Friday, June 24, 2016

What a difference color makes

My latest sewing projects are good examples of how different use of color can totally change the look.

My first project is actually a redo. I made this top late last summer - so late that it turned cool before I could wear it, but it was looking like I was never going to wear it anyway. I wasn't pleased with how it turned out. It fit ok but the white binding - I used a cotton/linen blend - was too stiff and too bright. I couldn't help but think "hospital gown" when I looked at it. So I changed the binding.


It was a crazy amount of work to change the binding, but worth it because now I will wear the top. I used some rayon binding that is probably meant for finishing seam allowances but I think it works well as trim here, both for the color and because it's softer. I machine stitched the strip to the edges first and then hand sewed the other edge in place since it wanted to twist when I tried stitching in the ditch.

Much nicer, I think.

The second project is a top I made using two coordinating knit prints, one a print and one solid. The pattern I used is from the May 2016 issue of Knipmode - actually I used the German version "Fashion Style", but it's the same magazine.

I couldn't decide whether to use the print on top or bottom so I asked my sewing friends. They unanimously said "print on top" so that's what I did.

But look how different the shirt would look with the print on the bottom:

The use of color is ultimately a personal choice. There are no rules but there are color relationships that seem to be more or less favorable to the majority of people. When I was searching pictures on line to see other examples of two-tone shirts, I found more had the darker color on top and the lighter on the bottom, regardless of whether there were prints involved or not.

When I'm planning my sewing, knitting, or weaving projects I often get stuck on how to best use color. I have a book in my library that might help with this, and I should really take some time to read it!

Friday, June 10, 2016

Leather coin pouch - first time sewing leather

I've found that a coin pouch is almost a necessity in Europe because of the 1 and 2 Euro coins. Even if your wallet has a coin section, it quickly gets filled up - and gets heavy. 

I did not make this lovely pouch - I bought it in Buenos Aires.
My husband's coin pouch has nearly disintegrated after four years of constant use. I'd already repaired holes in it a few times but it's beyond repair now.

This was once a lovely tan pouch of soft leather.
So naturally I thought to sew a new pouch to replace the worn-out one. I never sewed leather before but always intended to, so I already had the necessary tools (of course!). I've included my pictures and process and lessons learned, in the event someone reading this would also like to make a little coin pouch.

I found the leather scrap in the remnant bin of a fabric store in Paris for 1 Euro. I bought a few pieces, but this one is perfectly sized for the small pouch. A Teflon foot is very useful for sewing leather, as are leather needles. I already had a zipper in my stash - longer is just fine. I thought I'd use heavy button thread, but it didn't work (more on that later). I drew up a paper pattern, using the old pouch as a guide. I used a pen to trace the pattern onto the wrong side of the leather.

One more useful tool for sewing leather is double sided, wash-away tape. Mine is by Dritz, but I'm sure there are other brands. The tape is useful for positioning the two pieces of the bag onto the zipper tape. You don't want to use pins because they'll put permanent holes in the leather.

Now about that buttonhole thread. I first did some sample stitching on a leftover scrap and just could not get my tension to work, despite fiddling with the tension on both the needle and the bobbin in various amounts. I tried regular thread in the bobbin only, but that didn't improve things, so I decided that either my machine, or the eye of the needle, couldn't adequately accommodate the thicker thread. Or perhaps the hole in the leather made by the needle was too small. I re-threaded my machine, a Pfaff 7570, with regular thread and got the tension set almost right away. But to me the regular machine sewing thread just seemed too skimpy for the heavy use this coin pouch will get. So I decided to increase the thread thickness by 50% by using two threads through the needle and one in the bobbin. This was easy to do because my machine has a second spindle for such a purpose. After a little adjusting I was happy with the tension and the sewing commenced.

It was actually quite easy to sew the leather. I used a 3.0 mm stitch length, and since my Teflon foot has a space for moving the needle side to side, I took advantage of that and used the edge of the foot as a guide and set the needle set the distance I wanted.

The next step was sewing the bag closed. Since my leather is very soft and not too thick, I decided to stitch it right sides together because I was pretty confident I could turn it inside out. With a thicker leather I'd sew it wrong-sides together.

