29 October 2012

We can rebuild it - Pleat Bag made over

Do you remember the Pleat Bag I made from the Lisa Lam pattern I found at her great website?  I loved it but it was a lot of work.  Heaps of pleats, external straps and a split edge which takes a bit more work when you insert the lining. For the modified versions I only used two pleats, straps inserted in the top seam and a normal straight top edge.  Here is the original.

And here are two examples of a simplified version that use the pleat idea but are a lot faster to make.  The photos aren't true to colour sorry, no sun today.

Yellow tweedy cotton and a rayon lining. 
This fabric was quite stiff and held the shape well.

Red gaberdine with brown and red polka dot lining.
The first time I have used a knit fabric for lining and it worked well. 

A better look at the linings.
 I'm really pleased with the results, but it was worth making the first bag to understand what made it look so good.

Thanks for stopping by!

23 October 2012

Vintage Sewing Patterns

Hello there, I've been MIA for a bit.  I've had some house guests and also been doing some serious gardening but I'm back now. 

Today I was looking through my collection of vintage and retro sewing patterns and thought you might like to see some of them.  I have about 30, as you do.

A few of my vintage/retro patterns
I don't know the official definitions of 'vintage' and 'retro' but I tend to think of a pattern as retro if it is reminiscent of my childhood, and vintage if it looks like something older and BK (before Karen). I was born less than a year after the decimalisation of currency in New Zealand so anything with the price in "old money" also meets my vintage criteria.

These patterns look retro to me.

The Simplicity and Style patterns are marked as 1973 and 1971 respectively. 

The Butterick has no date but is priced at 80 cents.  Although NZ went decimal in 1967 we didn't go metric until December 1976 so these patterns still use inches (which seems vintage not retro to me!)

Oh for the figure to carry off those midrif bearing tops.

These patterns look vintage to me, styles I know my Mum wore in her youth.

None have a date but all are priced in shillings.

I love this silhouette.  Fitting bodice, tiny waist and full skirt.  Elegance personified.

Now although many of these patterns are way too small for me or in a style most unsuited to my womanly abundance I keep them because I love to look at them and imagine the lives of their original owners.  I am attracted to anything from the past that gives an insight into the everyday lives of ordinary people.  I'm what I consider to be a "shopping list" type of historian and find the commonplace to be far more revealing and interesting than academic facts and dates.  (That's History with a capital H).

I believe we learn so much from the differences between everyday items of the past and today. 

You see, compared to today's patterns the vintage ones in particular seem to assume home sewers possessed a fair amount of knowledge and skill already.

Vintage or retro patterns are often a collection of paper pieces with no markings on them whatsoever!  They may have punched holes or notched edges but the sewer is expected to be able to work out their meaning by themselves.

Here is an example of a pattern by the NZ company Academy Patterns. 

These pieces do at least have their name stamped on them but otherwise only notches to guide you.  The instructions are exquisitely drawn but minimal - sewing notes cover only one side of a roughly A4 size piece of paper and include terrifyingly tiny and confusing pictures for constructing a "side opening with underlap"!

(I haven't been able to find out much about this NZ company and only have one other later example of theirs - you can see it on the left in the vintage photo above.)

In comparison to this minimal approach, today's pattern pieces are printed with masses of information for the sewer. They include seam allowances, placement marks, grainlines, fitting points like waistline or bustpoint, and options for personalising the fit of a garment. And the instruction sheet takes you through numerous steps to show exactly how the garment is meant to be constructed.  Quite a difference.

Does this mean that people were better sewers in the past? Did little girls all learn tailor's tacks and blind hemming at their mothers' feet? Or does it show that the consumer of yesteryear lacked the power of today's spending public that ensures a product either meets our needs or disappears without trace? Maybe the sewers of then were just as frustrated by the patterns as most people are today but had no other option as ready made clothes were to expensive to purchase regularly?

Eventually the companies must have realised that providing better instructions and having patterns for simple garments made good business sense.  The three patterns above claim to be "Simple to Sew" or "Quick 'n Easy" and include "How to Sew' instructions.

