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.

Friday, May 29, 2015

A Swedish Weekend

While we are living in Germany, we are taking full advantage of the opportunity to travel to nearby countries and cities and have set a goal of trying to make one trip per month. We are also trying to visit as many capital cities as possible. Stockholm, Sweden was the trip for May.

We arrived on a Friday afternoon to cloudy, cool weather with a threat of rain, but that didn't keep us from exploring the old section of Stockholm, called Gamla Stan.

Terrific view of Gamla Stan from our hotel room!
I think it was surprising to us how much older Stockholm appears than Oslo, Copenhagen and Helsinki. Yes, those cities have old buildings as well - and old is relative, the 18th and 19th century buildings are modern compared to other places in Europe - but overall, the narrow streets and uniformly old buildings gave Gamla Stan an "old world" feel. We were also surprised by the colors of the buildings. The orange and yellow colored plaster reminded me more of Italy and Spain.

Saturday morning the sun dawned bright and early (4 am!) and it looked like it would be a sunny day. The forecast didn't call for rain so we set off unhindered by umbrellas and raincoats. We passed back through Gamla Stan on our way and enjoyed a moment in Stortorget, a popular and often photographed square.

Look at that blue sky!

Our destination that day was the outdoor Skansen open air museum and zoo. It's a bit of a walk since it's on a different island and by the time we got there the skies got dark and the rain fell. Did I mention we didn't bring our umbrellas or raincoats - oops! It was a light rain so we took shelter under a tree until it passed. Afterward we made our way to the entrance for Skansen, and oh my the lines were long! We expected Skansen to be crowded on a Saturday afternoon but it was crazy-crowded. We did not realize that it was also the 70th anniversary of Pippi Longstocking and being that she is the creation of a Swedish author, well, you can imagine the hundreds and maybe thousands of children and their parents (and many, many, many baby carriages) visiting the park for a special Pippi Långstrump day. We decided to wait a bit and grab some lunch but as we were hunting for place to eat, a second rain storm passed through. So much for the weather forecast! This time we took shelter in the ABBA Museum gift shop. It was appropriate since the Eurovision Song contest final was that evening (more about that later) and ABBA won in 1974 with Waterloo and with that win their career was launched.


Fortunately the skies cleared and we made it to Skansen, and not the actual museum part of the ABBA Museum, though I'm sure we would have toured it if the rain hadn't stopped.

Outdoor museums are popular in Scandinavia - I've been to two others in Norway and a small one in Iceland. They are a great way to see how people lived in years past and also enjoy the outdoors. Skansen is also a zoo with bears, wolverines, reindeer, wolves, lynx, and domestic animals (sheep, cows, goats, etc) and a few African animals too (lemurs , I think - we didn't see them). There are farmsteads throughout the park with buildings from different eras. Some are open for viewing and furnished with period pieces and a guide who can answer your questions.

Cabin with a grass roof.

There is also a town with demonstrations of baking, silverwork, carpentry, glass blowing, etc.

It was early in the season, so not everything was open, but we still were able to view some things and enjoyed learning about how people lived and worked in Sweden long ago. I was sad though to only be able to peer into the window of a shop that had textiles and a pair of wool combs.

Picture through the window
On our way out of the park we stopped at their gift shop. It's a really nice shop, not touristy-tacky (plenty of those stores in Gamla Stan). They sell items that are either manufactured on site, like a chair from the woodworking shop, or items that are representative of Swedish handicrafts, cooking, and gardening. My wonderful husband spied something he thought might be for weaving, and he was right! A souvenir that I can also use. :-)


It's a Scandinavian tape loom, used for weaving ribbons or bands. After some searching on the internet, I found out that this one is carved by eighty-year-old Åke Erlandsson. How cool is that? The shop also had linen yarn, which I couldn't resist. I bought the colors of the Swedish flag, with the intent of making a table runner or something. Perhaps a band using my new tape loom?

Travel yarn
I bought the yarn on the left in a shop in Gamla Stan called Anntorps Väv. There were three yarn shops in Gamla Stan - pretty amazing considering the small size of the island.

The first one I stopped in, Maker 11, is a really small shop that sells other crafty things besides yarn. The woman who runs it says she doesn't sell Swedish yarn, preferring instead to stock yarn from other far away Denmark (ha ha). But she was a really lovely person and told me about the other two yarn shops nearby that sell Swedish yarn. I was, however, tempted by the Danish yarn (the colors!!) in her store, though I think I might have some in my stash from our trip to Copenhagen.

The Anntorps Väv shop was interesting. It's a small store, as they all are, but with a nice selection of Swedish yarn as well as other brands. There were cones of fantastic looking, stranded yarns on the top shelf but they weren't marked and since there seemed to be other display items around, I wasn't sure if these yarns were for sale. It appeared that the woman there, the owner perhaps, didn't speak much English and I was too shy to ask (stupid me, since I found out afterward, reading on the internet, that she will sell any amount of these yarns you want). But I do love the yarns I picked out - the picture doesn't show the colors well enough and you can't smell the "sheep-iness" of the wool. :-)  Oh, and while I was there, a man was picking out yarn. I'm guessing from overhearing him speak to the owner that he was American. I'm also guessing that he was there on business or something and buying the yarn for his fiber-loving wife. My husband would do the same for me!

The third yarn store, Sticka, is a lovely store I popped into only for a quick look around. I immediately spied a table full of a scrumptiously soft yarn called Tweed, from Sandnesgarn, a Norwegian company. I didn't buy any because I already had my travel yarn and it wasn't Swedish, but of course now I want it. Thanks to the internet I've already found a German on-line shop I can order it from should I decide to buy some.

So back to the travel-log...Saturday night, after dinner at an Italian restaurant that also had Swedish specialties (there are quite a few Italian restaurants there for some reason), we headed back to the hotel in time to watch Eurovision. I am not surprised if you are non-European and have not heard of Eurovision, because I had not heard of it until I saw a documentary about Estonia winning the contest and what a huge win it was for them. Briefly, I'll say that the contest was started in the 50's as a way to bring European countries together after WWII. It'd take too long to describe it all, so it's best to direct you to the Wikipedia article on it. The winner this year is...Sweden!!! It's a good song too.

Sunday was another beautiful, sunny day, so we spent most of it walking around, seeing the sights.

Statue of Birger Jarl, considered the founder of Stockholm
Beautiful day for a walk or sailing
Our eventual destination was the Vasa Museum. The Vasa is a ship that sank in the Stockholm harbor on her maiden voyage in 1628. The ship was raised 333 years later in 1961, and the majority of it is on display in the museum.

The actual ship in the background with a colored model in front.
The guidebooks say to allow an hour for the museum, but that's crazy because there are a lot of interesting exhibits to see - we were there for about three hours. The woodwork on the ship is incredible, and there's an interesting visual exhibit that ties what you see on the ship to statues and carvings on other ships and also buildings. Worth a visit, I think.
In the blink of an eye, the weekend was over. We made one last stop in the Old Town Monday morning before our flight home to purchase a poster we spied earlier when the shop was closed.
Did not know "Björn" means "Bear" in Swedish!

I really like the design asthetic in Sweden. It was hard not to purchase lots of stuff just because I liked the graphics. The clothes in the store windows were also interesting.

Fun use of stripes
I liked the front detail of this sweater (hard to photograph with the window reflections)
I'd love to find this fabric!

So that was our trip to Sweden. Our June trip is to Riga, Latvia.