Sunday, December 30, 2012


Still in post-Christmas disorientation, but wanted to share with you one of our handmade (cardboard) gifts. Especially since I feel bad that cardboard has been so underrepresented of late, here on the blog. It's just not right. 

Emily made this clapperboard, and I helped. She wanted to make something for Jenna out of cardboard so we schemed together to make a clapperboard for the numerous movies that Jenna does on her little videocamera. It's cardboard, about half an inch thick, and swings open with a Makedo hinge. 

We stuck chalkboard paper on the lower part, and drew on permanent lines and text with correction fluid and silver ink. The rest of the clapperboard is wrapped in black construction paper and embellished with white printer paper stripes.

Here is Kate holding it, before it got wrapped up.

And here is Kate demonstrating its use:

Jenna was thrilled to get it (after we explained to her what it was)! 

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Drafting In Threads Magazine

I hafta say: it's really hard to get back to real life after Christmas. You know, where real life = treadmilling, lap-swimming, blogging, cooking meals, grocery shopping, checking email, sorting out tech issues for pattern buyers, laundry, actually getting out of bed in the mornings .... 


Anyway, today I thought I'd log in and say hello, and share with you this magazine.

The husband got a subscription for me this year after I browsed a copy in our library and found it interesting. It has a lot of stuff in it that I like, at least in garment-sewing. Last month's issue contained an article on 10 sewing tips, of which my grandma and mother had already taught me 7 or 8 (when they'd never read an issue of this magazine, so hurrah for them). 

This month's issue (cover pictured above) has an article on drafting. For women! So I thought I'd plug it here and encourage you to go buy it if that's your thing. I know many of you have written to ask if I'd ever do a tutorial series on drafting basic blocks for women (i.e. with darts) and I haven't been bothered to bring myself to say yes. And I haven't been able to recommend many good drafting books that draft the way I think will help beginners really "get it" (the exception is this one here). By that I mean that while there are many available pattern drafting books, there aren't many block/foundation drafting books. Or at least, there aren't many foundation drafting books that comprehensively cover the drafting of the basic block from one's measurements - most of them spend a chapter on that, and 26 chapters on adapting the block for various garment patterns. All well and good, if you are already an expert at drafting your own foundation block. Many beginners, unless they are superb visualizers, could find themselves unable to even proceed beyond drafting the shoulder slope, let alone bust darts, and may never complete their foundation block, rendering the later 26 application chapters somewhat impotent. Does this scenario sound familiar - you buy a recommended drafting book with the intention of drafting a perfect-fit sloper from your measurements, you get your husband/sewing buddy/guardian angel/random stranger to take your body measurements, you get out this huge sheet of paper and rulers and french curves and whatnot, and start sketching? And, after several hours, you're stuck at Step 14 and can't tell how the wretched author got that strange wretched curved thing in the side seam in that wretched diagram that's full of so many wretched multicolored lines and you think, "the hell with the sloper, I'm skipping to Chapter 4 where they tell me how to do FBA adjustments on a commercial pattern and let that be my achievement for the decade. Blast!"?

I've been there, friends - the frustration with drafting books, I mean, not the commercial pattern bit. This is why I no longer depend on drafting books for foundation blocks. I only occasionally refer to those books for certain things, and I like looking at their chapters that show how the sloper becomes various fantastic necklines and sleeves and skirts, but for the translation of body measurements to actual lines in a block, I still ask Mum and read my homec books and figure it out on my own in my head, usually with several muslins to perfect the fit.

This magazine article might be a good starting point if you want a look at how a sloper/foundation/block is drafted. It's a nice supplement to those notorious first chapters in drafting books that might only gloss over the foundation-drafting process.

The author of this article recommended this reference book (or more modern versions thereof) and of course it's out of print, as all truly good drafting books are. I'm hoping it gets reprinted someday because the techniques sound familiar and the whole book in general looks like something I'd really enjoy reading. 

You won't be able to find this content online at the Threads website - it's only in print. If the good  drafting stuff were online, you can be sure I'd be linking to all of it on this blog so you can read it too. And no, Threads didn't pay me to say this. Huh. If only. I'm just being your friend here, sharing with you whatever random goodies I've found in life. 

