Under My Own Steam

steam23I just love the Victorians. I love their innovative technology, their infant-stage science, their burgeoning middle class, their emerging social conscience, and perhaps most of all, I love their clothes.

Bustles! Lace! Peplums! Fringe! Hat pins! Leg o’mutton sleeves! Bonnets! Layers of coordinating fabric in lush velvets, shimmery brocades, and silks all in the same dress with a gazillion buttons down the front or back! I am breathless and dizzy with the sartorial possibilities. Such dresses were beautiful masterpieces of the seamstress’ art. So beautiful, and yet so restricting, because to support the weight of a dress like that you’re wearing a corset, a steel cage, a horsehair bustle and probably two petticoats. No wonder women fainted. I would too, if I had to put all that on first thing in the morning. Can you imagine trying to do anything wearing that?

Fortunately for us, the steampunk movement has arrived! Now we can freely incorporate the luxuries of Victoriana into our everyday lives and it’s considered cool. Not since before World War I has the world seen so many top hats and corsets. So I decided to embrace steampunk for my costume this Halloween. Unfortunately, a couple of image searches generated women’s costumes that all looked like this:

a) Goggles

b) Top Hat

c) Short skirt with ruffles

d) Corset worn over chemise

I find it somewhat maddening that for such a creative style where one can access the entirety of the fashion history from 1830-1902, there is  a staggering amount of homogeneity. I mean, you’ve got about 70 years of sleeves, silhouettes, and hats to play with, why make your costume like everyone else’s? Believe me, every decade of the Victorian era was different in terms of dress. In the 1830s you start with huge sleeves and a gathered skirt, but by the 1860s the sleeves are tiny and tight and the skirt is enormous and by the 1890s the sleeves are poufy again and the skirt is narrowing down to the hip hugging flared gores that begin the next century.

These lovely ladies below are courtesy of Nineteenth-Century Costume and Fashion, Norris and Curtis, 1998.

In light of this historical bounty, I’ve decided to have a little steampunk sewing challenge for myself! I’m going as a time traveler this Halloween. I plan to borrow heavily from the 1880s-1900s using my awesome costume history resource books to create basic pieces that I jazz up with a few steampunk elements.I chose to use Simplicity #9796 from 1980, Simplicity #2410 from 2010 and McCall’s #M7335 from 2016  for my patterns.

My first goal is not to buy anything for my costume if I can make it. I want to use fabric from my stash and patterns I already have and give them a steampunk makeover. My second goal is to stretch my creativity and my third goal is to force me to cut back on my fabric buying addiction. I confess, I might not be able to do it. The siren song of the perfect fabric is tough to resist, especially when they’re all so pretty!

The second half of my challenge to myself is to make at least half of the costume a wearable part of my everyday wardrobe. I think the blouse and the skirt will work, but not so much the hat or the petticoat. When was the last time you wore a petticoat to do errands? Never? Exactly. Unless you’re a reenactor, in which case, it was probably last week.

I’m opting to use a palette of brown, grey, and metallics. The neutral palette appears to be de rigueur for steampunk, but coincidently, it is also easy to work with when mixing fabrics and patterns.

The Fabrics:

From my stash, I selected 2 yards of brown shirting with metallic stripes. I have a remnant piece of stretch grey poplin from some pants that I know will make an incredible skirt. I’ve got muslin scraps I can use for a petticoat, plenty of brown lace fabric, and lace. I also have some synthetic fringe I tried to dye brown but it turned grey instead, I’m guessing because the fibers were made of something the poly dye didn’t take to. I have an old eyelet nightgown that I took apart for the fabric that will make a great overskirt. Any fabric scraps leftover can become rosettes, bows, hat trimming or whatever details I think I need. I also bought new curtains at Target, and the packaging had a lovely wide grosgrain ribbon in grey. So I’ll use that, too. It’s recycling!


The Blouse:

Note the (vintage 1980s) modern designs featuring Victorian influence: puffy sleeves, lots of buttons, a yoke and dart shaping to create a modified Victorian blouse. I played with two fabrics here, using a brown nonstretch corded lace and my striped shirting. I had a lot of these little filigree metal buttons I had bought but didn’t use for an earlier project because they were too small. The blouse pattern was one of Grandma’s, and she must have made a version for my mom, because she had drawn a new small yoke for it that was just perfect for lace. It was clearly meant to be! When I did the button placket, I turned the stripes sideways as shown on the pattern illustrations and I loved the visual interest it created.

The Skirts:

The main skirt was made in a slightly stretchy grey poplin. It features a yoke with 6 panels and optional ruffles. It reminds me of the gored skirts of the 1890s and 1900s. To make it more steampunk, I decided to use a mock felled seam in a contrasting thread on the panels. It’s very much like the seams on a pair of jeans. I’ve been seeing this look on A-line skirts this summer, and I wanted to try it out.  I must say, I really like it! steam25

To make the petticoat, I used the same pattern in unbleached muslin. I added the ruffles using the same brown shirting fabric as the blouse to the bottom edge. I had cut up an old eyelet nightgown that was too small and dyed it dark brown. I used the nightie for my first apron, with the ruffle in the photo. I gathered the side seams up to make the nice draping effect. I felt it wasn’t Victorian enough yet, so then I used a leftover rectangle of shirting to make another small apron over it in the front, and applied some fringe. Now that’s more like it!

steam3 Then I did the same thing at the back. It was still a bit lackluster, though. I used a few more scraps and created a bustle with a bow at the small of the back and a train.

I didn’t want to alter the main skirt too much because I want to wear it as an everyday item, so I combined my petticoat with the overskirt. This way I can slip the skirt on over the petticoat and pull the overskirt out over the waistband without fussing with a lot of closures.


To finish the skirt, I decorated it with my ribbon and some rosettes from a long piece of selvedge scrap.  Pretty! You’d never guess those were leftover packaging materials and scraps, would you?


The Hat:

I also used a hat pattern, and it’s the only one I purchased for the costume because it is intentionally steampunk. I don’t have a lot of hat patterns that would look right, and I wanted to give it a try. Let me tell you, hats are not for wimps! This one has six pieces for the crown, with interfacing, and they need to line up. Attaching the crown to the brim was rough going because I had to keep enlarging the hole to make it work. Somehow the crown was too wide for the brim, probably my error rather than the pattern design. Fortunately, hat trimmings cover a great deal of the crown and conceal my rougher patches. I especially like my striped bias tape I made on the brim. steam6

I made the ornament with the little gears from a tube of watch parts bought at a craft show, and I used a beadwork perforated pin base I had that was lacking a back. I attached the gears and such with thin wire, layering them on top of each other. Then I stitched it in place through a few holes on the back. Nifty!

The feathers are just some peacock feathers I had hanging around that I stitched in place when I attached the decorative holder to the hat band. Yep, I’m the kind of girl who just happens to have peacock feathers. I actually couldn’t find the brown feathers I was going to use, but I think the peacock works very well, don’t you?

I love how this costume turned out! I do believe this is the most complex project I have done to date. I began work in August and finished the costume in mid-October. Keep in mind that I’m not a very fast sewer. For me, two and a half months to finish a four-garment ensemble is lightning fast, pathetic as that sounds! Especially since there was a hat involved. As you know from an earlier post, hats are not really something I’m good with. In spite of my lack of millinery talent, I think it looks pretty good. I’ve gotten several compliments so far, which is always nice after you’ve worked on something for two and a half months!

So, let’s see how I did with my challenge!

Purchased items: hat pattern, thread, goggles.

Stash items: grosgrain ribbon, eyelet fabric, brown lace fabric, brown shirting, grey poplin, tiny gears, interfacing, filigree buttons, peacock feathers, zipper.

Already owned: boots, knee socks.

Wearable as everyday wardrobe: grey skirt, brown blouse, knee socks, boots.

I give myself an A-. I probably could have modified a hat pattern I had, but the steampunk pattern was sooo much cooler.  Overall, a very good project. I have a stylish neutral skirt to wear this fall, and a pretty blouse I could pair with jeans for casual prettiness.



