Category Archives: sewing

Back to sewing!

I’ve been thinking a lot about clothes lately. This was partly motivated by a dress-up extended family dinner. W- dusted off the suit that he hadn’t worn in years. I realized I wasn’t happy with any of my cold-weather dress options, so we checked out the shops. Dealing with the overwhelming array of choices, none of which I liked, I realized five things:

  • Because it’s difficult for me to find simply-styled, good-fitting clothes in small sizes, I should buy them when I find them, even if they’re at full retail price because the season has just started
  • Likewise, it’s probably worth increasing my clothes budget, considering things even if they’re more than a hundred dollars a piece
  • If I shopped more frequently instead of waiting until I needed something, it might be less stressful
  • Medium-term, I should learn what alterations can do and how much they would add to the price of an item
  • Long-term, I’m probably best served by learning how to sew. Then I can make the basics of my wardrobe in whatever styles and colours I want.

2015-02-10e Shop or sew -- index card #clothing #sewing #shopping

2015-02-10e Shop or sew – index card #clothing #sewing #shopping

2015-02-11d Do I want to invest in clothes or in sewing -- index card #sewing #clothing -- ref 2015-02-10

2015-02-11d Do I want to invest in clothes or in sewing – index card #sewing #clothing – ref 2015-02-10

I ended up wearing my office clothes (a blazer, blouse, and black slacks) to the family event, and that worked out just fine. But I didn’t want to end up in this situation again, so I decided to work on desensitizing myself when it comes to this shopping thing. After all, I remember going from “Waah, this is overwhelming!” to “Actually, this is pretty interesting” in terms of shopping at Home Depot, so maybe I could do that with clothes as well.

While organizing my wardrobe, I realized that I had donated many of the T-shirts that I used to pair with skirts. I had a lot of technical tops, but they didn’t go with slacks or skirts. For example, I didn’t have anything to pair with the purple skirt I’d stored with my other summer things. I added T-shirts to my shopping list. When I saw a nice relaxed-fit pink V-neck shirt at Mark’s Work Warehouse, I figured it would go with the purple skirt, my brown skirts, and my jeans. I also picked up an aqua shirt, a light blue shirt, and some khakis. Still couldn’t find any other items I liked, though.

Although there are quite a few beginner and intermediate sewing classes in Toronto, I decided to see how far I could get by learning on my own. After all, I’d already made a couple of skirts and dresses I was passably happy with. If I got stuck, I could always check Youtube for tutorials or reach out to friends.

I remembered struggling with sewing before. Sometimes I’d do something incorrectly out of impatience or ignorance, and then I got frustrated trying to fix things. It was hard to pay enough attention to details. But I’d noticed myself mellowing out over time. I felt more patient now; I acted more deliberately and spoke more slowly than I used to. Maybe it’s growing older, maybe it’s because of the abundance of time in this 5-year experiment, maybe it’s because I stopped drinking tea… Whatever the reason, maybe sewing might work better for me this time around.

2015-02-11c What were the friction factors for sewing last time, and how can I improve -- index card #sewing #kaizen #reducing-friction

2015-02-11c What were the friction factors for sewing last time, and how can I improve – index card #sewing #kaizen #reducing-friction

I knew I’d enjoy things more if I could start with a small success, so I looked for a simple pattern: cotton, no buttons, no zippers, nothing finicky. None of my stashed sewing patterns met those criteria. I thumbed through the patterns at the Workroom (a small sewing studio near Hacklab), but they were more complex than I wanted to start with.

Eventually I found the free Sorbetto pattern from Colette, which also served as my introduction to downloadable patterns. I printed it, cut out my size, and doubled the pattern with newspaper so that I didn’t have to mess about with folds. I’d previously decluttered my fabric collection, but one of the remnants I’d kept was large enough for the pattern.

I deliberately slowed down while making it. Instead of cutting around the pinned pattern, I chalked the outline of the pattern first, and then I cut that. Instead of cutting on the basement floor (where cats would definitely interfere), I cut on the large square coffee table in the living room. Instead of trying to use the sewing machine’s guidelines for my seams, I chalked all my seam lines. Instead of eyeballing the darts, I chalked the dart lines and the centre lines. I cut and picked out the mistakes I made in staystitching or basting. I neatened the thread tails as I sewed. Instead of using store-bought bias tape, I made bias tape from the same fabric. I zigzagged the other edges instead of using my serger.

2015-02-23 13.48.13It took me a while, but it was a pleasant while, and now I have a top that I’m happy with wearing either on its own or over a blouse. More than that, I have a pattern for as many tops as I want, and the knowledge that that’s one less thing I have to worry about buying when the stores have the right style, the right size, and the right colour.

I think I’ll make this in:

  • black (to pair with a black skirt, if I need to be more formal),
  • white (to pair with everything),
  • red (because that’s fun),
  • and maybe some geeky pattern that’s in line with my interests, to wear to Hacklab and events as a conversation piece? Even better if I could wear it to the office and still blend in as I’m walking through the corridor. Maybe a subtle print? Spoonflower has lots of geeky patterns, but none of them particularly appealed to me because they signal geekiness without actually being my flavour of geekiness.
    • Not really me: chemistry, circuit boards, moustaches, hornrims, calculators, video games
    • More like me: Emacs, tracking, cats, cooking, doodling, blogging, Greek/Roman philosophy

So maybe I’ll stick with solids for now. =)

I turned some scraps into a hair clip, since that felt like a more restrained way to match things than to have a scarf of the same print. Matching things tickles my brain – my mom can tell stories about how I wanted dresses with matching bags when I was a kid. Even now, I like it when people echo colours in their accessories. I’m looking forward to playing around with that through sewing, although maybe with more solids rather than prints.

