Sewing!

Hooray! I’m blogging again—at last the huge work of migrating over 8,000 posts on this blog plus all the associated media from Typepad to WordPress.com is complete. (Big thanks to the fabulous concierge team at WordPress.com for all their friendly and highly competent help!) It’s so exciting to be revitalizing MetaGrrrl.com and the first thing I want to write about is something that has been revitalizing me over the last year and a half.

Advisory: this post is huuuge because I’m catching up on all my projects, with instructions in some cases. In future I’ll do separate posts per project.

In June 2017 I did the Basic Sewing safety and machine basics session so I could use the sewing machines at TechShop, the makerspace here in San Francisco (now known as TheShop.build). During the class (which turned out to be a 1-on-1) my instructor taught me to make a clever little flip-top bag.

Janome New Home sewing machine on a bright red table next to Dinah's TechShop badge.
Sewing machine at TechShop.
A simple rectangular bag with one end folding over to form a closure. It is made of red cotton fabric with small, irregular, white dots and has a friendly, casual feel.
It’s a bit longer than a sunglasses case, and wider.
The same bag turned inside out, revealing the seam stitching.
It’s a little easier to understand how it is made when turned inside out.

It’s just a long strip of fabric (4x the finished length plus an inch of seam allowance) which has been sewn right sides together to make a loop.

Next the loop is flattened out with wrong sides together and the loop seam positioned as the back of the inside top edge of the bag—underneath at right edge in picture above—where it is least likely to be worn out by things stored inside the bag later.

Last, you fold the “lid” down, overlap it with the front body of the bag, and stitch down along each side. Lastly, turn it right side out.
The top of the bag held open to show how the part that folds over is arranged for stitching.
Here’s the detail of how to arrange what will be the top of the bag when you stitch the side seams. The “lid” is folded down first, with the front of the bag overlapping it just a little. When you turn the whole thing right side out, it makes the top closure work even without a fastener. (Not secure enough to keep things in if you shake the bag, but good enough to be put in a purse or backpack without disaster.)

I went back the next day and did more sewing, but I didn’t take notes (or haven’t unearthed them yet). I tweeted something the next day saying that I worked on two projects, but which? Probably it was this sewing tools caddy, which is super handy:

A flat board with three tiers of pockets across the front. The pockets contain a variety of sewing tools.
I didn’t have all these things at first (though the machine needles envelope was from my Basic Sewing class at TechShop) and I already had the fabric scissors and the two cases of hand needles. I’ve added bit by bit as I went along and am very pleased with how this caddy has accommodated my needs from the expected (a seam ripper and tailor’s chalk) to the unplanned (like the fashion curve ruler and the pinking shears).

(I figured out how to make it just looking at pictures and playing around with paper a little, but there are patterns available such as this one and this one. It’s basically a big flat bag with three folded over flaps of different heights sewn into the base and side seams as you make it. It gets its stiffness from cardboard slid down inside the big flat bag part. I could add on a little strap to keep it from relaxing completely flat if not leaned up against something, but so far I always have it at the side of my worktable with supportive things behind it.)

and that day I definitely worked on this Triplet Tote (made from a great online tutorial by The DIY Dreamer), because I have a picture of cutting it out.

A fairly flat blue bag with soft straps and bits of green peeking out at the sides of the bag.
You can see both my ability to carefully measure and mark out the pieces for cutting, and the quality of the fabric scissors at TechShop left something to be desired.

I recommend adding interfacing inside the handles and making them a bit longer. They squish up a bit over time, as you can see, and you want to be sure they’re long enough to sling the bag over your shoulder, even if it’s not your default way of carrying it; you’re going to need to juggle it, something else you’re carrying, and a set of keys at some point.
Dinah's fingers separate the top parts of the bag to show the three (fairly flat) compartments, the center in the same fabric as the exterior of the bag and the other two in the "lining" fabric.
Three compartments! Great for putting your tablet in the middle, or reserving that for your “live in the bag” items while switching out the side pockets for today’s book, that mail to go in the postbox, etc.
Traditional subtle arrow-patterned Japanese fabric in off-white on dark blue. The fuzzier, bright moss greeny-yellow lining fabric shows at the side.
Detail of the fabric pattern. Loved it on sight! It’s not as black as it appears here, the photos above are more accurate.

I must have gone to Britex Fabrics beforehand and raided the remnants bin, because that’s where I got that fabulous African-print wax fabric for the sewing caddy and the lovely Japanese fabric that is the blue part of the tote. (I hadn’t learned yet to wash fabric before sewing.)