Oh, and if you’re wondering what that antique key in this last photo is all about…it operates the time machine, of course. Let’s take it for a spin, shall we? Where would you like to go? I hear the 1920s were a lot of fun. How about the Renaissance? Or maybe you’d like to see some dinosaurs…? I know I would.

Happy Halloween!

This entry was posted on October 30, 2016.

Feel the Love, Not the Cold.

After taking a long break from my blog, I’m trying to get back on schedule with my writing. I’ve got an easier class schedule this semester, so maybe I will reach that goal! If nothing else, maybe my photography will improve with my digital photography basics course. (Smiles.)DSC_0555 (1 of 1)

It’s March now, and the forecast is for very cold temperatures this year.  Alas, I found myself this January without a heavy winter coat. It came to my attention last year that the one I’ve had since college was just a bit too small for me, particularly when I buttoned the top button under my throat. Ouch. Nobody likes their outerwear to strangle them. Yes, I’m turning 40 this year, and yes, that means I’ve had the coat for twenty years. In my defense, classic shapes never go out of style, and a good coat is hard to give up. This coat, however, is destined for the charity drive. I’m sorry to see it go, but perhaps it will warm somebody else for another twenty years.

Predictably, when I looked at the label, it was, in fact, a size small. I’ve been systematically eliminating all the smalls from my wardrobe as they fit a little too snugly these days, so it was a surprise to find one still hanging around. I thought I got all of the little pests…Anyway, I decided this meant that I needed to make my first winter coat.  I mean, why not? New challenges are fun, right? Right! (Points dramatically.) To the sewing machine!

I had made a coat once before, Colette Patterns’ Anise, and I was very pleased with it. However, since up by Lake Erie we can get winter temperatures in the negative teens, I elected to go with a coat that has a longer hemline and covers me to my knees. I also wanted a simpler construction than that pattern, because I wanted to add a thermal interlining and I was worried about it becoming too bulky at the seams.

lisettecoatI decided on Butterick’s Lisette #B6423 because I liked the drop shoulders, the shawl collar and the nice deep pockets. It features a kick pleat in the back, and one large, decorative button, which will make it easy to button up with chilled fingers. It has plenty of room to move in the shoulder areas also. If you factor in the likelihood that you’re going to wear a sweater under it, that extra room is a great convenience.  The overall design is rather simple, so I would say if you want to make your first coat, this is a good choice. It’s easier to sew with fewer pieces over one with a lot of seams, like a princess style or a trench. Even so, with the lining, facing and other pieces all cut in duplicates or quadruplets, I ended up with over 30 pieces of fabric to sew together. I was very relieved I had decided to go with a simpler pattern at that point, because it was quite the pile.


On the less practical side, I also liked this pattern because it had a style reminiscent of the 1920s coats, with their wide collars and straight lines. I do love dressing in a different century. An enterprising seamstress could make a more historical version with a faux fur collar and cuffs in a striped material or solid black.

I found some really lovely aubergine wool coating on sale at Fabric Mart’s website with a nice boucle texture.  I did a little research into coat construction and I discovered the existence of flannel backed satin. It’s a good lining for a winter coat because it’s warmer than other types of lining, and quite heavy.  It feels nice, too! It’s satin and flannel, which are two fabrics I love, so it’s certainly a winner in my book. I found some of this wonderful lining at Vogue Fabrics’ website, in a nice navy blue, along with a Thinsulate thermal lining by 3M. It has quilted side and a flat side, and the quilted side is meant to go against the outer layer while the flat side goes against the lining.  It’s made of olefin and polyester, which I found interesting. Olefin is usually found in area rugs, it’s a good alternative to wool rugs for those who are sensitive to it. The description also says you can use it in blankets, so presumably you could make a winter coverlet for your bed or a cold weather vest, etc.coat5 (1 of 1)

The idea is to sew it to the lining, but I didn’t actually do that, due to my pattern’s construction. The pattern has large collar and facing pieces that flow from the back of the neck all the way down to the hem, and they’re very deep inside of the coat.


coat7 (1 of 1)My pattern calls for fusible interfacing, which I didn’t use at all, instead putting my thinsulate in there. The thinsulate works there because those pieces will cover my torso and all the way down to my knees, which is ideal for blocking as much cold air as possible.  I also installed a piece on the upper back, which was not in the instructions but seemed like a good idea to me. It did make the pieces a little stiffer, but I didn’t experience any trouble sewing them or wearing the coat. Please note, I also tend to cut my coats in a size larger than I am, which allows me to layer up underneath them. It gives one some wiggle room when sewing, as well.

For construction, I used a heavier needle, a 110/. because of the thickness of my coating, thinsulate and flannel backed satin. I did all the hems by hand: the lining, the outer shell, as well as the sleeves. The sleeves ultimately proved too long for me so I removed about two inches of fabric from the ends and that solved my problem.  I did notice that when I put my lining in, it was slightly too long to fit neatly by just a couple of inches.  I’m not certain if that was my error or an error in the pattern. It was an easily solvable problem, though. I just put in a pleat and the center of the collar, and that took up the extra material just fine and ended up looking rather nice.

For my buttonhole, I used the bound buttonhole technique. I cut two strips of fabric from my leftovers. I folded them and sewed them into a pair of rectangles, which then get sewn shut at each end. Next, the scary part: a horizontal slit is cut in the coat with two little triangles at the end, and the rectangle piece are inserted. Then you fold your cut ends inside and stitch the whole thing together. I did mine entirely by hand due to the thickness and relatively small seams required. I had bought this really cool giant flower button at JoAnn’s some time ago and I felt this was the perfect use for it. It contrasts nicely with the aubergine wool and it adds a fancy detail. Flowers, of course, are my favorite thing to add to any garment, so it was the perfect addition.coat1 (1 of 1)

The day I completed this coat was 13 degrees Fahrenheit and with the windchill, a final tally of -1 degree. I wore the coat, and I was warm. Success!





This entry was posted on March 6, 2018.

(Re)Making History: ca. 1965

I haven’t done much sewing this summer (and fall) because the weather was so nice that I wanted to spend as much time outside as I could! I love it when it isn’t so hot that I want to melt. Plus, I’ve started taking some graphic design classes three times a week while still working a forty hour week, so as you can imagine, life has gotten complicated for me.  I’m just now getting around to posting summer projects in October, er, November (!) because of it. I’ve learned a lot and I even bought my first laptop, which I’m using to compose this post on right now. The photos in this post were taken on the last of the warm days in October, so technically, I’m only a month behind. (Covers face in embarrassment.)

Naturally this takes time away from sewing, pushing it to the bottom of the list of things I can reasonably accomplish in a day, since homework is now my priority.   Between assignments and housework and my job, I’ve still managed to do a  few projects, albeit veeeeery slowly!

I am really pleased with Simplicity #5891, a flirtatious little number from my vintage pattern collection. Dating from 1965, it still has the full skirt and close-fitting bodice from the first half of the decade, and an adorable scarf over the neckline that I just love. Speaking of love, isn’t that pattern art just adorable? Can I say that hand drawn pattern envelopes are still my favorite, even in the age of Photoshop and Illustrator?simplicity5891








I raided my stash and used an incredibly lightweight striped cotton shirting, purchased a few years ago from Vogue Fabrics. I love the thin stripes, because I didn’t have to worry too much about matching them up since they aren’t obviously mismatched. I considered having them run horizontally initially, but I didn’t have enough fabric for that. I’m pleased with the way it came out; I think the vertical stripes look nice. They’re small enough not to be distracting but large enough to provide some color; the best of both worlds!

1965dress5My fabric was so sheer I had to fully line the bodice instead of using the facings included in the pattern. I used most of the leftover fabric to make a mini skirt lining. I do mean mini, too! It barely comes to my thighs, but it provides some much-needed modesty under the thin skirt material, and I feel good about using up nearly all my fabric, too.