Whee!

Related sketches:

Sewing: Made a PS Vita case!

W- and I have been playing The Legend of Heroes: him on his PS Vita, and me on the PSP he lent me. He’s been using his PS Vita more now, so he was looking around for a case. He liked the design of Waterfield’s PS Vita CitySlicker, but didn’t need all the bells and whistles. He asked me to see if I could make a PS Vita clutch with snaps.

We had left-over Ultrasuede from the time we cat-proofed the sofa and extra fleece from J-‘s cosplaying. I wanted to see if I could figure out the assembly without referring to tutorials, so I prototyped something with a little hand-sewing. It was a good start, but it didn’t quite feel right. I kept thinking about the design during my bike rides to and from work.

On my next free day, I sat down with my laptop, read through a couple of clutch sewing tutorials, made a test one (it turned out to be slightly too small for my PSP), and then sewed this:

2013-09-11 12.15.09

Ultrasuede with a bright orange fleece lining. Bonus: it matches the couch. Whee!

It was actually pretty fun. It was less frustrating than trying to make clothes. Making small things means you can get feedback and payoff faster. I chalked all of my seams and allowances, and my measurements worked out. For the most part, things lined up nicely. (The snaps were the only iffy bit.)

W-‘s thinking of modifying it to have more interfacing so that it’s stiffer. The nice thing about making things yourself is that you can tweak things without worrying too much.

Yay! One small step towards developing more of those practical skills I want to have. Hmm… what else should I clutch-ify? Maybe I can look for more of these little organizer patterns and see if I can use them around the house.

Made a stuff sack for J-

imageW- asked me if I could make a stuff sack for J’s sleeping bag, as it turned out she was going camping this week. These bags are handy for compressing loose items such as sleeping bags, jackets, clothes, and so on. You simply stuff as much as you can into the bag, and the bag keeps the items compressed.

I had white ripstop nylon in my fabric stash, left over from the time we were thinking of making a fabric softbox. J- measured the compressed sleeping bag – 25” circumference, about 16” of height – and I started working on a simple tubular stuff sack.

The project came together quickly, even the tricky part of sewing the circular base to the tube. My seams were mostly straight and neat, although I had some bubbling near the bottom. For the drawstring, we reused the free shoelaces that came with J’s new shoes. (Waste not, want not.) The stuff sack ended up just the right size for the sleeping bag. Hooray!

I think I’m getting the hang of going from idea to actual thing, and it’s a lot of fun. All the cat hair that got sewn into the seams along the way probably means I shouldn’t go into commercial production yet, though! Winking smile

Made a kitty soap holder

I think I’m getting the hang of crafting. When J- said that she was thinking of sewing a stuffed-toy-like soap holder for one of her school projects, I prototyped something along those lines to see how easy it would be to make. I liked how mine turned out:

It can act like a washcloth, and it can hold all those little scraps of soap that otherwise fall down the sides. =)

Find your wall

The Sewing Hype Cycle
The Sewing Hype Cycle
(Apologies to Gartner ;) )

I like sewing because it frustrates me.

I start optimistically enough. I pick out a pattern. I choose fabric. I tweak the pattern. I cut out pieces. I start sewing them together.

Seams don’t quite line up. Threads break. Pins prick. I hit my lowest point: the facings are flapping about, the clothes don’t quite fit, and I’ve just sewed a seam that I have to rip out. I wonder why I put myself through this agony when I could buy better-made clothes for less than what I would spend on fabric.

I stop and put my work away. The next day, I take the unfinished pieces out and keep going. Somehow, it turns into something that looks okay.

I’ve never had a “flow” moment during sewing. It’s a struggle all the way to the end. That frustration is important. It’s why I do it.

It’s a good kind of frustration. It’s not a “life is unfair” kind of frustration. It’s not a “people suck” kind of frustration. It’s the frustration of knowing that there’s something I don’t know, or something I’ve skipped, or something I haven’t figured out.

It’s the frustration that accompanies learning things that don’t come easy to me, like a wall with hardly any handholds.

I learn, and I learn how to deal with that frustration. I learn when frustration and fatigue push me into making mistakes. I learn the value of sleeping on it. I learn how to keep thinking about how to do things better even when I’d rather do something easier or more fun. I learn how to experiment. I learn that I can find a way over, under, around, or through things that frustrate me.

I learn how great it feels to climb that wall.

I learn that there’s always going to be another wall, and another, and another – and that’s okay, because the walls help me learn.

I learn not to fear walls by trying them, just as I learned not to fear falling by intentionally doing so.

It’s tempting to spend your time on easy escapes. Find your walls. Deal with that frustration, and keep going.

Learning about my grandmother

When I told my mom about the hooded fleece bathrobe I’d made for W-, she laughed and told me a story about how her mother used to make her dresses. My mom would beg my grandmother to make some time to work on the dress, which was low priority compared to running a business and keeping everything sorted. Sometimes that meant finishing the dress the day of the party, I guess!

My mom also told me a story about how my grandmother bought my mom a new dress. When the top part was too worn to wear, my grandmother replaced the top, keeping the skirt. When the skirt part ended up being too worn, my grandmother replaced the bottom. My mom asked if that meant she had a new dress.

I’d never met my maternal grandmother, but it was great hearing stories about her, and seeing my mom smile as she told stories. =) Just as I like coming across things or stories that remind me of my parents, my mom probably enjoys hearing about my newly-discovered hobbies and thinking about her own parents. =)

I’ve gotten to the point where I enjoy sewing. I like making things I can wear, and W- and J- humor me occasionally by asking me to make things for them and enjoying things I’ve been experimented with. ;)

I wonder what other common hobbies I’ll discover along the way…