Focus on Sportswear

The term sportswear has always confused me.  It brings to mind the clothes we wore in gym class, and I was not exactly athletic.  In the 4th grade, the only part of the President’s Physical fitness test that I managed to pass was the “fixed arm hang,” in which you are lifted into place and hang from the bars for as long as you can.  That’s right… I hate running, and I can’t do a decent pushup to save my life, but I can hang fixedly in one place with the best of them!  I was an abysmal failure at every team sport my Mom ever signed me up for, ducking at the sight of softballs and trailing weakly behind the pack in basketball.  Being not at all competitive, I didn’t much care if we won, an attitude that did not endear me to my teammates and resulted in a lot of “not being asked back for next season.”

Anyway, since I assumed that sportswear was a term for the clothes you wear for sports, I never paid the word any mind.   Looking at the definition of sportswear on the allknowing Wikipedia is confusing as well – let me quote from there “Since the 1930s the term is used to describe both day and evening fashions of varying degrees of formality that demonstrate this relaxed approach whilst remaining appropriate wear for many business or social occasions”

So… not beaded cocktail dresses then.  Maybe.  In my mind I’ve decided that sportswear means separates, and that’s what I’m going to focus on for the next few weeks.  Here are my plans (subject, as always, to change!)

Simplicity 2896 (the pants only) in this lovely silvery metallic linen.  I’m making a muslin of these right now.  The jacket is lovely too, but has a ridiculous amount of ease.

Simplicity 2614  in green gingham.  I’m making the version shown in pink above, with short sleeves and no tie.

Simplicity 2451, to go with the green gingham top, and hopefully the top below as well.  I don’t have fabric for this yet – I haven’t decided on a color or material, suggestions are welcome! I want to make the modeled version.

Simplicity 2601 – the first on the middle row in pink – short sleeves and no ruffles.  I showed this fabric before, but I have decided that it will get more wear as a kitschy top than a dress.  Plus it’s pretty sheer, and I won’t mind wearing a camisole under this top.  I think the modeled photo on this pattern is terrible… really, Simplicity?

Finally, I have 2 pair of shorts that I’m planning to make.  We walk a lot in the summer, and I really need some shorts to mix in with my skirts (pants are too hot!)

First is Mccalls 5391. It was really hard to find a basic shorts pattern that didn’t look awful!  I want to make the bermudas in the lower right corner, in madras plaid of course.  I have some fashion magazines from the early 60s that show madras plaid bermudas being worn with cute sleeveless blouses, and that look is what I want (I still need the blouse pattern, and I’m looking for a vintage one.)

I showed this one before… Simplicity 2654.  I want to make the shorter shorts with the waist tabs (in plaid above) out of navy blue twill.  I bought some at Joann, but after washing the fabric it retains a distinct “school uniform” hand.  I’ll probably make them up anyway, and if I hate the results with the fabric I can make them again.  I imagine cute nautical buttons on the tabs (I’ll have to order those!)

I may or may not get to all these… it depends on my attention span, and how many pretty dresses sneak in there!  I need bottoms very badly, tops less so.  I hope to get the muslin for the pants sewn up tonight – it will depend on how I feel after teaching is done.  I have been working a lot on the Dawn sweater – I am a bit worried about the size – it looks ok now, but if it stretches that would probably be bad.  We will see… it is exciting to have knitting motivation again!  I am nearly finished with both fronts.  The knitting has gone very quickly!

FO: Vogue 2960

Pattern: Vintage Vogue 2960

Fabric: brushed cotton from Fashionista Fabrics (sold out now,) silk organza underlining from Dharma Trading.

Notes: Wow, this dress was a lot of work!  I have an afternoon wedding to attend in June this summer, and I was inspired to sew a Betty Draper inspired sundress.  I had this beautiful fabric I bought with no purpose in mind, and it was perfect for the vision in my head!  I love vintage patterns, but I fear the necessary alterations to fit the modern figure (I’m not so much for the girdle wearing) so I hadn’t yet made a 50s dress.  I chose this Vintage Vogue reissue, hoping it had been updated for modern undergarments.  Was it?  Well, not having the orignal pattern in hand I can’t say… but I tend to say “not much.”

