Adventures in Quilting: Patchwork Placemats

Some say that sewing clothes is not cheaper than buying them. Well, it is in my case. I have managed to sew for cheap using thrifted fabric and patterns, discounted, and free patterns. I also get “free” fabric (and often free shipping depending on the seller) from Amazon with credit card points. I can make a top or shorts that I will wear for years from one yard of fabric. I can make pants and most everything else with only two yards. Quilting is a more expensive hobby. You need yards and yards of fabric, and then more fabric to coordinate with the main fabrics. Piecing is only the beginning, and there are many more steps to completion. Machine quilting is so awkward and difficult that some quilters are not even quilters – they send out for the quilting to be done professionally. While I will never be primarily a quilter, that doesn’t stop me from having quilting aspirations from time to time. I’ve collected a large number of fat quarters and fabric odds and ends over the past 15 years. Mostly, I have ideas and plans that never come to fruition.

Years ago, I bought some fabric pieces at the thrift store, including a stack of fabric cut into 4 x 6 inch rectangles. Some were already pieced together in a long sequence. The fabrics look dated and ugly together. It has been said if you don’t like a fabric you haven’t cut it small enough.

From the pile, I noticed some fabrics that coordinated together and would make impressionistic American flags. I decided to make placemats for the patriotic summer holidays. I bought a yard of navy stripe fabric for the backing, and navy for the binding.

They took me a long time to finish. I started last year, and the stitching looked so bad due to tension problems, that I gave up, and put them away.

In addition to the problems with my machine, my attempts at quilting were atrocious, and caused major distortions.

I also had tiny stitches from holding on too tightly while quilting. These placemats just looked sad!

I wanted to finish them this year. I started by spending an entire afternoon removing all the quilting. I was still having problems with finding a quilting pattern that I could sew well. I finally liked the way they looked when I changed to a chevron pattern. Each rectangle contains three lines of diagonal stitching. They finished at 12 1/2 by 16 1/2 inches. Done is good! And I am pleased with them.

I have watched various quilting videos over the years. Right now, I am a fan of Karen Brown of Just Get It Done Quilts. Karen has a website and You Tube Channel. I especially like her concept of an ugly quilt. Maybe I could make one of those! The idea is that a quilt that isn’t seen as perfect or special will actually be used and not just stored away. These everyday quilts aren’t just bed quilts, but can be used on the couch, in the yard, at a park, for the dog, etc. My dog digs and scrumples bedding so I wouldn’t have to worry about him wrecking it.

I also like watching the way Karen stacks fabric, makes blocks, then cuts them up and recombines them. Karen has great ideas for simple blocks and scrappy blocks. None of the quilts she makes are actually ugly, but I think I could manage that.

So, should I make something ugly from the rest of these rectangles and this long pieced strip?

Summer Dresses: Laundry Day Tee and Bardon Dress

Shorts are a summer staple for me. I’ve sewn six pairs since 2017, and I love wearing them. But I want to have an alternative to shorts for going shopping or out to lunch. My plan for this summer is to sew casual dresses that are comfortable, have pockets, and are loose enough to not need a zipper. No constricting belts wanted either, but a self -fabric sash is a comfortable option for shaping.

I started with two fabrics, a knit and a woven, and two free patterns.

I used the navy stripe cotton/spandex knit to sew a sleeveless Laundry Day Tee by Love Notions with a V-neck. I sewed a size medium and added inseam pockets. I chose to cut the fabric with the stripes being vertical for the lengthening effect.

Next up is the Bardon dress by Elbe Textiles for Peppermint magazine. I chose size E by my upper bust measurement and did a 1/2 inch full bust adjustment to the darted bodice. The adjustment added 1 inch to the waist which I should have taken away with vertical waist darts but I forgot that the FBA also added to the waist. I also shortened the bodice by 2 inches due to my short torso. I didn’t want the pockets, which are sewn on the first tier, to hang too low for my short arms to reach. My fabric is a red cotton I bought at a thrift store many years ago, with the pattern having a stripe-like effect. The bottom tier was very wide, 48 inches per side, and I cut it on the cross grain in order to be able to cut the full width of the pattern. I also like the visual interest it creates.

A gust of wind caused the dress to billow into a perfect bell shape!

These patterns are keepers! I would make both of these dresses again, perhaps with some alterations. For the Tee dress I would add ease to the underarm area and some width to the back hip as I would prefer the dress to hang straight and not pool at the back. The tiers of the Bardon dress lend themselves to playing with the lengths and proportions, and I can imagine several variations.

I styled these dresses with accessories for going out. They are even easier to wear than shorts since it’s only one item of clothing, but look more polished. The Laundry Day Tee dress is a sporty classic in the navy and white stripe, and doesn’t feel too different than wearing shorts. The red, flouncy Bardon dress is a fun dress and more of a stand out look. So I hope I’m ready to be outstanding this summer!