I used binder clips to hold the leather together - the pin you see is only through the zipper tape. I trimmed the other end of the zipper tape so the stop wouldn't get in the way of the Teflon foot. Also, I started the stitching away from the top edge because I figured it would be next to impossible to start at the zipper edge due to the bulk. Then of course I just went back and sewed up the last bit, starting where I began the stitching. And don't forget to move that zipper pull before you sew, making sure that you can get into the bag to turn it inside out.

I did end up doing a little hand sewing at the zipper ends to secure them. I also trimmed the seam allowance so it would form a nicer curve. But then I feared that I'd trimmed it too close and envisioned coins wearing at the seam and eventually popping out the bottom, so I stitched another line of sewing in the seam allowance. I found it so easy to sew the leather, even in such a narrow space of the trimmed seam allowance (probably 1/8 inch) - there was no shifting at all.

And Voila! One new leather coin pouch.

If I make this pouch again - we'll see how long this one lasts - I would maybe line it. I noticed that the suede finish on the wrong side of the leather had made my hands a little black from handling it so much. I warned my husband about that. The pouch I bought in Buenos Aires has what looks like interfacing on the inside but I wondered if that was because they'd used a thinner leather. I noticed that the top edge where it's attached to the zipper is actually turned under (stitched right side to the zipper). If I'd done that, the seam would have been too bulky. Also, I might make the zipper end a bit neater, although the worn-out pouch was made pretty much the same way. On my Buenos Aires pouch the zipper ends are covered by the interfacing/lining.

All in all, I'd call it a successful first time sewing leather!

Monday, May 09, 2016


First the final result, then the back story:

At the Frühlingsfest!

Two years ago I decided I'd make my husband a traditional-style sweater to go with his German lederhosen. We like to attend the Volksfest (like Oktoberfest) in September/October and the Frühlingsfest in April/May, both held in Stuttgart, Germany. At those times of the year it can be cold and rainy so a sweater would be a welcome addition to his ensemble.

At these fests, it's popular to wear the Trachten, or traditional folk costumes of Bavaria (southern Germany) and Austria. In the tents, it's a real party of beer, food and music and wearing dirndls and lederhosen is almost a must, especially if you don't have an entry ticket. We got in once without a ticket but I think our clothes and age - as in "not likely to cause trouble" - got us in.

Live music adds to the atmosphere
Proof that I dress up!

I did not make my dirndl. I certainly have the patterns, thanks to many September issues of Burda in my stash, but buying one was quicker and easier.

So about the sweater. I used a pattern from a (now out of print) German specialty magazine with lots of patterns for knitting Trachten.

Of course the instructions are in German. I had some help translating them from my German tutor, except she's blind, so that was an additional challenge. And yes, she knits.

To complete the German-ness of the sweater, I decided to use the yarn called for by the pattern - Schoeller + Stahl Fortissima 6fach - which is of course a German yarn. I found it in a local yarn shop, but they only had 5 skeins, enough for the smaller size. I figured this would work because my husband was between the small and larger size, and I didn't really like the oversize-look of the sweater on the model. So I bought the yarn and knit up a swatch...and ran into my first problem: needle size.

My gauge on the 2.5 mm needle size called for in the pattern was too small, but 3.0 mm was too big. I needed 2.75 mm, which I did not have, but this is not a size that is easily - if at all - found in Europe. So I had to order them from the US and wait.

I started the sweater on the 2.75 mm (US 2) needles and after a few inches I became worried that the sweater would be too large. Somehow my gauge was now a bit big. So I ripped it out and started over with the 2.5 mm needles. I knit the entire back piece but now worried that the sweater was going to be too small! There was some leeway with blocking, as the garter stitch seemed to grow a bit when wet, but when I compared the back to some of my husband's other sweaters, it was clear that the smaller size was too small and I needed to knit the larger size. But I didn't have enough yarn to knit the larger size, and now the yarn was discontinued. I even tried to find some at the yarn manufacturer's outlet store, which lucky for me was only an hour drive away. I left my name and number with the clerk, who thought they might be able to get some but when they eventually called, I understood enough German to know that this was not the case. I was out of luck. I trolled the internet looking for the yarn in on-line stores and found one in Austria but wasn't sure how to order - or pay them. Many on-line stores here use direct payment from a European bank account, which I don't have. They'll also use PayPal but my address in PayPal is a US one and PayPal requires you to create an account in the country that matches your address and for some reason I couldn't set up a German one. Another source for the yarn was Sometimes knitters will offer yarn for sale or trade, but I couldn't find any in the color I needed.

