Wednesday 30 October 2013

Down time, quilting clean-up

Missing my daughter especially, I took out a quilt I made for her a decade ago and put it on my bed as part of a little housecleaning and sewing room mop-up. These were all scraps from things I sewed for her when she was little, and as you can see, apart from some khaki and corduroy trousers, she loved pink at the time. The pink mohair throw at the foot of the bed is a very sentimental gift from my mother when I was in my late twenties. She confessed that she had 'accidentally' thrown out my pink mohair 'blankie' when I was a child and she had figured I should outgrow it, but she always felt guilty about pretending it got caught up in a sweep of paint-drop newspapers after my bedroom was redecorated. She carried this guilt for twenty years and finally just bought me a new one!

For over a year, there have been two bags of rags and remnants in the back of my little office. In theory these were waiting for contemplative moments when I would rip fabric into the right width for a basket weave quilt, as in here:

Yesterday while husband was out of town, I emptied out the bag and tried to assess things, sorted colors and starting attaching the long strips end to end. It was pretty meditative, and we'll see how it goes.

Sunday 6 October 2013

Burda 128a October 2011, tie-shirt, version 2, with silk from China

As I wrote a little while ago, I was keen to shove that heavyweight Burda cotton skirt off my sewing table because in addition to the Ralph Lauren vintage jacket my daughter found for me in London needing alteration, my eldest son brought back some marvelous silk from Hong Kong for a blouse for me.
He chose a real robin's egg blue. I used the Burda pattern I had used for the India paisley silk he brought me back two years ago but this time, I made some alternations to the neck design. In the Burda version, the neck ties are fixed to the collar only until the shoulder seam, then leave the fronts of the neckline to hang free, but in my opinion, though I did work hard to make the corners perfect, this left the neckline looking slightly unfinished at center front. Here's how it looked then.
Recently, I decided that although I liked the blouse, I would lurve it if I invisibly handtacked the front ties  to the neckline all the way  around to the very center corners of the slit. Now I love it.
So this time, I fitted the ties right up to the center of the front slit, which required a different assembly, working the fold-back facing around the right point in the ties' neckline section, and then seaming the ties themselves right up to the same spot as accurately as possible. 

This color picks up the faint blue thread in my pale pink Chanel boucle jacket I made some years ago, which daughter borrowed for London and has now returned. The rhinestone buttons are recycled from a silk blouse I made by hand when I first arrived in New York to work for Reuters, using a soft fern green silk I'd brought with me from Hong Kong. That was in 1976. I had no machine, so I stitched the whole blouse from a Vogue pattern, including the buttonholes by hand.

Jobs come and go, but buttons are forever.

Thursday 26 September 2013

Sewing Mojo Killed by Beast and Revived by Ralph Lauren jacket

I've gone back in yet again and taken in more of the lower sleeve armhole front and back to reduce the excess that still wasn't working. I think it's ready to leave the house now, just as the Indian summer departs and the snowblower man returns the machine from servicing.)

The 'beast' was the Roman Holiday Burda skirt that I have tussled with since last year. I finally finished it, but it is heavy to the point of unwieldy. Maybe Karen Blixen would wear it on safari, but if a lion tried to get at her, it would have to first chew through ten tons of cotton.

This is the rare occasion when I finished a project merely as a point of pride, and now own a garment that I will probably never wear. I could wear it with boots if it were in a winter fabric, but it's a heavy cotton that overwhelms the bare legs of summer. I underlined it in a heavy cotton and it weighs a ton, so all in all, a wash-out that killed my sewing mojo.

Which is a shame, since my son brought back some lovely baby blue crepe de chine from Hong Kong for a blouse I would like to make and my daughter brought me a 1980's Ralph Lauren tweed jacket she picked up in a vintage shop in London that sat around for months waiting for the skirt to make way.

Finally, I tackled the jacket, hoping to turn this, with its enormous shoulders, relatively high lapel fold and boxy cut:

into something closer to this 2013 iteration from Ralph, (minus the cutaway effect, which asks too much of my zipper and tummy area.)

Once I had opened up the jacket through the center lining seam, I realized that someone had been here before me, and that they'd made an amateurish job of hand-stitching into the shoulders after removing the gigantic pads we all wore back in the late 80's.