Love the stripe

Originally, this was a dress pattern my grandmother had made to wear herself, so instead of redrawing the pieces larger, I had to scale it down. The original was for a 38″ bust and that was way too big for me. I have learned something valuable from this experience, too. When you redraw a pattern to a smaller size, you need to reduce the interior volume, not just the exterior lines of the pattern. When I cut my pieces and did my early fittings, I discovered everything was still too big. I spent a lot of time fitting the bodice as a result. I had to make my darts much deeper to get it to fit and I still ended up trimming off the sides a bit. So, if I do this again, I’ve got to pay attention to my darts and reduce the volume when I redraw the bodice.

The skirt had three pleats on each of the four panels, plus I did a free hanging lining, so I ended up making twenty-four pleats total. It felt like forever while I was sewing them! I really love how they look, though. I feel the skirt has the right amount of fullness without being in the way. It floats a little in the breeze because the fabric is so lightweight!


Back view, with my scarf improvisation.

There was supposed to be a belt piece that has gone missing over the decades, but I feel the dress is pretty enough without it. Along with the belt piece, the second half of the instructions seems to have disappeared also. Perhaps they’re together somewhere in another pattern envelope…

As a result, I had to improvise a little when it was time to attach the scarf. I had no idea how it was supposed to go, so I guessed. I installed the invisible zipper first. Then I stitched the ends to each side next to the zipper, on the outside of the garment, on the side of the scarf that wouldn’t show. It took me a few tries to get it right, because I had to angle the pieces so they would lay correctly. My thinking was that the scarf would ten turn over, and come around the front to tie at the v-neck. It works pretty well, but I quickly discovered the scarf had other ideas about where it wanted to lay down.

I hand stitched each piece the shoulder seams to keep the scarf from moving around too much when I wear it. I think it looks good for having to improvise an installation.

I also shortened it quite a lot from the original. I made the hem fairly deep rather than cut off the extra fabric, because sometimes I get little too enthusiastic with the scissors…and this way looks very tidy with no panicking, which I like very much! I owe this tidy look in part to my dress form, which was invaluable for measuring and pinning the hem.

It’s a lovely dress and went together easily. It’s very comfortable, too! I may make 1965dress3another version with the narrow skirt later…after I redraw the bodice to make it less voluminous, that is.

I particularly like how the dress doesn’t look especially retro- the design is timeless. It’s really just a sleeveless v-neck bodice with bust and waist darts and a full skirt, and a little scarf that could be left off for variety, which lends itself to a variety of fabrics, color combinations and even fabric combinations.

Most importantly, it makes me feel pretty, which everything a dress should be and do for the wearer. Perfect!

This entry was posted on November 25, 2017.


There is something about lingerie.

All the frothy lace and ribbons, the unexpected slits, strategic holes, and delicate materials weave an aura of sensuality and flirtatiousness too tempting to resist. It’s so intensely feminine.  It emphasizes, conceals, reveals and beautifies.  Lingerie is the embodiment of the feminine mystique and a potent weapon in the arsenal of the seductress. It’s also the everyday intimate companion, a secret confidence booster, and a little something just for yourself, seen by no one outside. Your choices in undies are an expression of who you are: pristine white, strictly functional beige, sensual and lacy or wildly colorful. Or maybe all of the above, depending on your mood.

I have been experimenting with sewing lingerie off and on for about two years. It grew out of my insatiable curiosity about sewing and general dismay with how expensive ready to wear lingerie is. My goodness, how can such a small thing cost so much? Of course, there are a surprising number of parts to even a simple bra, plenty of stitching and special, sometimes expensive materials are used. I won’t lie to you- lingerie pieces are not always the easiest projects, but still, I figure that you can make a bra, panties or nightie for about half what it costs in a department store, and you have the enjoyment of crafting something lovely for yourself.

Some of my experiments were utter failures. My first foray into lingerie was with a lovely grey jersey remnant piece. I made some panties and a camisole with layers of ruffles on the bodice. It was really cute. Pleased, I slept in it that night, only to find the next morning that the outfit no longer fit me. Yes, that’s right, the jersey had no recovery from stretching! Upon waking, my panties had stretched and fallen to my knees while the camisole sagged down, creating a rather unflattering look, if I may say so. Tragic! But a valuable experience.

Checking your fabric’s ability to stretch is a really, really good idea, and not just for sewing lingerie! Consider it a way to prevent wasting your time and money…someday I will recreate this project with better materials! I would also suggest a medium weight knit over anything too thin. Thin knits wear out faster and accumulate holes. Lessons learned.

My second attempt was much better. I made a pretty aqua slip and panty set from a very nice tricotine knit, this time with enough stretch recovery to actually be useful! I used Butterick’s Patterns by Gertie #B6031. tealbralette10I’m pleased to say this attempt has worked perfectly and is still completely wearable after two summer seasons of sleeping in it. I particularly like the cut out behind the lace around the underbust. This is a really great pattern, and I love the panties and the nightie’s straps in particular.

Last spring, I finished a slip from a 1950s pattern from Grandma’s stash, Simplicity #4470. I like the princess seams and the gathers under the bust on this one.

I used a polyester floral knit with a little stretch that she had cut into blouse pieces but never finished before she died. Lucky for me, it was just big enough to create a shortened version of the slip, now worn as a nightie. I had some lace left from the Gertie nightie, so I used it up on the neckline and the hem. It is proving to be a pretty and comfy nightie. I particularly like the floral pattern. I don’t think it’s something I would buy if I saw it on the bolt, but I love the feminine pastels and of course, the flowers. I’m all about flowers.

Then, I made my first racerback bra! I got my pattern as a downloadable PDF from Ohhh Lulu Sews. Ohhh Lulu is an awesome etsy shop that sells lingerie, and Ohh Lulu Sews is a sister shop where you can purchase digital patterns to create bras, panties, camisoles and swimwear. I bought the Josephine bra pattern and made mine from some lovely imported French stretch lace. It was my first project utilizing foldover elastic. I couldn’t find my elastics in the colors I needed, so I bought several types and dyed them on the stove, with mixed results. I did use them all anyway, and I think they harmonized pretty well with the colors in the lace, even though they didn’t all turn quite the same pink, and& one actually just turned beige. The beige one was the band elastic, so it didn’t matter as much, because all the pinks were visible elastics. It’s very comfortable, but not padded because triangular pads are tough to find around here. However, I did line it, so it has some extra softness where it counts.

I used some rose pink scraps from my jersey dress (see the Jersey Girl post) to line the bra to make some matching panties. Making panties is a great use of that scrap knit fabric taking up space in your sewing room! A girl can never have too many panties. I like this french fabric so much, I plan on doing another pair and maybe a camisole later.

Feeling sufficiently experienced, I decided to make a padded bralette and matching panties this week. I chose a lovely teal crosshatch patterned knit in a cotton blend, a remnant from a shirt I made. I’m always looking for ways to use up my monster scrap stash, and this seems like a good jumping off point. Using Colette Patterns’ Nutmeg Bralette as a guide, I made a pattern hack.

First, I cut two sets of tops, bottoms, and back band pieces, stitched them together, and then stitched them to the cups.

Once I stitched all the tops and bottoms together, I pinned my lining to the cups first and stitched all the way around the edges.  My fabric sort of wanted to spring up at the center seam, so I stitched in the ditch and got it to stay down.


The outer fabric was a bit challenging with placing the cups in the right spot, and pinning them in place. I used a ready-to-wear bra as a guide for that. I had some trouble figuring out how to attach the back to the front and have it be neat and flat. I ended up folding the edges down and then folding them back and stitching both times.tealbralette7

Next, I was figuring out how to roll the edges under and make for a neat finish along the edges of the cups, especially across the top. It had to be very tightly stretched over the cups so it looked right, and it took lots of pinning, adjusting, repinning, and examining. I ended up doing some hand sewing to get that neat finish so I wouldn’t have a lot of stitching showing.

tealbralette3Then I applied some ruffled elastic across the front and used a zigzag for that, and then did the same thing along the bottom using a soft lingerie elastic with a picot edge. For my first attempt, I decided not to get too crazy with it-I left off the traditional hook and eye at the back, opting instead for elastic all the way around. Sometimes simple is best! I do plan on making a more traditional bra in the future, with the hook and eye closure, but I want to have a bit more experience before I give that a try.

