from Bolt. In fact, she snagged me the last to yards on the roll It’s from Italy, which makes it even cooler, of course.

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Since I subscribe to Burda World of Fashion, I try to look there first for patterns, I the Spring-Summer Burda Plus Special Edition had a fairly snazzy pattern for a hoodie design especially for sweater knits.

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However, as I started sewing it, I needed to make some modifications on the fly. I couldn’t figure out the weird darts in the cut on hood. They made the hood really pointy, like a gnome. Not one of my favorite looks. So, I hacked that off, cut a new neckline and added a collar like the one that my Forever Fur jacket has.

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I also realized that I had to eliminate the darts from the sweater, because the loose nature of this fabric meant that those types of details weren’t possible. So I eliminated those and added waist shaping to the sides instead. (I didn’t add enough, actually—I’ll get to what I did after I realized that in a minute. But hindsight being 20/20 and all that. Are you getting the picture that I sort of put this thing together on the fly?)

I also had to add some professorial-looking elbow patches to protect the fabric. But, since I couldn’t decide on where I wanted to put the patches before I sewed up the arms, I decided that it wouldn’t be “that hard” to sew them on once everything was attached. (No surprise, it was really hard.) Anyway, I used some charcoal colored red and white pinstriped denim that I also got at Bolt. (Basically, I love all of the fabric at Bolt, in case you haven’t noticed.)

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The other challenge that I had with this fabric was sewing the buttonhole. The loose nature of the knit of this fabric, and its fuzziness, meant that I made several attempts at creating the buttonhole—all of which resulted in the fuzz getting tangled in my machine’s feed dogs and no buttonhole. Eventually, I came up with what I think is a fairly ingenuous method. I wrapped the edge of the sweater where I wanted the buttonhole with some cheapo Ikea black cotton and used my automatic buttonholer. Then I had a buttonhole, no problem. I actually developed a number of tricks for working with this sort of fabric (there wasn’t much good info online about dealing with super-loose sweater knits) during this process, so I’m contemplating actually writing all of it down into a compilation post of tips and even maybe a tutorial (Scary, me writing a tutorial!).

Anyway, once I finished this thing up I wore it to work one day and found it to be uncomfortably huge—especially in the waist. (I have this problem a lot with Burda, actually, especially the Plus edition of the magazine. I usually sew their 44 and take in the waist and back a bit and get a perfect fit.) When I looked back at the pattern photo, I realized that I was styled to be sort of billowy (frumpy)—not an ideal look for me.

So, after thinking on it, I converted it to a wrap sweater to get the fitted (sort of) look I prefer. I moved the button over and added some ties inside the sweater. Overall I’m pretty happy with the look.

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This not-knitted-but-sewn sweater really makes me feel like I’ve pulled a fast one on my stupid tendinitis. Sorta kicked its butt.

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(I am such a dork. I only hope some of y’all find my pathetic attempt at karate kicking the camera as absurdly humorous as I do.)

~Sarah

Rocket Science

Well, not really.

We have a nifty plastic box that’s supposed to hold bobbins, which is all well and good, except, it doesn’t really keep the tangled mess of threads from unused bobbins from knotting up into one another. It’s a tremendous pain in the ass during those moments when you just want the damn bobbin of black thread. We’re sure you can relate.

Anyway, on Sunday when Sarah was wresting with that damn bobbin full of black thread that was all tied up with both the damn bobbin of hot pink thread and the damn bobbin of red thread, she happened to glance up a noticed the roll of blue tape that’s oh-so-useful for oh-so-many things—taping patterns together after they’ve been hacked up for alterations, taping Burda World of Fashion patterns to the window for tracing without leaving a mark, et cetera. It’s great stuff, since it is meant for painting, it doesn’t leave sticky residue behind. Anyway, it was one of those head slapping moments: “Tape the threads to the bobbins so the won’t get tangled!”

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No, not rocket science, but it sure helped with the irritating tangle of thread.

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Anyway, a very simple solution to a simple problem.

How ’bout you? You have any “Not Rocket Science” solutions to those everyday, annoying sewing problems?

