Category Archives: Books

Color Block Tees

I was working on a upcyling project that I had lost interest in when the July sewing challenge for the Sew Over 50 Instagram group launched. The challenge was to mix at least 2 solid colors in a garment. OK, I’ll play!

I had done color blocking with raglan tees (also known as baseball tees) before, but that’s about all. I had a few old tees and other tees that I bought for a dollar each at a garage sale that I thought would be fun to experiment with.

BurdaStyle Sewing Vintage Modern is a book I have had in my library for years. It was published December of 2012 and has examples of styles from the 1920s to the 80s. I almost never make anything from sewing books but I used to enjoy browsing through them at the bookstore, and this is a book I actually bought in person. How old fashioned, ha! I liked the Veronica Geometric Top, and used the illustration for my inspiration. In the book, this top is an example of an 1980s inspired look.

My mother had a similar woven color blocked top circa 1960. Fashion does tend to be cyclical. I remember bright color blocked dresses from the 1960s mod era. The most famous color blocked garment is the Mondrian inspired dress introduced by Yves St. Laurent in 1946.

See more examples in the article: The History of Color Blocking.

For my project, I drew out a basic boxy tee and then made 2 cuts.

I used 4 colors, blues and gray, making a v-front and putting the little lavender triangle of fabric in the back.

The joining of the fabrics to a point was tricky. It’s more of a skill that quilters have than a garment seamstress.

Then I made a second tee with a variation on the same shirt but with only one diagonal cut to the pattern. I used a coral tee for 2/3 of the shirt and periwinkle blue for the rest. I sewed v-neckbands for both tees. They are a little tricky – I had to read a few tutorials.

I even did a little piecing within my block, choosing to make the join using the original shirt hem overlapping to make it part of the design. The back of the shirt is shown with the close-up on the left:

I feel prints are more fun to sew than solids, but combining solids creates an interesting look. I love these!

I also sketched out other color block combinations I might want to try.

I would put the cut in this shirt over the bustline.

Either of these would be striking with black on the sides, or combining a print and a solid.

Just some ideas for possible future projects. Of course, there are many other ways of combining solids, whether for woven fabrics or for knits. Sew creative!

Quilt As You Go Placemats

My current obsession is the quilt-as-you-go technique. I bought the book Quilt As You Go by Carolyn Forster and love the variety of techniques. There are 14 techniques including chapters on stitch-and-flip, piecemakers quilting, manx log cabin, potholder quilting, japanese reversible patchwork, envelope quilting, cathedral windows, siddi quilting, applique quilting, lined circles, fringed quilting, and pojabi patchwork. I have also taken 2 Craftsy classes on QAYG, and watched YouTube videos.

I want to try almost every technique in the book except Suffolk puffs – Americans call them yo-yos. A quilt made from yo-yos would not stand up to digging paws and the openings look like they would make good spider homes.

I decided to try some of the techniques by sewing small projects such as placemats or pillow covers before attempting a larger quilt. The first method I tried is called piecemakers quilting in the book. It is also called a 1 hour serger quilt or a quilt as you go serger quilt. If it’s not done on a serger the ends can be finished with a zigzag or overcast stitch to reduce bulk.

I pieced 2 1/2 inch strips for the top of the placemats of different lengths for interest. I also cut 2 1/2 inch strips from the batting and backing. My finished placemats are about 12 by 16 inch, but I started with longer strips so they could be trimmed.

Every row is sewn with 6 layers: 2 top strips, 2 backing strips, and 2 layers of batting. You start with a conventional quilt sandwich: the backing wrong side up, batting, and the top strip right side up. Then you add your next row before sewing by putting a backing strip right side together to the first backing, a top strip right side together with the first row top strip, and then a batting strip on top.

So your layers are: batting, top RS down, top RS up, batting, back RS down, back RS up.