A table with a cutting board on top of it holding unironed blue fabric with an intricate pattern like arrow feathering. The edges of the fabric are held flat with little pink sandbags and there is a pair of scissors beside the fabric.
About to measure, mark, and cut for the triplet tote. I also hadn’t yet learned to properly iron fabric before cutting.

Doing creative projects was a huge emotional release for me after all the heavy work through the latter half of 2016 and the first half of 2017 as executor of my biodad’s estate and volunteer with MoveOn Text Team. I wasn’t feeling able to do much in the way of creative writing, so being able to exercise my creativity and see a project to completion was an enormous lift.

Janome New Home sewing machine on a bright red table next to a small red bag with white dots and some bright green and yellow African print fabric.
TechShop sewing machine with a completed project and the fabric for future projects beside it.

Around age 19 I knew how to sew well enough to make myself a complete set of Elizabethan clothes for working at the Northern California Renaissance Faire, but all those skills had pretty much evaporated. Given how much more patient I am now, it is for the best that I am beginning again from scratch and learning to do things right.

In June and July 2017, I visited SCRAP, a fantastic scavenger paradise of materials for projects. In their fabric area, I found a cool embroidered table runner along with some other remnants. This turned into my next project, another tote bag, this time with an interior pocket and a very pretty strap made out of a necktie off the racks at some discount store like Marshall’s or Ross Dress-for-Less. I think the table runner cost something ridiculously great like $1 while the tie may have been $10, but it was still a good deal for the nice bag that resulted.

A flat, green fabric bag with a handle made from a flowery Hawaiian print necktie.
Table runner folded over “wrong sides” together, stitched up the sides, and then turned right side out to make a very simple flat bag. Flap and strap added separately.
The same bag flipped over to show how the flap was a separate piece stitched on afterwards. Some decorative embroidery from the table runner it was made from shows here.
The flap as a separate piece. And the embroidery of the table runner.
Dinah's hand holding open the bag to show the interior pocket and soft lining, and where the tie ends are stitched in to secure them as the bag straps.
Ah, right! As I look at this I remember I did something sneaky with how I made the lining, but I’ve forgotten the details. It was a tricky puzzle for a new sewer, though. The pocket is at an angle on purpose, to make it easier to access when wearing the bag. At least I think that was on purpose. The tie-as-bag-strap thing worked amazingly well and the bag is holding up great. Joe used it a week ago to carry an iPad for doing crossword puzzles together at brunch.

Not sure now (in January of 2019) when I began the work on turning a cool locally-made bag with cork ends which had worn out into a new tote, but it might have been the same day I made the table runner tote bag.

A project in progress: The bag portion is partially stitched together and sits on a table with the cork top (with straps) and footer above and below it, and a button for looping a fastener beside it, waiting to be sewn on.
A bit funny that the lining and exterior of the cork-detailed bag wore out before the cork parts. It was a prototype(which Joe bought something like eight years ago at a little SF shop called Peasants and Travelers, out of business as of the last few years alas), so I bet they changed materials.

I trimmed off the fabric which had begun to shred itself. The plan is to do another triplet tote. The body is mostly ready, I just need to figure out how to attach the cork pieces both securely and attractively.
The material is folded back to reveal the whimsical fabric inside with little drawings of Mt. Fuji, a whale, a torii gate, passport stamps, etc. on a gridded background like white graph paper.
The exterior is very understated, but great bags often have surprises inside. When I saw this Japanese travel-and-graph-paper-themed fabric at Britex I knew it would be a source of future delight. I think my skills have just about improved enough to finish this pending project.

My need for stress relief grew, while, unfortunately, my energy to get out of the house or do projects reduced. Like a lot of folks, 2016, 2017, and 2018 were pretty rough for me.

On August 4, 2017, I received a diagnosis of the mouth form of an autoimmune disorder, followed by diagnosis of the skin form in January 2018. Dealing with that medical stuff ate up most of my non health and wellness project energy, though in fall of 2017 I did do a massive change to our backroom, where our desks and potential guest space are. I added eight Ikea Besta cabinet columns on two walls, with a two part work table extending from one of them. That was the foundation for the lovely sewing project area I have now.

No sewing, but thinking about sewing… On June 16, 2018, I got various soft knits and other fabric remnants for about 2/3rds their regular price: 1 5/8 yards taupe cotton, 1 3/8 yards white bamboo/lycra, and something else from the bin, plus from the new bolts 1 yard of another cotton knit for $8.99. Looking back from January 2019 I was perhaps over-hasty in getting knits without knowing how to sew knits yet, but at least I was thinking about sewing and how I might be able to make more comfortable clothes for myself. I will be using these soon.

