The Blue Gardenia

#Makenine2019: Butterick 9083. The perfect pencil skirt? January 3, 2019 12:09

I have a mission this year. Actually, I have several. But let's focus on one today: The Perfect Skirt. For me, the perfect skirt is slim and sleek.  As skinny as a pencil. Oh, sure. I like flared. I like full. I do. Absolutely. But not everyday. All that fabric gets in the way. Really.

So. One of my blog series this year will highlight my search for the best pencil skirt pattern. Simply acceptable will not suffice. Just pretty will not make the grade. No. Absolutely not. It. Must. Be. Perfect. 

Butterick 9083 is my first contender. It is slim. It is sleek. But its princess seaming takes it over the top. Right over. In the illustration anyway. But will the actual make live up to the drawing? That, dearly beloved readers, is something I will find out. Later. So. Keep reading. Yes. Each and every day. Promise?

#Makenine2019: Butterick 3803, Circa 1970s January 2, 2019 23:45 1 Comment

Is this the perfect blouse? I think maybe. I had a dressmaker make two. I wore out both. To rags. That is how much I liked them. 

So. Now that I sew, now that I am my own dressmaker, I want to make this blouse. This year. I plan to make quite a few shirts this year. My search for the perfect shirt. And if this proves to be it, well, I'll know I was right. Absolutely.

Sewing Spaces: There's nothing tawdry about Audrey's room. October 29, 2010 14:37 2 Comments

Drat. I'm late. Late, late, late. How unlike me. (His Bertness is snickering. I can see you, dear, and that is not nice. Not one bit.) But. It is still Friday here in Arizona. It is. Am I forgiven? Please?

Audrey At any rate, enough about me. Let's visit Audrey's sewing space. You're probably familiar with her already, because she writes the SewTawdry blog. And you probably just want me to hush, so you can ogle her dining room. So. Guess what, dear readers? I will. For now.

Do you have a dedicated sewing space?

I sew in the formal dining room of our home.

What do you like best about your sewing area?

It is near the kitchen and the family.  I sew in the evening or on weekends. This location lets me keep an eye on the activities of large groups of teenage boys, and multitask between sewing and typical weekend activities like laundry and cooking.   So far, my multitasking has not resulted in too many charred meals. Most of my fabric stash, sewing library and back-up sewing machines live in a cavernous room on the bottom floor of the house. It was originally designated as my sewing room. It proved to be too dark and far from the action.

What would you change about your space?

More light would be nice, especially when sewing at night.

How is your space organized?

Thread is served up on the sideboard and plastic bins underneath hold buttons, zippers and trims. Rolls of tracing and gridded paper, for pattern tracing and drafting, are stored on end in a box, nearby. Scissors, pins and sewing tools like tracing wheels, marking pens are in a container near the sewing machine. A pair of reading glasses, which never leave this room, are stored on a special holder next to the machines. Rulers and drafting curves are shoved into the end of a pattern box.

Side board threads
If you have a fabric stash, how do you impose order?

I have a huge stash, which is stored in see-through covered plastic bins; typically by color/season.  Example – a bin of blue winter fabrics, a bin of coral summer fabrics.  Most of the bins are in the storage room.  Bins of recent purchases or seasonal fabrics are in the dining room. I also maintain an electronic database of 15 years of fabric purchases, with info on fiber content, yardage, width, purchase price and source.  This is supposed to keep me from buying similar fabrics. And the value of the inventory is supposed to shame me and inhibit new fabric purchases. I calculate monthly spending totals. However, I have never done the summation of the entire inventory. I just can’t go there.

Fabric stash
How are your patterns organized?

I store patterns in lidded cardboard boxes. Roughly in the order they were purchased. Traced patterns from Burda, Patrones, Mia Boutique magazines, etc., are stored in manila envelopes in the same boxes. I draw a picture of the garment on the front of the envelope and tuck a photocopy of the magazine instructions along with a fabric swatch from the completed garment  inside.

Are your patterns archived?

An archive is both a collection of historical records, as well as the place they are located. Yes, I keep patterns forever.  I have patterns I made as a teen, quite a collection of vintage patterns (my definition is pre-1970’s), and 20 years of Burda WOF magazines. 

Pattern storage
How are they stored?

I store patterns in emptied copier paper boxes I bring home from work. The cleaning staff knows to save the boxes and lids for me. They are just the right size for Vogue patterns on their sides or two rows of smaller patterns

Do you have a mannequin made to measure?

I have four mannequins. A half-size one used for draping sits on the sideboard. The others, which I call the “three weird sisters”, as in the witches in the play Macbeth, reside behind the door when not in use. They include a full size PGM for draping, a My Double (which it definitely isn’t) dress form for display purposes, and one packing tape dress form double, which I guess could be described as made to measure.

Do you find your forms helpful?

Yes, I use the duct-tape dress form to pin fit patterns before cutting a garment out. It lets me know right away if alterations are needed and in what area.

What do you cut out your patterns on?

The kitchen table, a large (102" x 42”) rectangular table purchased from Ikea.  If the table is in use, I use the floor.

Sewinng table
What is your most helpful tool

A sharp high-quality pair of dressmaking shears.


They make cutting out any type of fabric precise and enjoyable. They cut through the sheerest silks or the heaviest wools without distorting the fabric or leaving ragged edges. It is less fatiguing to your hands to cut with good sharp scissors. They make short work of grading and trimming seams and are wonderful for snipping into tight corners like bound-buttonhole openings.

What tools do you recommend for the beginning sewer?

Sharp scissors, tape measure,  a 3" wide, 18” long clear plastic ruler (found in quilting supplies),  which is invaluable for laying out pattern pieces and checking the grain lines, and a good steam iron.

What kind of machine do you use?

Husqvarna Designer I.

Sewing machine
What do you like about it?

The ease of switching pressure feet and selecting the stitches I use in about every garment; straight, hem stitch, buttonhole.  Also the auto thread cutter. I didn’t realize how much I used that until it quit working because of a dull cutting blade.

