Saturday, February 28, 2015

Two Nova Totes and Yet Another Sewing Machine.

Here's something you can make entirely on a vintage straight stitch machine while your regular machine is in the shop: ThreeOwls' Nova Tote.

Nova Totes

These are actually belated Christmas presents. Yeah, yeah, it's the end of February. I'm not great with deadlines, as you know. Better late than never, etc.

Nova Totes

These were really fun and fast to make, just like my first one. The best part is choosing fabrics for the pieced front. For the one on the right, I made a size "medium" and chose a mix of fabrics with pinks and blues in them to provide a pleasing visual contrast to the red canvas. My favorite part of that one is probably the awesome Dewberry gray woodgrain binding. Faux bois all the things!

Nova Totes

For some reason I didn't get a great in-focus photo of the second one, but I probably don't have to even mention that I used Sarah Watt's Cotton + Steel fabrics for that one. Y'all knew that. I really love how the darker colors compliment the pink canvas I used for the straps and bottom.

Nova Totes

I bound the raw edges with double fold bias tape on both bags. These aren't particularly fancy bags, but I use mine all the time for packing picnics, farmers' market produce, and bringing projects to my occasional ladies crafting parties. It's a simple and practical tote.

My new old machine - Singer Touch and Sew

In other news, I have a "new" old sewing machine! Remember Mr. Grumpy, my eccentric animal-loving neighborhood sewing machine repair guy? When I dropped of my regular machine for him to look at, I had seen an old 60s Singer taken apart in his workshop and said, "Oh, I learned to sew on a machine just like that!" Before my current machine, I sewed on a 70s Singer Stylist for more than a decade.

Well, Mr. Grumpy told me that my recent model Singer wasn't worth the money and time it would cost to fix it, what with all of the crappy plastic parts, etc. I was disappointed but I said I understood.  I know a lot of sewing machine purists, and I can appreciate that Mr. Grumpy doesn't like working on newer machines.

When I went down there to pick up my old machine, I brought my Elna Grasshopper to show him.  As I mentioned in my last post, it stitches great but it's a bit sluggish and I have to turn the fly wheel to get it started, so I thought he might be able to get it going a bit faster. Even though he's a Singer guy, I figured that these things are like a VW Bug: anyone who knows about sewing machines should be able to figure out such a basic straight stitch machine.


When I got there, Mr. Grumpy (whose name I may have to change one of these days) had pulled out this lovely old Singer "Touch & Sew," complete with its original manual and accessories. He said it had been sitting in his shop for almost a year, and that since it was similar to my first machine and I was comfortable sewing on it, I might be the "perfect owner." And then he offered to sell it to me for a great price considering everything was there and he had already tuned it up and put it in great working order.

I'm no fool. I bought the machine and bashfully took it home, where I think my husband rolled his eyes so hard it hurt. 


It is not exactly the same as my old machine. The bobbins are different, and the bobbin actually winds in the bobbin case! This would be especially convenient for piecing a quilt and other operations where you're likely to need lots of bobbin winding all with one color thread, because you barely have to interrupt your sewing to wind the bobbin (the needle stays threaded during the whole process). That's why this was called the "Touch and Sew." The only down side to this is that I will need to buy some new bobbins for this machine, it does not take regular Singer bobbins.

The other "big" difference is that this machine used cams for hem-stitch and other non-basic zig-zag stitches, instead of having a dial on the face of the machine. I'll be honest, I use those stitches so rarely it may be a while before I even try out the cams. 99% of my sewing calls for straight stitch and basic zig zag (varying length and width, of course).


It does have a free arm, which comes in handy now in then.


And THIS. This was worth the cost of the machine alone in my opinion. These old Singer buttonhole attachments make the best buttonholes, better than anything a modern machine can do in my experience. This is the holy grail of buttonholes, and this particular buttonhole attachment actually looks like it has never been used!

What this means is that even though my regular machine is still in the shop, I am back in business for apparel sewing! With a basic zig-zag and buttonholer, there's nothing I can't sew at this point. Wahoo! I'm almost excited to make something with a lot of buttonholes now.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Green Machine.