This husband-sweater was looking like it wasn't going to be finished. My husband, having seen a knitting friend re-knit her husband-sweater multiple times, now assumed that finished husband-sweaters were an urban legend.

While I was at the outlet store I bought different yarn to make his sweater, but they didn't have the same color. I bought light blue with dark blue for the trim, but it didn't seem right. I wanted the gray color of the original yarn. It also didn't help that the yarn called for wasn't the more common "worsted weight" size, but a slightly thinner "DK or sport-weight" size, which is not as common. Finding a replacement yarn wasn't going to be easy either.

The spring and fall fests came and went with my husband sweater-less. Then I decided to try again. I got out the larger, 2.75 mm needles and started knitting. I'd just had success with a previous sweater where the gauge was too big, but I knit a smaller size and got the larger sweater I wanted. It can be a risky thing to do - with that sweater I had to rework the sleeve decreases to get the right shape, but miraculously it worked out. On the plus side, the pattern for the husband-sweater had a detailed schematic that showed what the dimensions for each size should be. I figured if I could knit the number of stitches and rows needed for the small size, but get the flat dimensions of the large size, it would work. And it did. I also compared the knitted pieces with his other sweaters as I knit them, making sure that they were in the ballpark for size.

But the husband-sweater saga did not end there. As I began knitting the first sleeve, even though I was knitting the small size, the amount of yarn I had left was dwindling at a fast rate. Too fast. I checked and rechecked my project bags and yarn stash. Nope. No mislaid ball of the yarn. It occurred to me that even though I was knitting the small size, I was probably using up more yarn since my gauge was larger. The fear of running out of yarn was growing with each row that I knit. I couldn't wait to get to the end of that sleeve so I could weigh the sleeve and compare it to the yarn I had left. You may remember this post a few months ago where I had the realization that sleeves take up quite a bit of yarn/fabric. Fortunately I found that I had enough yarn to finish the husband-sweater.

Except that I forgot about the trim. I didn't use the same yarn for the trim, like the pattern called for. Instead I used a different German yarn: Lana Grossa Meilenweit. It's a sock-weight yarn but when I knit with two-strands it was close to the original yarn and resulted in a close enough gauge that it worked out just fine. I had two skeins, which I thought would be enough. Well, it was and it wasn't. The last part to knit was the trim that runs along the front and neck edges, and I ran out of yarn on the bind-off row. I was probably short by a yard or two. Again I searched project bags and my stash and I found one doubled over piece, but it wasn't enough. Fortunately the yarn wasn't discontinued but I came up with a different idea - and it didn't involve ripping back one row. I simply bound off using a single strand of the yarn. I barely made it.

Here is the yarn I had left after finishing the sweater:

Just scraps of the darker trim yarn and a tiny, tiny ball of the main yarn. I do still have the swatch I knit, so there is a bit more, in case I need to make any repairs to the sweater.

I finished seaming the sweater during the 2-hour car ride down to Stuttgart until it was too dark to see and then the next morning, which was the day before the fest. I bought the wood buttons at a Stuttgart fabric store and sewed them on that afternoon. The buttons cost almost as much as the yarn did, but I just couldn't put plastic faux wood buttons on this.

You might say this sweater was a labor of love. My husband didn't believe that I would really finish it but I proved him wrong. Needless to say, he loves the sweater. He says it's his new favorite sweater and wore it right away to dinner that night. He wore it to the fest of course, which was perfect for the cooler weather of the morning, but in the tent it was too warm. He kept it on as long as he could and then stashed it in a plastic bag to protect it from beer spills (everyone brings bags for this purpose - you see bags bulging with jackets and sweaters stashed under every table!).

