Category Archives: sewing

Seven Hundred Fifty Words

Today’s practice isn’t going to be fiction. That’s mostly because I don’t think I’m at the point where I’m up for writing a short story a day. I think one a week is really about the extent of what I’m up for. So, I need to come up with some ideas for one for next Saturday. I choose Saturday because I feel like I can take more time over it.

I bought one of those Timex Ironman watches — not because I am even vaguely interested in doing a triathlon (well, MAYBE one of those sprint distance one… Maybe. but probably not) but because I wanted a waterproof watch that could keep track of laps. I’m always concerned my time is inaccurate and that I’m fooling myself because I’m losing count of laps and stuff.

Nope. Even looking at the clock when I start and stop a swim has been pretty accurate. Even so, the watch is nice, as I can time my intervals and get a better idea of how I’m doing in my workout as I am going along without stopping to squint at a clock.

I’m going to be cutting out a corset today. Believe it or not, they’re not too hard to make once you get the measurements down. The Elizabethan Custom Corset Pattern Generator  works amazingly well to create a pretty serviceable, simple corset, as long as your measurements are accurate.The real issue is deciding where to put the boning and getting the edging neat. All you really do is make a canvas shell with channels in which to put the boning, sew the fashion fabric to the shell, use some sort of edge binding (I use quilting binding) around the edges, hammer in the grommets if you don’t care about period (I don’t), or make buttonholes for the lacing if you do care, and go. It really is something I’d use to teach someone who was interested in costuming to sew on. Yes, I really would.

I am hoping to finish the corset this week, and then get started on some steampunk garb for my husband. Though, because I am a big ole meanie, he’s going to be cutting out the fabric and lining himself. (Hates cutting out patterns we does. We hates it).

We’re going to be actors in a live-action Steampunk RPG at Carnage Con. I’m looking forward to it. I’ve actually never done anything like this before, so I hope it’ll work out well. I’m thinking mostly Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson for my Steampunk ideas, though until I see the script, I can’t be sure.

AgathaportraitYes, I’m making an Elizabethan corset as part of a Steampunk (which is usually late Victorian) costume. My argument is mostly that if Agatha Heterodyne, who is the quintessence of a female steampunk archetype, can wear what is essentially a renfair bodice during labwork, I should be good with a corset of slightly the wrong shape as long as I pair it with a skirt with the right shape bustle and a more Victorian look to a jacket and hat.

The thing with costuming of this sort is that I actually DO know something about period costuming, and I need to turn that off for this. Steampunk might take its inspiration from the late Victorian era, but from what I’ve found on the web, inspiration is really all it is.

Which is also fine. You really don’t see all that much period clothing at renfaires, or many historical reenactments, either. It’s like historical fiction. At a certain point you do have to pick and choose to decide how you want to present something.

For that matter, I wouldn’t want to wear an actual Victorian outfit with all the proper underpinnings anyway. That would be deucedly uncomfortable unless we were looking at some sort of Pre-Raphaelite reform dress, anyway. Which would totally not work in for a Steampunk costume, or I’d be doing it.

Still need to think about an idea for another story. I’d do a slice of life, but I can’t…

Never mind. Oh yes, I can.

You know, for someone who doesn’t read much horror at all, I really do come up with some creepy-ass ideas for stories. I wonder how many authors don’t read much of the genre they actually write. I’ve gotten advice that said to write what you like to read, but it seems I just don’t do that.

I can see it now, I’m going to be releasing this book of feminist horror stories. *facepalm* It would totally work.

Not Quite Rags

I don’t use paper towels to clean up anything but mess from a pet. While yes, you could call it an environmental thing, I use cloth for cleaning the same as I use cloth napkins for everyday.

I find buying stuff specifically to throw away a waste of money. If you can safely wash it and reuse it for cleaning purposes, it’s cheaper to do so. You can find all kinds of cleaning cloths out there that’ll last years.

I don’t find most commercial cleaning cloths sturdy enough for my liking, so I make my own out of worn-out towels. I have a couple of sets that have been getting frayed around the edges and have ample newer ones, so it’s time to make a cleaning cloth.

I got the idea from Is There Life After Housework? by Don Aslett. You take a rectangular piece of cloth – preferably something strong and absorbent. Old cotton towels are great for this, and so are old diapers.

The cool part is that instead of rags, you make a tube out of the cloth. By folding, you get a pretty sturdy cleaning surface, and when it gets a bit dirty, you can refold and turn it inside out for fresher cleaning surfaces. When you’re done, toss in the wash, no biggie.