Angelia Shorts Hack to Cargo Pants

I wanted to make a pants version of the shorts I made last year, the Angelia shorts by Itch To Stitch. I loved the patch pockets, zipper fly, and buttonhole and buttons details. I also wanted to change the pattern to have a partial elastic waist. My fabric is a light olive mostly cotton twill with about 10% stretch.

I enjoyed sewing these pants and love the look of them, but not the fit.

When I basted them and tried them on, I was disappointed. They were very baggy and full of drag lines in the back thigh, and the crotch was not right. The rise was too low. There was not enough room for my butt, and they dipped down at the back waist. I tried to save them by adding an inch to the waistband, but they are now too long in the front crotch and still too short in the back crotch length. It’s odd because the shorts fit me better in the rise and waist, but I guess I must have made some changes to that area when I altered the pattern. I also should have extended the elastic partway into the front, because they’re too loose in the front waist. One of the problems I have with the fit of close fitting pants legs is I have smaller than average thighs and larger calves. I might try a large calf alteration to help with the hang of the legs and to see if some of the wrinkles are caused by the fabric riding up from the lower leg. I was thinking to remake them into shorts, but if the crotch fit isn’t comfortable they won’t get worn. I have made so many clothes that are favorites in the last 2 or 3 years that I’m not used to a fail, but, to paraphrase Longfellow, into each sewing life some clunkers must fall. The poem is “The Rainy Day”.

The top is a refashion from a thrift store rayon skirt that I made last year but hadn’t written about. I loved the wonderful abstract print and fall colors with brown, tan, rust, and dark green.

The shape was wider and shorter than my pattern piece, but I like the way it worked out.

I have two more fall fabrics I wanted to sew to go with these pants, but I’m putting those plans on hold. I still would like a pair of pants in this color family, preferably a drab dark olive.

No more rainy day – tick-tock, do you know what time it is? Time for summer sewing!

Combining Prints Sewing Challenge

For March I took part in the sewing challenge sponsored by the Instagram group Sew Over 50. It was called “pattern mixing”, #so50patternmixing. At first I didn’t even understand what that meant. The challenge was to combine two or more prints in a garment. I have combined a print with a solid, but have never thought to use multiple prints – that sounded a bit loud and overly busy to me. Actually, it can be bold or subtle.

I have many times been drawn to a fantastic print, but not all prints are wearable to me. I wouldn’t want to wear skulls or dancing hippos. I came across an excellent blog post by 7 Pine Design on “Sewing Prints Versus Solids”. Prints are marketed to the home sewing customer, who tend to be drawn to them. I find it hard to pick out prints for clothes, especially from online photos. I’ve learned that stripes, dots, gingham, and plaids are safer to stick with. I have mixed feelings about florals; some I like, some can have a dated look.

One of my sewing goals for the year is to explore creativity, so I set aside my sewing queue: challenge accepted! Once I decided to take part, I added two conditions of my own – I would use only fabric odds and ends instead of yardage, and it would have to result in an item I would actually wear. It was fun looking through all my fabric and thinking of possibilities.

I paired a thrifted floral piece with an odd shaped gingham piece left over from pants and shorts I made previously. The floral had bleeding I had to work around.

I used my pillowcase top as a prototype to make a boxy top from my Maya pattern. I flat felled the gingham strips on either side of the floral and made two panels that I cut my front and back from.

The small scale gingham reads like a solid from a distance, so this is a subtle use of two prints. I changed the neckline to a v-neck which I have never sewn before. I drafted a v neck facing, but I didn’t make the v deep enough.

I was inspired to sew a second item!

I used an Instagram tutorial by @merrileeboniface and shared on the Sew Over 50 page for making a robe from a vintage flat sheet, and adding a second fabric as an accent. I found a forgotten fitted twin sheet at the bottom of my own linen closet, and combined it with the leftover lavender gingham I bought at an estate sale for $1 and previously made a shirt with, and estate sale 100% cotton rick-rack. The slide below is from the tutorial.

tutorial and photo by Merrilee Boniface

I was using a different size sheet so I used the length I had to make a longer robe. I made the sleeves 4 inches shorter, partly by taking some width off the sides, as this is a drop shoulder pattern. I have short arms, and these sleeves with the pretty trim aren’t made to be rolled up.

I got out my vintage daisy bowls from the 1970s for this photo shoot. I was surprised to find they were made in Italy. America is not the only country to no longer manufacture many items anymore.

It’s a pretty robe for patio lounge wear, and to have breakfast in.

Below are photos of the belt, the inseam pocket, the hanging loop, and the belt loop and a peek at the pocket from the right side.