And now, I must go get my Christmas cards done. Yes! I've been procrastinating again! Maybe I should change them to New Year Cards but what if I don't even finish them by then? Maybe Valentine's Day. Or Easter. Or just save them for Christmas 2013. Perfect. 

Thursday, December 20, 2012

And then focus on what it's all about

I want to not write about the CT tragedy. I want to not even think about it. I want to look at it through the sympathetic but objective eyes of a crisis counselor, the way I did back in the day when it was my job to be mobilized to schools where there were events resulting in mass trauma. Pace and lead until the hysteria calms and the shock relaxes its paralysis. Sit with the kids and run a psychological debrief. Work with the teachers to identify students who will need longer-term help. Offer referrals for PTSD. Hug complete strangers because that's what will help. Unload on colleagues at the end of the day, the week. Come home and leave the grief behind at the office. Weep on the outside. 


I am a mother now. I identify with everybody. There is grief and loss in every family represented at that school, that town, that state. But also strength. Like this one. I was in the car driving home from Christmas shopping when we heard the news on the radio. The girls asked me why the flag outside the supermarket was at half-mast. I didn't know, until we turned off our CD (blaring carols) and tuned into the radio. Immediately, I went into (and made myself come out of) crisis counselor mode - such an easy coping mechanism. After I'd overcome the denial, I mean. If I allowed myself to feel for everyone who was hurt and harmed and hurting that day and the days before and after, I'd implode. So I'm not. I will pray for them. I will hug my family and be thankful and try to avoid survivor's guilt. I will answer my children's questions, if they have any.  The usual. 

But I will also look at Jesus and say, "Thank you for still being big enough to be in charge of the world and all its sadness and joy. Thank you for Christmas."  And mean it. And then rest. Hugs to all of you out there who are feeling this and any other ache - may you have peace this Christmas and hope for the new year. 

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

But First Have A Cupcake

Bags will come, friends, but first I want to show you this insanely colorful thing.

I made Jenna another cupcake! It's probably the only handmade Christmas gift any of my children are getting this year. 

It came together very quickly - the slowest part of the construction process was getting the right shape for the templates. Once the templates were done, the embellishing began. That's always the fun part. I got to make a dent in my vast ric-rac stash.

There isn't a tutorial for this because I wanted to speed through it and move on to other projects. Worse, I've thrown away the templates because I convinced myself that it was unlikely that I'd make another of these. So here are some photos instead, with the usual commentary.

First, the cupcake liner itself is just home-dec fabric over a skeleton of plastic canvas and stuffing. The base is fabric over a plastic canvas circle with a large hole. The fabric has an elasticized opening to allow access to the battery pack.

The crown of the cupcake is fleece sewn in four panels, with darts to achieve this puffy shape. Up to this point, everything was machine-sewn. From here on, however, almost everything else was hand-stitched.

The frosting is felt hand-stitched to the fleece, with felt sprinkles.  Um, I should probably explain the battery pack and mention that embedded in those sprinkles are LEDs

This is a nightlight, see. Sorry I failed to share that important point earlier.

The battery pack is from IKEA. $5, I think the price was. Read more about it here.

Jenna has been using her Christmas Tree nightlight from last year and confided finally that she'd really like one with white lights because the red lights made everything look red. Good logic, but still clearly traumatic. Hence this new nightlight with white LEDs. I figured - I've put LEDs in cardboard toys, so why not fabric? Fun way to celebrate the happy marriage of Physics and tailoring.

I like how those LEDs look like candles.

And here's a picture of Kate holding the cupcake, to give you an idea of its size. Fun. Even I like it, in spite of it being pink. 

Jenna has no clue yet. Phew. It's so hard to handmake stuff for people without them knowing! Especially when they live in the same house. And especially when they keep poking their noses into the sewing room to spy on me because they suspect I'm making something for them (as if).

Monday, December 17, 2012

Make A Bag!