Do you use a serger?

Yes, I have two. One set up for overlocking and one set up for cover-stitching.  I bought a new serger with cover-stitch functionality, intending to get rid of my overlock-only serger. However, the new cover-stitch machine proved to be too difficult to switch back to overlock, so I kept my old overlock machine

Why do you like them?

For finishing the edges of garment pieces to prevent raveling on woven fabrics, sewing overcast seams and cover-stitched hems in knits.

How long did it take you to develop your sewing space?

I have been working in the dining room for about six years.  I expect that to change in two years when both DS’s will be in college. At that time, I plan to rent some PODS (portable on-demand storage) containers, and empty the current storage room of everything, so that my husband can replace the paneling with wallboard, install storage units and update the lighting. Until then, I am collecting great storage and organizational ideas from others’ sewing spaces.

Monday, we'll drop by Ann's studio. Ann, of Gorgeous Fabrics, pens the Gorgeous Things blog. And she is always making something amazing. But then, who wouldn't, with all that beautiful fabric so close at hand? (Well, procrastinators like myself. But let's not go there.)

Oh, and if you haven't entered the contest for the comprehensive book, Setting Up Your Sewing Space, do. You won't regret it.



Sewing Spaces: Where Erin makes dresses that have no secrets. October 25, 2010 09:04 4 Comments

Erin Have you been eagerly waiting to see the sewing room of Erin, of the ever-so-popular A Dress A Day? I can tell you that this fledgling sewer has been. And how. Erin was one of the first dressmaking bloggers that I discovered. And one of the first to mention my blog. (Oh, what a thrill that was. I still tingle at the thought of it!) Do you have your cup of tea, coffee or cocoa within easy reach? If so, let's take the tour now. If not, get it. Right now. This minute. That's an order. I am impatient to go inside. Absolutely.

Do you have a dedicated sewing space?

I have a small bedroom in my house that is my combo sewing space/home office. It had built-in shelves and the access for the DSL line, so it was the best option.

What do you like best about your sewing area?

The room gets a lot of light on sunny days. (And there are a lot of sunny days in California. Just not today.)

What would you change about your space?

I could definitely use more square footage and more shelving. I've put up a few more shelves, but it's not enough.

How is your space organized?

Poorly! Books on shelves, fabric in closet, patterns on Elfa shelves, too much stuff on the floor.

If you have a fabric stash, how do you impose order?

I threaten the whole collection with reprisals at the first sign of armed resistance. I'm also not above resorting to tears. (I keep the Liberty prints separated to avoid contamination. I also try to refold and rearrange it every couple of months, to "refind" fabrics I've forgotten I bought.)

How are your patterns organized?

They're all in boxes, sometimes arranged by pattern number. Patterns that are "immanent" are either on the cutting table or clipped to the shelf with binder clips.

Are your patterns archived? How are they stored?

I use comic boxes for patterns, which work pretty well.

Do you have a mannequin made to measure?

No — I have a JoAnn's standard.

What do you cut out your patterns on?

Borrowed time.

You're so funny. What is your most helpful tool? Why?

I'm very fond of my seam rippers, for reasons I'd rather not go into (emotionally painful). I don't knit, but I find that a lightweight bamboo knitting needle is great for poking out corners and turning tubes.

What tools do you recommend for the beginning sewer?

A very good pair of scissors, that you never ever ever use to cut anything but fabric. I also like the pins with the colored glass heads — so much easier on your fingers!

Do you keep a sewing library? If so, what book would you recommend to beginners?

I think my sewing library keeps ME. I like to recommend the Reader's Digest Complete Guide to Sewing as the most widely available and cheapest, but Ruth Singer's Sewing Bible is better if you can get it!

What kind of machine do you use?

I use a Juki HZL-e80. (Here's my post on choosing a sewing machine.)

What do you like about it?

It has a sparkling personality and laughs at my jokes. Also, it smells nice. (Actually, the tension is very reliable — I hate futzing with tension knobs.)

Do you use a serger?

I gave up my serger a few years ago . . . I don't miss it.

How long did it take you to develop your sewing space?

When it's developed, I'll let you know how long it took! It's definitely a work in progress.

Erin has a book coming out next year, The Secret Lives of Dresses. You've probably read her enchanting garment tales on her blog. Sometimes, they are wistful. Sometimes, they are funny. But always, always, they are creative. You'll want to pre-order your copy now. If, that is, you haven't already.

Friday, we have an appointment to see Audrey of SewTawdry's space. Don't be late.

But. First. Take your seat, dear readers. Do. Because Wednesday, I'm announcing what may be the very best Sewing Spaces giveaway yet. I am. Are you getting goosebumps? This prize deserves each and every one. And I am not exaggerating. Absolutely not.


Sewing spaces: Just keep sewing? Kristine does! October 4, 2010 09:22 2 Comments

Kristine, of Just Keep Sewing, finds that by having her studio in a family area, complete with toys and TV and perhaps a bit of non-Martha clutter, she is able to get quite a bit of sewing done. So. She can sew. She can supervise. She can be a dressmaker. She can be a mom. All at the same time. Is that smart? I think so. I do. I bow to you, Ms. K. I think my oh-so-appreciated readers will as well.

Do you have a dedicated sewing space?

Yes. Our finished basement (about half of it!) serves as my workspace. I have most of my machines lined up for easy transitioning and a huge covered pool table to layout patterns and plan projects.

What do you like best about your sewing area? That my kids can play or watch TV while I sew, so we can all be together and having fun in one room.

What would you change about your space?

I would love to paint it a girly color and decorate the walls with fashion photos! But, since it's a shared space, I'll keep my pictures over my sewing machines and learn to live with the beige walls.

How is your space organized?