Maybe as time went on and sewing skills became less of the norm they realised this was necessary to keep themselves afloat?  It's hard to sell a product that only experienced seamstresses can use!  Whatever the reason for the change it is fascinating to see the evolution of the home sewing pattern and that's why I have so many I guess.

To finish, here are some cute examples to make you smile.

Does your Dad like to wear his PJs for putting practise?  The two at the back look like they should be in business suits - pipe and paper in hand.

What about these "continental-fitted" skinny pants with the ubiquitous jutting hips and tiny waists of the 1950s and 60s!?  The middle ones on the Butterick pattern are called Jamaica shorts while the others are short shorts. Obviously.
And what collection would be complete without a classic dress and jacket from 1968?  I really always think of Jackie Kennedy when I see this style.  Or if I ever need a vintage Air Hostess costume this would be perfect in navy,  with a tiny pillbox hat and those darling white gloves.  Coffee, tea or me?!

21 September 2012

Inspiration comes from....?

I can't be sure but I suspect you read sewing blogs for the same reason as I do.  No, we aren't nosey...we are all just looking for some inspiration.  So - to share the love I  thought I'd do a post about finding some inspiration and putting it into action. 

One of the hardest things about making my bags is getting the right combination of fabrics, bag style and any ornamentation.  So how do I go about it?

First I check the stash!  It's great to have a large stash
of fabric and old clothes so I can get out a pile of fabrics and play with combinations until something clicks.

One thing I love about sewing is being able to take an old piece of clothing from the op shop  and making something new from it.  (Note to non NZers - Op shop is what we call a secondhand store here - as in opportunity.)

We all know that so many of the clothes in secondhand stores are way past their 'best before' date -  pilled or stained or just so out of fashion they are only good for uni student "bad taste" parties.  (As a side note, I once wore a long dress a la Nana Mouskouri to a bad taste party that I'd kill for now.)  As a dedicated second hand enthusiast I feel really good being able to recycle these unloved items into something useful.

The other day I went to one of my regular haunts and got a tartan skirt and a saggy raffia bag.  The skirt was pure wool and really soft but sized for a tiny waisted and long legged super model.  From the bag I could salvage the cane handles, two D rings and the magnetic closure.

I played around with stash fabrics for possible linings.

And here is what I eventually went with.  I decided the skirt would provide enough for two bags so I chose two linings.

Green and blue Thai silk - The tartan skirt - pink linen with a Japanese floral print.

I set about deconstructing the skirt and bag to get my starting materials.

First I made a small cross body bag with a flap.  I used the pink linen for the lining and the strap.  It has really similar tones to the main fabric and I wanted to save the contrasting silk for an open bag.

I think it needs something on the flap.  Maybe a green crocheted flower?

I used the magnetic closure and the two D rings.  The green in the lining ties in really well with the tartan.   I'm really pleased with the result. This bag style is one of my favourites and perfect for small pieces of fabric.

Next I made a boxy bag with stiffening in it.  The green and blue silk adds a nice contrast in colour and the handles give some different texture too.  Sort of Chanel meets Grandma's knitting bag.

I added a small rosette made from a cheap tape measure with some buttons in the middle.  I always try and use a brooch backing on anything I add so people can change it if it's not to their taste.

I'm not as happy with this bag as the smaller one.  I still think it's nice though and not something I'd pull apart.  I think the bag body could have been bigger and I should have used more interfacing to help it hold it shape better.

So there is some inspiration made real.  I have no idea if anyone else works like me or if I'm going to provide any inspiration to anyone! 

Maybe you have a totally different way of tackling a project.  I'd love to hear if you do.  In the meantime I'll keep Op shopping and creating my bags - it really is what I love doing best.

11 September 2012

Quick Trouser Hemming - Tutorial

I, and many others, missed out when Mother Nature was handing out height.  I don't think I have ever bought a pair of trousers or jeans that didn't need to be shortened.  My Dear Husband and Dear Daughter also have this issue - we aren't a family of hobbits but we are a little short in the leg.

In the past I've been the in-house alterations tailor at a men's clothing store.  All the suit trousers we had on the racks were unhemmed and each pair was custom fitted and then hemmed by me when they were bought. 