~Josh & Sarah

Sew Together: How We Got Started

So, we sew together, right? We thought we’d let you know how this whole thing got started. This is the first in (hopefully, no promises) in ways you and your sweetie (or best bud/mom/brother/unrequited crush) can get started working on sewing projects together.

When we first started this little adventure Josh really wanted to make something sporty and retro. A pair of shorts seemed to be a great way to make something he would wear and also something that he could actually make (with lots and lots of assistance from the Sewist). Oh, yeah, and Josh also expressed a keen interest in appliqué.

Sarah, not knowing anything about sewing men’s clothing, guessed that a pair of shorts would be a good one to teach Josh on—not too much of a pain in the ass, and some room for creativity. Josh remembered trying to make a pair of shorts once when he was in high school that he totally gave up on had his Mom finish. (They were really really cool. He called them his “Tribe Called Quest Shorts” because they looked similar to an album cover. Imagine his surprise when the student teacher came in one day sporting the same fabric in shirt form, terribly imagined humiliation). Why not complete a project given up on years ago—how much could you screw up shorts? The answer is “not much” unless you sew the leg hole shut (another story for another time).

When the Sewer played soccer in high school, the fashion was to have BIG shorts, ridiculously large and puffy, they are still the look and feel that he is accustomed. For this project we combined the look of 1940s-50s cotton soccer shorts (after a lot of image searching on Google) with the leg numbering that became the fashion in the 1970s. We could have gone with a more traditional “throwback” jersey idea and made it look perfectly period appropriate, but we wanted to have some fun. Plus, Josh is not wearing shorts this short.

Our first task was to take a pair of shorts that the Sewer liked to wear and lay them out and measure them for length and leg width. Here is where we can make fun of Josh, because he didn’t want to use a pattern and didn’t believe in them at this point (novice indeed). (You can imagine how much this infuriated Sarah—he wanted to learn to sew, but was vehemently opposed to a sewing pattern?!) It wasn’t a big deal for this task, but would cause him headaches later in his sewing maturation. To make the crotch curve correctly, we used a pair of pajama pants from one of the Sewist’s patterns. This is where a French Curve or a pair of MEN’S pajama bottoms would work perfectly. We had to use the curve backwards to get the shorts to fit right. (This resulted in more of Sarah’s ire over Josh’s refusal to use a PATTERN.) Sarah also helped Josh make the shorts kind of A-lined, so that they’d be more flared and billowy.

We used a white cotton pique for the fabric, because it was stretchy, somewhat sporty and all cotton to give it that old school look. The Sewer felt particularly redeemed by his choice when the Sewist-in-law exclaimed how sporty and retro looking it was (no prompting either). For the construction of the shorts, it was a good choice because it was easy to work with for the sewing virgin, which wouldn’t have been true if we had used a more modern looking polyester.

I (Josh) would like to say that getting started scared the crap out of me. As you have heard me mention, I am cheap and I lived in fear of screwing up my $9 worth of fabric (ah, the good old days).

(Note from Sarah: Josh was also terrified of being impaled by the sewing machine. It was pretty hilarious and helped offset the irritation bred by Josh’s refusal to use a sewing pattern.)

To add some extra flair to the shorts, we added green piping down the outside of each leg and felt appliques. We used a simple elastic waistband and a double folded hem on the bottom of the legs, two things that would become important in other projects.

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Believe it or not, sewing on the appliques was one of the most important lessons that the Sewer learned from this project. He really had to take his time a concentrate on the stitches in front of him and also he had to manipulate the fabric to do the curves of the letters and numbers, which is great start for when the sewing gets more complicated.

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When the shorts were finished we had accomplished a project that Josh would actually wear (and feel awesome in), which is also a great way to start off a sewing career.

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Here is a rundown of the supplies we used:

1 yard of cotton pique $9.00
1 elastic waistband $1.00
piping $3.00
thread $4.00
felt $0.80

total cost: $17.90 with thread and piping left over for other projects. “Authentic” soccer shorts cost $40 dollars or more. The total cost for this project is less than $18 and a lot of fun!

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Josh would also like to take this opportunity to show off. No, not his pasty legs, but the snazzy new shoes he’s sporting in this shot. Yeah, they’ve got neon signs on them.