Fabric stash is out of sight, stored in labeled Xerox paper boxes nabbed from work. Patterns are in plastic drawers underneath my machine tables.  Burda issues are kept in plastic accordian binders with the line drawings copied and kept together in a 3-ring binder for easy reference (two years worth). My favorite storage pieces are my antique wooden thread boxes I got at a neighbor's estate sale last year. The numerous drawers house all my threads (both all purpose and embroidery), zippers, needles, and notions, and are just an arm's length away! Sewing_spaces_kristine_shel If you have a fabric stash, how do you impose order?

Fabrics are stored by content (silk/cotton/knit) or purpose (kids/career/pj's). I can usually find what I'm looking for within a few minutes. Usually . . .

How are your patterns organized?

By garment type (skirts/pants/tops/wardrobes) in plastic drawers. Ideally, it would be nice to log them all, putting the empty envelopes in binders and the patterns in a file drawer, but if I ever have that much free time, you'd find me sewing instead of organizing!

Are your patterns archived? How are they stored?

Only the Burda issues are "archived".

Do you have a mannequin made to measure?

No, I have the adjustable dress form that my parents bought for me when I was in high school (20 years ago!). I've found that with the help of a padded bra, she's pretty darn close to matching me.  I think DH is considering a more professional version as a Christmas gift (shhh . . . ).

If so, do you find it helpful?

I would love one, but since I sew so much for clients, the adjustable form is pretty useful.

What do you cut out your patterns on?

I usually move my cutting mat upstairs to the kitchen counter to cut paper patterns, so that I can be more accessible to my family and still be productive. The rotary cutter makes it very, very speedy!

What is your most helpful tool? Why?

I love my finger-sized rotary cutter. I got it at Joann's, and it makes cutting paper patterns so fast and easy! I also couldn't live without my carbon paper and double-tracing wheel. The paper (big sheet of blue and big sheet of white) came from the FIT bookstore in NYC, and the double-tracing wheel makes quick work of tracing Burda patterns and adding various seam allowance widths. It used to take me hours to trace those patterns, but now . . . such a huge time saver!

What tools do you recommend for the beginning sewer?

Really great scissors — I use 8" Kai for cutting fabric and a small, supersharp and pointy embroidery pair for removing stitches — and the right machine needle for the job. They might all look the same to the naked eye, but they really make all the difference in the world! Change them often, too!

What kind of machine do you use?

OK, here goes . . .

1. My first machine is my portable one, the Kenmore my parents bought me when I started sewing about 25 years ago.

2. My main machine is a Viking Iris, my first mother's day gift from DH. It also led to the next machine . . .

3. My six-thread Brother PR-600II, the embroidery machine that brings in money to pay for my fabric addiction.

4. A Simplicity serger.

5. A Janome Coverpro 1000 Coverstitch (Craigslist find, yay!)

6. The antique 1926 White Rotary electric (the best machine for leather!)

What do you like about them?

I love them all. They each have their area of expertise in my sewing space and make my projects beautiful, inside and out!

Do you use a serger? If so, why do you like it?

Yes, I use it on almost all of my projects, knit or not. They make the seam so clean and finished, help tremendously with narrow hems, and minimize the bulk of typical seam allowances. I've learned to change the thread quickly and easily by tying on the new color and pulling it through, so I'm ready for a new project in minutes!

How long did it take you to develop your sewing space?

About six years. It's slowly grown and gotten larger, but also become better organized and fine-tuned lately. When you don't have much time to sew, you have to make the most of your time. Don't waste it looking for stuff, make it easy to find what you need, when you need it. Make it comfortable to be in, so you really enjoy the time you spend there — temperature, lighting, radio/iPod/TV.

And in other Sewing Space news, we visit Connie of Couturesmith on Friday, Peter of Male Pattern Boldness on Monday, and tomorrow, dear readers, a giveaway inspired by Sunni, The Cupcake Goddess, complete with a luscious treat added by her goddessness.

I am loving Sewing Spaces. I am, I am, I am, I am. It is so much fun. It is. Absolutely. I hope you like it half as much. I do. Yes indeed.


Sewing spaces: Visit Sewaholic's room and share her addiction. October 1, 2010 10:00 5 Comments

Her name is Tasia, and she's a sewaholic. She admits it freely, anonymity be darned, right on her blog, Sewaholic. Does she sew in a spot befitting such an addict? Absolutely.

Do you have a dedicated sewing space?

Yes, I do! I'm lucky to have an entire half-of-a-room for sewing. I love it!

What do you like best about your sewing area?

The view. I get wonderful natural lighting if I sew during the day, and in the evenings, the sunset is absolutely gorgeous!

What would you change about your space?

I'd like the WHOLE room, not just half! One day.

More importantly, I'd like to improve the lighting now that fall is coming. It was perfect for summer as the evenings were still light, so I had the pleasure of sewing with natural light. I've already noticed a change, so it's time to buy some lamps! The last thing you want to find when you wake up in the morning is that your late-night thread color choice is actually purple, not blue.

How is your space organized?

Both machines are on the table, supplies and patterns are on one bookshelf, fabric and books are on the other bookshelf. It's quite simple, but easily accessible!

If you have a fabric stash, how do you impose order?

I don't have a ton of order, but I have a few little tricks that help. . . . On the bulletin board I've started literally queueing up my next few projects, with little sketches and swatches. That way, I can see what's next! I know I shouldn't store it like this, but my fabric is folded into a bookcase, so I can see little folds of each fabric. I also carry a little notebook with swatches and sketches and lists — trying to impose order in my mind as well, I suppose!

How are your patterns organized?

By category: shirts, pants, dresses, etc. They're loosely organized, though. Often I find skirts in the dress box. I don't have a huge stash, so it's fairly easy to find things.

Are your patterns archived? How are they stored?

I use IKEA boxes, one for each category. They're stored on a bookshelf in my sewing space. It's simple, but it works!

Do you have a mannequin made to measure?

I have an adjustable dress form, who is fairly close to my size.

If so, do you find it helpful?