It took an afternoon of basting, pressing and testing,

and although it's not a perfect job,  the jacket is once again securely stitched at the shoulders and certainly a fine addition to my wardrobe for the autumn weekends walks in the pasture land above our farmhouse.
Lowering the lapel fold loses one buttonhole which I'll handstitch closed and disguise with an Annie Hall brooch or scarf/pashmina.
 I might still go back inside and try to reduce the armhole around the lower sleeve but for now, I think its a big improvement. (I hesitated  to cut down the armholes all the way around, as there simply is no way with a seam margin of only 10 cm on a size 14 to get it down to a size 12 under the arm without some tension in movement)

 I don't know what my daughter spent in the London vintage shop, but I'm sure it was less than Ralph is asking for the 2013 edition above.

Sunday 28 July 2013

Embroidery inspirations from the Game of Thrones television series

Some of you may remember my memorial post to the great French house of embroidery on the death of the founder. M. Lesage, as well as my monogrammed Christmas-gift pillowcases for my daughter. So you know I'm a sucker for gold initials and delicate flowers, etc.

Reading the publishing blog, The Passive Voice, I was referred to BuzzFeed to read about book cover design, (we're discussing the book covers for my historical novels set in Late Rome now) and from there to an amazing post about the embroidery work by Michele Carragher on the Games of Thrones costumes, and thence to the embroiderer's own webpages.

And you thought I'd never get to the point, here...

If you like embroidery, as I do from time to time, and even if you don't care to do it yourself, feast your eyes on this marvelous craftswoman's work;


and look at how she does it, here:

Thursday 25 July 2013

Burda Blouse 102-April-2010 goes on safari at last

Three years ago, I sewed my daughter a sweet cotton blouse which was 'too boring' to be worn. She said it looked like a nurse's uniform at best. I shrugged and wrote it off as a misjudgment.

Now, three years later, she suddenly needed basic clothes to work in Africa. Sticky knits and synthetics were out. She was participating in a diving conservation project housed in a camp on Mafia Island, Tanzania, where there was no running water, much less a runway. (And no electricity, so obviously, no ironing.)
Looks like the shirt was perfect (and I kinda like that groovy African print sported by her diving friend.)

Monday 24 June 2013

The Floral Trousers, Burda 108B-8-2010

They're ludicrous  . . . and I love them.
 Although I warned myself that flowered trousers were a quickie 2013 summer fashion not worth spending too much money or time on, not to mention rather inappropriate for a woman with grown children, I can't stop cheering myself up with this silly garment.

Moreover, I'm getting a surprisingly amount of wear out of them. We're not getting much hot weather so far. The Swiss summer is fleeting, with rain and hailstorms dampening our enthusiasm for the garden and its usual attractions. Behind me you see an empty lawn—no badminton or croquet set out yet and a hopeful hammock that spends more time drying out than being used. The flowerbed stands devoid of its usual wall of sunflowers. You can't start plants in June that usually seed in March.

So these trousers keep my legs covered in the chill mountain winds while serving as a nod to the trend. And it turns out that I've got at least three tops that go with them, though maroon, pink and green are not my usual 'colorway.' It's just what IKEA offered for less than ten bucks.

For  anyone looking for a speedy gesture towards the floral trousers trend, note that I finished these in a jiff by eliminating the phony-pockets welts at the back and the zippers at the ankles. I had to take them in around the thighs, using a 42-44 sizing and lengthening my usual 10 cm., and they're still not the "slims" Burda promised.
Here I am above,  pulling them out again for a casual Sunday lunch with friends yesterday. The flimsy chiffon top is an old Vogue OOP modelled by my daughter years ago.

Tuesday 30 April 2013

The Roman Holiday Skirt--Not quite an UFO, more just a FO that needs landing at last

The Audrey Hepburn skirt came too late in the season to finish, so it ended summer 2012 in a plastic bag. Taking it out for the Russian excursion, I decided I'd been penny-wise-pound-foolish, because in buying an IKEA cotton that is both loosely woven and wrinkles easily, I had the worst of all worlds. To rescue the project and give the skirt some flair, I'm cutting out an underlayer of white cotton to emphasis the flared gores and help the swing a bit.
We'll see if I'm just digging a deeper grave for it, or giving it some character. I hate to give up on any project.

Sunday 28 April 2013

Repairing a bike cover

As any sewer with a family knows, a lot of what goes under the needle started as something very practical or loved that finally wore out. I think that  I spent 25% of my sewing time in the 1990's patching the knees of tiny chinos and jeans or tending to beloved soft toys losing their eyes and tails.

Now it's a bike cover and it brings back the old days of the tearful "Can you fix this?"  It's zig-zag darning-stitch time!