Husband-sweater #1 is done. There will be more, but now it's my turn for a sweater. It's another sweater restart - a sweater I started in 2005 but after knitting the back and starting on the front decided that it would be too small. I'm knitting a larger size this time.

"Liv" from Elsebeth Lavold
I hope I don't run out of yarn.

Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Style Arc or Burda?

I've watched the sewing community's interest in Style Arc from afar. The patterns look nice and the sketches make the designs look very appealing. Also, and maybe most importantly, the patterns have gotten fairly good reviews overall. But at $10-$12 (US) a pattern + the shipping from Australia ($$), I haven't bitten. Also, they're single-size patterns, so you better get your size right! They do sell some of the patterns in multi-size versions through, which in addition to helping with the size issue also helps reduce the shipping costs. And I hear you can buy their patterns as pdf files on Etsy, but they're still pricey at $7+ (US) and you have to print them out and tape them together. I'm not a fan of pdf patterns - I'd rather trace. In fact I have two free pdf Style Arc patterns and I haven't attempted either one yet.

I think too that what's keeping me from buying any Style Arc patterns is that the designs remind me of patterns I already have, mostly among my many Burda pattern magazines. I received an email from Style Arc advertising their March patterns and at first glance I really liked them - a dress with a boxy jacket.

Photo property of Style Arc
I thought maybe I'd break down and buy my first patterns from them but then I browsed my Burda collection. Just add sleeves...

From BurdaStyle 06/2013 #116

I couldn't find as close a match for the jacket but these aren't too far off:

From BurdaStyle 02/2014 #132

From BurdaStyle 09/2014 #127

BurdaStyle 08/2015 #109

So I guess I'll just stick to my Burdas for now, especially because I have sewn Burda before and know that they fit me. Sorry Style Arc.

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

This Sewer's Shopping Day in Paris

Paris is only 4 hours away by train, yet I don't get there often enough. My husband recently had a work meeting in Paris so I tagged along and while he was in his meeting I went to visit fabric and notions stores. I didn't buy any fabric (!!) because I already have plenty of fabric and I didn't really see anything special that I had to have. I'm a bit spoiled now by the Dutch fabric markets that come to town and the selection of fabric in my local, German fabric stores. I did buy a few small things.

Paris purchases: notions, leather scraps and zipper, patterned elastic

First stop was Entrée des Fournisseurs - La Mercerie Parisienne at 8 rue des Francs Bourgeois, near Place des Vosges.

I was hoping to find some woven trim to use as embellishment on a top I want to make but despite the lovely trims and ribbons in this shop, they didn't have what I wanted. But I did find some patterned elastic. I have a pair of RTW jeans (Levis, I think) that have patterned elastic sewn onto the inside of the waistband, and I think it helps to keep the waistband from stretching out or gaping. When I saw the checkerboard elastic I thought I'd try that treatment in pants or on a skirt waistband.

On my way to my next stop, just north of the Pompidou Center, I came across a lovely little shopping arcade called Passage du Grand Cerf. The stores in it are artsy-boutique places selling old items for decorative purposes or newly created art pieces. I of course spied the knitting and fabric store: Lil Weasel.

The knitting store on the left side carries a nice selection of yarns as well as embroidery threads and notions, but nothing grabbed me, and I'm trying to curtail my "travel yarn" anyway. They have a fabric store on the right side of the arcade but it's mostly fabrics for quilting or making baby things, neither of which I was interested in. But I still enjoyed browsing!

Leaving the arcade and walking toward my next stop on my list, I started seeing fabric being sold everywhere. I realized I was in the garment district of Paris, or what remains of it.

Lots of stores with names ending in "tex"
Ateliers were sandwiched between fabric sellers, men were loading huge roles of fabric into a van and I swear I was giddy with the "smell" of fabric in the air. But these stores looked like they weren't the type of fabric stores a home sewer wanders into. These looked like places for large fabric orders for making lots of the same garment. Maybe the home sewer can buy fabric there, but with my limited French and not feeling adventurous (or needing any fabric anyway), I passed them by.