Absolutely! Not just for fitting, but also to see what things might look like as finished garments. I like to wrap fabric around the mannequin and then take a few steps back. Does this print overpower the little dress form? Is it too loud and scary for a whole dress, and should it be confined to a blouse or smaller item? I like to see how a project might look on a body, and using a mannequin helps me to visualize.

What do you cut out your patterns on?

The dining table. It has extended panels so I can make it double in length. Before we had a dining table, I used to use the kitchen counter. (I'm so glad we got a dining table!)

What is your most helpful tool? Why?

I love that my pincushion is magnetic. Excellent for when you knock it over, and the pins go flying! Just hover over the dropped pins, and they're sucked up into the cushion.

What tools do you recommend for the beginning sewer?

Buy quality tools! Get a good pair of scissors ­— and never cut paper with them. If you're clumsy like me get a magnetic pincushion, the first time you need to pick up pins, you'll be happy with your purchase!

Some tools you can pick up cheaply: tape measure, seam ripper, rulers. You don't need a lot of tools to get started. Also, I'd suggest getting a sewing reference book. It can be used, new or borrowed, but it helps with learning the basics!

What kind of machine do you use?

I use a Pfaff QuiltStyle 2042. It was my graduation gift when I graduated from university.

What do you like about it?

I like that it's pink. Seriously though, I like that it's reliable. I've used machines where the tension goes wonky, or the fabric gets sucked into the feed dogs, or the stitches skip. It's nice to sew and know that at the very least, the machine is going to be there for you! It has seventy-six different stitches, but I rarely use more than the straight stitch and the zigzag. And the blind-hem foot — I love it! So much faster than hand-hemming.

Do you use a serger? If so, why do you like it?

Yes, I love my serger! I bought the best of the bunch, it even threads itself! I hate threading sergers, so I splurged on the self-threading Babylock Eclipse. All you do is poke the thread into a hole and press a button! Brilliant. Besides the easy factor, I love how quickly it finishes the edges and stops loosely woven or shifty fabrics from unraveling.

How long did it take you to develop your sewing space?

My sewing space was developed for me! The night before, I went on a rant about wanting my own sewing room one day - not complaining, honest! I was out volunteering the next day and when I came home, my guy had rearranged the furniture so I had half the room. How awesome is that - a man that understands my sewing hopes and dreams! After the furniture was moved, it took me a couple of days to reorganize and sort into the boxes. Once the bulletin board was hung, and the power bars set up, I was ready to rock! The whole setup took about a week.

And soon, you'll be able to purchase Sewaholic patterns. You might like the Pendrell blouse. I do. Just the blouse for those days when you're feeling irrepressibly girly.

Drop by Monday, when Sewing Spaces visits Kristine of Just Keep Sewing. Don't forget. 

Channeling Catherine: Deneuve bags the safari look with style. September 30, 2010 09:10 3 Comments

Catherine-deneuve-safari Jose&maria

Beautiful bones: Luck.

Personalizing the safari look: Creative.

Spendy statement necklace by Jose and Maria Barrera: Perfect.

New Look 6124, circa late 1980s: Desirable.


Sewing spaces: Oliver + S + Liesl = one enviable studio. Indeed. September 23, 2010 19:41 5 Comments

Liesl_gibson_ssNot all of us have two sewing spaces. Not all of us are talented designers. Not all of us have our own pattern line. But that does not mean that the rest of us cannot learn a thing or two from those who do. Because we can. Certainly. And we will. Won't we?

Today, let's enjoy vicarious thrills as we ogle the sewing room of Liesl Gibson. Liesl is the chief designer of the totally fun children's pattern line, Oliver + S. She also authors the firm's tutorial-packed, lovely-to-look-at blog. Need I add that I am a fan? Of course not. You know I am.

Do you have a dedicated sewing space?

When I started Oliver + S several years ago, sewing became my business. I realized early on that I couldn’t run the business from my small New York City apartment and that I needed to rent a workspace. I’m fortunate now to have two dedicated sewing spaces: a tiny one in our home in Manhattan and a larger studio in Brooklyn where we run the business. They are about 20 minutes apart on the subway.

At home, we converted a closet into a space that doubles as a sewing room and a small closet for our daughter. It’s just large enough that I can keep my machine set up to pop in when I have a few minutes.

Liesl_storage_ssAt the studio, I have a large cutting table as well as a long counter where the machines are lined up, ready to go. And lots of shelves for storage. That’s crucial, in my opinion.

What do you like best about your sewing area?

I like it that I can sew conveniently either at work or at home. And, given the size of our apartment, I’m just happy to have a dedicated space at all!


What would you change about your space?

Well, the closet could be bigger. But so could the entire apartment! Both spaces suit me fine, though. I can’t complain.

How is your space organized?

Almost everything is kept at the studio; all my fabric and materials are stored there. I keep just a small sewing machine, a sleeve board (which serves as a mini-ironing board), and an iron at home with a small set of sewing tools.

Liesl_gibson_books_ssAt the studio, I have shelves for fabric and books, and each project is kept in an individual box on the shelves. So when I’m developing a pattern, all the materials for that pattern are stored in one box. It makes it easier to keep everything together. I keep a lot of tear sheets, too, and I sort them into boxes according to theme: clothing inspiration, print inspiration, styling inspiration, etc.

Liesl_stash_ssIf you have a fabric stash, how do you impose order?

I really try not to keep much of a stash, but I do need fabrics to draw from when I’m developing a pattern, and I always have a wish list of fabrics I purchased for things I want to make when I have the time. Most of the fabric is folded uniformly and stacked according to color, so it’s easy to find something, and it looks neat.

Liesl_patternsHow are your patterns organized?

I keep all my patterns (both vintage patterns and current Oliver + S patterns) in wood crates on the studio shelves. I don’t really sew from the vintage patterns much, but I’ve been known to read sewing pattern instructions in my free time. (Weird, I know.)