You sew the layers with a 1/4 inch seam. I found this hard to do on the serger because I have less control than on the sewing machine. I used clips to hold the layers together but I also had trouble catching all the layers a few times. You don’t have much room for error with a quarter inch seam so I took a slightly bigger seam allowance to compensate. I had trouble sewing with the less stable batting on top and found it worked better when I turned the layers over so that the batting was on the bottom against the feed dogs.

After you sew your seam you open the layers up. You have two rows sewn together to which you can add quilting. Then you add your next row to the second strip by putting another backing strip right sides together to the back, a top strip right sides together to the top and a batting strip on top. So you’re always sewing with the bulk to the left as you add rows.

I experimented by adding decorative stitching and attaching the binding by machine without any hand sewing. You can’t beat a beautiful traditional binding but you might come close. My ends aren’t straight so I need more practice with the binding.

I sewed the first placemat with wavy quilting, but I didn’t iron out the layers before sewing so there is a ridge. It doesn’t ever seem to work out to forego pressing yet I keep on trying.

This is an easy technique if you can catch all the layers and don’t need a precise join. For a quilt, its drawback might be a bulky seam. Another common QAYG technique uses sashing strips which are sometimes finished by hand sewing. This technique is much faster for a quilt that can be sewn together in rows. Some might find it less aesthetically pleasing to have a backing with many seams. I’m not sure yet which method I would use for a full sized quilt.

Next up: My first bed size quilt!!

Starting Out With a Serger

I started my sewing journey with a sewing machine I bought in 2010 for the very modest sum of $80. I started off slowly, but now I sew nearly all my clothes, although I still wear old ready-to-wear clothes. It is rewarding and feels amazing to have reached the point in my sewing where my favorite clothes are handmade.

I had mixed thoughts about whether I really needed a serger or overlocker. I had put learning to serge on my list of sewing goals for the year and hoped it would elevate my sewing, so I hit the order button.

The Brother 1034D is a popular and affordable option.

My first attempts at serging were with the 4 different colors the machine came threaded with:

I used the overlock type stitch on my sewing machine for pockets and some seams, but I often didn’t finish the waistbands because of impatience.

I read that sergers are noisy and hard to thread, but neither has been a problem for me. I was able to thread it from scratch fairly easily, but I did need good lighting and a magnifying glass.

I also serged my cross stitch fabric.

Since I sew on a oval table meant for eating and not at a sewing table, I had to find a comfortable set-up. I use an extension cord for the serger and then put it back on a book shelf when not in use. I also had to change my sewing habits of many years. Once I got over this initial awkwardness, I started to incorporate the serger into my sewing, and appreciate the quicker and neater finish on my seams.

I bought a book to learn more about what a serger can do and how to do it.

Next up: sewing knits – black ponte and a striped knit with a sparkly lurex.

Chambray Shorts and a Corny Question

The seersucker gingham shorts I made last spring have gotten a lot of wear.  So it was an obvious decision to make shorts for the second item sewn with my chambray fabric.

[If you’re bored by minutia about zipper flies, skip to the bottom and take my poll.]

Since the time I made my first pair I learned that the mock fly zipper is used for women’s patterns sold by the big 4 pattern companies.  It’s not a faux zipper, but is a simplified zipper that doesn’t have a fly shield forming the underlap.

I wanted to try to sew the full-fledged fly!

Which side should it open on?  According to my Readers Digest Complete Guide to Sewing book, published in 1976, the placket should lap in opposite directions depending if the pants are to be worn by a gent or a lady.  The men’s version is zipped with the right hand.

When women first started wearing pants in the 1940s and 1950s, they zipped at the side or the back.  In the 1970s, after the dress code was changed to allow girls to wear pants to school, we often wore boys’ Levi cords.  They were the cool pants to wear.  We became used to a front zip fly.  Then pants started to be sold to women to fit our proportions and with the front zip fly we had gotten used to.

I looked through my closet and I found that it has become very common for women’s pants to have the fly open in the same direction as men’s pants.  This is especially the case with sporty pants like jeans.  Dress slacks are more likely to open in the opposite direction as in the traditional women’s fly.  But there is no standardization for women’s pants.  (Oh, the things that occupy my mind!)

