The sewing groove

I’m getting into a bit of sewing at the moment – new job, new wardrobe.  Woohoo! I’ll have an update on the patterns and fabrics I’m using in the next day or so, once I’m over my shivery head cold.

In the mean time, I thought I might let you know about a couple of things I’ve come across on the intertron over the last few days.

It’s free pattern month over at Grosgrain and I can say the half slip tutorial is fabulous in its detail and description. That tutorial’s from Gertie’s New Blog for Better Sewing which I’ve been enjoying after discovering it recently. Gertie’s also over at BurdaStyle and her blog is great for her commentary on dresses, how-to, fabric selection, almost anything to do with sewing. Gertie’s particularly strong on vintage fashion and can have me drooling on a regular basis.

Another project I’ve come across is the IOU Project which seeks to bring together artisan weavers from India, designers from Europe and consumers from everywhere. Apart from the intrinsically wonderful idea of supporting the craft and employment of the weavers, I love that it is a promising new business model that show what can be done with the internet. You can find out more about it here.

I’ll shuffle over now and try not to drip on my sewing or the keyboard.


Have eye mask, will travel

In my very last hurrah for my current job, I’m spending a week in South Korea. While the travel time is only 13 hours in total and not 30 hours I still want to be comfortable. So I made my own eye mask on the basis that I’m not likely to be upgraded to business class where they have the really soft and comfy kind of eye masks.

I was thinking about this during my trip last year to the Netherlands so I kept my eye mask to use as a model. Here’s how it went.

Firstly, I just traced around the eye mask to get the shape. I cut out two fabric pieces (right sides facing).

I used quilt batting for cushioning and cut that 1cm inside the fabric line.

I planned to layer the pieces then apply bias binding. To keep the batting in place, I basted it to one of the fabric pieces.

The next step is to put the elastic in place. Again, I basted this since I’d be machining one side of the bias binding down. I cut the elastic from the airline eye mask and reapplied it to this one.

I forgot to take a photo of the bias binding step so it we’ll jump straight to the finished product.

I could have gone for the usual kind of black bias binding but I remembered the soft, Nani Iro binding from cotton double gauze. Why not?


On a recent late summer afternoon, I spent a little time on our back deck doing a little harvesting.

Plenty of wearable, out-grown kids’ clothes go to our local op shops. Some are too favoured to be let go. Some are just too full of possibilities.

The beauty of taking my time to do this is letting the look and feel of the fabric shift my view from ‘this was a shirt’ to ‘this could be…’

I cut up a complimentary spring green shirt and wondered about a cot quilt. Some softly worn trouser fabric as backing, perhaps.

What’s not to love about this kind of harvesting? It’s thrifty, eco-friendly and gets the creative juices flowing.


Vintage style

All of the pieces I chose to sew for this trip come from vintage patterns, in one way or another. I really try to get something that’s my ‘style’ when I sew – beyond fit and flattery – and out to ‘this is me’. It’s not dramatic, outrageous or the height of fashion but it is me. And in searching for that style I’ve found out a few things: the 1930s are very kind to me, the 1950s shirts and blouses are great but not with the skirts; the 1960s and early 1970s love me. Not only do the lines look good on me, I don’t have to alter the patterns.

I’ve also been referring to the Fit to Flatter series over here at stashknitrepeat. Although intended for knitting, it’s a really informative discussion of why particular garment features flatter certain body types, guides you through determining your body shape in a positive way (and going beyond the simplistic straight, hourglass, pear descriptions) and takes a look at a selection of garments and comments on why they flatter the model or how they might be modified to flatter other body shapes.

Getting back to the traveling exoskeleton, I present a wrap blouse from the 1950s (republished from Pattern Retrospective) and a shift dress from 1971 (original, op shop) for your inspection:

I have an hourglass figure with thighs that tend to ‘flare out’ and I’m average height. Based on reading Fit to Flatter and what I’ve learned from experience, I think these pieces will serve me well. The wrap blouse has a high structured collar and neckline which draws the eye up toward the face. The wrap around the waist is something to be careful about because if it’s too full it turns my hourglass into a wide rectangle. Attention to folding and the line of crossover should make it OK. It’s helped by the fact the front hem is 15cm higher than the back hem – the shorter front won’t confuse the line of the blouse.

The shift dress is a fairly standard style but there are little features about this one that I like. The shoulder straps are closer to the edge of the shoulder than to the collarbone and that helps keep the hourglass balanced. It has a princess line construction so that the vertical fit gives a subtle long line to the dress while keeping the hourglass shape (not so evident in this photo). I loved making this. The Japanese cotton is soft and I could make the dress without the instructions (which I found later under the cutting table). It was blissful. Even when I found out I should do armhole facings before the neckline facing. Live and learn.