Are your patterns archived? How are they stored?

We archive the Oliver + S patterns in both paper and digital formats, but I keep my own sewing patterns in plastic sheet protectors inside three-ring binders. It makes them easy to find.

Do you have a mannequin made to measure? If so, do you find it helpful?

I do. I purchased Betty, my adult mannequin, secondhand after I graduated from FIT. She is larger than I am (especially on top!) but sometimes helps out. Petal (actually, “Pedal,” named by my daughter for the pedal that raises and lowers the form) is a size 3T children’s mannequin who helps a lot when I’m developing new patterns. She sometimes poses for photo shoots, too.

Liesl_cutting_ssWhat do you cut out your patterns on?

I cut almost everything at the big cutting table in the studio. At home, I use the dining-room table or the floor. I sometime use a rotary blade and cutting mat, and sometimes use giant dressmaking shears, depending on my mood and the project.

What is your most helpful tool? Why?

That’s tough. My favorite tool ever is a mechanical pencil. I’m very picky about pens and pencils, and I prefer one particular brand. I’m lost without it.

What tools do you recommend for the beginning sewer?

In addition to a reliable sewing machine, I recommend a really good iron (good doesn’t mean expensive ­– just quick to heat up and gives lots of steam), good quality shears, plenty of pins and a measuring tape. You can certainly buy lots of additional tools to make life easier, but it’s difficult to sew anything without these basic tools.

Liesl_machines_ssWhat kind of machine do you use?

I’m partial to Janome. They make a terrific machine, and I love all of their machines that I own and use.

What do you like about it?

The bobbin is exceptionally easy to load, and the machines are reliable and easy to use. I used my inexpensive travel Janome (the one I keep at home) to make a winter coat for my daughter last year. It didn’t have any trouble with the bulk and kept up me without complaining at all. It’s a terrific beginner machine and can be taken anywhere for classes, etc.

Do you use a serger? If so, why do you like it?

I recently got my first serger (a Janome), and it’s really wonderful because it’s fast and finishes seams beautifully.

When I don’t have access to a serger, though, I’m perfectly happy with a zigzag stitch. And I prefer to use a French seam when it’s appropriate to the fabric and item that I’m making.

How long did it take you to develop your sewing space?

Being as busy as I am, both spaces have evolved over time. I make improvements when there is time. I just added bulletin-board doors to the shelving in the studio, and I always have ideas for the next improvement.

The closet at home has had many lives: as a closet, as our daughter’s first tiny bedroom, and now, as my little workroom. It gets ignored when I’m not using it to sew — I just try to keep it neat so it’s ready when I am.

Do not miss our next Sewing Space adventure. Yes. I'm being bossy. But it's for your own good. Monday, we'll travel to the Portland studio of Sarai, owner and designer of Colette patterns. It's so luscious. Really. You won't be disappointed.


Sewing spaces: The Cupcake Goddess stitches in one sweet area. September 6, 2010 13:13 1 Comment

Sure, she's the goddess of cupcakes. But she's also a goddess of stitching. Sunni, The Cupcake Goddess , has been kind enough to open the door of her sewing closet and to let us peer inside. It's so organized! I'm shaking my head in wonder. I am. And, yes, I do covet her red vixen dress. It's made from a vintage pattern. Naturally. All the best clothes are, don't you agree? But enough about patterns. Let's see what Sunni does with a small space. I think you will be very impressed. I do.

Do you have a dedicated sewing space?

Yes, I do. It’s a small corner in a small apartment. My space is right next to a sliding glass door that leads out onto our balcony. Normally, this would be the dining area. However, with our limited space, it turns into my sewing area. There is a small closet in this area where I try to keep all my sewing supplies, fabrics and tools under wraps.  And can I just say, it’s a hard job. I’m an avid stitcher. I have a true passion for sewing that encompasses my entire outlook on life. Having limited space to store my creativity can be hard, but also can lead to spurts of inventiveness as I try to find a home for my tools and give life to my next sewing project.

Sewing Space 2
What do you like best about your sewing area?

The lighting. I am a person who needs to have natural sunlight, and with the sliding glass door next to my sewing area, I receive ample sunlight.

What would you change about your space?

Well, I would love to have an actual sewing room. A room that is always at the ready for my creative thought and energy. I would love to have my computer in my sewing room, along with my ironing space. It would be lovely to have a comfy chair where I went to meditate and think creatively about projects I want to try and techniques I need to work on.

How is your space organized?

I have Ms. Prism, my dress form, in a corner. Opposite this corner is my small sewing closet where I keep all of my fabric, tools, supplies, and sewing patterns. In the middle of this space, I have my sewing table where I keep my sewing machine and cutting mat. My ironing spot is in a different space of our apartment, but not far, so as to make the task of pressing while sewing easier. I’ve found that in a small space, organization is key, so I try to keep everything localized.

If you have a fabric stash, how do you impose order?

I have a serious addiction to collecting fabric. Fabric is my magnificent obsession. In fact, for me, it is more about owning the fabric than actually cutting into it. I love getting my prized fabric possessions out just to look at, though fun as this is, my stash has become too large for my small closet to hold. I keep my stash in a small bureau of drawers and plastic tubs. I try to keep like fabrics with like fabrics and also pick and choose the fabrics that will be upcoming in my next two projects. These fabrics I keep in my “next project box,” a box dedicated to all of the tools, patterns and fabric I need to do my next sewing project.

How are your patterns organized?

I am very choosy about my sewing patterns. I try to pick up patterns that are different from any of the other patterns that I already have. I find that I tend to pick the same pattern over and over again, only it seems to have a different pattern number or possibly is even made by a different company. I try to be very careful about the patterns that I buy and double check to make sure that I don’t have anything similar. My patterns are kept in a canvas bin with no rhyme or reason, and I find it fun to randomly sort through them from time to time trying to find inspiration for a new sewing project.

Are your patterns archived? How are they stored?

