Thursday, August 27, 2015

My Ella

April 1997 - August 27, 2015

I have lost my sewing buddy. She was a great companion and I shall miss her terribly. Ella was 18 years old and her health had been declining over the last year or so. On Monday evening she had a seizure, followed by another a few hours later, and then another... The vet prescribed some medicine and gave her fluids but her seizures continued and it became obvious that the only humane thing to do was to help her go over the Rainbow Bridge, as they say. She is no doubt happy to see her old friend, Sammy, and maybe Gris-Gris too, though she didn't care for him all that much.

Ella as pattern weight

Photo-bombing the picture of the sock monkey I made

Keeping my weaving warm for me
Holding down a run-away ball of yarn

You were loved.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Ready to sew

Four summer tops, cut out and ready to sew. Now I just have to translate the German instructions. ;-)

Clockwise from upper left:

Gray cotton plaid: Burda 7/2012 #103
Green rayon: Meine Nähmode 2/2014 #34 (Simplicity 6168, view B)
Colorful cotton: Meine Nähmode 2/2013 #11 (Simplicity 1884, view B)
Blue and white flower cotton: Burda 7012 #117

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Just do it

I finally got to Step 5 of my steps in sewing your own clothes: Cut out the fabric. My new mantra for this step is "just do it." I think many sewers, myself included, get a bit hesitant before taking scissors or rotary cutter to the fabric. Even if it's not expensive or precious fabric, I still pause, sometimes too long, before committing. But today I dove in and got 3 of the 4 summer tops cut out. I saved the last one, a plaid fabric, for tomorrow morning when it's hopefully cooler and I've had some rest. Some things just shouldn't be pushed.

Cutting out the fabric does take some time to do properly. The first thing to do is prepare the fabric by folding it on grain, although I almost never cut out knits and jerseys on the fold because the bottom layer never seems to lay as flat as the top. In those cases I trace off the other half of the pattern and cut single layer. I'm using woven fabric for my summer tops so I cut out on the fold. The fabric in the above picture is rayon and was a little slippery but it was a 6 Euro remnant and this is a casual summer top I'm making so I cut on the fold. The plaid tomorrow will be single cut so I can match the plaid. Fortunately I didn't have any off-grain issues with my fabrics so preparing the fabric wasn't difficult, unlike a knit I once cut a top out of that had epic grain issues.

I use the layout in the instructions as a guide but mostly just to make sure I cut out all the pieces. One lesson learned (the hard way) is to stop and look at the fabric for any direction in the print (or nap if it's solid) and make sure I have my pattern pieces going the right way. Sometimes a print has direction but it's ambiguous as to which way, so you have to make a decision and commit to it.

One other little tip I can pass on is that I pin the smaller pattern pieces to the fabric so that I don't lose track of them or mistake a facing or collar for a scrap. Regarding scraps, I save a large piece for testing thread tension, button holes, to make sure the serger will stitch it correctly, etc. If there is a sizable piece, I save it for trying out sewing techniques, but I have to admit that my scrap bag is a bit full. Why is it so hard to throw fabric away?

I do believe that working on the four summer tops all at once has been a real help toward getting past my "stuck" spots in sewing. Picking out four projects instead of one helped to alleviate some of the anxiety I have with "too many projects, too little time" and deciding what one thing did I want to make next, above all the other things I want to make. Also, it's been efficient to prepare the patterns and cut out the fabric for multiple projects because I can get my space and tools set up and get in the pattern tracing or cutting out mood. Of course when it comes time to sew I will do one at a time because of the different thread colors needed.

Friday, July 24, 2015

The steps in sewing your own clothes

I can count on one hand the number of times I've made a piece of clothing in one day. A simple elastic-band skirt. A night-shirt from a pattern I've used before. That might be all! For me, sewing takes time, and since I'm a perfectionist, the extra time I spend on each step adds up and sometimes keeps me from making everything that I want. So I thought I would break down the steps and see how I can manage things better.