I used the instructions from the Reader’s Digest manual to sew my zip fly.  I cut off the extensions from the original pattern piece, and made my own fly shield and extension.  The instructions include much more hand basting than is common today.  I found the basting helpful and will be doing more of that in the future.

A comparison of the mock fly and the full fly that we are used to seeing in our ready-to-wear pants:

And the wrong side:

I made large front patch pockets, back pockets, and an interfaced waistband with elastic sewn to the back.  The waistband is then folded in half so the stitching doesn’t show.  I used bright pink bias tape to bind the edge of the waistband.

I practiced flat fell seams, and intended to use that technique for the shorts, but I ended up sewing mock flat fell seams on the crotch (with two additional lines of stitching) and on the outer side seams (with one additional line of stitching).

I’ll tear the fabric before I split that seam!

I used two new techniques, and more importantly, I have another new pair of shorts I love to wear.

 

Now to the corny question:  I mean that literally!

This summer I’ve been eating a lot of fresh corn on the cob.  I was eating corn on the cob at a neighbor’s house, and he commented on the way I was eating it.  I eat it around, rotary style.  He eats it across, like a typewriter.  I just assumed everyone did it my way.  I thought maybe I eat corn rotary style because I learned to eat it that way from my parents.  I asked my stepmother how my dad ate it and she said across.  Hmm.

So I took to Google to try to find out which way is more common.  I didn’t find that out, but I did find the way you eat corn is linked to personality traits.

The across the cob eaters are said to live neat, orderly, methodical lives, and the around the cob method is favored by creative, artistic right-brained people.  There is also a third, less common group who take random bites; they’re chaotic, impulsive sorts.

Does this fit you? Is there a kernel of truth to this theory?  Do you get into discussions about strange little things like this?

I’ve been asking everyone this question.  Oh, the things that occupy my mind!

Please take my poll:

 

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Little Free Libraries

I first read about Little Free Libraries in my local newspaper.

The first one was built in Wisconsin in 2009 by the son of a teacher.  It was an enclosure with a glass door mounted on a post constructed to look like a one room schoolhouse.   There are now more than 50,000 registered in the United States and even a few worldwide.

They are generally put in the front yard of a home and initially filled with books by the owner or steward.  Then anyone can come by and take a book, and hopefully the same readers or others will also leave a book.

I love the idea of sharing a love of reading and books, and I also enjoy the various creative designs of the structures themselves.

The first one I came across was in a mall.

 

After Memorial Day, on my morning walk with my dog, I came across my first neighborhood little library.

There is a registration fee of $40 if you want your front yard library to be part of the official Little Free Library movement.  The fee entitles you to a charter sign, number, and to have your library location included on a map on the nonprofit organization’s website.

The little library down the street from me is a neighborhood “secret” – no sign.  I took one book, put three in, and was pleased to see my books were all quickly taken.  I actually feel proud my picks are popular! The little two shelf container is very full; I think more people have put in books than taken them out.  There is a good mix, including many children’s books.

can you guess which book I put in?

My full size neighborhood library is about a mile away.  Although close, it takes me about 20 minutes to get there on foot.  I donate most of my books there.  I used to keep more books after I read them, but yarn and fabric has cut down on my storage space, so I like to pass them on.  My sewing and craft reference books are my keepers.

I also go a very low priced used bookstore  and recently started reading books on a tablet.  I resisted the e-book revolution for quite awhile, but now embrace it as another option.  But there is no substitute for a physical book that doesn’t need to be charged and can easily be shared and passed on to others even decades later.

Do you have a little library near you or would you consider putting one up?  Where do you get your books from and what do you do with them afterwards? Are you a reader of hard copy books or e-books?

 

For more information:

Little Free Library website

Libraries of Distinction – a Pinterest board with photos of the many creative Little Free Library structures

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The Dress Doctor Part 2

Last week, I reviewed the book I bought at an estate sale,  “The Dress Doctor” by Edith Head.  Miss Head won 8 Oscars for costume design, and dressed most of the leading ladies in Hollywood movies in the 1930s through the 1960s.

