Sunday, September 14, 2014

A Sinister Mitten

Sinister, because I started with the left mitten.  Anybody else take Latin in high school?  Super useful in daily life.  I took two years and enjoyed it immensely.  None of this is sarcasm - I really did, and I really do find it useful!

Also sinister because this design is not approved for all audiences:

I'm making these as a little KAL with my friend Alicia.  We meant to do these last year, but didn't get started soon enough for the cold weather, so we shoved it off to this year.  We cast on together on Friday via a Google Hangout since we weren't able to get together in real life.

I've finished the corrugated rib on this first mitten, and am ready to move on to the chart.  Having fun so far, although these needles are a little slippery.  I'm using two skeins from my stash:  one of Starmore Campion (blue) and one of Fortissima Socka (magenta - which matches my winter coat). 

I didn't do a gauge swatch, and cast on with the recommended needle.  There's a chance they may end up being a tad big on me, but if they are that's OK - I'd rather have them too big than too small, because I can always knit an inner lining or felt them slightly.  Both fixes would give added warmth, and that's always a good thing.

One of these days I need to sit down and wrangle all my knitting WIPs into one place and make myself a list.  I have a lot more going on than I've documented on Ravelry . . .  oops!

Saturday, September 13, 2014

All Aboard the Alabama Train!

I'd meant to add all this to yesterday's post, but as usual I was too verbose!  So I broke it down into two, to make it more manageable.

For all of our trip, we had only occasional internet access, so I limited myself to reading emails, scanning my blog roll, and viewing and occasionally posting on Instagram.  At some point in late August, I received an email from Alabama Chanin informing me of a 20% off sale over Labor Day weekend.

Ruh roh.

I just couldn't resist!  I was worried about adding packages to my held mail bin, so Hubby said I could have items shipped to his office.  When we got home on Saturday, I saw an email telling me the items had been delivered that morning.  So on Monday when he returned to the office, I was expecting him to be able to collect them and bring them home to me.  But apparently things don't run that smoothly in mail rooms - he was not able to get the two boxes (the items shipped separately) until Thursday afternoon.  Yes, there were some grumpy faces each night as I expected but didn't receive my packages!!

So what did I get in the sale?  Well, I wanted just about everything on offer.  But I managed to narrow it down to two items:  a stencil and a DIY kit.

The Alabama Chanin stencils don't come cheap, and even at 20% off they are costly.  But since I've discovered I love doing this, I decided to splash out on a very intricate design:  Angie's Fall.  I don't mind cutting the stencils, honestly, but my favorite part of this process is the stitching.  I was also curious to feel the type of stencil film the company uses on these.

The stencil is just beautiful.  Laser cut, so each shape is perfectly formed.  The film is nice and heavy, and translucent.  It's similar to the plastic used in plastic milk jugs.  I'm really looking forward to trying this out in the near future, and because the quality is so great, I would absolutely consider buying another one (on sale - and the sales seem to be frequent).

The other item I ordered was a DIY kit, for a sleeveless top with stitching just on one shoulder:  the Anna's Garden Shell Top.  Sadly, it no longer appears on the website so I can't link to it.  I ordered the kit because I was curious to feel the "house" fabric, and also to see and feel the stenciling as done in the Factory with an airbrush.

Here's a picture of the whole kit - you get everything you need to make the project.  When ordering, you choose your size and the outer color, and then you have a limited selection of thread colors to choose from.  My outer fabric is "pewter" and the outline thread is black/white variegated.

You also get one of those groovy Alabama Chanin labels to stitch into your finished piece.

The fabric is listed as a medium weight at 9.8 oz. and I'd say that's accurate.  It's slightly heavier and fuzzier than the lightweight jersey I ordered from for my first top.