My next destination was Sajou at 47, rue du Caire. Sajou was originally a haberdashery founded in 1828, specializing in embroidery, tapestry, bobbin lace, crochet and weaving. The store eventually closed but was re-launched in 2005 to sell these items once again with reproductions of the original designs from the 19th and early 20th centuries. I've always been enticed by their goodies but I think they're a bit pricey and the shipping outside of France is steep. A wonderful friend gave me a pair of their scissors, which are very, very nice, and I was eager to visit their store in Paris.

It's an overload of Sajou when you walk in. So many things to look at, so many things to covet. I wandered around the compact store for a long, long time. So long that other customers came, browsed, purchased and left. I was waiting for Madame to question why I was there so long. But she probably quickly figured out I was an American tourist, or at least "not French", and left me to my browsing. I eventually settled on a few items that will be a gift: quilting needles, ribbon adorned with fleur de lis, and a small tin of pins. I bought the thread organizer for myself. Cat and dog winding yarn? A monkey sewing? How could I resist such an image.

My honest opinion of the Sajou items is that except for the scissors (and I can't speak for the thread since I don't embroider and haven't used it), the reproductions of the images is what you're buying. I don't know that the needles or pins are of high quality, though they look fine. The prices are a bit high I think - 8 Euros for my thread organizer, which is just heavy cardstock with holes...and that silly image of cat, dog, and monkey printed on it (back side too). I do think the store and the merchandise is more for tourists or aficionados of period haberdashery. The storage boxes they sell look nice but they're just small cardboard boxes with a reproduction image pasted on them - for 18 Euros. Still it was fun to visit, fun to browse. I like my thread organizer and I'm certain the recipient of the other gifts will like them too.

Onward to my last stop - the fabric shops in Montmartre. I always have to visit Tissus Reine and Marche St. Pierre Dreyfus and the other fabric shops that dot the streets near Sacre Coeur. I didn't take a picture of the fabric stores, but here's one of Sacre Coeur. It was a nice day but a little chilly.

I was a bit surprised to find the fabric shops were crowded. Lots of people - mostly women and not all of them appeared to be tourists. I heard a lot of French spoken. I chuckled to myself when I saw a guy standing outside Reine, waiting and holding onto his wife's (presumably) Reine bag. I also saw a guy sitting on a chair inside, reading a book, probably while his companion shopped. It made me smile because my husband is as patient with me when I'm fabric shopping in Paris.

Despite browsing quite a bit, I didn't find any fabric I had to have, which was a little disappointing but probably a good thing since I have good size stash of fabric already. I did find some small scraps of leather in a bin outside one store, selling for a Euro each. I plan to use them for bound buttonholes or welt pocket details. There are two thicker pieces that I plan to use to make a coin pouch (with that zipper I bought).

I'll leave you with some more images of Paris.

Sunset, Eifel Tower, and brides.
Shimmering gold!

Monday, February 29, 2016

Don't forget about the sleeves

In both sewing and knitting I have learned that sleeves take up more yardage than I think. Years ago I made some flannel pajamas and thought I'd have plenty of fabric but, oops, not enough for the sleeves. Fortunately I had a yard of flannel in a coordinating color in my stash.

Kwik Sew pajamas from years ago - I still wear them and love them!

I'm planning on making some new pajamas and discovered that yet again, I don't have enough of the flannel print, but by some miracle (or compulsion of buying fabric), I had a single yard of the same flannel in my stash.

When I go to buy fabric without a specific pattern in mind, I tend to buy about 2 yards if I'm envisioning making a top from it. That's plenty for a short sleeve top and usually works for a t-shirt type top, but I'm learning that it isn't always enough for a long sleeve top if that top is tunic length or bulky or has full sleeves, and it's certainly not enough for a long sleeve dress. Sleeves are not just an extra little design feature - they can take up a sizable bit of fabric!