This week I’m going to get personal, and show some fashion examples from my own life.

Prescriptions for Dressing drawing by Edith Head

At the end of the book, Miss Head offers her prescriptions for dressing for everything from sports to housework.  (Sorry Mrs. Cleaver, high heels are not appropriate for doing the dishes).

Pictured above is her prescription written in 1959 for dressing for amusement parks. Let’s see how our clothes stacked up some years later, in the mid 1960s at Disneyland in Anaheim, California.

Disneyland in the mid 1960's

Pretty much spot on! My mother and I, the towheaded girl, and the hand-on- head woman are all wearing what could be described as sport dresses or simple street dresses. I’m not sure about the redheaded woman – could she be wearing shorts? The pig is dressed up a bit more but is still within the rules as hats and gloves are optional, assuming that the dress code for males is the same.

Within about five years of this date, the dividing line for which clothes are appropriate for school, work, and play had blurred and changed. The fashion prescriptions of Miss Head, which had been the norms of society, would be discarded by young and old alike as a new casual style of dress took over.

My Favorite Guinea Pig drawing by Edith Head

Miss Head advises to experiment with clothes, and to be objective when trying on an outfit. “If it were possible to have a Polaroid camera along, snap your own picture and develop it at once, you’d make fewer mistakes”.  Just imagine lugging a big Polaroid camera into the dressing room, snapping a shot, waving the picture, and waiting for it to develop!  Of course this wasn’t practical, but this advice certainly works in the age of the “selfie”.

I fit Edith’s Head category of “too short” and her advice to my figure type is to use one color, never cut the body line, omit belts or use narrow belts, avoid a too-long dress length, and keep the silhouette slim and simple.

I decided to try my own experimenting in a department store dressing room.  It’s the store with the big balloons.  I’m keeping in mind Miss Head’s advice to accentuate my good points, and camouflage my figure faults.

Now, I wouldn’t ordinarily post unflattering photos of myself as I have a feminine sense of vanity about my appearance.

1960's tot admires her bracelet

And I know the importance of the right accessory.

1960's little girl loves her new bracelet

You’re never too young or too old to develop your own style!

Back to my experiment:  Here I try on a tent or trapeze shaped dress. The fabric is linen which is what I liked about it.

dressing room unflattering tent dress

trying on linen tent dress

 

 

 

 

 

All wrong! Too long for me, and even though the dress is so big and baggy it still manages to cling in an unflattering way to my high hip or haunches. Maybe I could wear this shape if the dress was belted, and hit just above the knee.  I find that waist definition is important for my figure.

Next I try on a knit top with a draped neckline, and a gathered skirt.  Better!

Polyester Outfit in Dressing Room

Cons: they are both polyester, the skirt is unlined and doesn’t have pockets, gathered skirt adds bulk to waistline, top is wrong length to wear untucked.

Pros:  draped neckline on top is flattering, like the deep blue color of the top, skirt will go with all solid colored knit tops.

I didn’t buy any of these pieces.  I feel fortunate that I have sewing skills, and can make/alter a garment to be more to my liking.  As I’ve gotten older and  the letters in my closet have changed from S to L, I find that the fit is “off” on most of the clothes I try on.

One of my favorite stories from the book is about the clothes for Connie Stevens, who was playing a small town girl in the movie “Rock-a-Bye Baby”.  Her co-star, Jerry Lewis, suggested that since her character didn’t need fancy clothes, she could just go the the store and buy something to wear.  When Jerry was shown the result of her shopping trip he said to Miss Head, “Make ’em!”  Apparently, the clothes weren’t very flattering, even to a young, slim starlet.

“Ready-made clothes are made to fit anyone and each individual has figure differences.  In making your own clothes, you can adjust to those figure differences, play up your good points, see that the waist fits at the waist, the shoulders are exactly the right width, the darts in the right place.”