I was surprised to see that the fabric paint used for the stenciling has an almost pearlescent shimmer to it.  Alabama Chanin uses the Createx brand, and I used Jacquard textile paint.  I'm planning to try out the Createx for my next project, as I do have an airbrush and compressor, acquired over 25 years ago.  The stenciling on the kit fabric is a bit less stiff than the foam-brush stenciling I did on my project.

I'm really happy with this kit, but I think for the future I'm likely to stick with putting my pieces together on my own.  What remains to be seen is whether I like wearing the lighter weight fabric I bought before, or will prefer the Alabama Chanin jersey.  Both are organic cotton; the main differences I see (aside from the weight) are the color selection and the price.  On my first project all pieces of the top are two layers of fabric; I think two layers of the heavier Alabama Chanin jersey would be too hot for me for a short-sleeved top.  The shell kit I ordered only doubles the fabric under the stenciling.

One last neat thing:  even the box the kit was shipped in has an Alabama Chanin motif on the outside!  So pretty!

Friday, September 12, 2014

Hello Again!

We are finally back after a month abroad.  Our family visits took us to Turkey, Germany and Austria*; we had a lot of great times and a couple of not so good times too.  We've been home since Saturday night, and as you can probably imagine, I've spent the better part of the week catching up on things like grocery shopping and laundry. 

*Plenty of pictures on my Instagram feed!

But now I'm ready to get back to my normal routine, and in this post I'm going to pick up right where I left off and tell you all about the Alabama Chanin top I took with me as a travel project.  When last we spoke, I was getting everything ready:  cutting the stencil and the fabric, painting on my design, and putting all my materials together into a kit.  I even did a bit of stitching before we left, as a test.  And what I found is:

I love doing this work SO MUCH!!

This was the perfect project to take along for hot climates, and also for the particular situation I find myself in when we visit Turkey.  That is - it's not the type of vacation where we go around exploring.  Most of the time we are sitting around, chatting with family.  I'm not so great at just sitting, so I always take handwork with me wherever I go.  Usually it has been knitting, but this hand sewing project was absolutely the right choice for me this trip as the weather was very hot and humid. 

I posted pictures of my project in progress on Instagram when I could while I was gone, but I thought I'd re-post some of them here and add a couple new ones so you can see the progression.

Here are the two sleeves - both have been stitched, and one has been cut.

Here are all four pieces after all stitching and cutting had been done.  I'd estimate that at this point, I had about 20 hours of stitching and cutting invested.

My original intention was to completely fill each negative space with small glass beads and sequins - a technique Natalie Chanin calls "armor beading."  I'd done a small test before we left:

I loved how it looked, but I realized after working a couple small areas that doing the entire top this way would make it much too heavy.  I was also surprised by how much weight and heft the stitching added - I used the recommended Button Craft Thread, doubled, and of course using backstitch means you're using a lot more thread than if you use a running stitch.  For the four pieces I worked, I used 4.5 spools of thread just in outlining the design.

So I removed the beading I'd already done and started to work "accent beading" instead.  I wasn't sure I'd like it as much, but I'm very pleased with how it's coming along.

I have eked out a total of about 4 hours work on this since we got back, and at this point I've beaded both sleeves and about a third of the front.  I ended up not doing any beading on our trip, although I'd taken all the beads with me.  It worked out so that by the time I'd finished all the stitching, our schedule became more active so I didn't really have any free time to fill up.

I've always enjoyed hand stitching, so it's really no surprise to me that I'm loving this project.  But there's another element:  during my 2 month sewing hiatus, I thought a lot about how sewing consumes my time and space.  I love my hand-made wardrobe, and the clothing I've made for myself is what I reach for first these days.  However, I don't really think it's sustainable or wise for me to continue making SO many garments per year.  Although I wear my me-mades regularly, there are some I've never worn, because they just don't fit my lifestyle.  At this point, I'm a housewife with no children to care for.  Many days, I see no one but my husband.  Although we do go out fairly often, the number of beautiful dresses in my closet far exceeds my needs.