Here are what I consider the steps to sewing clothes:

1. Decide/design what you want to make
2. Acquire the fabric and notions - or match fabric to project
3. Prepare the pattern
4. Make a muslin and/or determine any alterations
5. Cut out the fabric
6. Sew everything together
7. Finishes

In this blog post I'm only going to cover the first few steps. Hopefully I'll come back and finish this topic!

Step 1: Decide/design what you want to make

I spend a lot of time on this, perhaps too much. I don't like to waste my fabric (or time) making things that I won't or can't wear, even if by doing so I will learn something. I guess it's the engineer in me - I prefer expected results or very carefully thought out plans as opposed to experimenting or throwing caution to the wind. That's also why I don't like to cook (though I like baking because the recipes are usually more exact and the outcome more precise).

Many of the things I want to make never get beyond this step because I have "sewing anxiety." My head is filled with ideas, and I can't focus on one thing to make without another potential project creeping in (ooh, new shiny thing!). My fabrics were acquired with projects in mind, not specific patterns necessarily, but types of garments - "this would make a great jacket" sort of thing. So when I see my fabric, I see unfulfilled projects, not raw materials. It also doesn't help that I am constantly acquiring new patterns every month - thank you Burda, Ottobre, Sabrina, Meine Nahmode, Knipmode and of course Vogue, McCalls, Butterick, etc.

So in an attempt to control this anxiety, I started a project board. I don't have room for a physical design board in my sewing space like designers have with clippings from magazines, scraps of fabric, and sketches. So instead I'm using my tablet computer. You may recall that I'm using OneNote to store all of my patterns, so I simply made a new section as my Project Queue and filled it with my ideas. For example, I made one page for "summer tops" that I filled with clippings of pattern photos.

Since most of my patterns are from pattern magazines, this is a huge help to have a place where I can put the information about the specific patterns I like and might actually make. In the past I would lose hours of time flipping through the magazines (or my big notebook of Burda line drawings) trying to find some pattern I vaguely remember. Post-it tabs helped a little, but just left my magazines with lots of colorful little tabs and I still had to go back through them, even if I wrote notes on the tabs.

I also make pages for one specific project or idea. This is where I can get more creative and even sketch on top of the line drawing to design what I want. Here's an example of a top I want to make where I plan to use the design features of two patterns to combine a white knit with a striped knit:

After I finish a project, I move the page to another section I have for completed projects.

I've only recently been using my Project Queue (I think I might rename it to Project Board) but I think it's really helping me. I wanted to sew some summer tops and already had the fabric (Step 2) but only had an idea of the kind of top I wanted. I couldn't decide exactly what pattern would be the best for each fabric. Finding and putting the pictures on my Project Board helped tremendously to narrow down my choices and most importantly, remember which magazine the pattern was from.

Step 2: Acquire the fabric and notions - or match fabric to project

I always tend to buy fabric with only a vague idea in mind, e.g., summer top. Sometimes I have a more specific design in mind but even if I do I often change my mind once I have the fabric home and I look at it some more or I find a different pattern that I think would work better. With my current "summer top" project, I decided to use four pieces of fabric, so I matched them to four patterns from my Project Board and made a page for each top.

Step 3: Prepare the pattern

Last night and today I traced off the four patterns for the summer tops that I want to make. I decided to do them all at once and took over the dining room table to do so.

The crazy mess of magazine patterns! Seam allowances are included on this one.

Patterns are traced (and labelled!) and ready to use
I didn't do anything different in this step than I normally do. I use tissue paper (from Nancy's Notions) and colored pencils and make sure I label each piece with all the info, including the size. I always use paper scissors to cut out the pattern first because I don't want to dull my fabric scissors or rotary cutter and I think it's more accurate. Also, it makes tissue fitting easier.

Until I use them the first time, I keep the patterns flat and held together with a binder clip. Afterward I'll fold them and store them in bags or envelopes. I'm running low on the plastic pattern-keeper bags that Nancy's Notions used to sell. I really liked those because they were the same size as the Big4 patterns and had a sleeve for the a paper printout of the pattern picture or instructions. I just bought an expanding 7-section file that I think will work well for storing some patterns, well seven of them at least.