The next garment to finish is a 1930s long skirt with a structured front seam. I’ve made it before as an evening skirt and it’s flattering and comfortable. I’ll be making it in a chocolate brown linen (how I love the remnant table at Tessuti!) and it has a beautiful hand and drape. I think that tone-on-tone embroidery may eventually make it’s way onto that one.

And then I have to sort out which knitting or crochet project I’ll take on the plane. Ah, the travails of travel.

Travel bag

I decided that I needed a dedicated travel bag for this trip. It certainly wasn’t due to a lack of conveniently sized sturdy bags but I decided they weren’t quite right. Perhaps one lacked an internal pocket while the other was too dark inside and difficult to find things. The real reason for making a new one was to go with the traveling exoskeleton. It called for practical construction, a design that suited me, and use of precious, stashed vintage fabric.

The pattern I used was the Wasp Bag from machen|machen and I’m very happy with the result. I added an internal zipped pocket by attaching a zip to two ends of a rectangle, creating a cylinder.

The zipper itself is from an op shop – I figure it’s probably thirty years old or more. The contrast fabric I used for the pocket and band of the of bag was a chartruese rubber(?)-backed drapery fabric. I picked up two squares of it from another op, in Brisbane I think. I’m picky about getting fabric remnants from op shops and Savers because it’s rarely good quality stuff that I would enjoy using. But when I came across this colour, I had to have it. It was always going to be just right for an accent piece. But a word of advice on the rubber backed drapery fabric – it’s a bugger to sew with because it tends to stick to the metal throat plate of the machine.

The main fabric was a heavy polished cotton of 1950s vintage. I loved the leaf print and the colours are exactly the ones I often wear. I think this one was an ebay purchase a few years ago. I’m really happy to have used it with this project.

I wasn’t able to get the strap standing up for this shot mainly because I had to walk out the door in three minutes. I’ll do another shot later which better shows off the bag.

It’s not a huge, carry everything kind of travel bag. I needed something smart, able to match most of my travel outfits, big enough to hold things I’ll need on the plane and during the conference. I’ve learned one thing about conference attendance: coffee breaks, lunches, spur of the moment let’s all go out to dinner, here’s a bunch of papers, are much more easily handled with an over the shoulder bag rather than a satchel or briefcase.

And if nothing else, I’ll probably be easier to spot in a conference crowd.


The trip is coming up quickly and because I promised not to say this at home, I’ll say it here…this time next week I’ll be in Portugal (insert skip here).

Which means that all that summer sewing I didn’t get done six months ago suddenly needed to get done now. I took full advantage of the Queen’s Birthday long weekend: had Friday off to spend ‘quality time’ with the kids prior to the trip (and slip in some sewing…), invited other people’s children over for three days’ in a row so they could entertain my kids, and then hid in the study.

What did puzzle me was how I could suddenly find the time and incentive to do this sewing when I needed the clothes six months ago and should have done it then.

I figured out that sewing new clothes for an overseas trip was like building myself an exoskeleton.

At home, I don’t need to translate myself to family and friends all the time. If I do, language, shyness and hamburgers aren’t huge barriers. I know who  I am, I’m in context, and for the most part, I am understood by others. If I’m not, I’ve learned to navigate my way through an explanation or how to avoid it. Put me in a strange country on my own and I have just lost every external prop I have ever relied on.

This doesn’t necessarily scare me at all. The feeling of being a stranger in a strange land is quite freeing and since I am seen by others as a tourist or visitor, I am expected to observe, to stand on the sidelines, to wait until I am sure what’s expected of me. And all of that comes naturally to me since it’s the essence of Asperger’s. But I need someway of externally representing who I am since I can’t explain it (language) or it’s incredibly difficult (shyness/hamburgers). And I need to remind myself of who I am since I unconsciously rely on others to reflect me back at myself. Hence the work on the exoskeleton.

I’ll do a slow reveal over the next few days but I’ll give you a sneak peek of some of the fabrics used – a little bit of printed 1950s decorator weight cloth to get the creative juices flowing.

Olá and goede middag

I’m up, up and away in four weeks’ time for my first academic travel overseas in thirteen years. According to my career plan then, it wasn’t supposed to take that long for the second trip to happen.

It’s Oporto in Portugal for six days and then 4 days in The Netherlands. Mostly Leiden I think (hey, I’m not organising that part of the itinerary), though I’m hoping for at least one day in Amsterdam. To whet my appetite and yours, I found these two photos:

I’m sure you can imagine the pretty canals and houses, I just got very excited at the idea of Rembrandt’s birthplace. And this kind of travel is right up my alley: it’s academic, it involves alcohol (Oporto is the home of port), and art history. The fact that it all looks fabulous is just a happy coincidence.