With these as my qualifications I humbly offer my tips for easy trouser shortening.  I know many of you are perfectly proficient at this task already.  But I also know how many people have asked (and paid) me to hem their trousers over the years - despite them owning  a sewing machine. 

Please let me know if any of this doesn't make sense - I am happy to clarify any crazy sentences I've constructed.


TOOLS - Tailors chalk - it isn't expensive and is the secret weapon here.  Pins. Ruler. Scissors. Sewing machine - quicker than a needle and thread but not always best for dress trousers.  An Overlocker (Serger) is not necessary. 

PIN - Firstly, pin the hems up and try on the trousers to find the correct length.  Two pins, one front and back are enough but please use a ruler or tape to get the front and back the same.  One leg or two - your choice.

Hem pinned

It's a good idea to have washed the trousers first to allow for shrinkage.

Make sure you have done any other alterations that will affect the length - take them in before you take them up!

Wear the sort of shoes that will be the norm for the trousers.  Bare feet aren't the best.

Walk around a bit to get a true fit.

Happy?  Then take them off and put on something else so you don't scare the neighbours who peer in your windows.

MARK -  Part 1 - Measure the amount you want to shorten the trousers by.  Remember this "magic number"!  The memory challenged can write it down if needed. Now you can remove the pins.

Turn the trousers inside out and align the side and inner leg seams.  Lay them on your ironing board or table like so.

Get your ruler and chalk.  Measure the "magic number" from the hem and put a small mark on the side seam.  This is your desired finished length.  Mark again 2cm above and 2cm below this. 

The upper mark is the "fold to here" line and the lower mark is the cutting line. This gives you a 2cm hem.
This hem size can vary of course - 2cm is good for most casual trousers and jeans but 4cm would be better for dress trousers.
MARK - Part 2 - Now lay your ruler at the mark ABOVE your magic number.  Run your chalk along the ruler edge.  Do one side of the seam at a time and angle the ruler down towards the hem slightly to put a small curve in the line.  Trust me here - hems aren't really "straight".
Keep your hand pressed hard on the ruler and then flip the top leg up and repeat your chalk line.  This will make a mark on the back of the upper and the front of the lower leg.  It can help to place your fingers towards the back of the ruler so it can angle up a little and the chalk can get in under the edge of the ruler.
And then flip the lower leg up and repeat your chalk line again.  If you don't feel comfortable with this method the first few times then you can move the ruler onto the lower leg to mark this final line.  Having less layers makes it easier to get the chalk in hard against the edge of the ruler.
In the photo below you may be able to see how I've angled the ruler up so the chalk can slide in under it. Notice the line on the ironing board?  You can get pretty fast at this after a few times.
CUT - The lower mark you originally made is the cutting mark.  You can hold your ruler up to the trousers as you cut or just use your "eyeometre" (yes, this is the technical term).  I generally hold the ruler at the close edge to start my cut and then move it to the seam line and then to the other side so I have something to "aim" for. 
It's best to cut one leg at a time if you have bulky side seams like on jeans. The bulk can make it hard to stay neat and accurate when you are cutting through both legs at once. It's much easier to cut both together on suits and other fine materials though.
SEW -  Put the appropriate coloured thread in your machine.  Zig-zag over the cut edge to stop any fraying.  You can overlock (serge) the cut edge if you like but I find a zig-zag can be just as neat (and quicker if the thread colour will need changed on the overlocker).  Use a medium to wide zig-zag stitch and a medium stitch length to get good coverage of the raw edge.
Now turn the hem allowance up so it aligns with the chalk line.  You can pin it if you like or just keep it lined up as you stitch along. 
Pick a guideline on your machine to ensure you sew a consistent hem.  My machine is marked at 16mm so I generally use this for a 2cm hem.  I sometimes use the next line, 18mm, if the fabric is fine and I think my cutting has been really accurate. 
Start (and finish) stitching close to the inner leg seam to help hide your backstitching.
I have stitched on the inside (wrong side) of the leg but if you have cut and pinned accurately you should be able to  sew on the outside (right side) with confidence.  This is particularly useful if you want to use a topstitching thread that matches your jeans.  This thread is thicker than normal thread and really helps to "hide" your alteration. 
Use a needle and hand sew the hem if the trousers are more formal and a line of stitching would look too casual or cheap. Hmm, better make a tutorial on stitches for hand sewing next.
PRESS - Trim your threads and lightly press your trousers to smarten the finish and help the stitches blend into the fabric.  Jeans are an exception to this however.  It looks a bit funny having pressed hems on jeans - just "finger press" the seam instead (that's the sewing term for squeezing).
There you are shorty - ALL DONE!