I'm learning that my denial of sleeve size exists in knitting as well. I'm currently knitting a sweater for my husband and using the yarn identified by the pattern instructions. The pattern called for 5 balls of the yarn, which was sold in 150 gram balls, so that's what I bought. Actually that is all the store had in stock. I later found out the yarn was discontinued and even the factory store (Schachenmayr) didn't have any more. I forged ahead with knitting the sweater anyway. The back took more than one ball to knit and the fronts each took almost one ball each, so that left about 1 ball each for the sleeves. I figured I had plenty of yarn for the sleeves until I studied the pattern instructions - actually I translated them because they're in German. That's when I realized how big the sleeves really would be. Knitting panic set in. I might run out of yarn.

Knitting sleeves always seems to be the boring part of a sweater, at least for me. Maybe it's because the back is usually knit first, when the project is new and exciting, so that goes quickly. The front is knit next and often has the interesting design detail on it, so that keeps me going. But by the time I get to the sleeves, I'm getting a bit tired of the yarn and the stitch pattern and anxious to just finish it so I can wear it or give it to the recipient and start a new project. And there are TWO sleeves. I don't know who was the first knitter to coin the phrase "sleeve island" - knitter's either view it as being on a deserted island (these sleeves are taking too darn long!) or maybe a tropical island (the hard part is over and now I can relax). Obviously I'm on the deserted island.

I started knitting the sleeve and simultaneously began searching online for more yarn. I could not find it for sale in the color I needed in any online stores or on eBay or Etsy. I found there are a couple of skeins listed in knitters' stashes on, though the owners don't list them as up for sale or trade. One knitter has one lone skein, so in the event I ran out of yarn, I hoped I could persuade her to sell or trade it to me. She's in Germany so I thought maybe if need be I could sweeten the deal with an offer of a sought after yarn from the U.S., which perhaps I could get more easily than she.

Knitting should be relaxing and usually it is. I use knitting as a way to pass the time and keep me from fidgeting on airplanes and trains and long car rides. However knitting this sweater had unfortunately become stressful. I had about two balls of yarn left for the sleeves, so if the first took no more than half that amount, then I'd wouldn't have to beg the German knitter for her skein...or make the sweater into a vest instead. As I knit, I eyed the remaining yarn and my thoughts bounced back in forth. I'll have enough. I'm going to run out. I'll just make it. I'll run out.

Finally, I finished the first sleeve. I got out my scale and...

Sleeve #1 = 141 grams

Remaining yarn + the gauge swatch and two pockets that I knit incorrectly = 159 grams

I have enough yarn! Just. I may have to use the yarn from the gauge swatch and the first pockets I knit with the wrong needle size, but I should have enough. Whew. Perhaps knitting the second sleeve won't be as stressful. But now I have that final nagging sweater-knitting problem...will the sweater fit?

So am I the only one with this sleeve-size denial problem in sewing and knitting? In your head do you give sleeves the yardage they need, or are you like me and think of them as secondary features of the garment?

Friday, February 26, 2016

A very warm sweater

I finally finished this sweater a few months ago and wore it in January when we went skiing (not while I was skiing, but afterward). It is very warm, to say the least.

You can see the Ravelry project info here. The link should work for everyone, even if you don't have a Ravelry account, but in case you have problems or don't want to go there, here is the basic info:

Yarn: Ella Rae Palermo - 100% wool  (now discontinued)
Pattern: Ella Rae Celeste
Needle size: US 8 (5 mm)
Amount of yarn used: 16 balls (50 g each), about 1760 yards

I started this in 2010, but worked on it intermittently because a big bulky sweater is not something you need in California. But when I found out I was moving to Germany, where it is colder in the winter, I decided to bring it along and finish it.

I ran into problems right away with my gauge - I had too few stitches per 10 cm than called for even though I was using the yarn and needle size called for by the pattern. I think I changed needle size to get the correct gauge but the resulting fabric was too dense for my liking. So I decided to knit a smaller size, which worked fine until I got to the armhole and neckline shaping. I changed the rate of decreases or bind-offs (don't remember what the pattern used) and fudged my way through it and by some miracle it actually worked out. I think the neckline is a bit bigger than the pattern design, but I kind of like it. The sleeves came out to be the perfect length (they are the same size, I think I just didn't adjust the sweater on my dress form evenly).

Now I just need some really cold weather so I can wear it again.