I don’t feel that I have enough patterns to actually archive, though now that I’ve “discovered” a new fetish for vintage patterns, it might get to that point.

Do you have a mannequin made to measure?

Ms. Prism is from Fabulous Fit. She acquired her name from one of my favorite characters in the Oscar Wilde play The Importance of Being Earnest.  When I purchased her, she came with some padding that does help to create a nearer version of me. However, I am looking to create an even more similar version of myself by covering Ms. Prism in a new dress-form cover made from my personal measurements.

Sewing Space 1
Do you find Ms. Prism helpful?

Oh, yes! Ms. Prism is most helpful. I find it most helpful to take a step back and look at the garment's progress, how it’s looking on a body and where alterations might need to be made. Not only that, though she has no head, she gives me awfully good advice on fabric choice, pattern choice, trims and such that I wouldn’t otherwise have thought of. Being able to pin fabric onto Ms. Prism is a dream as I get to test certain color combinations together before diving into a sewing project.

Sewing Space 3
What do you cut out your patterns on?

Typically, on my sewing table, but sometimes, it's great to watch a movie while cutting out patterns.

What is your most helpful tool? Why?

My cutting mat. I’ve not always had this tool, and I’ve not always believed in having one either. I decided to buy one and a rotary cutter to go along with it one day. A bit of a splurge for me. The mat is incredibly useful for cutting and measuring. I had no idea I really needed one until after I had it and used it for nearly every sewing project. Wouldn’t live without it now. Surprisingly, there are so many parts in dressmaking that have to be cut into perfect squares, strips or other shapes, and this tool has proved unbelievably helpful in this area.

Sewing Space 9
What tools do you recommend for the beginning sewer?

An expensive pair of dressmaking shears, a delightful pincushion, a good iron and ironing board, and a good reference book to get you started. One of my first sewing books was The Vogue Sewing Book. It’s gone through many revisions over time, but this is the book I go to first whenever I have a problem that needs solving.

Sewing Space 7
What kind of machine do you use?

I have a Bernina Activa 230.

What do you like about it?

I love my sewing machine! Silly me, my favorite part of this machine is that the bobbin is a conventional bobbin located below the stitching plate. I’ve found that this type of bobbin works best in helping maintain the thread tension and not throwing the tension into fits.

Do you use a serger? If so, why do you like it?

I don’t have a serger, because I don’t sew with knits all too much. I would like to get one eventually, but for now, it’s pinking shears and wovens.

How long did it take you to develop your sewing space?

I’ve developed my sewing space over only a few years time. It’s been 5 years since I picked up the art of stitching again, and since then, my space and sewing experience continues to evolve.  I find the most important aspect of my sewing space is the ability to create and think creatively in it. I’m able to do that for the most part here. I love the feeling of sitting down to my machine, with Ms. Prism at my side, staring at the beautiful fabrics I’ve amassed over the years. It’s really good to the very last stitch.


Sewing spaces: Kristy of Lower Your Presser Foot passes the test. August 26, 2010 19:04 7 Comments

Shelves of fabric
In today's installment of Sewing Spaces, we'll put Kristy Idle's sewing room to the white glove test. Kristy, of
Lower Your Presser Foot, makes me green with envy on a regular basis. Why, you ask, dear readers? Because. Because she simply will not stop making fabulous garments. And guess what? I'll let you in on a little secret — her sewing room passes the test, and then some. Absolutely. So. Color me green. Again.

Sewing_spaces_kiDo you have a dedicated sewing space?

I sure do. ­When my husband and I recently undertook major renovations to our house, I insisted on building a special room for my sewing space since the recent birth of my daughter took away the bedroom I previously occupied.

Theoretically, the room is also supposed to be a home office and possibly a future playroom, but I can't see either of those things happening!

What do you like best about your sewing area?

My room is really bright and sunny, having windows on three walls, which makes it lovely to be in there. It's also mine, and only mine, which is great, too.

What would you change about your space?

A bit bigger room would have been nice, but council building restrictions made us scale it down. The only real downside to my sewing room is that it is separate to our house as it is built above our garage. Which means that when my daughter is having her lunchtime nap, I can't go up to my sewing room to squeeze in 30 mins of sewing time, and sometimes it's hard on these cold winter nights to leave our warm living room to go up there, too!

Sewing deskHow is your space organized?

In the centre of the room is my cutting/work table with storage underneath, along one wall is open shelving with my fabrics, along another wall is a built in desk for my sewing machine and overlocker, and along another wall is a bookcase that is crammed full of books, magazines and sewing supplies ­but not in a pretty way. I have my button collection stored in vintage kitchen canisters which are pretty to look at though.

If you have a fabric stash, how do you impose order?

I have a ginormous fabric stash, way more fabric than I could ever use in my lifetime, but I just can't pass by a beautiful piece of fabric especially if I unearth them at op shops or garage sales. I've been building my stash for about the last 10 years, and the majority of it comes from op shops and garage sales, but I have purchased a little bit of it retail, some inherited from my gran's stash, some stolen from my mum's stash and some gifted from others.

Shorter lengths are stored folded on open shelving lined up along one wall of my sewing room, and longer lengths are stored on cardboard rolls sitting upright in a drum. I have been thinking of covering the shelves with fabric to protect from dust, but I like to look at it too much to hide it away! It's ordered by color sorting, although I have started photographing new pieces and keeping a list of length, fabric composition and date of purchase.

How are your patterns organized?

My patterns are separated into each pattern company, and then in numerical order. For patterns traced from Burda magazines, I put them in envelopes the same size as sewing pattern envelopes, print out the technical drawing from the (now defunct) Burda website and glue it on the front so that I can store them the same as any other patterns.

Are your patterns archived? How are they stored?

Pattern storageMy patterns are sort of archived. I have scanned the cover of each and saved them in files such as "dresses", "skirts", "childrens". etc. This way, when I want to make something, I can just flick through images on my computer instead of physically flipping through the patterns. The patterns are stored in two Aneboda chest of drawers from Ikea. These fit patterns in perfectly, even the big designer Vogue envelopes.