“Clothes are the way you present yourself to the world; they affect the way the world feels and thinks about you; subconsciously they effect the way you feel and think about yourself.”

According to Miss Head, the most essential thing that clothes should do for you is to make you feel comfortable and assured.  Now that’s a prescription that never goes out of style!

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The Dress Doctor by Edith Head

I noticed a book at an estate sale with a dress form on the cover, picked it up, and discovered I had a first edition copy dated 1959 of the book “The Dress Doctor” by Edith Head.  I bought it!

I got a good deal. The book is selling on Amazon for $61 and up.  The 2011 reissue is not the original book, but a very abridged version.  However, many libraries have a copy.

I remember watching Oscar telecasts as a little girl with my mother, and  hearing Edith Head’s name being called as a nominee in the costume design category.  Miss Head was nominated 35 times in her career, and won 8 Academy Awards, 6 of them in the 1950s.

In the book, she tells of being a French and art teacher at the Hollywood School for Girls in the 1920s, where her pupils included the de Mille daughters.  Some days they would shut down school, and go to Paramount to watch Mr. De Mille direct a scene.  Evidently, Miss Head found the movie business to her liking; during  summer vacation she answered an ad for a sketch artist at Paramount. Even though she couldn’t draw,  she got the job by bringing to the interview other students’ drawings from the art school she was attending.

The doctor hangs up her shingle drawing

She began designing for silent pictures and westerns.  Her first  design that garnered attention was the sarong dress designed for Dorothy Lamour in the 1930s.

In 1949, a category for costume design was added to the Academy Awards, and Miss Head received her first nomination.  She didn’t win until the next year, for “The Heiress”, in which she designed  clothes whose purpose was to make Olivia de Havilland look plain and unattractive.  Up until 1968, the Academy awarded two costume design Oscars, one for color, and one for black and white.  Six of Miss Head’s wins were for black and white pictures, including “All About Eve” in 1951 and “Roman Holiday” in 1954.

Edith Head worked with all the top female stars of the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, and in the book describes costume fitting sessions with Clara Bow, Mae West, Marlene Dietrich, Bette Davis, Katherine Hepburn, Ingrid Bergman, Barbara Stanwyck, Sophia Loren, Elizabeth Taylor, and many others, and offers little anecdotes about their personalities.  Nothing snarky here – all the best stories were doubtless omitted as a dress doctor has an oath of confidentiality  to consider.

Miss Head worked on some of the greatest classic movies and my all-time favorites: dressing Bette Davis in “All About Eve”, Audrey Hepburn in “Roman Holiday, Grace Kelly in “Rear Window”, Kim Novak in “Vertigo” and Tippi Hedren in “The Birds”.

In the book, fashion advice is also given to the ordinary woman.  Miss Head appeared on a radio show with Art Linkletter in the the 1940s where she gave fashion pointers to the women in the audience.    I thought it very quaint to give fashion advice without any visuals, but then I remembered that the designer Mr. Blackwell, best known for his “worst dressed” annual lists, had a radio talk show broadcast from Los Angeles in the 1970s in which he did the same thing.

The show with Art Linkletter made it to television in 1952.  It was a fun show: contests to shop and select accessories, fashions shows, and a staple of women’s daytime entertainment: the makeover.

What Clothes Can Do for You drawing by Edith Head

My favorite part of the book is the section on what clothes can do for you.

“You are a woman with weapons, why not use them?  Why be a sheep when you can be a self?”

“Everyone has a day’s work, a career, in home, office or wherever, and why not express your individuality?  See how you can best dress for the day’s work to give yourself assurance.  Life is competitive; clothes gird us for the competition.”

Miss Head sums up her advice in three rules:

  1.  Be dressed for what you are doing.
  2.  Have the right accessories.
  3.  Don’t wear your clothes too tight.  A dress should be tight enough to show you’re a woman and loose enough to prove you’re a lady.

How do you think that advice holds up in the 21st Century?

Next week, in the The Dress Doctor Part 2, I will apply some of her concepts to myself, past and present.

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