It does mean that I have to finish one or two summer craft project a little sooner than I expected. A chocolate, sage and mustard floral shift is ready to go and there’s a lovely wrap over at Twist Collective that will be divine in a spring green bamboo yarn. A linen skirt, a blouse or two, the creation of 36-hour days, I’ll be ready in no time flat.

Finishing day

I finished a few little things yesterday. The sorts of little things that lie over a chair and don’t really take very long to do. Which, paradoxically, seems to be why I procrastinate. Since they could be done anytime they always end up at the back of the line behind the stuff that needs doing right now.

This hooded vest now has the zip it’s needed for the last eight months.

This pinny had it’s facing tacked down and a few little stray bits tucked away:

I sewed a button on a pair of jeans and crocheted a bright pink flower from sari silk to pick up a stylish but a little too grey knit top for the lass. So it was perfectly okay to add to my array of knitting works-in-progress (currently only two). So I swatched for Adam’s Rib in a gorgeously deep plum: –

and cast on a poncho for the lass.

So now I have on the needles some car knitting, car knitting in waiting, in front of the tv knitting and evening knitting that needs a bit of concentration (which can double up as watching gymnastics for two hours knitting). There is no such thing as too much knitting.

Sewing bliss

I may have mentioned earlier that setting up the sewing room study was a priority when we moved. It’s still a little cramped – unpacking the study section seems less important than unpacking the knitting and sewing section. I took a few shots to give you an idea of how it is now.

A dedicated sewing table has made my life so much easier. The chair was a garage sale find and I have plans to reupholster. The good thing is that it’s still comfortable until that happens.

See all that natural light? It’s amazing! The brown table in the corner is my cutting table and I can’t tell you how grateful my knees are now that I no longer have to scrabble around on floorboards. If you look closely you’ll see the wicker sewing basket I picked up in an op shop in Pambula on the far south coast of New South Wales. It was $20 which made me dither for half an hour but good sense won out in the end. I have fabric remnants of the same era in the same colour combo (white/red/black) and that will replace the ugly floral lining.

This is the 1950s dresser my sister had when she left home and gave to me and the Bloke after we were married.

It’s unbelievable heavy, every male in the family loathes the thing because they’ve had to help move it and I love it with a passion. The little cupboard on the left is actually a meat safe with ventilating wire mesh at the back. And it has something you could only find in white Australia during the 1950s – the maker’s sticker proudly proclaiming ‘only European labour’.

This is my sewing basket that was a leaving home gift from my mother. My older sister got the pale pink version and I got this aqua one. There were no expectations that we’d start making our own clothes it’s just that Mum had a fairly practical view that we knew the sewing basics and the least we could do is mend and repair stuff.

I don’t think it coped well with this move. During the second sewing project the hinges on the left lid gave up the ghost and shattered in my hands. It was only a momentary blow because then I could pull out and properly use this little beauty.

A 1950s, cantilevered, made in Melbourne wonder. It does need a little attention with that brace on the left but that’s it – no damage internally and no scuffing. Another op shop, this time in Sunshine. I walked in after early release from a work seminar and pounced on it immediately. It had only come in that morning.

With all that organisation, I’ve made a top for me, one for the lass, a summer dress for my niece, a little matching skirt for her doll and sooz’s bag (as a gift). Very, very satisfying.

Vintage show and tell

I haven’t blogged properly the results of our trip to The Way We Wear fair because the natural light in our house sucks. So I took along my finds to my mum’s house where it has lots of windows so people can see during the day without turning the lights on. Freaky, I know.

First up is this utterly beautiful spool of silk thread.

It is barely enough for a neckline edging but even if I never use it, it will still look beautiful sitting quietly on a studio shelf.

I found two of Madame Weigel’s patterns. I’m fascinated by such a strong reminder of the roaring rag trade in Melbourne (well, it roared until the 1950s). A brief bio of Johanne Weigel and her family appears here, courtesy of Shirley Joy and the Brighton Cemetorians (thanks to a post by Shula for the tip off).

I particularly love this next one because it may be very nearly my size. The design of the bust shaping is so sleek – shoulder pleats to fullness, nipped back in with three little darts on each side.

Next, two editions of ‘Marion’ a quarterly (?) pattern catalogue from a Dutch patternmaker. The first is 1968 and the second 1970, giving a really good sense of the fashion shift from the 1960s to the 1970s. Each edition carried a few free patterns and these are still with the catalogues. I think you’ll see why I’d prefer to draft my own pattern and it has nothing to do with not knowing Dutch.

Finally, Stitchcraft No. 242 (maybe the late 1950s) with a hint of batwing, berets and bonnets. There is also a stocking cap with contrasting bobbles but I didn’t want to scare people.

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