All this is to say that I'm starting to feel like it's time for me to slow down, output-wise.  However, making is a basic need for me.  A hand-worked project like this, I feel, perfectly balances these two desires.

So expect to see more  . . .  probably as early as tomorrow.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Something New

Hi all!

As expected, I've been super busy having fun times with Niecy-two.  But here and there, I've started working on a new project. 

Next month I'll be taking her home to Turkey.  I always take a project to work on when I travel, and usually it's knitting.  But knitting in Turkey in August is not a fun activity.  There's no AC where we go, so even knitting with cotton and bamboo needles is unpleasant in the 95 - 100 degree heat.

This year I decided to take along some hand sewing.  I've been wanting to make an Alabama Chanin project for a couple years, and this presents the perfect opportunity!  So earlier in the month, I ordered Natalie Chanin's latest book, Alabama Studio Sewing + Design.  The book is beautifully done, chock full of information and inspiration, and even includes traceable patterns in the back to make the exact garments shown in the book!

Over the couple days it took me to read the book, I thought about how I'd like to design my project.  I finally decided on using my already-traced Grainline Scout pattern to save time and because I was  sure of the fit.  I ordered some organic cotton jersey from (not linked because the colors I ordered are not in stock at the moment, but this fabric is easy to find from a variety of e-tailers).

The book includes photos of many of Alabama Chanin's stencil designs which you can enlarge and print out.  But I think the easiest way to get these images is to download them from the website, where many more designs than are included in this book are available as full-size PDFs.  I was able to choose the "poster" option on my printer to print out 9 tiled pages.  I trimmed the edges and taped them together just like you would a PDF pattern.  So easy!

The next step was to get some mylar film and start cutting my stencil.  After some online searching, I found the perfect product:  Grafix Edge Stencil Film, which I purchased from my local Dick Blick.   The film is 40" wide and comes on a roll 12 feet long, so it's very easy to cut a large stencil all in one piece.  It's easy enough to cut but sturdy enough to make a durable stencil, even one with lots of detail work.

The book recommends applying your stencil pattern to the top of the mylar with spray adhesive, but I have a love/hate relationship with that stuff, so I only use it when absolutely necessary.  Instead, I taped my pattern under the mylar and it was fine - there was some static from the film that helped keep the paper in place, so I didn't get any shifting.

I've cut stencils before, and if you're doing anything with curves, the task is vastly easier using a swivel knife (shown at right, below) rather than a normal X-acto knife.  Cutting this huge stencil probably took me a total of an hour and a half, done over a couple of days.

Once I had my stencil ready, I cut out my tee pattern.  The inner layer of my top will be white, and the outer layer cream, so I cut two tees.

And then it was finally time to get out my paint and apply my stencil to the fabric.  So exciting!  While I was at Dick Blick, I picked up some Jacquard Textile Color in black and white, to mix grey.  I watered down my paint quite a bit, because I wanted to try out the spray-on method from the book. 

Now, as I said, I've done stenciling on fabric before.  In the past I always applied the paint with a foam brush.  But the spray-on method sounded like it might be faster, and might give a more air-brushed look.  (I do actually have an airbrush and compressor, but didn't feel like digging it out.)

However, despite trying three different spray bottles, I just couldn't get it to work for me.  I wasn't able to spray lightly with the spray bottles the way I would be able to with an airbrush.  The excess paint pooled on top of the stencil, so I felt that if I tried to remove the fabric, I'd get drips.

So I left it to dry for a while.  And that ended up causing problems too:  the very liquid paint was absorbed by the fabric and gave me fuzzy edges.

So I cut two new sleeves and tried it again, this time using the foam brush.  MUCH better!  In the photo below, you can see the difference:  nice crisp images on the top, and fuzzy bleeding on the bottom.