In lieu of a more fancy blog post this week, I am sharing a few cell phone pics and WIPs. Thursday night, Maggie went to bed early and I delightedly sat down to do a little sewing (uncommon on weeknights). Unfortunately, I also seem to have done something bad to my sewing machine, which won't take a single stitch now. The upper thread is getting stuck in the bobbin contraption below. So instead of spending a nice evening sewing and relaxing, I spent the evening tinkering and swearing. Friday I reviewed some YouTube videos on Singer bobbin case issues and did several more hours of cleaning and tinkering, to no avail. The machine still wouldn't stitch one single stitch.

I will be honest: at this point, tears were shed. Steve told me I was upsetting Joe and needed to pull it together. I took myself to bed.

The next morning, feeling a bit less fragile, I researched sewing machine repair in my area, and decided to try someone new, a notoriously eccentric local guy known for his abrupt (some would say rude) demeanor. I decided I could handle abrupt and rude if the man would just fix my machine, so I dropped it off with him. He was indeed quite abrupt and eccentric, and informed me that the only decent Singers were made between the years of 1940 and 1965 and that everything since then is a "plastic piece of shit." Which I freely acknowledged is probably true. One of my gifts in life is an appreciation for and an ability to charm eccentric grumpy old persons (make that an appreciation for and ability to relate to eccentric people, full stop; I myself plan to be very eccentric when I am older) and when I discovered that his adorable cat was named "Peaches" I knew he wasn't all bad. (When faced with a highly eccentric older person, you can never go wrong complimenting their pets.)

Alas, it was not to be, and he called me yesterday to say that fixing my machine wasn't worth it and basically, did not interest him. So now I'm stuck with the other local place that takes weeks and weeks and charges $90 minimum and last time, didn't actually fix my machine on the first try. Sigh.

I am not naming Mr. Grumpy by name because I actually quite liked him, gruffness and all, and the poor guy has enough negative Yelp reviews. If I had an older Singer I would go back to him in a heartbeat. I have long appreciated vintage sewing machines and sewed on a 60s Singer for years before getting my more modern machine. I must say, my current machine may not be as sturdy and long-lasting a machine as the oldies, but I do love the automatic needle-threader, stretch stitch, and other modern conveniences it offers. I also do not believe it is hopelessly broken; I think it probably needs a few new plastic parts and it will run for another few years. But I can appreciate that Mr. Grumpy prefers to work on older machines and I don't necessarily begrudge him that. He was at least quick in getting back to me and did not charge me anything for his opinion. 

So my regular machine will probably be out of commission for a good while, a very sad thought. Yesterday I pulled out my "backup," my little 1951 Elna #1 (a.k.a. the Grasshopper) and got her running.

She's a bit tedious to thread, and a bit slow and pondering (you can see I was trying different drive belts to see if I couldn't speed her up, but I think she was over-oiled and the motor parts may be slipping; I hope she'll sew better as some of that oil burns off).  But you can't complain about the stitches themselves, the tension is absolutely perfect. She's a solid little straight stitch machine.

The "problem" is that the Elna doesn't do zig-zag, and I don't have a zipper foot or buttonhole attachment for her. So this will limit my options as far as apparel sewing considerably. No knit fabrics (can't do zig-zag or a twin needle), nothing with buttons, and unless I hand sew them in, no zippers. But she's great for quilt piecing and sews through canvas and denim like it's butter, so I think I can enjoy sewing on her for a few weeks while I wait for my other machine to hopefully get fixed.

And here's a sneak peek of the project I just finished, a gift for a friend. I am in love with Sarah Watt's designs for Cotton + Steel. I'm not normally that into designer lines, but this one just really tickled my fancy. Watch out, I might have several projects using it in the works!

Maybe my next machine should be a Singer made between 1940 and 1965, eh? 

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Procrastination Sewing: Linden and Manila.

Linden Sweatshirt and Manila Leggings.