I tried it on, and it felt good, so I went ahead and made the straps and attached them. I think this one is going to be very comfortable and a fast favorite.

The panties are also a pattern hack, using Gertie’s #B6031 again, but all I did differently was cut them longer and shallower at the legs to create a more boy shorts kind of look. Then I constructed as usual and finished with ruffled elastic.

The finished set looks pretty, if I do say so myself. I adore that ruffled elastic, and I love how it looks with the crosshatch knit. Not too fussy, comfortable, and most importantly, everything is covered where it needs to be


The finished set. Lovely.

I do think I will be making more lingerie in the future because I enjoyed these projects so much. I’d like to experiment with different styles and color combinations. I think the best part about sewing lingerie is the fact you can use up those scraps from your other projects without needing to keep them forever or feel guilty about throwing them out. You’ve gotta love a project that’s cute, practical and reduces your fabric scrap clutter.The incredible amount of customization you can indulge in is a major perk, too. While this set is simple, I think I might move on to much more lacy varieties, or things with cutouts and ribbons or mesh. Goodness knows, I have enough scraps to keep me in lingerie for quite a while.

This entry was posted on July 5, 2017.

Sudden Showers


lonetree7Today is June 6th, and it’s 60 degrees and raining. It’s not especially summer-like right now, though I’m told we can expect a weekend of near 90 degree temperatures. This happens a lot where I live. To cope with this crazy weather, a variety of jackets is a must. I have found that my trusty black hoodie, always worn for light warmth, is looking a bit ratty, and it was time to sew up something new.  I had bought the Lonetree jacket by designer is Allie Olsen as part of the fall/winter 2016 pattern bundle on Indiesew.com, and it was clearly meant to be. I actually had bought the bundle for all the other patterns and initially didn’t care about the jacket. Serendipity is a wonderful thing!


Wonderful pattern collection!

I decided to go ahead and make one and participated in the sew-along on the Indie Sew blog back in early March.  (This is why in my photos everything in my garden is still in bud or dormant.) I have worn this jacket a whole lot since completing it and I wanted to sing the praises of this terrific pattern!

I had a good time sewing this jacket and I was really happy with how easy it was! It’s only my second piece of outerwear that I’ve ever made, but I find it isn’t as intimidating as I’d initially thought. There are a large number of pieces, but breaking the construction into smaller chunks and sewing a little every day over two weeks really made a difference. I made very few mistakes (I know, it’s unbelievable, right?) and I found it moved pretty fast once I did get started.

If you want to try out this sew along, please check it out here to get started: https://indiesew.com/blog/lonetree-sewalong-pt-1-gather-your-supplies#post


My awesome pattern matching! plus a cute patch pocket. Sweet!

This pattern calls for durable fabrics, like twill or canvas. I found some wonderful waterproof canvas at Fabricmart.com in a striking herringbone pattern. I thought it might be fun to try having a flashy jacket for a change. Most of my coats and jackets are boring neutrals or serviceable materials, but they’re not very stylish. I’m slowly working on changing that. If you do use this pattern with a busy print like I did, pay close attention to how it lines up. When I cut my jacket, I used a slightly different layout than the suggested layout. I wanted to make sure the front pieces and the pocket pieces would follow the same lines, and I also made sure the belt channel pieces matched up with the corresponding front and back pieces. I did an excellent job matching up my lines if I do say so myself! I was really pleased with the result. It’s worth the extra time to get that unbroken look in your motif.


This was my first project using canvas.  I used a 90/14 needle to cope with the slight bulk of the canvas.  Canvas is prone to unraveling, so be prepared!  It’s not as bad as some things I’ve worked with, but plan for that special finishing to make it behave itself. I ended up using french seams to stop the fraying. I actually cut my Lonetree to the large size so I’d have extra room for the seam allowance and to accommodate a light sweater. I prefer my jackets a little bit large so I can layer under them. I opted to self-line with the fabric instead of purchasing lining, since the jacket isn’t fully lined. I didn’t really need a cold weather jacket anyway, so it suits my purposes.

To begin the process, the pockets are sewn up first. They’re so cute! They’re patch pockets and they have a flap that can be used with either buttons or snaps. I didn’t want to buy snaps and a snap setter, so I raided my stash for something suitable in buttons instead. Happily I found some cool cobalt blue vintage buttons from my grandmother. The ones I used are from two different sets and while the color is the same, they don’t actually match. Don’t tell anyone, okay? (Grin.)


My not exactly matching buttons. You can’t tell, right? 

They work with the lighter blue of the fabric and make a very striking accent.  I had some trouble with the sewing machine buttonholer on the canvas. I suspect this is a quirk of my personal machine, rather than canvas being difficult to work with.  I ended up hand sewing the buttonholes, but since there were only four of them, it wasn’t too tedious.

This jacket has an interesting construction with both a collar and a hood joining the neckline of the body, and then a facing goes in there, too. I was confused by how it fit together at first, but as I started putting it together it made sense. The hood goes on the neckline first. The collar has two pieces and one side joins up with the facing and the other side attaches to the neckline. The whole thing comes together when the collar pieces are joined. It’s really elegant and I like how it works during assembly.  The facing then attaches to the front pieces, encasing the zipper.

My collar, my hood, and a little peek at the self lining facing.

Another first for me was sewing a hood. I don’t have much experience sewing outerwear, so working on the hood was little strange for me.  Happily, it went together very easily, though I did end up taking apart a few inches on the interior portion to make the pieces match up more exactly. Take your time with the hood because it has to fit very well so it doesn’t look sloppy.  I am so pleased with the way it came out!







I love the length of the jacket, too. You can see it hits at the start of the hip and provides some protection from the elements. I haven’t actually worn it in a fierce downpour yet, but I’m sure the day will come and I’ll be grateful for it.

I know you can’t see it in the photos, but I used a dark blue twill ribbon that was half as wide and thicker, with a more pronounced weave.  It works much better with the color scheme and I think it will be more durable than my original choice.  I like being able to cinch the waist. It gives the jacket a feminine touch and keeps it from being too utilitarian.  Love it!





This entry was posted on June 6, 2017.

March Madness


Yes, I know it’s April now, not March. And I promise, this post is not about basketball!  March is a month when we all go a little mad after a winter indoors- though not necessarily mad for basketball. I personally tend to fall asleep when I try to watch basketball. Now, if those guys were doing sewing techniques, I could probably get into that. However, since they don’t teach sewing, and those games tend to put a complete halt to new episodes of my network shows, I have my own version of March Madness. It’s time to sew spring clothes! 

A little while back, Colette patterns did a series called Wardrobe Architect. Check it out here:  https://blog.colettehq.com/wardrobe-architect/week-1-making-style-more-personal

I love this planning process and I use it for each season. Also…I really like making lists of things I want to sew. It’s fun, relaxing, and helps be creative while I play with ideas. I’m nerdy like that.

I like using the organized approach to sewing wardrobe pieces because it gives me clear goals to create pieces that are designed to work in my existing wardrobe, instead of sewing whatever and realizing after all that work that my new whatever goes with nothing I own. That’s a huge letdown. I don’t know about you, but I really like to wear the new garment I’ve finished as soon as possible.

The idea was to take a hard look at your closet and find out what is going on in there by asking questions. What do I wear? What colors do I wear? What silhouettes do I wear? What don’t I wear? Why not? Is there anything missing that might enable me to wear the pieces that sit in the closet?

First, a list must be made of what colors you wear. Then the colors get sorted into categories of Neutral, Near Neutral, and Statement colors. For spring, my palette went like this:

Neutral: Grey, Ivory, Chocolate, Wheat, Black

Near Neutral: Navy, Sage, Cornflower, Blush

Statement Colors: Teal, Cobalt, Orchid, Rose, Plum

Afterwards, start examining the clothes you wear and the clothes you don’t wear. It quickly becomes apparent why you don’t wear some but do wear others. In my case, I have some items that just don’t work with anything else I own. Either the silhouette is wrong, the color doesn’t work with anything else, or maybe the items are for one season and the pieces they work with belong to another.