I was encouraged enough that I went ahead and stenciled the front tee piece with Niecy-two's help.  I found that what worked best for me was to lightly spray adhesive on the back of the stencil, then place my fabric face down on top of that.  After pressing it down smoothly, I flipped it over and made sure all the little pointy bits were firmly pressed onto the fabric, then sponged on the paint.  Because I was working on my floor, I cut a large piece of film to use as underlayment, and the stencil stuck to it!  So it was really great to have Niecy-two's extra pair of hands to hold the backing down while I lifted it all up after painting, and while I removed the stenciled fabric from the film.  And here is the result of our work:

I had to stop here because I only have drying space for the front and two sleeves!  Once those are dry, I can set them aside and go ahead and stencil the back.  Then I'll be ready to heat-set the paint and baste the pieces together.  It's going to be hard not to start working on this immediately!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Coverstitch Video

Waaaaaaay back, I promised to make a video with some tips on using the Brother 2340CV Coverstitch machine, because a few of you had bought one and were having some troubles.  Ooops!  I did get my machine out a few times since then, but it always seemed to be on dark, dreary days.

Yesterday I got it out for the first time in a long time, and it was sunny.  So I made a video showing how the machine works best for me.  If anybody else has any other tips, I'd love to hear them!  I'm not an expert by any means - my samples worked beautifully, but I managed to mess up the first hem I did right after!!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Last Week

Busy times continue around here.  I've been scrambling to get a lot of my summer house maintenance done before July 10.  Why?  Because my niece will be visiting from Turkey!  Not Niecey-poo, who has come three times before; sadly she decided to spend the summer studying for an upcoming exam.  This time it's Niecy-two, her younger cousin who is 8 years old.  We're really looking forward to her visit and I want to have as much of my work done as possible so I can just enjoy my time with her :-)

I've felt like I haven't had much time for sewing or knitting, but somehow I managed to complete a shirt for Hubby and two more Emery dresses in the last week + one weekend!  Because my time is so limited, I'm lumping them all together in one post.  None of these are new patterns anyway - these makes are all about the fabric.

Here's Hubby's newest guitar shirt.  I saw this fabric in the Hawthorne Threads newsletter a couple weeks ago and immediately ordered some - cool guitar prints are hard to come by!  This is called "Guitars in White" by Timeless Treasures.

Hubby asked for a mandarin-collared shirt with pockets deep enough for his new phone.  He likes being able to have things made to his specifications!  The pattern I used is one I bought new in 1996 to make him his very first guitar shirt, McCall's 8409.  The style is quite oversized; I liked it in the previous versions I made, which were all dark colors, but with this light fabric I feel it overwhelms him a bit.  So I'm debating taking it in a little at the sides.  It does fit nicely across his shoulders, which are wide.

Going chronologically, here's my Tiki Winki Emery Dress, which I've already shown you (and not completed in the last week).  This one is actually my favorite so far in terms of colors that suit me.

Next I made up a version in a stash fabric I bought last fall in hopes of making a dress just like this.  I bought it from Fabricworm; it's from Moda and is called "Tickets" but I can't find it anywhere to link, so I have a feeling that by the time I bought it, it was already out of print.

This dress is ironic because as much as I love the print, I actually rarely go to the movies!!  I've probably been to the movies 3 times in the 5 years we've lived in Chicago!  It's always too cold and too loud, and the chairs hurt my back.  I much prefer to watch at home :-)

I like the dress, but I don't love it as much as I was expecting to.  The fit is a little looser than I'd like.


"actual early morning light"

I realized before my next version why my bodices were a bit on the loose side.  This is kind of embarrassing . . .

Ever since I got my Janome almost 2 years ago, I've been sewing with the needle on the default setting, assuming it was centered.  For some reason I decided to measure the needle position the other day and . . . it's not!  I have no idea why a machine's default wouldn't be the center position, but mine is actually one click to the right of center - giving me slightly narrower seam allowances and therefore slightly wider clothing.  Derrrrrrr.