I took a long weekend (Monday is Presidents' Day here in the US) with the purpose of starting to dismantle, sand, prime, and paint my kitchen cabinets. It's a huge job. My cabinets are old and janky and most of the hardware is rusted or painted shut. It took me an hour just to pull off three doors and some of the screws are just stripped beyond use (Steve has magic ways of dealing with stripped screws; or at least, it seems magic to me!). The insides of the cupboards are all painted as well, and let's just say I've never really given them a good scrubbing in the eight years we've lived here, and I doubt the prior owners did either. You can imagine. I don't mind painting, but the prep (especially in detailed areas) is blaaaaaaah.

With a nice four day weekend and that giant and dirty task facing me, I did what any redblooded creative would do: I procrastinated. First by sewing up a shirt and shorts for Joe, and then (while the walking foot was hot) by sewing a few comfy items for myself.

Thrift Score - Izod Sweatshirt 2x Mens

The other day, I was sent to the grocery store on my own (always a mistake), and I just couldn't resist stepping into the neighboring Goodwill, which was advertising a Presidents' Day Sale. I found a cute pair of pants and cardigan that I will wear as-is, and I got also got a pile of clothes to refashion. One of my best scores was this gorgeous gold Izod sweatshirt, in Men's 2XL. I don't even have words for how beautiful and soft this sweatshirt fleece is. It is a sad fact that most yardage still pales in quality to really good RTW. In addition to being my favorite shade of "glorious yellow," this fleece is like golden fluffy clouds. When I grabbed it, I think I uttered a gutteral "MIIIIIIIIINE," to the surprise of my fellow Goodwill customers. 

When I got it home, I immediately set about trying to coax a Grainline Linden Sweatshirt out of it, which was tricky considering the original sweatshirt was not raglan, and even a 2X men's sweatshirt sleeve isn't as large as your average raglan sleeve. I managed it by shortening the sleeve significantly (preserving the cuffs as-is), which turned out totally fine and makes me wonder why the Linden sleeves are like five inches longer than this - clearly too long for my short arms. Otherwise, this is a straight size 12.

Izod to Linden
The little Izod logo was preserved.

I reused all of the ribbing from the original shirt, which was great. Ribbing is another fabric you can't seem to find in decent yardage. I have ordered a variety of ribbings from different sites, and they mostly ... pretty much suck. My local fabric stores have nicer quality, but only carry black and white. Whereas the ribbing attached to cheap clothing at Target is so much nicer. What is going on there? Anyway.

The final result .... well, I'm not going to pretend this is the most flattering item of clothing that I own, but ahhhhhhh, fluffy cozy warm golden cloud! So comfortable!

As far as the Linden pattern, this was my first time sewing it up. I bought it, somewhat against my better judgment considering it's just a simple baggy raglan after all, basically because I want to be Jen when I grow up. Her style is just so cool! She just looked so comfortable and hip in her boxy sweatshirts and skinny pants (and super great hair, and ... and ... I think I have a bit of a girl crush here), I couldn't resist. True to my expectations, this was an extremely easy and fast sew on the serger, and the shape is really cute and relaxed. I can't speak to the instructions, because I barely followed them; this is not my first raglan rodeo. I am looking forward to trying the pattern out with a softer jersey for a more figure-conscious relaxed tee. If I were to be perfectly honest, the pattern is probably a bit overpriced; then again, I tend to use simple patterns like this so much, I get my money's worth from them. The same can't be said for more fussy styles.

Given the cost of sweatshirt fleece these days, I was glad to try the pattern out on a $3 thrifted sweatshirt. The fact that said sweatshirt was about 500X nicer than any fleece I could ever buy by the yard just sweetened the deal! This was a very thrifty make!

And the virtue doesn't end there. I also grabbed this Merona turtleneck (another $3) because I liked the striped knit.

Thrift Score - Turtlebeck

And made it into this:

From Turtle to Tee

This was a simple upcycle. I cut off the turtleneck, lowered the neckline a smidge and used the turtleneck fabric (pieced) to bind the neck. Then I shortened the sleeves, took it in a bit at the sides, and reshaped the hemline to a curved shirt tail style. I can't stand wearing turtlenecks, I'm super weird about things touching my neck (and you wondered where Joe got his sensitivity?). Plus I feel like they look frumpy on me (but maybe that's just because I feel so squirmy and uncomfortable). Cowl necks are okay, because they're loose and don't touch the front of the neck, but real turtlenecks are ick.