Then after you establish that, you have to determine where the holes are in your wardrobe, so you can make a list of what you need to make and in what colors, so the holes can be filled. Then all those pieces languishing in your closet can get worn with the new pieces you make, and thus solving your “I have nothing to wear” dilemma.

When I took a look at my own spring wardrobe, I found that I had a skirt I don’t wear because it doesn’t match anything, one slightly ratty hoodie, leggings that don’t go with anything, no neutral pants, and a lack of spring dresses. I also got rid of several items that are now too small, or weren’t a very flattering fit to start with.

From there I determined that I need:

a lightweight hooded jacket

a pair of twill pants

a kimono

a pair of capris

a lightweight sweater dress

a tunic for my leggings

a shirt dress

a couple of knit tops, long/short sleeves

a couple of woven tops, long/short sleeves

It’s a long list and I’m not sure I can make all that before spring is over. I definitely can’t do it before March is over, which is maybe where the “madness” part of March Madness comes in. So I’m going to inject a bit of sanity here and focus on just these: jacket, kimono, capris, twill pants, two woven shirts and a shirt dress. Anything else that I make is a bonus. Now that March is officially over, I can tell you that I managed two and a half garments during that month. For me, that’s pretty good, especially since the first one I did was a jacket with lots of pieces.

When I finish up all that sewing, I’ll have three new outfits, with several pieces that can cross seasons and mix and match with other pieces I already own. Our spring season tends toward chilly in this part of the country, so it’s important these new additions can be layered! We often have a sixty degree day followed by a 40 degree day, so we have to adapt.

The Patterns:

I’ve chosen the Fall 2016 pattern bundle from Indie Sew, which features Alina Design Co.’s Chi-town Chinos (plus the expansion pack for pants), The Bonn Shirt/Dress by Itch to Stitch, Allie Olson’s Lonetree Jacket, and Toaster Sweater #2 by Sew House Seven.

I fell in love with the Cheyenne tunic from Hey June and added that, plus I’ve got Colette Patterns’ Clover pants, and Simplicity #1318 for my kimono.


I have a ton of unused fabric in mystash, and my goal is to use some of that up. I’m sticking with that resolution I made back in January, see? Using up the stash a little at a time! My next few posts will be about the spring sewing I’m doing, so stay tuned to see how things turn out!








This entry was posted on April 4, 2017.

Sweet Dreams


Ah, flannel pajama weather. Pass the hot chocolate, please.

At about four in the morning one January night, I rolled over in bed and heard a ripping sound. With dread, I reached behind me and felt along my spine only to find a tear in my pajama top several inches long. It seems that I burst, She-Hulk style, out of my evidently now too-small pajamas. Eek.

I have been fazing out my size small garments for quite a few years now because I’m aware that “small” isn’t the right size for me anymore. I’ve gained muscle, maybe some fat (I will not confirm or deny the latter) and I’m just a little bit bigger everywhere than I was  in my twenties. Which is perfectly natural, everyone’s measurements change over time. Apparently, my measurements changed at 4am. Very inconvenient timing, if you ask me.

It’s partly my own fault. I should have put those in the donation box a long time ago, but I was trying to save money and not replace everything at once. I have several items that are still barely wearable, gradually becoming  too small, from tank tops to my heavy winter coat. I was thinking I would sew up some new clothes to replace my smaller size items, and they’d be awesome and it would be so easy.  Have you ever noticed that in your mind, you think you can do lots of stuff in a much shorter time than you actually can? Yeah, that’s exactly what tripped me up here.

The next day, I decided to make a new pair of flannel pajamas. I’ve never actually made pajamas before, but I LOVE them. There is something intensely comforting about snuggling in bed with flannel pajamas and a good book on a snowy February night, the wind rattling against the house and a cat purring beside you. There is nothing closer to paradise after a hard day’s work.lisette-pajamas-001

To make the fantasy a reality, I had to find a pattern. I did some comparisons among pajama patterns and settled on Lisette #B6296 from Butterick. I’m a fan of the Lisette series, designed by Liesl Gibson. I’ve made several of these patterns and I find them to have  charming details and a very wearable design. In particular, I like the curvy notched collar and the piping on this one. These are wonderfully classic pajamas, with roomy legs, featuring a back yoke and piping on the cuffs on the pants. In addition to the spiffy  notched collar, the top has big buttons, piping and pockets.  They were just what I was looking for. Pajama perfection!

After I chose the pattern, I needed some soft and pretty flannel. I think flannel is just as perfect a winter fabric you could ask for and I’ve made dresses, skirts, a shirt, and now a pair of pajamas from it. I love it because it’s so wonderfully soft. I did some internet shopping and I found this pretty fabric, Oh So Coco, in grey from Fabric.com. I love the geometric pattern and those cool mint green squares.  This fabric has some serious poof. It’s sooo fluffy!  After washing and folding, I was amazed at how cuddly soft and springy it was. What more could a girl ask for in pajamas?


Oh So Coco flannel. Cute!

Ooh, that’s right, she can ask for piping.

I really like piping. I think it’s a fun way to define a line in a garment, a nifty way to finish an edge, and can be used as a shot of dramatic color. Speaking of color….I went to my local Jo Ann Fabrics to find piping in mint or grey and struck out. Okay, so plan B was lavender piping, and…no, that was not available, either. It seems these are not in the current color set this time of year. I was just thinking about dunking the piping in a dye bath when I saw this gorgeous bright teal blue. I was hooked. It played well with mint and grey and I found matching buttons, so it was obviously meant to be. Sweet! Now I could get to work. I couldn’t wait!

I was making do with less sleepwear after ripping those pajamas and it was becoming a bit of a problem, so I decided to work as much as I could on these and get them finished quickly. That was how I discovered that pajamas take a bit of time to make.  They are really two garments: a blouse and pants. There are also all the extra seams from cuffs, piping, yoke, pockets, elastic and the french seams to keep them from fraying, and that adds time. I took extra care with them because I wanted them to be really pretty and sturdy, too, and sometimes doing things the right way means taking your time with them. I used an 80/100 needle, because while it is a poofy fabric, it isn’t very thick. Which is probably why it’s so great for pajamas, because then you can pile on a few blankets and a couple of cats and be comfortably snug and not roasting.

I did the pants first because they would be easier. They went together beautifully, and because they have a roomy leg and elastic waistband, I hardly did any fitting. Most of my fitting work was in making them the right length and getting the elastic put in.

The top was much more complex, with cuffs, patch pockets, sleeves, and the facing and collar pieces. I made a slight detour from the directions, choosing to make two patch pockets on the lower front of the long-sleeved top , rather than a single pocket on the chest as it shows on the pattern envelope. The directions had the pockets go on right away after the shoulder seams, which I think was a good idea. I got a bit confused with the pocket band directions. I still don’t know what they wanted me to do exactly, but when that happens, I just go with what makes sense from my viewpoint. There was a complicated bit of folding on the pocket top band, and the illustrations didn’t help me get a clue. I gave up and folded them once. I tucked in the endges and stitched the piping to them. Then I stitched everything to the pocket bottom. So I think I didn’t do quite what they wanted, but the pockets look fine and I can live with that.


Note the awesomeness of pockets on pajamas. They may not see much use, but they sure are pretty!

For extra sturdiness, I hand stitched a triangle tack at each corner where they will be under strain. I’m not planning on putting anything more substantial than a couple of tissues in the pockets, but after I went to all that trouble to install tidy piping and get them centered and properly placed, I want them to stay there!


After that, I proceeded to sew the two sides to each other, instead of to the back piece where they should be. While I was at it, I installed the piping in the side seams as well, right where it doesn’t belong. That major goof balanced out all my careful planning with the pockets. Sigh…. My seam ripper sees a lot more use than I’d like. In my defense, the armscye looked a lot like the lower portion of the notched collar. I did mention I’ve never made pajamas…? Okay, I probably should have just slowed down or stopped sewing for the night. It’s true what they say, don’t sew when you’re tired!