Step 4: Make a muslin and/or determine any alterations

These summer tops I'm making are really simple and loose so I don't plan to make muslins, though I will tissue fit to be sure. I did measure the patterns first to determine the finished size in the bust before choosing which size to make. In one case I went down a size because it looked like it would run large, and reviews on Patternreview confirmed this as well. I didn't do any FBAs since none of the tops is fitted, but I did add extra width in the hips. This is why I love sewing! In RTW if a top fits in my shoulders and bust it almost never fits across my hips. And if I put in too much ease, it's a simple fix to take it in.

But on the subject of muslins and alterations...fitting is definitely one of my obstacles. Sometimes even before I get past Step 1. It's the reason I haven't made fitted pants or something tailored or anything out of really expensive fabric. I've made muslins and sometimes they've helped. Though sometimes I get bogged down in the fitting and never get beyond the muslin. Sometimes I make the muslin and it fits but for some reason the final garment doesn't. Usually it's because the muslin doesn't have the same hand, drape, or give as the fashion fabric. I've used cheap knits to test knit patterns but when the cheap knit had lousy recovery it couldn't mimic the stretch of the "good" knit I wanted to use, so the muslin wasn't a good gauge for fit.

So how do I get past the fitting demons? Practice, I'm afraid. When I do have a project that needs fitting, I should try not to rush it. I should use similar fabric to make the muslin(s), and I should not overwork the fitting. I've seen some sewing bloggers agonize over every wrinkle and pucker and make muslin after muslin in an attempt to get the perfect fit. Exhausting! And probably not necessary.

Step 5: Cut out the fabric

I'm not to this step yet with the summer tops. I just finished tracing the patterns. I think I will probably cut out all four patterns one after the other so that I don't have any excuses not to make all four tops (this summer, this year, while it is still hot out and before the snow flies). sister in law is visiting for the next two weeks and the sewing space is also the guest room. So the tops, and the rest of the steps, may have to wait. But I can already hint at something I should do for Step 6: when I'm stuck, make sample pieces to practice or try out a technique I'm not sure about and Step 7: just do it! You know me and finishing. ;-)

Friday, July 17, 2015

It's hot and I'm not sewing but I have been traveling.

We've been having extreme, record setting heat in Europe for the last couple of weeks - we had a couple days of cooler, wet weather but now we're back to hot. And we have no a/c, just fans, like most of Europe. My great upstairs studio-with-a-view is an oven, so needless to say, sewing is on hold until cooler weather. Bummer.

But that doesn't explain all of my absence from blogging. Since I last posted in early June, we've traveled to seven countries. Whew! My niece visited from the states for two weeks, so that accounted for some of the travel.

Before the heat and my niece arrived (at the same time, just her luck!), I was working on a top. It's a simple pattern - just two pieces - but I had an idea in my head which has led to it being quite complicated. The most difficult part is done but now I have to figure out how I will do the finishing. I don't want to show it until it's done because I am a little bit excited about how it is turning out.

So the travel. In the last month we went to Latvia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, France, Switzerland, Italy, Monaco, and Luxembourg. Whew!

In this post I'll show you a bit of Riga, Latvia. First, I'll show you the fiber-y related things:

When in Latvian mitten kits. I couldn't decide between the two.
I loved the color of this wool roving and the price was right, so...
A bound book of gridded paper for weaving notes, a fun, big, wood button just cause it's a fun, big, wood button, and a tea towel that I may turn into a knitting project bag.
I couldn't resist. We went to the local market (which is huge!) and this was 15 Euros a kilo. It looks like the same yarn as in the mitten kits too. 
Knitting on "Knitting in Public Day"
Wall of Latvian mittens
...and more
Woven bands - these are used on traditional Latvian dress
Sorry, I didn't get the name of the store. I believe the mittens hanging up are part of an exhibit that is in conjunction with a book about Latvian mittens (only in Latvian). Here's the brochure (click picture to see larger):

You can get the book on Amazon for $49 but it sells for 29 Euros in Latvia ($49 is about $32 right now). I would have bought it, but how many Latvian mittens can one knit...or use?