Manila leggings and repurposed thrifted top
The kitchen walls are painted now. Next I'm working on the painted cabinets. Eventually I want to paint the wood ones as well.

And finally - yes, I know this post is long, but all of these were really quick sews! - a pair of Manila Leggings from Colette's "Seamworks" magazine.

Manil leggings, cuff detail.

For these I used some black rayon ponte de roma I bought at Stonemountain to make another Mabel Skirt. The good news is that I still have plenty for the skirt! (I chronically overbuy, I know.)

Again, this was my first time sewing this pattern. Based on my measurements, I cut out a size Medium, but graded to a Large at the waist. That turned out to be unnecessary, and you can see that the waistline actually gathers a bit. I could have done a straight medium.

Manila waistband

What I love about this pattern: The nice high rise, the cute cuff detail, how fast it sews up. The inseam length of this pattern was perfect for me, which was awesome. (I'm only 5'4" and have short legs, so if you are taller you definitely want to make sure these will be long enough.)

What I don't love about this pattern: It is obviously not made for my body type. The thighs and bottom turned out too roomy for me, and the calves are weirdly tight! Now, I grant you: I do have freakishly muscular calves for someone who barely exercises. And pear shape I am not. So if you are a pear shape with more ample bottom and thighs and narrow calves, this is your pattern! But I had to trim down the hips and thighs considerably to make these more wearable, and if I were to make these again I would forget about grading out in the waist and grade out in the calves instead. Ha! Luckily knits are very forgiving.

But hey, awesome new leggings! The ponte is thick and sturdy enough that I feel I could get away with wearing these in lieu of actual pants, at least on weekends (I admit I am not yet at the point where I feel comfortable wearing leggings instead of pants to work). Yay for comfy weekend clothes!

And now I should probably get back to scrubbing and prepping those damn cabinets. Procrastination sewing is the sweetest sewing!

Do you engage in procrastination sewing?

Friday, February 13, 2015

"Sporty Pocket."

Ottobre 3/2013 #10

Another special order for Joe, and another Ottobre pattern! As you know, Joe shuns pants and will only wear shorts. No matter how cold it is. Admittedly, Oakland winters are pretty mild, but still, I'm pretty glad to be wearing pants these days!

When we were fabric shopping for Joe's Log Triangle Shirt, this crazy Riley Blake rainbow chevron knit caught Joe's eye. I have to say, Joe really seems drawn to chevron prints! He definitely loves bold and geometric patterns. Of course, I find these rather "loud" tastes to be rather adorable; so different than the sedate navy and gray you find in the boys' clothing department at your local big box!

Ottobre 3/2013 #10

So when Joe saw this fabulous rainbow chevron come up on the screen (he's pretty familiar with the concept of "internet shopping," which cracks me up), he asked me to buy some and make him "soft shorts ... like PJ shorts!" Of course, I am putty in Joe's hand, and two yards were duly ordered.


In all my scrolling through Ottobres recently, I noticed a cute sporty knit shorts pattern in Ottobre 3/2013. It's #10, and called "Sporty Pocket." (Is that model adorable or what? That tummy!)

(I don't know if that singular tense is an adorable mistranslation or refers to the one pocket on the back? Either way, it reminds me of my favorite donut shop on the face of the earth, the Vietnamese-owned "Fluffy Donut" in Davis, California, where I went to law school. Dudes. Fluffy Donut donuts are AMAZING. Plus they also sell pad thai and bánh mì. I love California! But anyway, the pattern actually has three pockets. And there is more than one donut to choose from at Fluffy's. Which totally reminds me of "Waldo's Discount Donuts," a skit by the Red Knuckles and the Trailblazers!! "We have all kind of donuts! Chocolate ... chocolate ... " Okay now I'm deep into inside jokes; if any family members are reading this, they will appreciate that. Moving on.)


I know these aren't exactly "PJ pants"; since Joe pretty much wears the same shorts to school that he wears to bed, I figured it would be fun to add some extra details, like the pockets and racing stripe on the side. This is how I keep myself entertained, right?

