Puns N Needles

Dispatches from my adventures: sewing, knitting, and otherwise.

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Learning to design

I live an hour or more from a decent fabric store, which may or may not be a big surprise. In recent years, many independent fabric stores have closed and in fact, Hancock Fabrics, a big chain, went bankrupt last year, closing all of their stores. In times of emergency, I can often find a zipper or thread at the Super WalMart and there are two small independent shops that have quilting fabric. But I do have two good stores somewhat close, Ragtime Fabrics in Harrisonburg, Va., and Les Fabriques in Charlottesville, Va.*, and visit one or the other every few months. Both are pretty well-rounded with a variety of materials for sale, notions, patterns, and helpful staff. They both offer classes, too, and I have always been on the lookout for an in-person class to expand my knowledge.

Finally in September I read an email description of a course at Les Fabriques that caught my eye: Drafting a Bodice Sloper. In this class, students would learn to take measurements and then draft a pattern piece for a plain sleeveless garment, and learn a little bit about how to turn it into a wearable blouse. The price seemed good, the teacher was recommended by the store as someone who knows her stuff. The schedule worked for me (Sunday afternoons, two weeks in a row, with an optional third session), and so I signed up.

The first class was on the day after my birthday, and the Machinist and I fit it into an action-packed day including sheepdog trials, fiber festival, barbecue lunch, pho supper. While I was in class, he went junk shopping (and found a very cool stool). It was three hours of taking measurements and learning the theory of drawing something that would create a 3-dimensional garment. I partnered with Ingrid, a petite and spunky woman a bit older than me who had completed the skirt drafting class over the previous two weeks. Because of all the curves, angles, and other geometry to a human body, it’s not that easy to accurately take measurements, but Ingrid and I did our best. We heard the other two women in the class expressing many of the same challenges that we did as they measured themselves.

I was eager to do my homework. There was a lot of excitement in taking a bunch of measurements (some which seemed arbitrary as we took them) and putting them down on paper with rulers and pencils. And the first time around, I ended up with something that vaguely resembled a blouse pattern. Just vaguely. The armhole curve didn’t look like any sewing pattern I had ever bought, and there was a sharp angle on the front that seemed weird. So I emailed our teacher, with my questions and pictures of my draft. She had a few suggestions and I created another draft (this time it went a little bit faster than the first).  Around this time, I began to see how the arbitrary measurements corresponded to my actual body and combined to make the front, or the back, pattern for a blouse. Nayana, the teacher, offered to meet me before class started but I felt that my third draft of the front and second draft of the back were sufficient.

Then I returned for the second session.  And before I could try on my garment, Nayana asked to look at my second draft (the main difference between it and the last draft was the length of the side seam, from under arm to waist). She checked my measurements and saw what I’d done (one calculation was way off), and eventually asked me to start from scratch, using two new mutually agreed-upon measurements. I cheerfully set to re-drawing my pattern piece, when I was nearly finished, Nayana checked my work and there was a point that had ended up in an impossible place. Yes, it was correct according to my measurements, but no, it was not possible to create a pattern with point S where it ended up. So, Nayana wanted me to complete the pattern UP TO the bust darts, at which point I would try it on and we would find the dart placement by “draping,” which means placing fabric on the body and fitting the fabric to the body.

Did I lose you here? It’s another method of garment design, less mathematical and more precise than drafting (what our class focused on). Once my pattern pieces were ready and traced on to the fabric with seam allowances, I cut them and Nayana quickly hand-stitched it together. I tried it on and we learned that there was not enough room in the front — but thankfully, I had allowed two inches for the front seam, so we were able to make it fit. The side seams were pinned together, the darts were pinned (then sewed) and we had a very well-fitting garment. Nayana showed us all how to transfer the pattern adjustments to the paper pattern, and I beamed. My mind was swimming thinking about what I can make now, and how to use this newfound knowledge to adapt some of my purchased patterns—and I have a cabinet full of them now.

This class was well worth my time, the expense, and the mileage to and from Charlottesville twice. I enjoyed our teacher and the other students. My sewing skills continue to improve, but it’s nice to have another tool in my garment-making kit.