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The Vinyl Countdown

 The Vinyl Countdownfrom josh the sewer

Pictured here is the Sewist’s birthday gift. My Dad likes to say “Vinyl is Final” when explaining his choice of house siding; this phrase stuck with me as making this. Being somewhat limited in my sewing skills, my choice of projects are small. The Sewist loves bags so I decided to bust out the Amy Butler Messenger Bag pattern again. Instead of doing something that I could get through easily and quickly, I decided that she NEEDED a pink sparkly vinyl bag, to deal with the wet winters here in Oregonia. For the interior I went with the Echino Beehive in eggplant that I picked up from Bolt. The appliqué is reflective fabric, that kind you see on coats for high visibility. At the Mill End store they sell it in 12 x 18 sheets for $4. This is actually cool, at $25 a yard on the bolt it is much cheaper to buy the sheets to make tall and wide things.

The first part of the project was making the appliqué. I found a crow picture on the internet and blew it up in Photoshop. I printed it, cut it out of of paper, traced it onto the back of the reflective fabric and cut very carefully. I stitched the crow to the outside flap with silk and metallic thread that astonishingly matched perfectly. This part went really really well. I was feeling really good about the project at this point. Next was the vinyl (here the sound effect should sound like DUM, dum, dah; ominous like).

Wow, the sparkly vinyl is really cool and pretty, but my god it is hard to work with, especially if you have no idea what you are doing (see: me). I decided to make the strap first, though it is a middle step in the instructions. I like to get the little things out of the way first (and I am actually working on a separate post about this, because it is interesting how differently the Sewist and I look at directions). Following the pattern’s directions, I folded the two sides toward the middle, to deal with fabrics stubbornness, I glued like crazy and stacked books on top to hold it down. After a couple of hours, I folded, glued and stacked again. Now it was time for the sewing. I actually was able to get it stitched, terribly. The vinyl was incredibly sticky and it took me PULLING it though. I figured this was bad for the machine, so I called the Sewist at work and spoiled the surprise. I was drenched in sweat, the strap was really terribly screwed up and the sewing machine looked tired. The Sewist was not impressed with what I was doing to her machine so I called it day.

The next time out I sewed the exterior together, which was going great when the right sides were together. So the problems were back again as soon as the exterior of the vinyl touched any part of the machine. I was really close to quiting and going to Nordstrom’s and buying something, when it hit me that there has to be a way to do this (the Sewist mentioned a Teflon foot).  The Vinyl CountdownI googled “sewing vinyl” and on this site someone mentioned wax paper. Melting wax paper onto the exterior worked swimmingly. The other bit about working with the fabric is that is is impossible to iron the seems open, so I trimmed them short (but not too short). The last bit about the vinyl is it is really difficult to turn inside out.

The interior actually came together as expected.

For the strap I went with a different tactic, I cut a 3.25 inch wide slice of the exterior and 3.25 inch wide slice of the Enchino Beehive which I backed with fleece interfacing, like the straps from the Very Green Bag. I sewed everything right side together and turned inside out. I think with the strength of the vinyl one layer will be sufficient and the fleeced fabric should be pretty comfortable. Turning the strap right side out took some time and an incredibly sore finger, but the results are pretty nice, though a little puffy. I again stacked books on top of the strap to get it to lay flatter, which is working, though in need of another night at this point.

The changes to the original pattern include:

no tab, actually no clasp also, the flap is heavy enough to stay shut;
no flap pocket, neither the Sewist or I every use it on the bags that we have;
no top-stitching on the outside, not necessary, no desire to wax paper again;
strap, as I mentioned;
tool pocket has more usable slots, for things like cellphones or iPods
and no canvas backing, this things weighs a ton already and is plenty stable.

Lessons learned:

probably the last time for sticky vinyl, too too too hard to deal with for any length of time
and anytime I am dead tired after making a seam, I probably am doing something wrong.

 The Vinyl Countdown
The next bag I make (one that I might actually use myself), will probably be our first adventure in designing a pattern. The Amy Butler Pattern is really great, but I am finding more not to like every time and there are things like shape and size that I would do very differently.

The crow is in honor of our dog, who hates them. We have always joked that if she had her own company it would be called “30 or So Crows” for the number she would like to catch every day. Another sign of our complete dog dorkdom!

Happy Birthday Honey, enjoy!

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