When I got all my mistakes sorted out, I discovered that the collar was very interesting, being in several parts. I’ve never made a notched collar and I somehow always assumed it was one piece on the front and one piece on the back.


Check out my spiffy notched collar!

This was not so. The rounded portion of the collar was actually a separate piece, and the lower notch, facing/button placket combo were a separate piece. From there, you sew the facing to the side, and then the collar to the back neck opening. You tuck the edges of the notched facing into the collar, sew it up, and presto! Turn your collar down and you have a notched collar!

I’ve used up two packages of piping on this project, and I’d like to mention that it’s very easy to install. I didn’t think so during my first experiments with piping, but I have a better handle on it now. The trick, as far as I can see, is to install it on one side at a time on pieces that aren’t yet attached to the garment. Don’t sandwich it in and try to sew both edges at once, because it won’t give you the clean look you want. In fact, it will be a disaster. I know, I’ve done it. Don’t make my mistake! However, if you treat it a bit like a zipper, and do one side at a time, it goes in pretty easily. Like so:

  1. First, put your zipper foot on the machine. Your piping has a high profile, and a plain standard presser foot can’t cope with that-it just doesn’t get in nice and close to do the stitching required.

  2. After pinning in place, sew the piping to just one edge, going slowly and keeping it tidy. Your stitches will be just below the piping tube on the wrong side of the fabric.

  3. After you have it secured to the edge of the first side, pin your second side on.  Sandwiching the piping neatly into the edge seam, stitch along the edge. Slowly and neatly sew that seam, keeping all the stitches inside the edge of the piping on the wrong side. I like to pull out and snip off some of the cord inside the piping to reduce bulk when I’m enclosing it in the seam. Then I use a little fray check on the edge of the piping and tuck it in somewhere so it won’t unravel.

  4. Press it and you have beautiful piping! Then you are ready to attach your piece to the garment with the piping already in.


Such nice piping. I am so glad I took my time with it.

Once I got the piping under control, things went very smoothly. The only real trouble I had was with the button holes. I think the thickness of the triple-layer flannel plus interfacing probably made it rough going for my machine and it just did not cooperate very well.  I think maybe if I’d thought to try a heavier needle it might have gone more smoothly. Following the buttonholes, I stitched my pretty teal buttons on. Afterwards, a quick hem stitched up the bottom edge, and they were finished. Ta da!

Overall, I spent about a week on them, doing a little work nightly and a few hours of work on my days off. While it was a project with a fair number of pieces and some work, it was pretty easy. It would no doubt have been easier if I’d managed not to mess up the sides and the piping initially, but you can’t have everything…and having made that mistake, I probably won’t do that again. No, I’m sure I’ll make a totally different mistake later on somewhere else. I like to say that wisdom is just a lot of mistakes talking. No doubt I’m going to be a very wise seamstress someday.

I adore these pajamas! I’m not the only one, either. You can see how helpful Ace was when it was time to do the photo shoot, and Ricky has been sleeping on them at night so I can’t wear them. Perhaps he needs a cat bed made of the remnants.


Time to get up!

I’ve spent a very comfy night in them and they are everything flannel pajamas should be: warm, luxuriously soft and pretty. This pattern is a winner for sure! I think I would like to make another pair in polyester satin or cotton for spring.  Yawn Maybe some breakfast first, though.


This entry was posted on February 15, 2017.


Happy New Year! 

This is the time of year we get organized, sort our belongings, and create piles of things destined for the yard sale. I’ve been doing a bit of that while I’m on vacation this week, and my pet project for this year involves scrap fabric. Actually, it’s something I began working on last spring, but since I have so many scraps, it is absolutely going to be an ongoing effort. I don’t just have my scraps, oh no. I also have Grandma’s scraps. I have two generations of scraps! That’s a lot of fabric to be storing. I have one large tote, a box, two suitcases and a couple of small totes. Um, yeah, it’s a problem…..


Sadly, this isn’t even close to all my scraps in the stash.

Every sewing project leaves behind unused fabric. Sometimes the pieces are too small to be good for much, while at other times you may have half a yard, a yard, or two. It’s the nature of the process; it’s very difficult to not have any waste. Of course, there is a growing awareness of the waste generated by the clothing industry and there are avenues being explored to try to reduce that waste. Changing the layout of the pattern pieces, designing to avoid waste, and using the remnants up as accessories or embellishment are a few ways people are thinking differently about the process. Which is terrific on the industrial level, absolutely. We love responsible, ethical and environmentally friendly practices in manufacturing. I hope someday that will be the standard practice for all garment production.

It’s a bit different for the home sewist. At home, we can adjust the layout for our pattern pieces to be more efficient in our fabric usage. It’s a great way to squeeze multiple projects from some yardage that you love. Rearranging the layout is especially helpful if you got more shrinkage than you expected, or if you found the perfect fabric on the end of the bolt and are just a little short of what you need. If you are very clever, you can make that shorter yardage work when you carefully plan your pattern layout. But what about leftover yardage or small pieces that can’t be used easily?

The scraps and I have a love/hate relationship.

Hate: I have been trying to figure out what to do with all these oddball remnants. They take up a fair bit of space, and I’m trying to be more organized and less cluttered. They aren’t helping me there.

I’m not a quilter, and I don’t intend to become one because I know I’m not quite that level of patient. I might do some quilting for small projects, perhaps, but an actual quilt? Maybe not for me. I have tried giving these scraps to local churches or my hobby groups, but nobody seems to want them. So far, the only thing I’ve done successfully with them is to put them in a box in the attic until a brilliant idea strikes me. Not the greatest plan of action, is it? More like a plan of inaction!

Unfortunately, out of sight isn’t out of mind.

In my quest to have less, I discovered Project Linus, an organization which takes cottons and blanket materials only, and makes blankets for kids, which is great. I started a box of cottons for them. Check out their website here: http://m.projectlinus.org/app/faqs/2062513/36/?smallView=1

Yet I still have a lot of non-cottons floating around that I need ideas for. I don’t particularly want to wear Grandma’s scraps of 1970s polyester suiting. I don’t mind some polyester, but the new stuff feels much nicer than the vintage, which doesn’t breathe and is kind of rough on the skin. What to do with it?

You might say, toss it in the trash! However, throwing it away isn’t a good solution. Sure, it’s gone from your house, but it isn’t gone. Unlike natural fibers, synthetic petroleum-based fabrics don’t decompose in the landfill. Lots of polyester leisure suits from the 1970s will still be recognizable several centuries from now when your many-times great-granddaughter the archaeologist comes along to dig up 20th century artifacts. It might even still be around for a few generations of her great granddaughters. Yikes! I’m not sure this is a legacy I want to leave for the future. Even if it does provide fascinating insight into twentieth and twenty-first century social history, I’m afraid it might be an insight that says, “These people were drowning in their own garbage caused by rampant consumerism and irresponsible practices.”

Unfortunately, textile recycling isn’t a reality in my charmingly rural area, either, so that’s out. I must come up with creative ways to use them up on my own. Ways that are somehow pretty, practical and good for the environment. That’s the challenge.

Love: Sometimes those fabric scraps are exactly what you need for a project. They can find a new purpose in small items, as bias tape or crafting material. I love giving things a new life, so this always makes me happy! Not to mention lessening the pile of scraps. That’s a big win right there.

In fact, I used my scraps to concoct some Christmas gifts this year. I hand-stitched a passport cover for my brother, who is currently in Europe on business. It’s really neat, with a little pocket section for a credit card and driver’s license or cash.


Passport cover in faux suede.

