Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Making Sewing Easier

Since I started teaching folk dance I do a fair amount of sewing with my students who need costumes. Most of them are beginner sewers. It's been fun(and also stressful) over the years to help these girls learn some basic sewing skills that they will hopefully use again. I had two ladies over to sew this past weekend, and it made me think of some basic tools or ideas I use that make my sewing easier. So here they are: Five steps and/or purchases that will make sewing easier for beginners. Amber, I keep telling you that you need good scissors, so this post is for you.

Easy Access. 

I have a small sewing room, so it's not hard for everything to be close together. I keep my metal bobbins on a magnetic strip meant for hanging kitchen knives. It keeps them organized and within arm's reach. I use baby food jars to keep seams rippers, measuring gauges, and pencils by my machine. My garbage is just to the right of my machine, so all my threads and clippings can be swept right off the table. Making a garment takes long enough as it is: organize your area so as to be time efficient.

The iron corner.

Really Hot Things. 

I have two older Sunbeam steam irons that I got at garage sales. They're a good weight for me(weight is important), a reliable brand, and they work well. I've never used any of the expensive irons, like Rowenta, but I've certainly used worse irons enough to know these are decent irons. I know I don't like the irons with dials; I prefer a sliding knob. Make sure to get an iron not easily tipped over. Get a good iron that suits you, because in sewing you use your iron as much as you do your sewing machine, if not more. Never put anything but filtered water in your steam iron! I must be stupid, because I did that once. It took weeks for my iron to stop spitting stains.

Standing table: Shelves for lace, patterns, books, dye and machine accessories. Under the table is all my hoodie fleece.

Really Sharp Things. 

I'm a frugal person, but you just can't sew without paying for good scissors. You can't, ok? You just can't. Don't even try. I buy Ginghers(on sale, of course) mostly because they look epic, and they are good scissors. Then once you get good scissors you have to sharpen them. I use my scissors every week, and I would say mine need professional sharpening about once a year, which costs about $4 a pair. Other sharp things you need are seam rippers, and snippers for threads. I keep a small pair of sharp scissors right by the machine for cutting threads. I also have different types of scissors stationed at different areas in my room according to need.

Storage, storage, and more storage. Ever the seamstress's problem. My latest(and last, I promise) furniture purchase was this hutch to keep all my notions, patterns and fabric.


I used to get back-aches from sewing, until I made a standing table for cutting out, and bought a rolling office chair for sewing. Best sewing purchase ever! I bought the cheapest Walmart office chair for $30. It made sewing so much easier! It's lower than a dining room chair, which is what I was using, and easier to navigate around a sewing table. My standing table is two old bookshelves and an old desktop. They're not even fastened together; the desktop is heavy enough to just sit on top of the shelves. Now I don't have to bend or hunch to cut out. I even drew yardage markings on the desktop to better measure out fabric. If you can't have a standing table, figure something out- I recommended to one lady that she wear her corset for added back support while she sews. Who wants to sew if it hurts?

A Sturdy Machine. 

I prefer the basic machines that are heavy-duty. I used to have an Elna, which got bought out by Brother. Now at home I have a Janome. The Brother machines at work are junk(albeit very old), so I can't imagine ever buying a Brother. Singer used to be the big name but is getting bad reviews on today's models, with the exception of the new Singer Heavy Duty model. On a scale of one to ten of machines I would buy: Bernina at ten is the unaffordable best. The Singer HD is a one, very affordable; I'm hoping to convince my boss to buy this one. Janome is smack in the middle as a good reliable, slightly pricier brand. I'd really like to buy their HD model for home use. You can't go wrong with a sturdy basic machine like that.

So there you go! A tour of my sewing room AND my sewing recommendations.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014


So recently I've been following a new Starz show called Outlander. It's based on a popular series of novels, and the storyline is one of those one girl-two guys romance junk with a whole lot of nudity thrown in for all those desperate housewives(interesting article about a godly perspective of nudity here). Don't don't don't watch this show- it's not a book or a drama I would recommend to any of my acquaintances.

With that said, the reason I'm following Outlander is the costumes. The majority of the story is set in 1740's Scotland; my favorite era and place. There's yards and yards of gorgeous plaid wool and lots of stays going on there; huge petticoats with cartridge pleating(which is a little odd since cartridge pleats fell out of fashion in the 18th century), lots of earthy muted colors; just lots and lots of wool. The costume designer for the show, who happens to be the producer's wife, has a blog with detailed photos here. There are the usual TV costume fails that aren't quite right for the period, but the overall look is a lot of fun.

He's not ugly, but still, it's the clothes I swoon over.

 This past week the main character of the show got married(to guy number two) and the dress was really an amazing work of art. Hand-made metallic leaves and embroidery on such beautiful fabric. Read about the materials here. While I so enjoy costumes like these, it kills me that producers take such a rich time and place in history that needs no embellishment, and inject so much sinful junk that I can't even watch it. What a waste of wool.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Fan Quilt: A baby-sized Wholecloth Quilt

The fan quilt is done, and it's up for sale on Etsy. I don't really expect it to sell, and I would like to keep it, but I had to buy a car, so everything's for sale.

Hand quilting is a labor of love, because no one could really pay enough for all the hours it takes to hand-stitch a blanket together. The more I ask around it seems like whole-cloth quilting in the old style isn't being done much anymore. A lot of the ladies who come into John Adams(code name) do piece quilting or tie quilting, and most fabric stores market blanket fleece and quilting cottons much more than they do apparel fabric; but hand-quilting seems rare. I know it's time consuming, but there's great appeal in the hand-quilted look. The simplicity of wholecloth quilting is just as beautiful to me as a pieced quilt!

Good books about Wholecloth and Whitework Quilting

Quilts of Provence. Gorgeous color photos of original antique quilts and quilted clothing. This book focuses on French wholecloth quilting of the 18th Century, with some patterns shown in the back. I love this book. It's worth buying.

America's Quilts and Coverlets. I picked up an old copy of this book for $1.50 at a book sale, and it's really a neat book! It's older so the photos aren't nearly as good quality as in "Quilts of Provence", but it does cover a wider variety of American quilting and related folk art. Very interesting and pertinent.

Whitework Quilting by Karen McTavish. I don't own this book and the library doesn't have it, but in a world with fifty million books about pieced quilting, this one is about whitework, so it has to be good. You can channel your inner Outlander and use it to make an 18th Century-appropriate covering(The name McTavish made me think of that).

Also check out this list of resources and events at the Nebraska State Quilting Guild website.

Friday, September 5, 2014

I bought a CAR

Things like this are a super big deal to me, so forgive me for doing a whole post about it.

Farewell, Buick. I hope you end up in Buick heaven. Wow, am I really that short?

So the Buick I finally, finally inherited last year had some issues. The gas gage, odomoter, and gear lights didn't work; the left front blinker didn't work; the driver's side window didn't work; the car was leaking in the rain; the fan didn't work. I had to fix the brakes and buy a new tire in June. The tie rod was cracked, and something about the stabilizer and alignment was wrong, which is somehow why I had to buy the one tire. Knowing that when the tie rod broke I'd either be dead on the side of the road, or stranded without a car, Dad first said I needed to buy a new car before winter.

That was fine; I was planning on getting around to it in December, maybe. Dad was on a faster schedule, and every month he upped the ante: "You need a new car" became "You need a new car before December" and "You need a new car before December" became "You need a new car this month."

This is the new car.

I like the new car because it's my size, and everything works, so as long as I can ignore the fact that it's flaming red, I'm happy. I've decided I hate car shopping, though. It's too stressful.