Since I use towels for this, I’ll show you how I do it.

So by folding a towel in half widthwise, cutting then doing the same again to the two halves you’ve generated, then cutting those four pieces in half again, you can get eight pieces of cloth out of your old towel.

And there’s no reason in the world not to go ahead and use them as cleaning rags right then, of course. If that’s your thing, go for it.

I like the tubes, so I go a little further and sew up these babies.

I do use a zig-zag stitch along the long edge, or use a serger to finish what will be the open edges of the tubes. It makes them last longer instead of falling apart from fraying and leaving fluff everywhere. Notice I used black thread on the old pink towels I used. I confess this was not done for contrast and an example, but out of sheer laziness because I didn’t feel like bothering to match the thread for cleaning supplies. You want yours to look pretty, go ahead and show me up. J

After I’ve finished the long edges, I go ahead and sew them into tubes using a zig-zag stitch. I do this for strong seam with a bit of self-finishing on one go. They’re meant or cleaning, so I don’t feel like it’s necessary to spend an extraordinary amount of time on them. Eight in a half hour is plenty enough time to spend.

These cloths also make great potholders. The double layer of thick cotton cloth is pretty good at protecting from heat.

As long as it’s not damp.

Here’s the set I made today. Did it because most of the old ones I made ten years ago have frayed apart from heavy use and I’m on a spring cleaning spree.

Knee Socks and Garters

I like to wear skirts, especially broomstick skirt. Yes, I know that it means I’m not fashionable. I don’t owe the world fashionable, but I think I owe me what I like. So, yeah, broomstick skirts.

I also like to wear them in the winter. I live in Northern New England. So, you can start to see a bit of a problem, right?

Now, you can wear long johns under a skirt, and certainly you’re warm. But white long johns peeking out underneath my skirt hem offends my limited fashion sense, and I’m not hipster enough to want to wear colorful leggings under a skirt. Sure, it can look cute. It just doesn’t happen to be my thing.

My solution is knee socks. I knit, so why not, right? They fit over the long johns, and add some extra warmth (ahhh, wool socks).

What they don’t do all that great on the rounded limb is bloody well stay up.

Now, when I was a Brownie and Girl Scout back when dinosaurs roamed the Earth, the official uniform included a knee-length jumper option with knee socks and these little sock garters with a flappy thing that I’m too lazy to look up the appropriate term for. Scottish men in formal kilts wear them. I’m sure some of my costumer readers know this term off the tops of their heads.*

I could also sew the elastic into the sock. I know some knitters knit elastic the last few inches at the top, but didn’t have any thin elastic on hand or a way to get it, so I didn’t try that method.

So now, I am wondering whether to make sock garters or sew an elastic band into the sock. If I sew it into the sock, the sock would have to get lost to lose the garters, but it’s only good for that one sock. If I make garters, I only have to have a pair or two.

I’m probably going to go with garters, just for fun. Maybe even a Maureen Johnson version, but they’d have to be blue instead of green. ;)


* Yes, it would have been quicker to look it up than write what I did. I like to indulge Geek Answer Syndrome when I can. Call it a public service. Ever kind, considerate and thoughtful, that’s me!

Sea Salwar

The suit is nothing special.  It’s pretty much the same thing I made as for the purple and gold on with the bird motif.  But oh, the colors.  These are my favorite colors in the whole world.  If it reminds you of a Caribbean sea, yeppers.  That’s what I like.

I did make the sleeve slightly looser at the cuff as I like to push up my sleeves when I’m cooking.

I had been instructed to lose the glasses for the shoot.  Okay, fine, maybe I should go back to wearing contact lenses more often…



Site Announcement and Back by Popular Demand*

I actually had a little bit of free time today, so I decided that I’d finish something that’s been hanging fire for awhile.

I used to have instructions on how to draft very basic patterns.  So, what I’ve done is written up instructions on how to make the Kameez part of a Salwar Kameez (at least the way I do it).  From there, you probably wouldn’t have too hard a time extrapolating how to draft your own patterns if you sew.

If you don’t know how to sew yet, this would be a terrible way to learn.  Try some easy commercial patterns first.

I don’t explain how to make facings or finishing for the neckline.  If  enough people can’t figure out what you’d need to do, I’ll write up some instructions, but for now, this is about as much free time as I have.

So, announcing

Pattern Drafting Down and Dirty!