I became aware that vintage sheets are sold on EBay and Etsy, are very collectible, and are used for various sewing projects. The sheet I used was made in the USA by Cannon and is called Daisy Delight. The Cannon Mills Company was an American textile manufacturing company based in Kannapolis, North Carolina, that mainly produced towels and bed sheets. Founded in 1887 by James William Cannon the company remained family owned until 1982, then was sold to another company that went bankrupt in 2003. Below are the front and back of the label.

I’m wearing it with the simple cap sleeved cotton jersey knit nightshirt that I made in 2019. It still looks good after hundreds of wears and washes.

This was a fun project to put on my Dritz dress form as I was sewing it. Most of the time I keep my sewing mannequin in the closet and don’t use it.

As I was sewing the robe, I realized I own many vintage items. I never thought much about their value, and that they are sought after by collectors. I use an iron with a cloth cord, my ironing board has a wooden top under the padding, and some of my kitchenware is old. I used to go to estate sales in my neighborhood, and buy more old things, but these sales are infrequent now. The older generation who came before me is gone, replaced by young families with babies and toddlers like when the neighborhood was built in the 1950s. Now I’m a part of the older generation, the vintage one. I hope the women who left behind fabric I later bought had already sewn many of the fabulous and useful items they had planned, and used most of their favorite fabrics. I am carrying on to do the same.

Spring Sewing – Classic Tee and New Look 6515

I’m ready to step into the warm, sunny days of spring!

I was looking forward to sewing a cool spring outfit from these two fabrics: a soft cotton double gauze and a floral slinky rayon/spandex knit. I sewed a tee and wide leg pants. They are also both on my “Make Nine” list for 2021.

The tee shirt is the Classic Tee from Love Notions.

I made the crew neck tee with short sleeves in size medium. My measurements put my bust in a size large and my hips in a size medium, so I printed the pattern with both sizes and compared it to other tees. I decided on the medium and am happy with the fit. Previously, I found this very stretchy fabric hard to sew with, but I wanted to try again with this simple pattern. I thought I wouldn’t have a problem with the fabric growing with a pattern with sleeves and a higher neck.

I sewed the seams with my serger, but I cautiously machine basted the neckband binding on before serging.

New Look 6515 is one of the patterns I bought off EBay last year.

I planned to make the pants full length and without the slit. I was sewing with the fabric known as double gauze for the first time. There are two layers tacked together. The fabric is called bubble gauze at Joann where I bought it with a gift certificate from a sweet friend. It is very soft, airy and crinkly textured, and sometimes used for baby items. (I have since found out there is a smooth type as well).

Oddly enough for someone who googles everything, I didn’t look up how to sew with double gauze. I decided to just go with my instinct. I thought it best to avoid ironing the fabric as much as possible to retain the texture. I read the opposite while looking up tips for sewing with double gauze while writing this post, that double gauze requires quite a bit of pressing. Okay, ha!

This fabric doesn’t have structure and is a little thin, so it isn’t especially suited to most pants. The suggested fabrics listed on the pattern envelope are batiks, chambray, cotton types, gauze, linen types, so it’s a match. I can also imagine these pants even more unstructured in a flowing rayon with a slit above the knee. They would almost look like a skirt.

I started with a size 16 which matched my hip size allowing for some ease. The finished hip measurement for each size is given on the pattern.

The waist is partially elasticized, and the legs are full so there is no fitting or shaping. I thought the legs were too wide on me, so I slimmed them down. Maybe I slimmed them down too much, but they still swish when I walk. The waistband has an interfaced flat section, and it is folded to make a double layer. The elastic is inserted into the one of the openings shown below, extends a bit into the flat section, and is tucked in and sewn down at each seam. I love this waistband!

The pants have seams down the middle of the front and back. I subbed an inset pocket for the inseam pocket provided with the pattern.

Mistake of the month: I was merrily zipping along serging the seam allowances and didn’t realize I was catching part of the pants. I did this on parts of 3 out of 4 panels. Luckily there were no holes and I was able to unpick them. I did this gently; the open weave makes the fabric fragile.

Both the tee and the pants were easy to sew, and I highly recommend the patterns. The tee will also go great with jeans and the pants with sleeveless tops. These pieces will be light enough for wearing in the summer to the grocery store, and if I ever go anyplace else. Actually, I feel optimistic about the summer, and these are happy clothes for going out.

I love the cool and fresh colors and textures of this outfit!

Sleeves For Me – Rhapsody Blouse

My first make of 2021! I sewed the Rhapsody Blouse by Love Notions and chose the bias tie neckline and the bishop sleeve with an elasticized cuff.

I like the forward gathered shoulders and the close fit of the armhole.