One of my sons is taking a marathon bike trip across Europe before he starts his job in September. Europe has wonderful dedicated cycle routes. He's heading off in a week to explore one.

There was no bike shop in our Geneva area that had a full-sized cover in stock for shipping the bike by plane to his departure point. They offered some smaller covers that required dismantling the whole bike, but he preferred something full-size. So he found a used 'housse' in France full of weatherbeaten tears and splits going for only 20 euros.

This cover is going on the trip, but only after some serious rehab! It looks like it did the Tour de France one too many times. I'm using a jeans needle, a lot of thread, and patches made from worn-out dark blue jeans from my rag pile.

Wednesday 24 April 2013

The Great British Sewing Bee— two farewells, rather than one.

Bravo for the winner of BBC2's The Great British Sewing Bee (last episode), in which Ann Rowley won the trophy and Sandra and Lauren came in close on her heels.

What touched me about the production were the programming elements that felt less ruthless than some of the moments in earlier episodes, and more embracing: a moment with the families of each sewer, that charming last sequence, when the surprise fitting models were members of each contestant's own family—now there's a realistic scenario!—and the finale in which all the original contestants returned to congratulate the winners and celebrate the show itself.

It felt more like the sewing world I know.

Well done to all, and a special shout-out to the sewing adviser, Claire-Louise Hardy of The Thrifty Stitcher whose backstage notes are a delightful resource for those GBSB addicts looking for more info on the patterns and techniques employed on the show. I, for one, have already used her video on sewing a fly zipper while finishing my floral pants for the summer.

Meanwhile, a sad farewell to fellow blogger Karin of Sew Here We Go Again! who wants more time for family. But we can still catch up with her sewing on Pattern, so it's not totally sayonara. I will miss her generous comments, though. Big hug, Karin.

Monday 22 April 2013

the Celine summer neckline from Burda's May issue

The floral trousers are coming along, but I've gained weight since the last use of this Burda pattern, so they need altering along some seams. But they're surprisingly cheerful and not too ludicrous after all.

Another "Separated at Birth" item:
The pink blouse below is from Burda's May issue and the catwalk shirt in champagne silk is from Celine in Paris for summer 2013.
 So if you sew it yourself, you save a gazillion dollars and you can opt for sleeves to boot!

Tuesday 16 April 2013

Floral Trousers

Normally I avoid fads that are so faddish, I assume they'll be "out," before my needle is "in." Flowered trousers for the summer of 2013 might be one of those items. One minute, you've got to have them poolside—and the next, you wouldn't get caught dead in them. Timing might be crucial here.

Apparently this last designer hasn't seen that particular illustration in every issue of Burda Facile/Easy where the "wrong layout" mismatching the flowers on the skirt is a big no-no.

Well, count me in, although I may live to regret this. My husband is taking me to Russia in June and I don't know anybody in Russia who gives a hoot what I wear. 

And so that my wallet keeps smiling, my budget for this one-season fad is about ten bucks, max. I found my floral in the IKEA fabric department for nothing, (it's a bit chintzy in every sense of the word) and although I'm having a doozy of a time keeping those florals as neat as number 1 in the first picture, I'll hold my fashionable head up in these ridiculous trousers for, say, the six weeks this fashion lasts. I'll wear them under a khaki Swiss Army jacket on top for daytime sightseeing. That baby cost Sf 5 at Army surplus, bringing the cost of this outfit so far to...Sf15?
Hey-ho for sewing! Not everything has to be tasteful or couture, right? I recall the 1961 summer my father moved us to Hollywood. My poor mother, intimidated by all the gorgeous showbusiness women he'd be working with all day, promptly went out and bought herself a pair of leopard print slacks. We kids were stunned. Michigan Mom went shopping and Gina Lollobrigida came home. I never stopped loving her for that bid for instant glamour.
I'm reusing a simple Burda trousers pattern, 108B-8-2010, skipping the back pocket flaps and the ankle zippers. Last time I lengthened the pattern by four centimeters but we'll see what shoes we need for these before the final hemming. I don't want to crisscross Red Square or The Hermitage in stilettos or platforms.