There are many knitted items for sale in Latvia. There are many souvenir shops selling knitted items as well as vendors on the streets selling fine gauge, machine-made items (probably not made in Latvia) as well as chunkier hand-knitted things (faster to knit in larger gauge).

Of course I was interested in yarn, which you saw that I bought. I bought the mitten kits and roving from Hobbywool.
Located on a small street but you can't miss the "yarn bombing" out front!
So what about the non-fiber-y Riga? It was delightful. We had really nice weather, which helps a lot, but I was really pleasantly surprised. The Old Town is compact with a few squares where eating and drinking outside (in the summer) is the main attraction.

With only the long weekend and gorgeous blue skies most of the time, we chose not to visit museums and instead wandered the medieval streets and nearby parks stopping for a refreshment now and then. 
Every picture of Riga includes the House of Blackheads. Riga was a major trade city in the 13th-16th centuries. The House of Blackheads was built in the 14th century for unmarried German merchants.

The other often photographed building is the Cat House. It's actually a relatively new building (1909). The cat on the turret is one of two, supposedly put there by a merchant who had an argument with the guild - the cats' rear ends faced the guild building across the street. Cats figure prominently in the souvenirs sold in Riga. I did buy the t-shirt. :-)

The other notable landmark in Riga is Freedom Monument. Erected in 1938 to honor soldiers who died during the 1918-1920 Latvian War for Independence. In 1987 Latvians rallied here to commemorate victims of the Soviet regime, which led to a renewed national independence movement and three years later Latvian sovereignty.

One morning we took a walk through a neighborhood known for its incredible, well-preserved Art Nouveau buildings.


I recommend visiting Riga if you have a chance. I think many travelers include it with a visit to Estonia and Lithuania. We've been to Tallinn, Estonia, which has a nice old town also (and yarn!). Lithuania is still on our list to visit.

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Pajama pants done

Yay, these pajama pants for my husband are finished and I can move on to the next project.

The pattern is #134 from Burda Style 12/2010. The fabric is cotton and is a remnant I bought from a department store in Stuttgart. I did the waistband a little differently than on past pants I've made him. Usually I use an elastic that has a drawstring in it, but this time I put elastic along the back only and attached drawstrings to it for the front. Not much else to say about them, since it's super easy to sew drawstring pants.

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

OneNote for the Pattern Stash - Part 2

It's time I did a follow up to tips on using OneNote for organizing your pattern stash, because it's been well over a year since I wrote part 1 and also because I was just singing its praises over on Pattern Review. So "hello" if you're coming to my blog from there. Warning - this is a long post.

After using and tweaking my pattern library over these last 16 months or so, I've found that the system works pretty well for me, but it's not perfect. No "out of the box" system is. One thing I've learned with Microsoft tools such as Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc, is that they are tools and you can make them work for you but you will find some limitations if you're not using the tool exactly how the developers envision you using it, i.e., you're not using it for a business application. I remember in the mid 90's in grad school I was using Excel to plot my scientific data. Now if you know Excel, it is loaded with all sorts of tools to plot and track business data - you can create nifty pie charts and the feared (and misunderstood) pivot tables. It's not, and certainly wasn't in its early days, the best tool for making scientific charts. But I made it work, and over time Microsoft improved the capabilities in Excel and the ability to use it for scientific purposes increased as well. I am finding a similar situation with OneNote.