Do you have a mannequin made-to-measure?

I have a mannequin I bought in an op shop years ago. It's not made to measure, but it is adjustable to my measurements. I also have a plastic display mannequin that has a removable pregnancy belly that I bought off Ebay because I have been toying with the idea of starting a maternity fashion label.

If so, do you find it helpful?

MannequinsI can't say I do find the mannequin overly helpful, because its posture is so much better than mine, and it also doesn't have the sagging lumpy bits I have either! I do use it for pinning up hems after first deciding the length while I'm wearing the garment, and then measuring off the floor to get the hem straight.  What I use it mostly for is storage of works in progress. . . .

What do you cut out your patterns on?

I use my old dining table as a cutting table. I replaced the legs with taller ones so that the table is at the correct ergonomic height for me which happily also meant that my pattern cupboards fit underneath the table. Under the table is also a big trunk that my grandparents used when they emigrated from England to Australia 60 years ago that I use to store clothes for refashioning and UFOs (of which I have many). On top of the table, I just use one of those fold-up cardboard cutting mats with a grid on it, which is also a good surface for tracing out Burda magazine patterns using one of those spiky tracing wheels.

What is your most helpful tool? Why?

Hmmmm, my unpicker is my most utilized tool, but I would say that a thread snipper is my most useful tool, because before I bought one I would often nick my fabric when trimming threads using scissors and end up with small holes in my nearly finished garments, which was soooo annoying, as you can imagine.

What tools do you recommend for the beginning sewer?

A good quality pair of really sharp scissors for use only on fabric makes a big difference, I think. They may cost a fair bit, but if you look after them they will last for a long time and make it so much easier and more comfortable for cutting out your pattern pieces (which is the most tedious part of sewing, I find). I also recommend that beginners buy a mid-range sewing machine but the best they can afford, because the budget sewing machines are often lacking features that make sewing easier such as a one-step buttonhole. My previous machine was a basic Brother that had a four-step buttonhole process. It was difficult to sew a good buttonhole, and as a consequence, I hated doing them. Starting out sewing can be hard enough as it is, so why not use as much technology as possible to help you out?

What kind of machine do you use?

My current sewing machine is a Brother NS-30, which I only bought earlier this year.

What do you like about it?

I like so many things about this machine compared with my previous basic sewing machine. It has 70 stitches (most of which I don't use, but I like having the options), it does an easy peasy but beautifully perfect buttonhole in one step, it has a little thingy that threads the needle saving me from having to squint and poke the thread through the needle, and it also sews automatically via stop/start touch button instead of the foot pedal, which was useful recently when I was sewing long straight seams while sewing 20m+ of curtains.

Do you use a serger? If so, why do you like it?

I have a Toyota serger which I've had for ages, and until I recently had it serviced, I didn't like it all, but now we seem to be working through our issues.

I like it because it's the quickest way to neaten up the raw edges of seams and looks professionally finished like ready-to-wear clothing, although I do admit that Hong Kong finishes and French seams are prettier (but I'm too lazy for those).

How long did it take you to develop your sewing space?

I've been in my sewing space for about a year now, but it's still very much under development.

I'd like to personalize it a bit more with some more artwork, put in some better, stronger lighting because currently I only have those energy-saving lightbulbs which have a yellowish cast, and I'd also like to neaten up my storage bookshelf, too.

Next week, we'll peek inside the sewing spaces of Carolyn (Diary of a Sewing Fanatic) and Elaine (The Selfish Seamstress). Can you wait, dear readers?  I can. But barely. I am goose-pimply with excitement. Absolutely.

Channeling Catherine: Be a strong yet gentle dance partner. August 22, 2010 19:18


Care and concern for your dance partner: Desirable.

Pesky paparazzi: Nuisance.

Black silk charmeuse at Gorgeous Fabrics: Beautiful.

Simplicity 5611, copyright 1973: Beneficial.


Last night, I dreamed of Don Draper . . . August 7, 2010 15:37 5 Comments

I was on a train, dark with mahogany. The windows shaded with green. We were in a southern city, hot, humid, the skies white with haze and smog. No birds flew. The landscape pocked with silver skyscrapers and gray freeways. 

We pulled into the station. People stood up, waited to disembark. I remained seated. I waited and read and occasionally noted the people around me. Milling. I saw Betty Draper. Her hair daffodil yellow. Flipped. She wore a coral suit and a white blouse with coral polka dots and low-heeled leather pumps the color of spring. Like Jackie. Classic. Dull. Two men were with her.  I read and waited, surrounded by the mahogany dark of the train, the windows shaded green.

I was the last to leave. I stepped down from the train. People scurried on the platform. I had no luggage. I carried a handbag of petal leather. Ruched. A tote. A trenchcoat over my arm. I walked. I walked. I entered a mall, fraught with people. Scurrying. I walked and walked. No birds flew. How long. How long, I wondered.

I entered a tower of corrugated steel and glass.  It felt temporary, a scaffold. People scurried. I was calm. Calm. Even though no birds flew. I climbed the stairs. One after the other. Flight after flight after flight after flight. I did not tire. I was not faint. I looked out the windows as I climbed. The city white with haze. No birds flew. How long. How long? I wondered.

1950s_don_draper_suitI stopped on a landing, leaned against the window, cool as an Alberta wind against my face. I placed my hand against the glass, felt the chill, refrigerated air. Men rushed up and down the stairs behind me. Impatient. Fraught. I climbed higher. Higher. The city white with haze. I wondered how long. How long?