Ottobre instructions are minimal, but I managed to figure these out. I have never done a pocket like these cool inset pockets, but it wasn't hard at all. Much easier than a welt pocket (which is what it looks like) and frankly welt pockets aren't that bad (thanks Liesl for teaching me!). While the pattern called for a woven fabric to be used for the side-stripe and back pocket, I used knit and it turned out great.

I'd love to try these shorts in a soft, stable sweatshirt knit, and I have a few thrifted 3X mens' sweatshirts with repurposing in mind. Since Joe won't wear pants, I guess he should at least have warm shorts, right?

Ottobre 3/2013 #10

Ottobre 3/2013 #10

If you thought my stripe matching skills were bad, let me introduce you to my chevron matching skills. Cough cough. But seriously, can anyone match chevrons well? I think it might be impossible to follow a pattern and match your chevrons, because they're always going to be at different heights at the seam. Anyway, Joe really wanted this super loud fabric, and it's loudly NOT matching. That's life.

Ottobre 3/2013 #10

Dang, he's a good model. Where does he learn this? He's like, yeah, I'm just a cool dude, hanging out with the empty propane tanks and astroturf, like cool dudes do.

Ottobre 3/2013 #10

I used a funny overcast stitch on my sewing machine to imitate coverstitching on the front pocket. I don't know how successful it was; I might just do zig-zag next time, seriously. But it was fun to try something new. The waistband is green ribbing from the stash for the full rainbowy effect.

You may notice that the side stripe matches Joe's shirt perfectly. Why yes it does! I used the same light blue jersey for his Field Trip raglan. And I still have lots more!

Ottobre 3/2013 #10

Ottobre 3/2013 #10

The best part? Joe loves his new shorts! He's been wearing them all day!! And doing ninja moves! I could practically jump for joy! I wouldn't say this pattern is difficult, but it has lots of details and I was pretty worried that Joe would reject the final project, which is ... well, pretty discouraging. But he loves his super loud rainbow chevron "Sporty Pocket" shorts! YAY!

Ottobre 1/2015 #11

I also whipped up a rainbow chevron t-shirt using the same Ottobre 1/2015 pattern I used for the Log Triangle Shirt, but I will discourage Joe from wearing these together! For the sake of humanity! And our collective eyesight. Joe may have different ideas, though ...

Monday, February 9, 2015

Log Triangle.

Why hello there, readers! The past few weeks have been a whirlwind of house activity, without a lot of sewing. I'm currently painting my kitchen! The walls are done (I chose SW Agreeable Gray, the same color I picked for our living room), and next I have to tackle painting the cabinets (in Behr Swiss Coffee). It is so. much. work.

But all of this is for a good (and a little bit scary) cause: We are considering listing our house for sale this spring or summer!! Cue total panic attack, right? I have never sold a house before and the idea is daunting, to say the least. There are just so many moving parts. Not to mention the fact that until recently, I believed that we were, if not "underwater," definitely not in a position to sell. But the market is quickly changing! So the idea of selling has required a complete mental turnaround from last year, when I focused on the idea of staying in our house indefinitely and making the best of its quirks and issues.

(Imagine loud clunking and grinding sounds coming from my brain while I tried to process this change in situation. I'm not as nimble as I used to be!)

This is a positive development! But there is a lot to think about and plan for and it's mentally taxing.


Okay, so I know that last week was KCW, and I so enjoyed seeing what all my bloggy friends were sewing. I was too busy with work and painting and other things to keep up with a regular sewing routine last week, but y'all totally inspired me, and yesterday I decided I had painted enough and sat down at my sewing machine for the first time in several weeks.

Ottobre Triangle Shirt

One of my sewing goals for 2015 is to buy less patterns and use the patterns I have. One great source of patterns at my disposal is my Ottobre subscription. I've had this subscription for over a year, but I am ashamed to admit, I never sew from my Ottobres. Time to change that! There are so many hip, cute, fashionable, and current styles in Ottobre, and for a wide size range. As much as I love indie patterns and want to support all of the great indie pattern-makers, the cost does add up. Ottobre has many of the latest shapes and styles, albeit without the excellent instructions that smaller pattern-makers provide, and whereas indie patterns are indisputably biased towards girls, the selection of boy's patterns in Ottobre is really excellent. Each issue could be used to sew an entire wardrobe for your children, no kidding.