Thursday 11 April 2013

Backstage at The Great British Sewing Bee (the consultant's insider tips, including the patterns chosen and some background guides on the technical challenges)

I was thrilled to stumble across a blog written by the sewing consultant to The Great British Sewing Bee, giving us all the references for the challenges they're putting to their victims contestants. It confirms many bloggers' guesses about which patterns were picked and where the fabrics came from. Lots of fun! Read on:

Episode One: The Thrifty Stitcher backstage at the Great British Sewing Bee

Episode Two: The Thrifty Stitcher backstage at The Great British Sewing Bee

Wednesday 10 April 2013

The Great British Sewing Bee (episode two)

I got hooked watching the Great British Sewing Bee after seeing the first episode on YouTube linked here: Episode One, and last night, via my Swiss computer hookup, I caught the second episode. (If you're in the UK, you can watch that here on the IPlayer here: Episode Two.)

After forty-seven years of happy home-sewing, (yeah, sorry about that) I still found myself asking, could I do what those sewers are trying?

Because as the most experienced of their contestants, the charming gray-haired Ann, points out, one is used to having time to do everything right, or at least to rip it out, like the much younger Scot Lauren (pictured below) often finds herself doing.  But here, two rather fiendish judges say there's only one hour to put on patch pockets or three hours, say, to adapt a neckline on a purchased blouse.

Their rather snotty and rueful pseudo-sympathies are enabled by the host of the show, one Claudia Winkleman who, I suspect, has never, never, darling, worn a hand-sewn garment in her entire be-fringed life. (Are you under those bangs, Claudia, and what the hell was that joke about Tom Cruise from "Cocktail" all about? Don't you realize these people are fighting the clock while you swan around making idiot jokes? These people are armed with scissors!)

So, while I applaud the show for giving us impassioned sewists of all walks of life, and I applaud the winners and losers for their sportsmanship and game faces when confronted with the nicky-picky judging, I condemn the show for missing the whole point of home sewing:

SEWING IS ONLY RELAXING AND REWARDING AND PROFITABLE WHEN YOU HAVE THE TIME AND PEACE TO DO IT RIGHT! (yes, I'm shouting, lean back from your computer to avoid the full force of my indignation at the idea of making sewing a "bake-off.")

What would I have done? Oh, I'm so glad you asked, BBC2.

I would have given each of the contestants the challenge of making one demanding Vogue Designer pattern for man or woman, one costume, one Burda high-fashion quickie, one home dec project, one self-designed pattern, and one children's item and maybe more? Slow them down a little and lets see some ensembles emerge to highlight the possibilities of individual style. Let their skills develop over time, rather than do them in under the pressure of the clock. This road leads inevitably to a victory for the home ec teacher, Ann. Instead, let these projects develop over a season, stop eliminating people, and let us love their different sewing styles and root for them until the season's grand judging at the end.

Every time they eliminate a contestant, starting with the vibrant, gracious (only) black lady on the show, they narrow their viewing audience. That's dumb. No! Let the London bookies take our bets for months on end.

Stretching the contestants' chances over a whole season would have let Mark do both a costume in his style, with the needed time, and a pattern for men devised by himself. Stewart could let fly with his fabulous quilted pillows or drapes or amusing little boys' clothes. The odds would have been soaring as we watched Tilly do an original Alexander McQueen knock-off!

But no, it's all about the neatness of invisible zippers. It's all about the "excitement" of seeing people axed, like sewing was some Donald Trump, "you're fired" moment. These producers so don't get sewing. It's inclusive, supportive, generous in spirit and all about broadening rather than narrowing options, about exploring rather than judging.

The sorriest event so far is the (spoiler alert) elimination of the studded, pierced and roughly handsome Mark who specialized in eighteenth century costumes for his steampunk festivals. Did you see the photo of him in full rig? Didn't he look happy and proud in his homemade kit? Did you see the work he did on the row of buttonholes lining the front of his piratical jacket?

No. What do the producers do? Give him a handful of challenges, at least two featuring invisible zippers, when he's never had to do a zipper in his life! Or a flyfront! He's been doing buttoned flies from the historical past. Give the guy a handicap, for God's sake. Haven't you ever been to a horserace?

The next sorriest event so far is the (spoiler alert) elimination of Tilly, who had by far the most fashion sense of anybody in the room and was caught out first by trying to fit a black Chanel collar on the white blouse instead of the winning tacky ribbon stitched on by Ann, and second, for being the only contestant to be trying to fit her own pattern design onto a busty live model who looked nothing like the slim Tilly in size or shape. This meant that while all the other contestants were cutting commercial patterns to the size of their live models, Tilly had to REDESIGN AN ORIGINAL PATTERN. Doesn't she get mega-points for that?

The elimination of Michelle was a bit awkward, but her wrap dress was a disaster, I admit.