*If three people out of my tens of readers ask for something, believe you me, it’s popular demand in my tiny world!

Learning Pattern Drafting

Learning pattern drafting is actually fairly easy.

I am not meaning this to imply that it is easy in any way to create a good professional sewing pattern. The practice required for professional level skill takes, well, professional-level work. You have to design to a wide range of body types, making a sewing pattern that will be flattering on the largest range of figures possible.

I don’t know how to do that.

Professional design ability also means that you know how to create a very wide range of design elements suitable for not only current fashion trends, but in encouraging other fashion looks.

I don’t know how to do that, either. I am not by any means a professional clothing designer.

What I can do is take a set of measurements, make a sloper, and then design something relatively basic from that. The results are so much nicer than a commercial pattern (custom usually is) that fancy design elements are almost unnecessary. Never underestimate the beauty of well-fitting clothes.

The thing is, I’ve noticed that people who are used to commercial patterns will sometime freak out at dart width and placement on something they’ve created for themselves, especially women who wear quite a large cup size, or have a bust measurement a great deal larger than the waist measurement. If you’re used to the two inch dart on a commercial pattern designed for the “average” B cup young woman with perky breasts, that seven inch dart for the F cup designed for the woman of a certain age who hasn’t resorted to surgery looks downright freakish when drawn flat on the fabric. It’ll make you scared to cut the pattern out.

But after you sew it… Ahhh, what a thing of beauty a custom designed pattern is. Narrow shoulders? No problem. Ever had a armscye hit exactly at the shoulder joint? It really improves the look of the garment. A bust dart that actually shapes the fabric to your body and ends where your nipple actually is? It makes a much smoother line. A garment that has the waist where your waist actually exists, and flares out appropriately to the real wide point of your hips?

You can’t get that stuff in ready to wear, and even have to do a lot of pattern redesign to get it in a commercial pattern.

The book from which I learned how to do this (Patternless Fashions) is unfortunately out of print. Part of this is because the styles in it are dated and the instructions really aren’t as clear as they could be. But since the point of being able to draft one’s own patterns is that you can add any fashionable design details you want to, the fact that the drawings in the book look a bit 1960 doesn’t matter but so much.

If you like to sew and you like to make your own clothes, I can’t encourage you enough to learn to draw your own patterns. The fit is amazing.

Final SWAP Piece

I make most of my own clothes, as I’m sure my readers have gathered by now J.

Last year, I bought enough fabric to make a purple capsule for my wardrobe, and I’ve finally gotten around to making the last piece – a jacket with kimono sleeves. It’s really easy to sew, but I’d been stalling about making it. Partially, this is because I just have been slammed with other projects, but it is partially because there’s a part of the sewing process I absolutely despise.

You see, I hate to cut out patterns. Always have. Don’t ask me why. It’s not like it’s difficult. But I don’t like it. I’d actually sew more than I do if I could get out of it in some way and still be able to make clothes. I have a plenty large surface at a good height to cut things out, good scissors, chalk and anything else you’d need to cut out patterns comfortably – even one of those dangerous pizza cutter type things the quilters use! Even so, I still I don’t like cutting out patterns.

What’s spurred me on is that I really want that purple jacket so that I can put together outfits more interchangeably. When you do a combination wardrobe and find yourself with a hole in it, it really starts to cramp your style when putting outfits together for the week!

The next thing I’m going to make is a black broomstick skirt. I have one that’s a bit too narrow at the hips and too short. I want a proper full and long one. I tend to keep black fabric on hand, because I do wear a fair amount of black, and well… it goes with everything!

<sighs> I like my interchangeable wardrobe, but I still miss my salwar suits. Damn, first impressions…

Learning to Sew

Sewing is on my mind, what with doing a lot of it right now and all.

My mother taught me how to sew.  She sews quite well, but doesn’t do it often.  I don’t think she’s been much into it since she was out of her twenties.  But she did break down and make a prom dress for me for my senior prom.

I had lost my taste for ruffly, frilly numbers or metallic shades of bright pink and blue at a time when they were really fashionable.   I saw a pattern for this long, slinky Grecian-inspired dress that I just had to have for a prom dress (in black.  I had started a serious black phase), so Mom agreed to make it for me.

It was sooo cool.  Looking back, it was a fairly difficult dress to make, though the pattern itself wasn’t too appalling.  It was the fabric.  The fabric was a slinky knit that is the very devil to sew, especially if you don’t have a serger – which few but the most fanatic of home sewers/quasi-professionals did in the spring of 1987.   Mom didn’t have a serger.  I didn’t know at the time about this, and Mom has never mentioned it.  It’s only knowing what I do now that I can reconstruct this.