I used scraps of a faux suede from Grandma’s stash. It was a little tough to work with. My hand got a bit sore towards the end. You must be very careful stitching, because any needle holes are permanent and obvious! Faux leathers are a solid surface, so they don’t really forgive you for stabbing them the way a cotton woven or knit would. I have around a half yard left and some scraps, so this fabric might appear again in another project later. It’s super fuzzy and I love touching it! I got my pattern from here:


I also created a travel pillow for my mother out of some cotton leftovers from a sundress I made some time ago. Hers was a lovely blue and green cotton with leaves. I made a couple of extra pillows for me, too, shown here:

It was a very easy project, and would be terrific for a beginner, plus it’s very practical. I used quilting cottons for all three pillows, about a half yard for each. I used most of a bag of fiberfill, stuffing them firmly. I used this pattern: 


Scrap fabric has also made a wonderful backing for displaying my great-grandmother’s doilies. These beauties hang in my living room as an art collection over my television. I had some linen left from an earlier project and found that it did very well as a neutral backdrop to show off the intricacies of the doilies. That was two birds with one stone, because when we went through my grandparents’ house, we found about 80 doilies and antimacassars sets that were made by my great-grandmother. I ended up with all of them. I’ve been finding ways to display/use them, too, but that’s probably another post altogether! I took the most interesting ones and did collages with them and I am very pleased with the results. There is no stitching involved, I just laid them on the glass, laid the linen on top, inserted the cardboard, et voila! Here are some of them:

There are no doubt going to be further posts on the subject of scrap fabric as I come up with ideas on how to use it up. Wish me luck!

Now to work on the rest of that box….



This entry was posted on January 15, 2017.

Celebrating the Harvest


From upper left, clockwise: Onion skins, chokeberry, eucaplyptus, sassafrass and onion skins, eucalyptus and garlic skins, false indigo, eucalyptus.

Ah, November in Ohio! The leaves have donned their  fiery hues, the air has turned nippy, and the geese are flying south. We find ourselves in the month of gratitude, where we celebrate our harvest, our families, and our traditions with the Thanksgiving holiday. The garden is preparing to sleep and the last of the edibles are being picked. But what about those inedibles? You might not have considered the creative potential of things like false indigo, maple leaves, chokeberry, or sticks.

This is where my latest project begins: botanical printing!

I’ve gotten very interested in dye for the last few years, experimenting with dying stained pants, toning down a very bright lime green fabric, even doing a little bit of work with real indigo. Now I’m doing an experiment with the plants in my own backyard and their potential as an artistic medium. Did you know you can make a contact print using leaves and other things? I didn’t either. That all changed when I visited an open studio space in Cleveland called 78th Street Studios, for you local art lovers. If you want to check out this amazing space and maybe do a little Christmas shopping, please check this website for some more information:  http://78thstreetstudios.com. It’s a huge building and the art is amazing.

I was particularly struck by this one studio where the artist had made botanical contact prints on silk scarves using leaves. I was enchanted. I still regret not purchasing a scarf. However, it got me wondering if I could do that myself. It turns out, yes, I can! You can, too, just gather these materials:

From the house:

  • Bucket
  • Huge old stockpot dedicated to dye
  • Rubber bands
  • Fabric in natural fiber-linen, cotton, silk or wool
  • Alum-used in pickling, see spices in the grocery store
  • Rusty bits of metal or nails
  • Copper pipes
  • Onion skins

From the yard:

  • Chokeberry, sumac, or other nontoxic berries with plenty of rich color
  • Maple leaves, sassafrass leaves or other nontoxic leaves
  • Sticks
  • Kale, purple cabbage, or other dark leafy greens. Beets also work for pinkish or peachy hues.
  • Flowers, if available, such as nasturtiums, catmint, roses, marigolds, geraniums, anything nontoxic with rich colors
  • Eucalyptus (mine came from the grocery store)
  • Walnuts from a tree (not the gtocery store) with the green or brown shell on
  • Any other nontoxic plants- I used false indigo, ferns are ok, and there are no doubt many others.

I used a guide online so as to avoid poisoning myself and to get an idea of what colors to expect from what plants. These websites were helpful:

https://wendyfe.wordpress.com/dye-colours-for-eco-prints/   http://artfullyfelt.blogspot.com/p/eco-printing.html

Both have great photos and information for you if you’re curious about how to do your own.


Soaking the fabric.

First, I washed my linen with some Dawn dishsoap to remove any residue from manufacturing. Then, once it was dry, I weighed it. I figured out what 5% of the fabric weight was so I could add that much alum to my water in the bucket. My fabric was about 12.44 oz, and my alum quantity used was .60 oz.


You need to soak the fabric at least overnight in the alum solution to prepare the fabric to accept the dyes exuded by your botanicals. Make sure you keep this away from pets and kids.


When I’d gathered my materials, I put on some vinyl gloves. Next, I took my still wet linen and spread it on my kitchen floor.

Then I placed my specimens all over it on the right half, scattered and overlapping in some places. Then I added some rust from part of a buried can lid I found in the yard (I have no idea how it got there, but my house has had a lot of owners, so who knows? I find weird stuff all the time.) Of course, you want to be wearing thick gloves when you handle rusty sharp metal, and you want to be very careful. Nobody wants a tetanus shot!

I rubbed it to get the rust to flake off all over the fabric and broke it very carefully into sections and laid it in there with the plants. Then I added some sticks. The tannins in the wood help the dye process along. Then, I carefully folded the fabric in  half, lengthwise, and laid a larger stick at one end. Then, I rolled the bundle up. and secured it with rubber bands. When I got done, it looked like a wrapped mummy. At this point, I stuffed the entire thing in the fridge because it was time to leave for work. This is not standard procedure, it was merely convenient to keep it from drying out while I went about my day. I’m glad I live alone, as finding a mummy in the fridge may have freaked out any housemates looking for things to eat. Living with me is an adventure.

After an intermission of ten hours, I threw ten walnuts in the pot with water and set it on the stove to get hot and steamy. Once the liquid is simmering, the bundle goes in and you let it cook, covered, for about two hours. Warning: this will make the house smell kind of weird. It might be best done in warm weather, when windows can be opened.


The walnuts, simmering in my dye vat.

I put mine on for two and a half hours. After that, take it out and wait. I left the bundle in the basement for five days. You want your vegetable matter to rot a bit, so it leaves color behind. On Friday, I unwrapped it, which is a very messy process, so get a tarp or go outside or something when you do yours.


The return of…THE MUMMY!

I put it on the clothesline to dry and hours later I took it upstairs to see what I had.


The reveal! With curious cat action!

When I did my big reveal, I was a little surprised by the lack of clear printing. I’m not sure if I got the chemistry wrong with my alum solution, or if it was the materials that I used, or maybe the time of year had an effect on the suitability of the plant materials.  Maybe the fact my leaves were off the ground and not picked from the tree, where their chemical composition is different, affected my outcome. Perhaps I just didn’t use enough steam.

Whatever the reason, I didn’t get much of a clear imprint from anything. Just a few greenish and yellowish patches. The pinks from the chokeberry vanished completely after a wash, I’m sorry to say. The walnuts did color the fabric very well. It wasn’t this dark going into the bath, and you can see some lighter patches of the original color showing through. But the maple and sassafrass leaves, the catmint, the nasturtiums, and the rose petals left not a trace, or very faint marks.


Rust spots

The rusty metal printed some cool spots and I did get some really interesting squiggles and layered lines, a bit like a cartography map. I didn’t get what I was expecting, but I’m not disappointed, either. So while it did print,  I think that it would be safe to say it’s a bit unpredictable. Perhaps if you do one, it might be better to purchase some of the chemicals mentioned in the websites I listed earlier and you will perhaps get clearer results than I did.


Nifty squiggles, orange patches from the eucalyptus, and layered bleeding color fro who knows what. 

Everyone I’ve shown it to has asked, what will you make from this? The answer is I don’t really know yet. Sometimes I just like to experiment and see what happens and then a project occurs to me later. I may make it into a bag, or a gathered skirt, or a top, or maybe someday it will become a table runner or a pillow. It’s linen, so it can do a great many things. As you can see here, it’s very unique and whatever I end up doing with it, I will have to plan carefully to showcase that quality. Whatever it becomes someday, for now it is cat approved, as you can see my photography assistant, Ace, enjoys it very much.  Perhaps when he is done playing with it, I will think about drawing some leaves or flowers on it with fabric paint at a later date to accent the botanical prints. I bet some line drawings in brown, olive and rose paint would look pretty good in some of the less interesting areas. We shall see! If I do that, or make something from it, I’ll do another post later so you can see it. In the meantime: Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!