When I got the January issue of Ottobre, I happened to be sitting next to Joe as I perused it, and I asked him if he liked any of the clothes. When I opened this page, with the pieced triangle shirt, Joe sat up in his seat. "I would love that shirt, mama." Well, okay! It is pretty darn cool. I can work with that.

Upon further conversation, it was clear that Joe wanted exactly this shirt (Ottobre 1/2015 #13), with the same colors and everything (unfortunately for me, he did not want the pants, which I thought were totally cute; he is still anti-pants). So I looked around the nets and found some Riley Blake black striped cotton knit and some Kaufman Laguna knit in black and orange. I already had some white knit in the stash. When the striped fabric arrived in the mail, I realized the stripes are wider than what's pictured in the Ottobre magazine, but it was close enough.

Ottobre Triangle Shirt

And here it is! Exactly (or almost exactly) like the picture!

In its basic form (which can be seen on this page of the magazine), this is a really simple t-shirt pattern with a dropped shoulder. I measured Joe to figure out his size and decided he's a 110 cm with a 116 cm length, which makes sense because Joe has a really long torso. It's clear that this shirt is intended to be roomy and relaxed; unlike my TNT t-shirt pattern the Flashback Skinny Tee. Since Joe is so sensitive about clothing these days, this is probably a good thing (although he happily wears his Flashback Tees too). It would also make a great sweatshirt in a heavier fabric.

That said, this version turned out pretty big! Next time I would do a size 110 cm and possibly not add any seam allowance. As it is, he has some room to grow into this shirt. The sleeves were so long I decided not to bother with the black cuffs and just hemmed them.

Ottobre Triangle Shirt

The (only) tricky part of the pattern is the "log triangle" effect (like a log cabin, but triangular, get it?) of the front, which of course was Joe's favorite part! The pattern provides lines for cutting up the front into six pieces with grain lines, creating a cool diagonal effect with the stripes. I thought this might be difficult but it went really well with the serger, and any waviness created by differential stretchiness was easy to press out. I tried to line up the stripes cleanly along that diagonal line and match the stripes on the arms and sides: it's not perfect but it looks pretty good. Stripe matching is not my forte, but knits do make it easier. Even if your cutting is a little off, you can just stretch those bad boys till they match!

Ottobre Triangle Shirt

Joe had eaten a blue popsicle before this photo shoot, and was very proud of his blue tongue as you can see.

My only problem with this project arose from "user error": I tried to do a bound neckline like the pattern calls for, but it just looked awful and wavy, even though I used my walking foot. I started trying to rip out the seam, but tiny black stitches on black fabric - ugh!! So I just cut the neckline off and started over, using a wider piece of black knit, and attaching it like a ribbed neckline. That worked out a bit better, although the neckline is definitely wider than in the shirt I was copying.

I need to figure out how to do a nice looking bound neckline in knits. I'm learning that while knits are easier than wovens in many ways (stripe matching!), there are certain skills that really require a TON of practice and the right tools. Necklines are one of those.

Ottobre Triangle Shirt

Joe seemed pretty pleased with his new t-shirt, at least in concept. But after wearing it for a few minutes, he complained that the seam allowances on the triangle piecing inside were "itchy." That's the bummer about the pieced front - there are a lot more seams on the inside of the shirt. The pattern called for topstitching them, but I didn't want zig-zag or double needle topstitching distracting from the fun lines of the shirt, and topstitching might make those seam allowances even stiffer and scratchier. I am hoping the shirt will soften with a good wash, but I am also thinking I might be able to tack another piece of jersey over that section of the shirt on the inside (probably by hand) if that doesn't work. Worst case, he could wear this over other t-shirts. He frequently layers t-shirts in the wintertime anyway, so that's not the end of the world.

My sensitive, some might say "demanding" boy! It's a good thing he's so cute.