What I remember was how awesome it was to have something totally unique to my own tastes.

At a Doctor Who convention in the early 1990s with Sylvester McCoy and Sophie AldredIronically, one of the first things I made for myself some five or six years later was pink – a jumper.  Mom talked me through it, held my hand through the sewing process, and doing some of the hard parts.  Yes, there were parts that were difficult and confusing for me when I was learning to sew!  It was this wonderful soft corduroy.    The skirt was supposed to be gathered, but we pleated it instead.  I forget why, but I’m pretty sure it was a screw-up on me not following directions properly or something.  The mistake turned out okay, though.

I wore that jumper out, and kind of miss it.  Too bad they aren’t too fashionable right now.   Maybe I’ll make another one anyway.

Sewing Wardrobes

I got a nice compliment this morning.  Someone mentioned how beautifully my clothes always match, and asked how in the world I can keep finding skirts, tops and jackets that match so well.

I mentioned that it was by specific design, as I sew my own clothes and make sure everything matches everything else.  I did not admit how difficult I find this when shopping for store bought clothing.  I’m sure there are people who can put together a proper wardrobe where everything matches from buying stuff in a store.  All I can say is that I’m just not that talented.

Speaking of talent, as is often the case, I got the “Oh, you’re so talented” routine.  Though she didn’t add, and I was grateful she didn’t, the “and I couldn’t do that” addendum I often get.

While of course I like it, it’s funny to me when people act impressed, as the pattern  I use for my clothes is actually a Simplicity Easy to Sew pattern.  Yes, I’ve made a few alternations1, but I wouldn’t hesitate to use this pattern to teach someone to sew.  It’s beginner stuff, and really about as complex as I would want to handle on a regular basis when sewing my own wardrobe.

I’m looking for some patterns for some long-sleeved tops I can add to the mix. Yes, I can draft my own patterns, but it’s a PITA to design something if I don’t have something specific in mind.  Sometimes I do want to take something that someone else has done, and just add one or two embellishments.  At that point, a store-bought pattern is easier.

1lengthened the pants, added waist darts to the top and re-drafted the armscye so that it doesn’t gap so much from being graded up instead of properly resized for fat lady

Knitting with a Plan

There are times when I am very glad I learned to knit.

This week has been fantastic from a professional point of view, but teaching a week’s worth of all-day classes is exhausting.  I don’t know how full time teachers pull it off and not burn out.  That’s some high-energy stuff if you want to keep your students involved and engaged, and do a good job.

A seamless yoke sweater


So, the knitting.  Knitting is how I relax when I’m too brain-fried even to write a blog entry. It’s soothing with enough repetitive motion to calm me down while I watch Torchwood.

Last summer I sewed a series of garments in a plan called a SWAP. (Sewing with a Plan).  Basically the idea is that everything is supposed to mix and match well with everything else.   I had garments in black, burgundy and a floral/Japanese print.  This winter I added a capsule to it in dark forest green.  So, I have this great, basic interchangable wardrobe.

In cotton.

For the most part that’s fine. Between the fact I made shells and jackets, this means it carries me through a lot of seasons.  What it doesn’t help a lot with is those cold months of a New England winter.   Luckily,  I knit.  Getting good sweaters is no more difficult than following the Seamless Yoke pattern that Elizabeth Zimmerman explained in Knitting Without Tears and adding whatever colorway and yoke design takes my fancy.  I’ve done pirates, Heathen symbols, abstract symbols and Autobots in the yoke and turned out some warm, unique garments.

What I don’t have (yet), are several sweaters in my SWAP color palette.  Oh, I’ve got a gray, purple and burgundy one that goes okay with my black and burgundy pants and skirts.  I have a gray and purple one that goes okay with the black, but nothing else.  This sweater I just made will go with all the skirts and pants I’ve sewn quite well.   I need to sit down and plan two or three more over the course of the winter.

The thing is, these babies are warm, warm, warm.  Stranded knitting (that’s how you get the colorwork — strands of yarn carried behind the main fabric) of various sorts is definitely popular in the colder countries for a reason.  You basically have two layers of yarn for a much warmer garment.  Nordic sweaters look the way they do at least in part for practicality.  If you’re lucky enough to own a real one, you know what I mean.  So, they’re not something I wear year-round, but only when it gets really cold.