This entry was posted on November 26, 2016.


IMG_3725Have you ever had a project that went wrong from the start and disaster kept dogging your steps?

Yeah. Me, too. Reading my blog, you may think all my projects are disasters. This is not true! I swear! It only looks that way. I have had many successful projects, but I tend to blog about things that go wrong because I learned something important from those less-than-perfect experiences, and because I think there’s a need to hear about other people whose lives haven’t been edited for presenting a perfect version to the world..or at least the part of it that’s online. We all like to hide our flaws, but I think there is something to be said for showing the world the real life where things aren’t quite so airbrushed and edited.

It’s funny how we tend to focus on our failures in private and our successes in public.

Failure is the ladder we climb to reach success. It’s how we learn things, how we create our brains with new neural pathways, and how we learn to manage risk when we grow up. Failure shapes us. It is the tool that we use to become something better than we are.

Failure is not necessarily the end of something, either. I have seen a lot of posts in the comments on other blogs about failed projects that were thrown away, “wadders” deemed useless because they didn’t fit. I noted how discouraged it made their owners feel. Sometimes they gave up after an experience like that, avoiding that pattern or that type of garment for the foreseeable future. Sometimes they blamed themselves for failing, focusing on the perfect image they didn’t achieve instead of what the failure had to teach them.

Today, I want to tell you about a big failure of mine and how it changed into a success with lots of trying (and more failing) until I conquered it.

About five years ago, I began work on a dress in robin’s egg blue pique, using Lisette Patterns’ Traveler dress, the version  c with the collar and the gathered skirt. I had a lot of trouble with it because I was very much a novice and had never tried anything so complex before. It was a project with more pieces than I’d ever done; it had a button placket, gathered sleeves with sleeve bands, a gathered skirt, an invisible zipper, a collar and darts. Whoa, that was a big leap from my first five projects, which were easy beginner grade. I’ve never been one to be intimidated by starting something hard when I’m learning, so of course I jumped in knowing virtually nothing.

lisette traveler 001

lisette traveler 002

This is the dress I was trying to make.

Predictably, just about everything went wrong from the start. The fabric got caught in the machine frequently. I think I was probably using the wrong thread tension and maybe the wrong needle, too. It took me a while to realize universal needles are not entirely universal, which was a big disappointment to me since I thought I was good to go with anything. After all, it said universal on the package, and that’s what universal means, right? Nope! Then I discovered much later that one size needle isn’t right for every project, either. So off to the store I went to get some more needles..this time in multiple sizes.




This fabric also frayed a lot, and that did not go well for me because I didn’t know about french seams or finishing with bias tape then. Between my messed up thread tension and the fraying that caused all that seam ripping and catching fabric, I did some damage to the fabric. I ripped out more seams, reworked, found it too tight, ripped yet more seams and tried again. What a nightmare!

It gets worse: I then installed the invisible zipper wrong, not once, but twice. It was rough going, and only my third zipper ever. I finally got close to finishing it and then…my life got really complicated as I navigated the scary world of divorce…those were some dark times. The dress, forgotten in the midst of my troubles, was abandoned.

When I did begin work on my project again, it was 2013. I was now single, much happier, more experienced with sewing, and the dress didn’t fit right. Which I thought was something I’d fixed before, but evidently, no, it wasn’t! Worse than not fitting right was that it wasn’t at all flattering. The color was great, but the dress itself just wasn’t working for me. I looked like a reject from Little House on the Prairie! That dress had PROBLEMS. It was short waisted and I am not. The shoulders were both too tight and off by a few inches. The collar and sleeve bands were too tight and uneven. Ugh! I couldn’t comfortably lift my arms, let alone cross them without cutting off the circulation somewhere. But it wasn’t really the pattern that made it fail, it was my choices and inexperience that made it fail.

Obviously, I should have made some adjustments for my longer waist, checked the collar width against my neck, and not gathered the sleeves quite so tightly, while also placing them closer to the neckline to allow for my narrow shoulders. I know all that now, in large part because of that failed dress.

IMG_3757 Recently, I made the Traveler dress again, in version b, with a completely different fabric and using what I learned from round 1 of my fight with version c. It came out much better. In fact, I love the new version. It’s a relaxed, breezy shirt dress in a plum bamboo rayon that I can wear with leggings and a sweater on cool days, or just by itself with cute shoes on warmer ones.

Amazing, huh? That just goes to show that the right fabric and right pattern with fitting adjustments taken into consideration early in the process makes a successful project, which I learned through failure.

What to do about the pique dress that didn’t work? There was no help for those fitting issues at that point, so I made the painful decision to cut it apart. It was hard to admit all that work and frustration wasn’t going to get me a dress. I laid all the pieces out, plus my scraps, and sighed heavily. There was enough for a dress, but it was in pieces now and it had to be carefully reworked. I felt the reworking it needed might be beyond my capacity for self-inflicted torture, so I put it away. I would get it out again much later, thinking, maybe a sundress? I cut a few pieces, but I didn’t like it with the pattern I was using and I felt the skirt wouldn’t work after all. It was going to end up too narrow and it was going to be another failure. I could tell. Once again, I put it away in defeat.

Some more time passed, and when Colette Patterns released the Dahlia dress, I felt a glimmer of hope. I began to consider the sundress version, especially after making a flannel version with raglan sleeves for winter. If I made a few minor adjustments, I could rescue my dress. I could reincarnate it! I didn’t need sleeves and I could cut the skirt pieces to make a slightly narrower version from the pattern. The bodice was simple and easy to squeeze out of the leftover fabric. I very, very carefully put it together and managed to make a good dress this time. I used french seams on the inside, and finished the outer edges with bias tape as the pattern suggests, so there will be no more fraying. Hooray!

There are a couple of sections with snags in the fabric from the stress of reworking it so much. I covered some imperfections with more trim, creating a pleasingly pretty effect at the skirt hem with multiple ribbon bands. The rest of the snags are in less obvious places, like near seams or on the inside where the aren’t visible.


Pretty vintage ribbon from Grandma’s stash on the hem.

There was one I couldn’t entirely work around, right along the vertical grain of the left side skirt panel. It was kind of obvious, and it bothered me. When I tried the dress on in the mirror, I stared at that snag, wondering “How obvious is it? Would anyone notice?” I decided if I noticed it every time I wore the dress, that might be a problem. I had to remind myself this was a style opportunity, not a big, ugly, stupid beginner mistake.

How do you cover up a long, ugly snag in an obvious spot?

I tried playing with some applique, but it seemed that applique was just going to make the dress a lot busier than it already was with my six inches of ribbon above the hem. More ribbon trim was out anyway, because I used it all. Something less attention-getting, then. Something that could blend. Maybe a pocket?


Please note the clever use of a pocket on the skirt to cover a snag.

I had some material left, so why not? Style opportunity! Even better, a style opportunity I could put my keys in. Ever notice how women’s clothes either don’t have pockets where you need them or have teeny little bitty pockets you can’t even fit your credit card and car keys into? I don’t know about you, but sometimes I just don’t want to lug a purse around-even a small one! They get in the way.
Give me pockets any day.


Patterns: Colette Patterns’ Dahlia, Lisette Patterns’ Traveler Dress.

Fabric: baby blue pique, plum rayon woven, respectively

Needle: 80 for Dahlia and 70 for Traveler

Difficulty: moderate. Fitting the bodice is a little challenging on the sleeve version on Dahlia. Traveler has a placket and was a little challenging because I’m not great at buttons.

Would I make it again? Heck yeah. I made two Dahlias already and I love my Traveler.

Happy Sewing!


This entry was posted on August 8, 2016.