In mid November 2018 I bought myself a sewing machine; a Janome MOD-19, but didn’t unbox it until the start of December. I eyed the box all around Thanksgiving-time with anticipation tho’. 🙂

A friendly looking white sewing machine with some decorative geometric patterns on the body near the dials

(This machine was the recommendation from Wirecutter in their “The Best Sewing Machine for Beginners” article, which pick I agreed with after some additional research.)

I also bought a used copy of the (alas out of print) book Sew Everything Workshop: The Complete Step-by-Step Beginner’s Guide by Diana Rupp. It’s a great intro and useful even if you find one where the paper patterns in the envelope in the back are missing.

My first project as the machine and I got acquainted December 2, 2018, was a pincushion. I made it out of a leftover end piece of that table runner I got at SCRAP. 🙂

A tiny pillow-like pincushion with a variety of pins and needles sticking out of it.
It’s a pretty stiff fabric, but I expect with use it will soften up and the sturdiness will be good in the long run.
The same little pillow pincushion tilted up to show it has some embroidery from the table runner it was made from on the underside of it.
Embroidery from the table runner source of the fabric.
The same pillow pincushion tilted the other way to show the inexpert hand stitches in white thread where it was closed up after being turned right side out and filled with stuffing.
Not exactly elegant hand-stitching and I didn’t have the right thread color, but I made a thing I still use all the time!

I also finished up the open end of the back support of the sewing caddy I’d made back in 2017.

On December 13, 2018, I had the pleasure of another trip to Britex, this time with a shopping list derived from my readings in Sew Everything Workshop.

A shopping list divided into sections "Thread & Notions" and "Fabric" with detailed notes.
The recommendation for Coats & Clark or Gutermann thread came from Diana Rupp’s book and I’ve since seen the same recommendation from others. I stocked up on some basics—bias tape, interfacing—so I’d have a better chance of being able to dive into future projects without having to make a shopping trip.

When I bought the oilcloth for the sewing machine cover, I asked if I’d need a special foot for the sewing machine and she said no (and turned out to be right). I skipped getting the velcro because I realized I wasn’t sure I was going to immediately make walker bags (which I’d picked as a good practice project I could then donate to the senior center a block away).

Because I haven’t gotten the filling for it (the dust-free kitty litter), I haven’t made the draft dodger yet. Nor have I worked on pillows, but I did steal fabric from that for making part of a toy for my nephew.

This is when many of the items seen above in the sewing caddy picture were purchased. I also got a bunch of fabric, some with a plan and some remnants with only the vaguest plan, and four cool graphite-colored rectangle buckles for attaching the straps of a bag. Along with a dust-resisting solution for my sewing machine cover project, I got two charcoal gray fabrics with intent to use them for a new laptop bag, (the shinier, silkier one for the lining). I also got a bright orange flannel intending to use it to pair with a bright print I found in the remnant bin to make a microwaveable heat pad for a relative (but over the holidays, after not doing the project in time for gifting, found out they already had a couple of them so I ditched that plan).

The next project was a better illustration of why I got the machine. I began reclaiming my comfort in clothing by converting a pair of “yoga pants” which have a waistband I can tolerate* but which make me feel dorky into something I’d happily wear through an airport. (*I have a rare autoimmune disorder which makes my torso very sensitive to the pressure of elastic bands and other tight constrictions.)

TSA Pants

Waistband is great—wide and soft—and they have pockets…

The top of a pair of pants made of very soft, stretch fabric in charcoal grey.

… but the cuffs are gathered into a narrow band which insists on settling about three inches above my anklebone. Not elegant. The cuffs must go!

Two legs of a pair of pants of soft knit fabric, one cuffed, one with a ragged edge where the cuff has been removed.

Fortunately, I have a seam ripper. 🙂

My pincushion sits beside a large piece of shiny charcoal gray fabric held down with little faux stone blocks. A rectangular paper pattern sits atop the fabric.
Dwarven Forge miniature terrain elevation blocks make great fabric weights.

More skill practice: I made a paper pattern and used it to cut out the new cuff pieces.

I added a band of the shiny graphite-gray fabric (originally planned for a new laptop bag) which makes them just a little dressier, while actually also making them more comfortable. Slept in this on a red-eye flight in a lay-down seat and they were great. Success!

The same pants with shiny cuffs in a matching gray color. One of them is a little uneven along its bottom edge.

It took me hours to do this very simple project and there are definitely errors, but I learned so much! Very proud of myself for letting go of perfectionism and for making something I really needed.

The other side of the pants showing the unevenness from the other side and a bit of unintended gathering at the join between the leg and the cuff.

I followed this guide to lengthening pants. In the course of this project I learned these new (or completely forgotten) skills:

  • “Stitch the ditch”
  • Pressing as guidelines for later pinning and stitching.