I stopped again, high above the city, white with haze, gray with freeways, silver with skyscrapers. I watched. I was not faint. I was not weary. A male voice on a loudspeaker urged people: Go underground to be safe, hurry. I did not care. I felt free. An uncaged bird in a city white with haze where no birds flew. I felt a breath on my neck, warm. Fingers on my waist, gentle. I turned. Don. His arms enclosed me, crushing, wrinkling my suit, Vogue Couturier Design 753, copyright 1953, so carefully made. I did not care. I did not. Our lips met, tender. A 1960s-era Harlequin Romance. Yet. Yet. The voice on the loudspeaker urged everyone to go underground to be safe. Safe. Don raised his head. He looked at me. I shook my head no. No. In the city white with haze, pocked with skyscrapers, where no birds flew, we had wings as eagles.

Channeling Catherine: I'm too beautiful for you. August 2, 2010 18:48 2 Comments


Nars_deneuve_lipstick,jpg Reserved, self-confident gaze: Necessary.

Elegant updo: Cool.

Nars Belle du Jour lipstick: Perfect.

Vogue Paris Original 2248circa '60s: Beneficial.


Your dress is finished for your date with Don. And it is so sexy. July 24, 2010 08:56

Mad_men_premiere_dressYou got up early today. Bought radishes, lettuce, peaches and purple cherry tomatoes at the farmers market. Now. Relaxation. The phone is off. Raul Malo is on the stereo. You're going to read Dancing in the Dark until your eyelids get heavy and naptime beckons. You can loaf, give your Type A personality the day off, and enjoy your entire Saturday. Absolutely. You're going over to friends for dinner and the return of Don Draper tomorrow. How you've missed him. And Joan. And Peggy. You know you'll look chic in Advance Sew-Easy 3460, circa early 1960s. You whipped it up out of some luscious vintage green silk. And you cannot wait to wear it. Sometimes, you are such a show-off. And sometimes — like this lazy day — well, not so much. Capris and a tee are just fine. Yes indeedy.

Channeling Catherine: Hand over the pencil skirt. Or else. July 14, 2010 20:01 3 Comments

Deneuve-newton Being held at gunpoint: Undesirable.

Helmut Newton behind the camera: Fantasy.

Gorgeous Fabrics red plaid stretch cotton:   Facsimile.

Simplicity 2196, copyright 1957: Handy.



He'll always remember the way you look tonight. July 13, 2010 20:10 2 Comments

There you are, standing at the end of the aisle, waiting for the pianist to start playing 60s_wedding_dress_advance_3539 The Way You Look Tonight so that you can begin that long walk. No Bridal Chorus for you. Been there, done that, won't do that again. You have bowed to tradition in some ways, though. The church. The gown. The wedding ring. Not white this time. A beautiful silvery gray satin for the dress. Silvery gray lace for the bolero and train. Advance 3539, circa 1960s. Elegant. Regal. You know you look lovely. Why be modest? Why be insecure?

There. The first notes. You swallow. You move one foot forward. The other. Slowly. Tentatively. After all, this is huge. Huge. You've lived alone for years. You've grown set in your ways. And the first marriage wasn't exactly a fairy tale. But then your eyes meet his. Your heart flips. Skips. Just like it did the first time you saw him, smiling at you across the crowded airport. He is the one. You are the one. You know it. Your next step is strong. Sure. It does not waver.

And, of course, this gorgeous vintage pattern is available at  The Blue Gardenia.  I wouldn't tease you. I wouldn't. And we take Mastercard, Visa, Discover and Amex, as well as Paypal to make it easier for you. So do drop by. We're waiting for you.

Learning to sew: Dry your eyes and get your fabric on grain July 9, 2010 09:12

So. I have been procrastinating about cutting out my Mad Men skirt. I admit, dear readers, that I feel a little silly calling it a Man Men skirt. Why, you ask, awaiting my answer with boundless anticipation? Well. Because. Because I have  been wearing pencil skirts for years, long before there was a Joan Holloway Harris. They are flattering. They are comfortable. They so often fit the occasion. (Though they do not work on the dance floor. Too limiting. Too tight.) However. I am addicted to Mad Men, and I am ever so glad that they have brought the pencil skirt to a new audience of devotees. Truly.

But enough babbling.

Lovely Marticia, that fountain of sewing knowledge she, sent me a scan from the Reader's Digest Complete Guide to Sewing to help me overcome my fear of cutting my gorgeous black linen-cotton off grain.

I also found some helpful tips in The Art of Dressmaking, published in 1927 by Butterick. Yes, of pattern fame. You know them. You do.

So. I am armed, if not dangerous. And I have cleared the day to tackle the evil forces of fraying selvages. Wish me luck. Do. And I hope that these pages will benefit any other scaredy-cat fledglings out there. Absolutely.

Learning to sew: Lead me out of the cold, dark night, she pleaded. June 28, 2010 16:50 4 Comments


I'm confused. Remember the selvage issue I mentioned with the black cotton linen fabric? To be specific, the selvage unraveled. Puffs Girl suggested going to my sewing books. Like the good girl that I am, I followed her advice. Absolutely.



I didn't get much help. I didn't. In fact, I didn't find anything that applied to my problem: How to get the fabric on the straight of grain when the selvage turned to loose threads in the washing machine. Loose threads. That is my selvage. I did read over and over and over again the importance of getting the fabric on the straight of grain. All right. I get it. I do. Really. But how do I accomplish that task?

Sewing_BasicsI could beat myself up for choosing a fabric I loved for this skirt. A fabric I've been saving for years for exactly the right garment. I could do that. I could. It would be so easy. But I'm not going to do that. I won't give in to insecurity. I won't give in to negativity. I won't go hide in the closet under the hems of my dresses. No. Absolutely not.  I am going to plunge forward into the darkness. I'm going to do my very best to find a path that leads to the straight of grain.

Is it wrong to wash the fabric first? Should I simply put it in a tub filled with hot water to preshrink it?  The sewing books ­­– and there were many - I went to for a way out of the darkness advised this is the way to go. What do you do, dear readers? Do you wash the fabric first? I want to know. I do. I want to get it right next time. Advice, please. Please, she asked, with urgency.