Just between you and me (and - given that this is a blog - the whole boundaryless internet, really), I think I'm nuts. I mean, I'm in Relaxed Mode right now, with Halloween and birthday party season finally over and no costumes to make and -for the most part - boycotting the Handmade Christmas Gifts For Own Family movement etc. And what do I do to relax? Write tutorial series(es), that's what. Remember last year? Just before Christmas, I did the tutorial series on adding lights to toys. Happy as a lark, writing about LEDs and Physics. The year before that, I did the Pockets Series. It's a bad habit, clearly, because I'm back at it again this year. Last week I did the two-parter on winter hat making. Which was really only a warm-up to this next tutorial series I'm about to introduce. More on that in a while, but just wanted to say that I am honestly perplexed at why I can't just "relax" like most regular folks, whatever "relax" means. Maybe I desperately need nutella again. Or a real beach, with real seawater at 26C (no, I refuse to measure tropical temperatures in Fahrenheit - it's just wrong).


So... I am very excited to introduce a new tutorial series!

I hope I'm not shooting myself in the foot by what I'm going to say next but I truly, truly believe that you should not have to buy a pattern or even follow a tutorial to make a bag. By that, I don't mean that bag patterns are useless. Afterall, the market is flooded with commercial bag patterns, isn't it? Everyone seems to be making bag patterns, and they all have one or more of the following features:
  • Their beauty shots feature designer quilting cotton or designer home-dec fabric.
  • Their name includes the word "tote" or "clutch".
  • They are named after a woman e.g. "Jillian Clutch".
  • Their name includes a descriptor promising ease or speed e.g. "5-minute Jillian Clutch".
  • They make you feel as if, with them, you can make products that can pass off as professional enough to sell in a shop.
And so on.

Now, I myself make bag patterns (actually, only three). And I would love it if you all continued to buy my (three miserable) bag patterns.  So, what sort of tomfoolery am I up to, setting you up like this?

Here's the thing: I feel almost depressed that folks feel they need to buy a pattern to make a standard tote bag. Especially beginner seamstresses. Right from the start of their exciting creative journey, they are fettered to the idea that they need someone else's patterns to sew even the simplest of projects. It's one thing to buy a commercial garment pattern to sew a dress with darts and curves but a bag is largely rectangular pieces of fabric to which more rectangles are attached. Anybody can do it. And anybody should be able to do it, without another person's pattern or instructions. Yes, anybody. Like my five-year-old preschooler and three-year-old toddler. Who both did it. It can't possibly get more anybody than that.

Obviously there is more to bag design than just geometric shapes and dimensions. For instance, there is the fabric, the color scheme, the texture, the multiple pockets, the way it slouches against your body or sits perkily on the ground beside a luncheon table. That's art. Bag pattern design, however, is Math. Like basic-elementary-school-geometry Math. I feel that when you fork out money for a bag pattern, it should be something that's unique and interesting i.e. have features that you've never seen before in other designs. Or involve new techniques that, upon mastery, add value to your current repertoire of sewing skills. Or maybe it does something exciting and magical, like morph into an elephant when you close the zipper. At the very least, it should transcend fashion and trend so that you can adapt it many times over to truly make it your own. But it should not be something you buy simply because you can't be bothered to visualize and draw out the templates yourself. 

Everything I know about designing bag patterns and sewing bags was learnt by simply looking at bags. After looking at enough bags, your brain should start to form categories and sub-categories into which to group them: tote bags, flat tote bags, box tote bags, gusset bags, cylinder bags, and so on. Each of those categories has a standard method and sequence of construction. And every subsequent bag you see can then be analyzed into one of those categories and - voila! - you will instantly know how to make that bag.

If you draft clothing patterns from blocks (aka slopers) like I do, you might know what I mean. Every garment begins from the featureless basic block, which is then modified to create categories (e.g. a princess-line shift dress) and subcategories (e.g. a sleeveless, boat-neck princess-line shift dress) of garments with embellishments (e.g. a sleeveless, boat-neck princess-line shift dress with pin-pleats at the neckline and a scalloped hem with a back slit). Add to that some construction elements (e.g. full lining, invisible back zipper, french seams) and you have designed a dress pattern. It takes time, yes, but conceptually, it's that easy. All you had when you started were the body dimensions of the wearer and a broad understanding of the kinds of garments there are on the market. I've found that, ironically, one is actually freer to create one's own garment if one just knows how garments are categorized, than if one were working with a commercial pattern that is already a variation on a pre-selected subcategory. I think of it as cooking from raw ingredients to make a Bolognaise sauce - one has much more freedom to steer the flavor in a particular direction than if one were trying to adapt a bottle of Prego by adding more onions, or trying to mute the taste of garlic with extra wine. Provided, of course, one has foundational knowledge of how sauces, in general, are put together.