*Les Fabriques has since closed. The owner wanted to retire. I originally wrote this post in the fall, so it’s “old news,” I suppose.

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Sewing vintage

This week I did something new when I sewed a garment from a vintage pattern. I’ve written before about my fondness for vintage sewing stuff like buttons, trims, and fabric, never mind sewing machines, but I’ve also been collecting patterns.

My pattern filing cabinet, decommissioned from a fabric store and bought off Craigslist, had been filling up with vintage patterns. I wasn’t trying very hard, or looking for any particular pattern or even those from a certain decade. But, when I encountered an older pattern (think thrift stores, antique malls, yard sales)  that seemed close to my size and was cheap, I would snap it up. Often, these patterns came by the grocery bag sized lot or box-full. And just as often, they’re not my size and would require a lot of adaptation to make them work for me. But still I persisted, and before my recent cleaning and purging of my sewing room contents, that pattern cabinet had two drawers nearly full of vintage patterns. Now, that I’ve sort of gone “Kondo” on my sewing room and supplies, I’ve got a carefully chosen selection of vintage patterns in styles with some possibility of me actually wearing, and in sizes that won’t require any more adaptation to fit me than a new sewing pattern will.

And that group included my newest top: this tunic-length smock.


I’d spent many hours over the past few weeks cleaning and organizing my sewing room, and while it’s not quite finished, I was ready to start a new sewing project. But what to make? I spent some time thinking about what I could use, and it seems I can always use more long tops. Then I looked around my fabric stash and decided to use this linen blend which has been kicking around for about a year. Time to sew it up?

Kaufman Essex Linen Blend Yarn Dyed Rust

Robert Kaufman Essex linen blend yarn dyed, “Rust.”

Then I had to choose a pattern. I looked through my new and vintage patterns but this one rose to the top. I’d had my eye on it for a long time—similar to other smocks or blouses with yokes that I’ve made before, this is different because it’s from 1973. It’s from the days when women wore dresses that short. Well, if you spend any time around very young adults (college campuses, anyone?) you might say those days are back. But not for me. This will be worn over pants or leggings.


I did have to do some minor adjustments for style and materials; one was accomplished before I cut the fabric, and I did the other during construction. First, I wanted to take some width out of the front and back. The fabric is a little heavier than what the pattern recommends, and by looking at the samples on the cover, I could tell that my fabric would likely stand straight out from the gathers.



I used two different methods to adjust the pattern so I could remove 1 1/2″ on the fold of the front and back pieces.

I used my rulers, my guess-timator, and my experience to figure out how much width to remove. I knew how wide the smock’s front would be if I followed the pattern and instructions, and I compared it to a top that I made from the same fabric (different color). The pattern produced a 30” front and 30” back, and my other top (which I love and wear a lot) has a 24” front and back, but it’s only hip-length, and I figured it would be comfortable and look right with some more room around my bottom and hips. I decided to make the front and back of this smock 27”, removing 3” altogether—or, 1 ½” on the fold.


The construction of the smock was straightforward. Butterick calls this an easy pattern. I did some of the steps out of order relative to the instructions, because my way was slightly more logical for me. There were some terminology differences from today’s modern patterns, but overall, it went together pretty nicely.

And then I basted on the sleeves. I “forgot” to get a picture, but just look closer at the pattern here, and you’ll see what I was dealing with.


IMG_1937Way too much “poof” for my liking. I knew enough about sleeve drafting to be dangerous. LOL. I found some online tutorials for changing the amount of ease in a sleeve cap, and it was pretty clear what I had to do: measure the length of the seam around the sleeve, on the sleeve, and on the smock’s armhole. I had a difference of 7 inches. No wonder the sleeve was so poofy! I needed about 2 inches to allow for movement, so I wanted to remove 5” of ease. Look  at the fabric I cut off the top of each sleeve!


IMG_1934I used my blind hem stitch for the smock’s hem, and my serger for most of the inside seams. And I pressed pearl snaps in to the cuff. I love my snap and rivet press!


IMG_1935I’m quite happy with the smock!
What do you think? Have you sewn from vintage patterns before?