The sizing was a little strange.  I normally wear an 8 on the top and 10 on the bottom in Vogue patterns.  According to the finished garment measurements, a size 6 had the 34.5 inch bust I like in this style of dress (about 3 inches of ease) so I originally cut a 6 fading to an 8 at the shoulders (because I have broad shoulders)  for my muslin.  Well, it fit through the bust, but it was huge in the shoulders and yet way too tiny in the waist (indicating to me that a girdle was expected for the pattern, and that it hadn’t been updated that much.)  So in the final dress I cut a straight 6 in the shoulders and bust, and faded to an 8 in the waist.  I was still worried that it would be small in the waist, so I gave it almost an extra inch when sewing the side seams.  Probably the 8 would have fit, but it was hard to tell, and I’d rather have a little too much room than not enough in the waist – I hate to feel strangled, and that way I can wear it when I sing (ever notice how opera singers wear a lot of empire waist dresses? There is a reason for that… I have massive expansion powers through my lower ribcage.)  The shoulders are still a bit wide, but I’m going to sew some bra strap holders in, which I think will fix the problem.

The back of the dress is pretty low – I had to buy a special doohicky to lower my back bra band or it would show.  Also, notice that my hair gets redder by the day, I swear… I am thinking of dying it dark auburn.

I underlined the entire dress in silk organza – I bought a 13 yard bolt from dharma trading.  It was a good choice – on its own this fabric is a bit limp and slightly sheer (I think it might be sheeting) and with the organza is stands nicely without a a crinoline.

I made self fabric buttons, because I am obsessed with them right now.  The hem was shortened by 7 inches, and then I made a narrow machine hem (life is too short to hand hem circle skirts.)  Overall I am very pleased – except for the underlining, the dress was very easy to construct.  I did not do the bound buttonholes, and I topstitched the placket bottom down, but other than that I followed the directions pretty closely, and they were excellent.  I would highly recommend this pattern, but watch out for the shoulder width, and measure your waist!

Now with actual knitting content!

You may be asking yourselves “Didn’t she used to knit?”  Well, I do still knit, though obviously not as much lately.  But here’s the thing… I have 90 bajillion sweaters, and I’ve wanted to really focus the last few months on amping up my sewing skills, with the aim of making most of my wardrobe handmade, both sweaters and clothes (at some point in the distant future!)  And I am probably more of a product crafter than a process crafter – I enjoy knitting and sewing or I wouldn’t do them, but I am more focused on the end result than the process.  So knitting has fallen by the wayside.  I knew that when the time was right I would want to start a new sweater – no way could I give up something that has been such a great part of my life!    Lately,  I’ve been missing it, especially after the beetle debacle, but it’s taken til now to get everything out of cold storage and sorted away.

I wanted to start a little cardigan to go with all the great sundresses I’ve been making, so during the Project Runway finale (so happy with the outcome of this season!) I cast on:

This is Dawn, from Kim Hargreaves’ Breeze book.  I am creating a smaller size, since I think the XS would be big on me, and the stitch pattern is stretchy.  I actually bought the yarn for this (Rowan handknit cotton) when I got the book, but I’ve only just now gotten around to it.  I originally thought it would be great with my current dress project, but that’s what I get for knitting at night… this yarn is clearly ivory and not white.  But that’s ok – it will go with everything that isn’t white, and I look better in ivory than in white.

I love this book… I’ve made several of the sweaters, and still have more planned!  I’m planning to get Kim’s new book soon.  I skipped her last winter one, because I was a little burned out on patterns (what?) but I’m over that now.  I’ll probably get that one as well – because in spite of the expense of these books, I use the heck out of them.   The styles are classic and do not date.  Look at these beautiful sweaters!