I bought the fabric in two pieces totaling $2.50 several years ago at my little neighborhood thrift store run by a community church, and the pattern on sale for $5, so this is a thrifty make. Later, I found several holes in the fabric and hoped I had enough to work around. It is a lightweight, slippery fabric, and a perfect match for this pattern. It’s probably polyester, which I tend to avoid, but I love the print. I printed out a size medium, and I used the full bust piece. The comparison with the full bust piece on bottom and the regular piece on top:

The blouse is sewn with french seams. I used the serger to finish the armhole seams for a neat finish. I applied the bias tape binding differently than the instructions, first sewing it to the wrong side and then sewing it to the right side. Making and sewing the bias tape was the hardest part of working with this shifty fabric. I used starch to stabilize the fabric but I still had a few bad spots, but they aren’t too visible. I usually use bias tape as a facing, but this is exposed which is harder to sew. The size medium is a very good fit for me with just the right amount of ease. I only adjusted the body length and sleeve length for my short proportions.

I think it’s a lovely blouse. Peasant or bohemian blouses with dramatic sleeves have been the sewing rage for a few years, and I didn’t have anything like this in my wardrobe. I would like to made the pattern again in a floaty cotton, but change it up.

I wore it with another pair of Mountain View Pull-on Jeans by Itch to Stitch that I finished in December. I used the same stretch denim from Cali fabrics as I used last year, but this time I added more details including rivets, and topstitched back seams and pockets. It’s important to use a fabric with enough stretch for this pattern to be able to pull them over your hips. I wear the previous pair constantly at home and needed a backup.

I’m glad to check the Rhapsody pattern off my list and to have this blouse in my closet.

2021 Make Nine

How did I do on last year’s Make Nine challenge?

I made 5. Not bad, because I sewed many other things.

For this year, I thought in more general terms. I’d like to sew 3 pairs of pants, 2 tees, 1 tank, 1 blouse, and a dress. I also want to make a second make of many of the patterns I have recently sewn.

But then I did come up with an official Make Nine.

1) Itch to Stitch Angelia Shorts. I made view B of these shorts last year, but I intend to lengthen view C into pants with a zipper fly and add a partial elastic waistband.

2) New Look 6515. Wide leg pants with a partial elastic waist.

3) Itch to Stitch Mountain View Pull-on Pants. Again. This time in stretch twill.

4) Rhapsody Blouse by Love Notions. I started to put the pattern together in December, so this will be my first make of the year.

5) Phoenix Blouse by Hey June Handmade. This was on my list last year but wasn’t made.

6) McCalls 7331- the cardigan. This is a Nancy Zeiman pattern. I’ve never sewn a cardigan, but frequently wear a ready-to-wear cardigan with a business logo. I also have another McCalls cardigan pattern, 6802. One thing I notice about all of the cardigan patterns I’m aware of is they don’t have any closure and I would prefer a few buttons.

7) Classic Tee by Love Notions. My most basic clothes are the ones I wear the most.

8) Laundry Day Tee by Love Notions. I already made this as a tank.

9) Bardon Dress by Peppermint Magazine and Elbe Textiles. This is a tiered, gathered dress with pockets, and looks like it would be a great everyday, summer dress. It’s a free pattern.

My sewing goals:

To use more of my printed patterns, mostly McCalls, Simplicity, and New Look. I own a large number of them, and most of them have never been unfolded.

To adapt more patterns for my preferences. I especially want to alter pants’ waistbands to have a combination of zipper fly and elastic for comfort and weight variability.

To work on a quilt. I sewed 20 star blocks a few years ago and I have a new plan to alternate them with plain squares of various fabrics.

To do projects to reduce my hoarded items. I come across things when I’m reorganizing that I’ve kept for a reason that wouldn’t be apparent to the average person. For example, I saved an old ripped quilt with the idea of making pillows from the good part. It’s great to be thrifty and reuse fabrics, but there comes a time to use or get rid of things.

Oddly enough, I’ve also had the thought to sew less. I’m not sure what I mean by that. Maybe to do some other needle arts, or to do other things entirely. I don’t need very many clothes, and I like to wear a small number of favorites 75% of the time. Last year, I felt very motivated to sew and really needed more summer clothes. Another reason I mainly sew is using a machine is easier on my hands than handwork. I have problems with carpal tunnel and arthritis in some fingers. So I’ll keep sewing, but I want to remember to stop, take a breath, and look around.

I also want to continue to:

Use my serger more.

Use stash fabric, especially for tops.

Sew Saturday afternoons. I started staying home on the weekends due to the pandemic, and look forward to this time set aside.

2020 was a great year to be a sewist. With stay at home orders, and dressing rooms closed, making my own clothes (and masks!) was not only a useful skill but a satisfying creative pursuit.

Here’s to a creative and better 2021!