Bag making is exactly the same. When I design a bag, I begin with the dimensions of the finished bag - I want it to be a certain size for a particular purpose: to contain all my baby paraphernalia or swimming gear for all three children, or a pair of red- and white-wine bottles, for instance.

With those numbers, I mentally sift through different shapes that have those dimensions.

Then I pick one, and decide how that shape is made from individual flat pieces of fabric.

Then I calculate the sizes of those individual pieces of fabric that make up the shape.

Next, I sculpt its shape - round off its corners (how round?), maybe taper its opening (how slanty?).

And I fine-tune the dimensions of those flat pieces of fabric, manually re-measuring the parts that cannot be conveniently calculated.

To this I add the features I want it to have - straps (how many? How long? Attached? Detachable?); pockets (where? What kind? How large?); fasteners (buttons? Magnetic snaps? Buckles? Drawstring cord?); embellishments (ruffles? Pleats? Yoke? Purse feet? Piping?).

Finally, I choose the construction method: fully lined or unlined (french seams or serged seam allowances?), flat seams or externally bound seams, hole-in-the-lining or topstitched opening?

And there - I have designed a bag. Without even broaching fabric, interfacing or color scheme.

Just as with garments, all I had when I began were the dimensions of the finished bag and a broad understanding of the categories of bags (or geometric shapes of three-dimensional solids, if you will).

When my girls grow up and are bitten by the bagmaking bug, I hope that the thought of buying a pattern or looking for a tutorial never has to cross their minds. They should (provided they stayed awake in their Math classes) be able to design their own and thus freely turn it into whatever they want it to finally look like. This series, like everything else on this blog, is for them. But it is also for you, as an early Christmas present from me. I hope it changes the way you look at planning and design and gives you a good foundation and the confidence to say, "I can do it myself". Or, at the very least, open your eyes to what goes into making a bag pattern so that you can better appreciate the ones that are truly worth your money. May you keep buying the patterns you love and also enjoy learning to make some of your own. Here's to empowerment- see you soon for Chapter One!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Winter Hats Part Two: Pattern B

Welcome to Part Two of winter hat making!

In Part One, we made three hats using Pattern A: 

In Part Two, we will be making three hats using Pattern B:

which, upon cutting on the fold, 
produces this full piece of fabric:
Like Pattern A, this pattern was drafted by measuring around my kids' heads
and dividing the circumference by six, to get the width of the panels that manifest as those six pointy bits at the top of the pattern. The two lower bulges of the pattern are the integrated ear flaps. 

You can read the sewing notes and tips in Part One but here is a quick reminder for layout:

Let's begin. Pattern B is similar to Pattern A in that it is made of six equal parts. 

However, it differs in that it utilizes darts to shape the rounded top instead of entire seams running the length of the hat.

Start out by making the fancy embellishments (see Part One for more detailed instructions).

Then sew up the darts in both the outer fleece layer and the knit lining layer. Don't forget to leave a hole in one of the lining darts for turning out later!

Now attach the braids, upside down, to the RS of the outer fleece ear flap (shown), as well as the pompom to the apex (not shown - see Part One for instructions).

Then stuff the outer fleece layer into the lining layer, RS together, lining up the ear flaps and center back seams. Sew around the bottom hem (which goes around the face, neck and ear flaps) of the hat to attach both layers together.

Turn right side out through the hole in the lining, stitch the hole shut and stitch together both hat layers at the top point where all the darts meet. 

Here are both sides of the hat -outside and lining-side. Yes- theoretically reversible, except the pompom makes wearing the hat inside out a bit uncomfortable.

The integrated ear flap is optional - just as we added ear flaps to one of the variations of Pattern A in Part One, we can also omit the ear flaps in Pattern B to get this bunny version, inspired by a hat I saw in an old Hanna Andersson catalog:

Note that this hat could have been made with Pattern A, except I didn't want seam lines running through the face of the bunny. Pattern B allowed for a smooth face for embroidering facial details

while still allowing the insertion of ears and bobtail into the darts and center back seam, respectively:

Two things were done to Pattern B to make it bunny-hat-ready:
  1. The ear flaps were completely sliced off to make a smooth bottom hem.
  2. The lining hem was lowered by 1" (so that the whole hat lining is 1" longer than the outer fleece hat). That extra 1" was for wrapping around to the outer side of the hat to make the contrast self-bound trim. Again, this is optional but I wanted a little more color against the otherwise very plain white hat.