So now I'm getting into the habit of centering my needle before I begin to sew.  I did it on this fourth Emery and I'm happier with the fit on this one than on any of the previous 3.  It's not actually noticeable in these pictures, in part because of the busy print, but I certainly notice it when I'm wearing the dresses.

failing at beating the self-timer

So here's a confession.  All I want to sew or wear these days is Emery dresses.  The pattern is a great blank canvas for pretty prints, and it's easy to sew since I've got the fitting worked out.  Because I really only have another week of sewing time before my niece comes, and then likely none until September, I want to spend my time sewing things that aren't frustrating and that I know will be successful.  So I bought myself a few pieces of fabric in order to Emery to my heart's content.  This is one of those.  It's Michael Miller's "Point of Sail," which I bought from  Every time I see this fabric online, the triangles are always pointing downward, which reads "bunting" to me.  I wanted it to read "sailboats," so I turned it the other way around for my dress.

Emery #5 is already underway, and I'm hoping to get in a #6 before next week too.  Blogging is likely to be sparse from now until September while I enjoy family time :-)  But I will continue to do micro-blogging over on Instagram.  Well, I think I will but I tend to get caught up in the moment and forget to take pictures most of the time!

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Tiki Cargo Duffel

Over the last two weeks, I've been slowly putting together my first Noodlehead Cargo Duffle {sic}.  I say first for a couple of reasons:  this one was my "muslin" to try out the pattern; and I had so much fun making it that I want to make a bunch more!

As you can see, I used some of my leftover Tiki Winki fabric for the main part of the bag.  I ended up buying two contrasting fabrics:  a brown print that reminded me of woven coconut fiber, and a batik with splotches that reminded me of the Polynesian Islands, for an overall Island theme.  I used the wrong side of the batik fabric, because the color was a little lighter and matched my Tiki print better.

I really love the pleated pockets on this pattern:

The bag isn't actually 100% finished.  I decided that I want to use Velcro tabs to close the pocket flaps, and when I went to my stash I discovered that I only have one left.  So I'll have to go to the store and get some more before I can finish it.

I added some strips of leather to the zipper pulls to make them more stylish and easier to grab:

One thing I'll change the next time around is the straps.  As written in the pattern, they're softer than I like.  Next time I'll add in some canvas between the two layers of fabric to make them stiffer.

Because this bag was a trial run, I decided to serge the inside seam allowances rather than apply bias binding.  You definitely want to finish these if you plan to use this bag as an overnight bag - you don't want to get frayed pieces of fabric all over the clothes you've packed!  For future bags I will use the binding though, or even line the bag - there are plenty of tutorials online showing how to do that.  My serger wasn't too happy about going through all these layers.

I had wanted to make this bag ever since the pattern was released last October, but kept putting it off because I thought it would take a lot of thought and energy.  But really, it wasn't very difficult!  The instructions are a little sketchy, but if you've ever made a bag before you will be able to figure it out.  For me, this was a great project to work on bit by bit over time.  Each piece gets quilted before you put the bag together, so it's not a quick process, but one I found relaxing.

There are a couple things I did to make it a lot easier for me to put together.  First, I marked the place where the seam allowances intersect on the front and back pieces.

The front and back are sewn to the loop created by the bottom and zipper gussets by sewing the top and bottom seams, and then the side seams.  To make it easier to sew those side seams, I cut into the seam allowance of the gusset right up to the stitching of the top and bottom seams, so I could spread the side flat.

The only other thing I'll do differently next time is to apply fusible stay tape to my outer zipper gusset piece.  When I was sewing in the zipper, that piece kept stretching, so I switched from my zipper foot to the walking foot I used for the rest of the bag.  Needless to say, it wasn't very easy to sew in a zipper with a walking foot!  It didn't occur to me until much later to use the stay tape.  D'oh!!

But it all worked out and I'm very happy with my bag.  And now I'm having fun daydreaming about fabric combinations for duffel bag #2!