7 September 2012

Furry Friends

Hi.  I've been busy helping at the Autism NZ conference being held in Auckland this weekend. I worked for this organisation for a number of years so I'm happy to go along and offer some help to my old workmates.  Good to catch up on all the news too.

I'm also working on my first tutorial for you. I really appreciate your comments and one from Tracy got me thinking about how people do express envy when they learn of my sewing skills.  I thought I'd document the way I shorten a pair of trousers or jeans.  Stay tuned!

Today though I'd like you to meet the four furry friends that share my home (there are five if you count my husband but we'll stick to the four-legged).  Now the children have left home I only have "fur-babies" so they are really a huge part of my life and I love them to bits.

Edie and Pippin are Border Terriers.  Unbelievably some people ask how we tell them apart!  I will admit that it is a bit harder after they have been groomed.

Fern is a Russian Blue and Monti is from that noble breed known colloquially as Moggy.

Monti looking relaxed

Fern and the 'Pipster'

Do you see a theme here?  All these guys do is sunbathe!  Nice work if you can get it!
I've also included a shot of some of the 'bush' in the back yard.  One of the reasons we bought this house was for the large section so the animals can have some space.  Dear Husband has done some super human feats of digging and hammering and made a bridge so we can easily access this 'wild' part of the section.  I love looking out my sewing cave window and seeing cats sunbathing on it. (Again with the sunbathing!)

Come back soon for the first of my (hopefully) many tutorials.


4 September 2012

Todays Work

It's been another rainy day. Perfect for a day of sewing.

I recently found the website of Lisa Lam, a bagmaker in England. She's very generous with her tips, patterns and bag selling expertise. She also sells bag making bits and pieces and prices well below what I can buy them for in New Zealand. Even allowing for the exchange rate that is close to doubling the price, and post, it still makes sense for me to buy on the internet.

Check out her site here. Today I made my version of her 'For Pleat's Sake' tote. The pleating was a bit fiddly but worth the effort. If others like it I'd consider adding it to my list of 'make again'.

Each side is a different floral linen. The lining is a polka dot rayon and the handles are brown wool fabric.

3 September 2012

Aprons and Bags Galore!

But what to do with them all?!

Found out yesterday that I wasn't accepted into the next Crafternoon Tea market day.  Seems that many others are keen on crafting and it's a real challenge to be selected. The people are really nice but they can't take all who apply due to room shortage.  I'll have to try for another market to try and show the world my wares.

But I guess that answers my questions about whether others take sewing and crafting seriously.  It would seem there are heaps of people out there being creative and producing 'one of a kind' articles to grace your home and person.

And isn't that great?!  They (and I) are helping prevent the world being overrun with mass produced items and clothes that are designed to crap-out or be out of fashion within months of purchase. 

There is so much product available in the many (many) chain stores that we find in the ubiquitous malls that swallow up acres of our suburban shopping areas. Who buys it all? Where does it all go?

Much better to have a unique purchase that you can hear about from the very person who made it.  "Oh yes, I got that fabric on my trip to Khazastan" or "this peg bag is made from the skirt I saved from the op shop".

So I might be adding to the mountain of unnecessary items that exist in our world - but at least I'm providing an alternative to the mall, the imports and the faceless consumerism that seems to be driving us mad.

Gotta run now.  Volunteered to hand out pamphlets at the local mall about National Adult Learners Week.  Maybe some of the courses will be about sewing, knitting and other crafts?  Maybe I really don't need to worry about my 'low brow' hobby at all.