Otherwise, the construction method was exactly the same as that first purple hat -
  1. Sew outer and lining darts closed, inserting tail and ears where desired.
  2. Embroider details on outer hat.
  3. Place outer hat in lining hat, RS together, lining up their circumference edges.
  4. Sew both layers together around their circumference.
  5. Turn entire hat right side out through hole in lining.
  6. The lining, being longer than the outer hat, will wrap over the hem of the outer hat to make an edging that is the same width as the seam allowance you gave. Stitch in the ditch as shown in the photo above, to keep the hem in place.
  7. Finish the hat: stitch the lining hole closed etc.
And just so you know that I can live with sewing imperfections - see that wrinkle in the pink binding right in the front of the hat? It's not a fancy ruffle, OK? The lining was one of those unstable 4-way stretch jerseys, and its circumference was a little bigger than the outer fleece circumference. So it sheared while I was sewing it and I was too tired to unpick the whole thing, take in the ease at the center back seam and... well, you get the idea.  

This third hat is identical to the first hat worn by Jenna, except that it has bound edges. (Also applique, which is kinda obvious but it's just embellishment and not significant to the construction process).

This means 
  • the two hat layers, after having their darts sewn closed, are sewn together with their WRONG sides touching.
  • there is no turning-right-side-out so you don't need to leave a hole in the lining.
  • you are binding around the actual finished edge of the hat circumference, so you don't need a seam allowance around the bottom edge of the hat.
  • the braids need to be attached differently in order to accommodate the binding.
In the photo below, you can deduce the sequence of sewing that bottom edge:
  1. Sew both hat layers together, WS touching.
  2. Sew the braid to the lining side of the ear flap, upside down.
  3. Sew the RS of the knit binding to the lining layer on top of the braid. See this post for a tutorial on how to bind with knit.

4. Flip the binding to the outer side of the hat, fold in like bias tape, and sew all around the hat edge.

5. The photo on the left shows the lining side of the hat, with the braid neatly attached, but pointing up. Flip the braid down, like in the right photo

and hand-stitch it to the binding so it stays down. 

This is the hat, outer side out.

This is the hat turned lining-side out. Again, theoretically reversible if you don't mind the pompom digging into the top of your head.

Yes- definitely much more sensible this way out. Do you see that center front seam? My hat has that because I didn't have a large enough bit of grey fleece to cut the whole hat in one piece. It had to be done in two pieces and joined at both the front and back center seams.

In addition to these three hats, here is a fourth hat using Pattern B, which I didn't actually sew. It's a good design for smaller kids who can't seem to keep their hats on their heads. If you narrow and extend the ear flap, you can turn it into a chin strap that fastens with velcro or a snap. You'll have to measure around your child's head in the relevant orientation to get the actual length of the strap needed.
And now, here are the pattern templates. 

Some notes:
1.  I made them in two sizes:
  • Size 1 fits head circumferences of about 20" (Kate).
  • Size 2 fits head circumferences of 21" - 21.5" (Jenna and Emily).
Don't ask me for age sizes. Stuff like 3T or 7-8 or Medium mean zilch to me. I mean, look - Jenna and Emily, who are 2 years apart in age, have the same hat size. Only actual body dimensions mean anything to me when I'm sewing. So go measure your children's heads and choose the size that works best and/or take in or let out a fraction of an inch in the seams where you need it.

2.  My patterns have NO SEAM ALLOWANCES. You must add your own seam allowances.

3.   Included in the pdf document is a cutting sheet for the six hats I made

and here are the schematic diagrams for the remaining two hats that I didn't make:

So eight hats from two patterns in two sizes, but you can easily, easily adapt them to make other designs. I considered a making myself a beanie in charcoal and black and with hand-embroidery but got bored before I even drafted the pattern in my size. There are other projects to move on to! And a new tutorial series coming up!