Lovely!  I am resolved to knit with more cotton – I find that I wear my cotton sweaters more, as they don’t overheat me… and are unattractive to bugs (yes, I am scarred.)  Let’s face it, I don’t exactly live in the arctic circle, and I have a few sweaters (Vaila is one) that are almost always too warm.  And since I’m sewing as well, and splitting my time, I don’t hurt my wrists on the cotton.  I am actually amazed that I have managed to knit as much as I do and be a pianist without developing carpal tunel… though if I had to guess I would say that I don’t carry much tension in my hands or wrists, which may help?  I do have tendinitis from long ago, but as long as I don’t go crazy with the knitting (as I sometimes have) it’s ok.

Now we will see how long it takes me to finish this one.  The pattern is straightforward, but there are a lot of P2togs, which tend to slow me down.  I worry that it might be a bit of a slog, but hopefully it will be worth it!

She’s here!

Introducing my Singer 500A, Doris!

I’ve named her after Doris Day, of course.  I love her films with Rock Hudson, and they are from the same time period as the new machine!

I’d say this machine was in great cosmetic condition.  There are only a few tiny tings in the paint, and a little cracking on the feet underneath.  I haven’t tried yet to shine up the gold printing, but I’m pretty sure it will clean up.  However, when this machine arrived a week ago, it was immediately apparent to me that it had one big problem – whoever owned the machine before had been oiling it with something that was distinctly not sewing machine oil.  It was probably WD-40 or similar, and you should not use those in machines – over time they freeze up the works!  It sewed, but the bobbin winder didn’t turn, and the feed dogs were cranky… really cranky.  She needed to be totally cleaned out and relubricated, so  I took her into “my guy” at the sewing center for a checkup.  (He’s “my guy” because the 500a is his favorite machine, and he congratulated me on buying one!)  I could have cleaned it out myself, but to be honest I don’t have a place that’s great for doing that kind of deep cleaning – plus I really wanted a professional to go over the machine and make sure nothing else was wrong.  He ended up replacing the stitch plate, because the old one had some big nicks in it, and he fixed the broken front door hinge.  But other than that, he gave her a clean bill of health!

You can see above a test on a double layer of denim.  The stitch quality is really beautiful – completely even and balanced.  Honestly, the straight stitch blows poor Audrey the Bernina out of the water.

The 500A is the blue thread above, and I sewed a parallel line next to it in white with the Bernina (on the right… the other white line is something else.)  Sorry it’s hard to see, but the stitches are lovely!  The stitching underneath is nice too:

In this photo the 500a is the black thread, and the Bernina is white.  Beautiful! Does it matter?  Probably not, but I am thrilled!

I have a few more projects to complete on the machine before it’s totally up to speed.  I want to thoroughly clean the exterior, as I mentioned.  I’m not sure yet what I should use, but I will find out!  I also need to clean the other feet I got with the machine  - a ruffler, an edgestitcher, and some unidentified parts.  They are very faintly rusty, and I’m going to soak them in Evaporust.  Luckily, no rust at all in the machine, in spite of coming from humid Florida!

And then, after that I will be up and running!  I would like to stitch my next project as much as possible on the 500a, to get used to the feel (I actually like the weird pedal – it’s a sort of button that you operate with your foot rather than the clamshell style.)  An all mechanical machine is different, and I will say that I miss the needle up/down button!  And I don’t have a buttonholer yet, so I will do buttonholes on the Bernina.   Still, I’m excited to get going!

If you’ve made it this far, here’s a preview of my sundress!  I have had some trials with the pattern, which I will write about later.  It needs hemming and buttonholes, thus the extra strings in this photo.  I do clip my threads, I swear!  But not serger threads right away, so that’s what most of those are, along with basting from the underlining.  I hope to have photos on Sunday!

Oops, I spoke too soon…

on the whole “not dead yet” thing.  When I had dental work done, the dentist prescribed Clindamycin, an antibioic, and I am having a bad reaction to it (don’t worry, I won’t go into details.)  I canceled my lessons today, which I hate to do (I don’t get sick days) but I have to remind myself to not run myself into the ground – better to take a day off and feel better, than to work through it and end up out for weeks!