OneNote is a fabulous tool for collecting your random, or not so random, notes and information. I used to have a paper notebook at work that I used for note taking during meetings. It was not very efficient and I seldom went back to review it. But with OneNote I could finally organize my information, track action items, update old info, and most importantly I could search for stuff. Today I use OneNote for grocery lists, bits of stuff I want to remember like the name of a movie someone recommended, and a variety of other things. With the advent of online cloud storage and the ability to access that storage from my phone when I'm out, it also seemed like a great way to be able to keep track of my patterns and make the information available to me wherever I am. The flexibility to be able to add whatever information I want in whatever form I want makes OneNote much more appealing to me than a database, even though I'd be giving up the more rigid formatting a database would provide (for good or for bad). But OneNote is still a tool. It is literally an open book and you fill the pages how you wish.

As with any software tool, there is a learning curve. It's not uncommon to change your course of thinking after you've used the tool and discovered how best to use it. This happened with my Pattern Library as well, but it didn't change too radically and I'm still experimenting...and learning.

The following information only applies to using OneNote with Windows 8.1 and OneDrive with an Office 365 subscription, because that is what I have. I can't explain how OneNote works with Chrome or with Apple operating systems - it does work with those, I just don't have them or use them.

There are multiple ways to access (and edit) OneNote notebooks - that are online*
  1. I have OneNote installed on my laptop, which I access by going to the desktop.
  2. There is the OneNote application on my laptop, which I access by clicking the OneNote tile.
  3. I can use my browser to navigate to my OneDrive and then open a OneNote notebook
  4. I have an app on my phone that I can use to view (no editing) a OneNote notebook.
*I created my notebook so that it lives online in the cloud of OneDrive rather than on my desktop so that I can access it from my phone or another computer. Any edits I make using the application in 1, 2 or 3 above are synced so that I will always (barring any sync problems) see the latest updates.

Ah, but nothing is perfect. First of all, the OneNote editing tools are different between 1, 2, and 3. Oh, Microsoft...why does it seem like three different groups developed these applications? Probably because they did.

1. Desktop OneNote on laptop computer

2. OneNote Application on laptop computer

3. OneNote Online using browser

4. Phone application
For the majority of my editing, as well as adding new patterns, I use the desktop OneNote (1). Incidentally, that's where you end up when you select "open in OneNote" from OneNote Online (3). The desktop OneNote (1) has the most tools by far. The application version (2) is my most preferred way to view my Pattern Library, but the editing tools there are pretty limited. The phone application (4) is also good, but given the small screen size, I pretty much only use that when I'm out or only my phone is handy. I haven't used Outlook Online (3) except for recently when I was experiencing some sync problems.

Like many things in life, when they work well they're great and when they don't you get frustrated and annoyed, probably out of scale to the issue at hand. I didn't have sync problems until I decided to add more pictures to my Burda magazine section. A lot of pictures. Plus the pictures, which I copied from the Burdastyle website, where huge. I scaled them down - really just clicked and dragged to make them smaller, so I didn't change the file size. My Pattern Library notebook is about 5 GB - sounds pretty big.. Syncing takes a long time now and when our internet at home drops out, sometimes errors can occur, and they did. Therefore, I decided to make a new notebook just for the Burda magazines and move the sections to it, which you can only do from the desktop OneNote (1).

Here's another example of the different editing tools and look of a OneNote notebook depending on how/where you view it. When I added the Burdastyle pictures, they were huge, as I said. Since I added them using the desktop OneNote, I clicked and dragged to make them smaller or put them in a table, which made the pictures smaller based on the table cell size (the table tools are pretty limited in OneNote, but you have an option to make your table in Excel and then paste it into OneNote). When I looked at the notebook in OneNote Online, the pictures were huge again. I found it interesting (and annoying) that OneNote Online has a picture format option where I could set the size of the picture to a certain percentage - I could not find this tool in the desktop OneNote, despite there being many more editing tools.

I was going to write more about how I structured my notebook sections and pages, but I honestly think that you have to play with it yourself to discover how you want OneNote to work for you. You know best what's important to you and how you want your information displayed. If you run into issues, you can ask me in the comments and I'll try to answer, but you may find more information and help by searching the internet or Microsoft community help site.