And re-acquired these skills:

  • Making a paper pattern piece
  • Taking something from idea to plan to measured to pattern pieced to cut to pressed to completely sewn in one session (with a dinner break).
  • Going slower when it gets challenging

My “oops” moments included not cutting TWO fabric pieces for the cuff as I have TWO legs and letting the combo of knit fabric and slippery silky synthetic take over when I was going too fast stitching the ditch on the first leg and having to seam rip about 3 inches. (If it was a fancier garment and higher than the ankle it would have been necessary to seam rip the whole piece as it is a bit twisted compared to the other. I may re-do with a longer, better sewn cuff at some point.)

Still, not bad for sewing knit and slippery fabric when I don’t know how to work with either!

That was a luxurious day of getting to work on my own projects, so I also began making a sewing machine cover, following the instructions in Sew Everything Workshop. It was another success and another source of learning.

A sewing machine under a cover with a pattern of cute cartoon foxes.
Isn’t that oilcloth fabric fabulous? How could you not want to go play with a machine under a cover like that? The pattern is “Fabulous Foxes” by Andie Hanna, part of the Robert Kaufman Collection. I got it at Britex in San Francisco.

This one went together very well. I slowed down. 😀

Still need to learn how to wrap bias tape for a more finished look around openings. I cut separate pieces and stitched them down and the gaps show.

It came together in three stages on different days:

  • Marking it up to cut using tailor’s chalk directly on the wipeable side of the fabric, cutting the pieces, creating and finishing the handle opening, and then assembling the body pieces onto the top.
  • Cutting the cord slot and pinning the bottom seam. (Double folded seam style, folded over and then over again, so when you stitch you leave a clean edge on the interior.)
  • Sewing round to finish the bottom edge (which I did on January 8, 2019, after the bustle of the holidays and travel).

Making this was so fun, I want to work more with BPA-free PUL (polyurethane laminate) fabrics. I had no problems with the sewing machine feeding this even though I wasn’t using a special foot, I guess because I was going slow. I’ve got a bit left so I’m thinking of making some little zippered pouches.

I was definitely hooked at this point. Went back to Britex on December 20, 2018, where I bought an “ironing ham” (used for ironing curved things like sleeve cuffs), zippers I could use for making pouches of various sorts, cotton cording for lacing for other small projects, polyester fiberfill, and more remnants. (I looked at thin, cheap quilt batting, but then didn’t find the kind I needed so I skipped it.)

We traveled to London over the holiday time and I made a special trip to Shaukat Fabrics, which I knew from Erin McKean’s Dress A Day blog (which I’ve been re-reading) as a great source of less expensive Liberty fabrics.

Stacks and stacks of Liberty fabric. This section is labeled "Liberty Poplin £18 per meter".
So much lovely fabric…
One shopping bag of loot in hand, a dazed Dinah emerges to the sidewalk.

I bought 5 meters of a Liberty cotton poplin and 3 meters of a Liberty lawn I plan to use for garments for me once my skills permit me working with something that’s £18 a meter. I also bought 28 remnant pieces (mostly about 8-10″ strips around 45-55″ wide), about a third of which were gifts for my mother. For a few I found two pieces. These are all amazing fabrics and will be really fun to use, even in small amounts.

Intricately patterned fabric in a variety of styles, from subtle earthtones to splashy pinks, many of them with motifs of flowers and foliage.
These intricate patterns make me very excited about sewing!

On January 8, 2019, it was a pure joy to have things so well set up that I could just turn on the lights and the machine and start sewing when the mood struck. This is when I finished the sewing machine cover. Only took about half an hour. I turned off the machine, covered it up, turned off the worklights, and went on with my day. Glorious!

My next projects were organizing my sewing materials and making a toy for my nephew Charlie, beg pardon, Space Commander Charles G.

An orange flannel space rocket with curved brown twill fins standing up on its flat base (and kept vertical by the even spacing of the fins)
I used this pattern from sewgrown.blogspot.com. Their pattern includes flames that tuck into the bottom and can be extended on blast off, but I left those out for safety since Charlie has a very little brother.

The tricky bit for me with this one was cutting the pieces of the fins since the fabric for those had a distinct right and wrong side. I had to recut one piece, but fortunately it was small and didn’t waste much. (This fabric was originally going to be used in repairing the pillowcases in our front window, but I know I can get more and it was ideal for a sturdy section of a toy like this.
I also wasn’t paying enough attention to lining up the direction of the diagonal pattern of the right side of the twill while I was cutting these, but fortunately 2-year-olds aren’t too fussy. 😀

One tip when using poly fiberfill: stretch out a glob of it a little to make a flat pad rather than a lump and place that flat against the sides, then when you’re jamming into the center at the last to finish filling it up entirely full, the flat pads keep lumps from forming on the exterior. This of course will also make the rocket more aerodynamic and require less fuel.