I have been working on my sundress.  I made a muslin of the bodice, and I have to say that the sizing is a little strange.  I took a size 6 in the bust – smaller than usual for me – but I had to cut almost 2 sizes bigger in the waist!  Hopefully it will fit – I am still nervous about the waist size.  Of course, I can always sew that part with a smaller seam allowance if I have to.  It took me quite awhile to get started because I was considering my options on 2 points – the underlining and the buttonholes.  I’ve decided to do regular buttonholes rather than bound.  The underlining, I am happy to say, is much easier now that I’ve used a tip I found  here.

I’m using silk organza, which gives a lovely body to my rather thin fabric (I suspect it was meant to be sheets.)  But silk organza is very hard to cut and sew evenly, as it shifts around like crazy.  This method solves that.  Basically, you cut a block of the organza, big enough for your pattern piece.  Lay the cut fabric piece face up on the organza, and then pin everywhere (a crazy amount of pins, as it says in the link.)

Finally, pin around the edges and hand baste.  Hand basting is important for underlining, because it will wrinkle and shift if you try to machine baste, even with a walking foot.  I use a new piece of thread for every edge, and I use colored embroidery floss because it’s easier to remove later.  Finally, cut around the piece with a rotary cutter and remove the pins.

I also baste through the center of darts, so that the layers don’t shift when sewing them.  And no, I won’t be winning any awards for my even basting skills, but it works well enough!

Cutting the organza after it’s sewn does save time, and it certainly saves me frustration!  I did not attempt to match the pattern on the dress, except for making sure that the center back matches.  It has a very large repeat, and I would have driven myself crazy!  I’ve also shortened the dress by 7 inches, making it hopefully right at my knees.  I still have quite a bit of underlining to do before I even get to the actual dress sewing, but I’m hoping it will all be worth it!

A tale of two irons

Here’s the hard truth: if you take up sewing, you are going to be ironing.  A lot.  I once saw someone on the internet say that we might as well call this hobby “ironing,” since we do so much of it, and they had a point.  I’ve always found ironing clothes to be satisfying to a point (the point where my OCD tendencies take over, and it makes me crazy that I can’t get the shirt perfect!)  But I own very few items of clothing that need ironing, and I certainly don’t iron for my husband (if he doesn’t see a problem with being wrinkled, then I can affect blindness on particularly rumpled days.)

You may be tempted to make a go of pressing your seams with the travel iron your great aunt gave you when you went away for college.  I cannot recommend this path.  Your life will be much easier if your iron has: A. A decent sized water reservoir and B. some heft.  Those seams don’t press themselves, but it’s much closer with a heavy iron.  I’m a little obsessive about ironing seams – I iron each on flat, then open from both the wrong and right sides.  Darts get pressed over a Tailor’s Ham, and for long sleeves I use a seam roll (I got both mine at Joanns, and they are by Dritz.)

When my Mother-inlaw found out I was sewing, she bought me a Rowent Effective iron for a present.

It looks all unassuming there, but trust me… this baby is evil.  At first everything seemed fine – the iron heated quickly, and it is nicely heavy.  The steam vents are toward the front, so it does tend to burn fingers, but I also think pressing is a little easier with the steam close to the tip.  Unfortunately, the iron quickly showed the source of the incredibly bad reviews it has received on Amazon.  There is an issue with the auto-shutoff.  I don’t like auto shutoff anyway, but this one performs very badly.  It will actually trigger the auto-off while you are ironing!  And then you have to stand there and shake it around for awhile until it decides to come back on.  And then, one day, it decided to start leaking water out of the part where the cord is stored.  Yeah.  It wasn’t the cheapest iron, and I would expect better from Rowenta – but perhaps they are a victim of shipping their factories overseas as well (my iron was made in Mexico.)

So, completely angry at the Rowenta, I went back to my old iron.  It was a wedding present, and considering that I never ironed before, it’s basically new.