Bravo, Tilly! Bravo Mark! You're my winners for your originality and pep! It looks already like the winning ladies will be the least adventurous in fashion sense and the most reliable at putting in zippers. They will give home-sewing no fresh reputation, and just reinforce the idea that it's best left to aunties in hairsprayed helmets, armed with ruffles and rickrack.


Wednesday 16 January 2013

Missing in Action! The Dead Sewing Blogs

Many people are ending 2012 by awarding well-deserved blogger awards to sewists who brighten our days with their creations and comments.

But I'm starting the Chinese New Year of the Snake with a sneaky shout-out to missing friends of the Dead Sewing Blogs. Are they shedding their skins for a new incarnation? Can we look forward to seeing them rise again?

It came to my mind when I realized that most of my favorites bloggers don't list links to me, boohoo! and woops! my own blog list is a little out of date and ??? where had some of my favorite bloggers gone?

Obviously, some of them were sucked into that happy void known as new motherhood. Here I count ladies I really looked to for some nice craftmanship and creativity. Lost...lost...somewhere in their designer nurseries are:

But how to explain some of the others (apart from Lindsay T at, who signed off with tremendous elegance and clarity,) just vanished into a frozen cyberzone of dresses from 2010 or 2011?

Like the disappearance of Birgitte at

Birgitte's recreations of runway items were equal to none. I fear her months of working on a Balenciaga jacket burned her out.

Or Eugenia in London at

Not even a little knit dress for us, Eugenia?

Please give us a sign of life. I am actually worried about you ladies. I lost 2009 myself to an illness that I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy. Hope you're well and thriving.

Wednesday 9 January 2013

New Year's Eve in Red, Burda's ruched-waist dress. Oct 2012 118A

Well, on New Year's Eve, the family jury was so far out on this one, they could have auditioned for a remake of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. I gave them a choice between Burda's blue satin ruffled blouse under the Burda blue velvet kimono or this new number which a lot of Burdists in Russia made. It was very easy to sew, but  if my Eastern sisters were concluding in Russian, 'This dress doesn't look 'techno' as Burda thinks—it just looks hopelessly wrinkled and off-kilter,' I missed their warning, oh too late.

Here's how the afternoon of December 31 progressed as 2012 ticked away:

Daughter; Go with the blue kimono and blouse set. That red fabric is too thin and cheesy. That's a day dress, not for New Year's Eve.

I painted my nails red and tried the next jurist.

Husband: Go with the red dress but I can see your slip bumping through it. It looks lively. The blue kimono looks too loungey, not for a friends' festive night.

I added a red and gold necklace and tried Jurist Three.

Eldest son: Go with the blue. It matches your eyes. The red is okay. Actually the red goes with the necklace. Would you switch the jewelry for the blue? I don't know. What do you think of my waistcoat?

So I reckoned blue had won out, until...

Younger son: The blue velvet looks old, like something my Geneva violin teacher would've worn to dress up, way too spinstery. Go with the red. You look ten years younger in that.

Oh, ladies, if you knew that violin mistress, padding around town in flat orthopedic booties and a long black velvet skirt, thinking she looked artistic and bohemian, you'd know why I went out the door in red, knowing full well that I should wear a black tuxedo pants suit to spend New Year's Eve with among others, a nuclear weapons inspection diplomat of international standing just back from some powwow with the Russian foreign minister.

Yes, I went with the RED, cheesy viscose though it is, because hey, it's New Year's Eve when everybody wears boring, snoring, black. If New Year's Eve isn't cheesy, what is, right? And in the end the nuclear weapons diplomat took to the piano and we ended up singing cheesy old Broadway tunes without shame while my husband (remember his nine months of paralysis in 2011 in hospital?) danced with other lady guests. The hosts had knocked themselves out with all the Classic Foodstuffs of a French New Year's Eve. Great stuff. Worth celebrating. In red.

But for sewists facing the new year, Allison (THANKS FOR THE SHOUTOUT, ALLISON!) got this one beautifully right the first time out of the mag. On her advice, I cut the skirt on the straight, not the bias (Burda got that wrong.)

In the end, for me, this is a wonky design with good intentions. If you are pencil slim and use a better quality fabric, I bet it works as well as on their chic model above. But if you have a little bit of extra flesh on the hips or stomach, the draping adding bulk to your waist just looks like a mistake that caught on your Spanx as you came back from the ladies' room. I like the concept but would only remake it in a better quality woven after losing ten pounds. My choice of red knit was just too limp to pull off that cowl neckline as designed.