Along with having a good sewing day, I ordered some pieces from Ikea (storage boxes for fabric, an organizer for notions, extra shelves to make the cupboards work better) and threw in two cheap duvet covers that were on sale at a price making them a great price for printed cotton fabric. One of those is a fun fabric I’ll be using for my first clothing project (see below). Ironically, the fabric storage boxes have been lost by FedEx twice between Ikea and my house, but the rest is turning out fine.

On January 18, 2018, I gave myself the treat of a visit to a new-to-me fabric store, Fabric Outlet, on Mission Street. Very friendly staff and I was such a happy Dinah puttering around and finding things. I got fabric and buttons for a present I’m planning to make (shhh, for now), fabric and twill ribbon to make myself a new apron that’s proportioned correctly for me (no more apron-side-boob!), a flamingo pink satin remnant that will be perfect for the belt for my next project (below), some linen and twill that may work to make coasters, fusible interfacing (a proper, non-remnant sized piece this time), thin batting, and a few interesting remnants.

On January 20, 2018, I began thinking through a more complex project, my first complete pieces of clothing: a set of lounge pants and a matching kimono jacket for an upcoming trip to very warm weather. (I’m sure these will also come in handy this summer, whenever we get one. It was never entirely predictable in San Francisco even before climate change.)

A pair of soft, loose lounge pants lies beside an open notebook with a pen laid by from making notes. Next to it is a piece of green craft paper with the edges folded over like a seam allowance.
Thinking through how to add a soft, fold over waistband and using a piece of craft paper to work through my ideas.

I washed the fabric, and while that was going I figured out the best of my current pairs of lounge pants to use as the basis for a pattern.

(Yes, these are pretty fabulous pants—best of all I bought these tropical wonders at Marks & Spencers in Yorkshire!—but the elastic top isn’t comfortable for me these days.)

Figuring out how to get this three dimensional object to lay flat enough to be captured in two was a real test of my wits and patience, but, taking breaks when I needed, I did succeed eventually. I marked and cut all the pattern pieces and will take a photo of those when I write up the sewing part of this project in a future blog post.

A quick and rather silly project was my diversion on January 22, 2019, when we had to cancel our usual D&D game and I had bonus time. I used a faaabulous girl’s t-shirt I found on clearance to make a pool tote.

White t-shirt with a pair of pink unicorns with gold horns under fluffy blue clouds.
Why don’t they make more stuff like this in adult sizes?
This was one of those shirts where the back fabric is a bit longer than the front. I used this to my advantage to create the base of the bag.
With the shirt inside-out, I lined it all up so that the shirt was smooth and the back was flat.
Then I folded the longer part of the back over the front, and pinned it.

After I stitched across to secure this bottom seam of the bag, using a flamingo pink thread to match the unicorns and removing pins as I sewed of course, I had to do two separate small bits of pinning at each side to close up the gaps of the shirt vents. (I sometimes bring a pen and notebook to beach or pool and don’t want the pen escaping through a little hole in the bottom of my bag.)
Then I cut off the sleeves, being careful to leave the seam that had attached them to the body of the shirt intact. This will add body and stability to the straps.
Next I used tailor’s chalk and an oval dish of the right size to mark where I’d extend the neck opening to create the other side of the straps. The goal is to use as much of the shirt’s shoulder strap as possible width-wise and to bring the opening down parallel with the armpit of the shirt. (If I hadn’t had the ideal oval dish, I would have used my curved fashion ruler.)

Cut out on the oval, pinning if necessary to keep the cut even on the two layers.
Do a double fold seam around the rough edges of the former armholes and neckhole. Go very very slow, probably hand-turning the needle, as you pass over the thickness of the seam at the top.
If this were anything but a cheap, loosey-goosey, rather silly pool tote, I would have pinned it, but for this I just folded the double fold as went along (playing the part of a double fold machine foot, I guess).
Despite being very slapdash, it turned out dandy. I look forward to laughter and envy on vacation with friends.

I’m still working hard on learning the basics. Figuring out what the different kinds of seams are (plus using more professional-looking techniques for the one I’ve been using most, the double fold hem).

And I’m really happy!

Dinah, wearing overalls and smiling in front of her sewing machine as she works on the fins for Charlie's space rocket.

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dinahsanders

Author. Discardian. Defender of life, liberty, & the pursuit of happiness. she/her

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