It’s a  Black&Decker Digital advantage.  It wasn’t until I tried the other iron that I really appreciated what a great all-purpose iron I had.  It has a few things that make it superior to the Rowenta.  First of all, the water reservoir has a cover.  On the Rowenta it would just leak on you if the iron was tipped sideways.  The tip is perhaps a bit more pointy, making opening seams easier.  It seems to hold more water.  The steam holes are toward the back, making me less likely to burn myself (in this case I will trade functionality for not being burned!)  It has a reasonable auto-shutoff, and it never senses wrong.  And finally, my favorite… the steam settings are separate from the temperature settings.  The Rowenta had basically no steam or “auto steam” which meant that you couldn’t, for instance, have a low temp with some steam, and you had no control over the amount of steam you would get.  Seriously, it was terrible.  So I totally recommend this iron – it wasn’t the cheapest, but it really performs well for me.  I can’t say how long it will last, but sewers are really hard on irons anyway.  When I wear this one out I might look into a gravity feed or something fancy, but I might also get another of these!

And my final tip for ironing… you need this stuff:

Mary Ellen’s Best Press is easily the best spray starch I have seen.  It never leaves flakes, and it smells nice.  I’ve only seen it at Hancock fabrics, but it may be available elsewhere.  I starch slippery fabrics to stabilize them, and finished garments.  I love me some starch.

So there’s my iron story!  Thanks for the emails wondering where I was – I had about 5 unfinished posts, but didn’t realize I hadn’t published them… so now I am back!

In my rocketship

I’m a little down today, having encountered some surprising negativity… and I, of course, am a wee bit sensitive.  Or a lot.  I might be famous for it.  But never you mind – I am resolved to put it behind me, so onto today’s post!

One of  my favorite kitschy tunes… it relates to the subject of this post!

I’ve been wanting to get a second machine.  You know, for when the Bernina is in the shop.  Or… um… because I want one.  Specifically, I wanted a vintage machine.  I love my modern machine, but I also like the idea of connecting to the sewing past.  I decided I wanted a Singer, because my great grandma was wicked awesome on the treadle, and I love the history of the company.  I’ve always wanted one, and I was disappointed when buying my modern machine that Singer isn’t what it once was.

Once you decide that you want a vintage machine, there are many questions to answer – do you want treadle or electric? (electric for me.)  Do you want a small or full-sized model? (full sized!  I’m not traveling with my machine!)  What features matter to you? I wanted a really good straight stitch, with the ability to sew through thick fabrics.  I wanted an all metal machine.  Any extra stitches are nice, but other than zig-zag I don’t use them much.  I like the button-holer on my regular machine, but like I said I would like a backup.  And then there is the question of looks: to get a classic black singer, or one of the more modern looking models?   My Mother-in-law has a Singer 201, the classic black machine.  It’s beautiful and sews really well.  I thought about getting one of my own, until I saw the model I just purchased on Ebay.

photo credit: Swayframe

The photo above is of a Singer 503.  I actually purchased the 500A, the same machine basically, but with more built-in stitches (top of the line in 1961!)  They are gear driven, all metal, and use cams for the decorative stitches that are not on board.

The 500 series is called the “Rocketeer,” for obvious reasons.  It’s so space age-y, I just love it!  I also love that it’s the “Slant-o-matic.”  Everything sounds cooler with “o-matic” at the end!

Here is the machine I’m actually getting, as soon as it makes its way through the postal service!

Notice the dial in the middle, which you use to set the different stitches – this is the difference from the 503.  I’m very pleased that it has a bunch of feet, (including a ruffler, which I wanted!) cams, stitch plates, and the original manual.  The cams are the black circles – it comes with 5, and they are easy to buy on ebay.  I made sure to ask lots of questions, and the overall condition looks excellent and clean (including the interior mechanics,) so hopefully it runs well!  The seller says it was her Mother’s, and that she sewed on it until her death a few years ago.  I made sure to ask if she had actually tested it sewing, and she had.

I’m hoping to find a table that will fit this machine, so that I can recess it – it has a drop-in bobbin, unlike the Bernina, and it doesn’t have a free arm, so there is no reason to not make it level with the table surface (these reasons are why I don’t want a table with my other machine… I am forever switching bobbins around, and sometimes the free arm is handy, though I confess I more often sew small diameters inside out.

Christmas ad, circa 1961

The 500A is labeled #1 here.  Check out the great turquoise machine at #7.

And yes, I have officially lost my mind.  I will be sure to post when the machine actually arrives, but I was so excited to buy it – I’ve been ebay stalking them for over a month!