Puns N Needles

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

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What’s a girl to do?

It’s the last week in May, and I have no new garments to show. For a lot of us who sew for ourselves and our family, May=MeMadeMay, which I wrote about recently

As it turns out, transitioning to a new job can be exhausting—even when moving from a 40 hour work week to 28-ish hours. Though, let’s call it 43 and 34, to account for commuting time. My work schedule has been irregular because I started at the tail end of the semester in an academic library. I worked one week at my normal schedule (afternoon/evenings), one week with daytime hours (since that week there were no classes), and then went on vacation for a week. Now I’m back, thankfully with a holiday allowing me two shortened weeks. All that to say, I haven’t been able to find time to make any new duds.

But I have a plan. I’m going to make a pair of pants Endeavour pattern cover 

that I started working on months ago, and I’m going to make a simple top. I believe I can do these two garments by the 31st. I think?

So the challenge or roadblock or stumbling area (whatever you’d like to call it) is that I’m smaller than I was when I started making these pants. But I still need pants, so I’m persevering, And I have a feeling the simple top will be in the Ann Carolyn smock pattern, like this one

Ann Carolyn smock, summer 2016

In the sunlight on the studio deck

but that will come after the pants. More next time.


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Me Made May

This is an annual challenge for garment sewers in which they/we pledge to wear a certain amount of self-made or altered garments during the entire month of May. You can read more about it here: http://sozowhatdoyouknow.blogspot.com/2017/04/me-made-may-17-sign-up-here.html

As Zoe wrote, it’s the 8th year of Me Made May and I have never participated. By the time I learned about it, I was probably wearing me-made nearly every day, so it didn’t seem very fun.


Blouse in progress.

Today, I happen to be starting a new job. One of the greatest things about the new job is that I will be able to wear my own clothes after seven years of wearing a uniform to work. This means that for seven years, I have been dressing like many of my coworkers and unable to express myself through my clothes. I am pretty excited about this change, as a matter of fact.

So I’m doing Me Made May. I’ve made my pledge on So Zo’s blog:

I, Accacia (@AccaciaMax and punsnneedles.wordpress.com, sign up as a participant of Me-Made-May ’17. I endeavor to wear handmade clothing each day for the duration of May 2017. In addition, I pledge to use stash fabrics to sew two or more new garments for my work wardrobe.

That last part, the bit about sewing some new garments—well, I’m going to need some new duds, right? I’m also going to have some more time to sew since this new job is part-time.  The part about using stash fabrics—as you may suspect, a part-time job means part-time income, so I’ll be trying to save whenever I can. Thankfully, I have plenty of good fabric saved up. I’ve already made a list and it’s more than two items long.

I will be sharing some of my outfits here and on Instagram @AccaciaMax.

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Fast or slow—What’s better?

When I started sewing lots of clothes, I felt pretty good when I could knock out a dress or a shirt in a day, or maybe a weekend. That meant I was good; I found a good pattern, I enjoyed myself, everything worked right. Excellent.

But then I started learning about fit, and everything took longer because I wanted to spend the time to make it fit well. I took an online class on couture sewing and the project involved a lot of hand sewing and extra layers and well, don’t tell anyone, but I never did fully finish the dress. I ran out of time but was also kind of overwhelmed. Making something like a formal dress with couture methods, jeans, or a suit takes time. And there’s no reason to rush. I’ve been making peace with slow sewing. It’s nice to not have a deadline (self-impose or otherwise) and to relax and enjoy the process.

Also, sometimes I have an entire weekend, or a few weekdays without work, during which to sew with few interruptions. But most of the time, I’m sewing on a weekday afternoon in the middle of a split shift at work, or on a weekend day between other obligations. Without having huge blocks of time, it doesn’t make sense to try to knock out a shirt in a day.

But a recent weekend was different. I was feeling pretty terrible about work and decided that it would make me feel better if I spent ALL of my time sewing. Boy, was I productive. I started out with a leggings pattern that I bought months ago, thinking it would be fun to try. Several hours later, once that was finished, I moved on to a knit shirt, in a pattern I’d made twice before and whipped that up in 90 minutes.

Holy smokes — I finished a pair of leggings, in a new pattern, and a shirt/sweater before we left for the movies on Saturday night. And on Sunday, I was able to take a great walk and have lunch out with the Machinist, so it was kind of well-rounded. When we got home on Sunday afternoon, I started another project, though this one is going to take a while…

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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?


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Losing can be bittersweet

I did not advance to Round 3 in the PatternReview contest. I was disappointed—for about five minutes. I was surprised, too, because I thought my skirt was a splendid execution of the challenge, and it looks good and feels good. But alas, not everyone could move on to the next round. The end of my disappointment loosely coincided with learning what the next challenge would be. Everyone would be making the same dress, and it’s not one I wanted to make.

Yes, it’s cute. Yes, those stripes are compelling. But it’s not something I’d wear more than once or twice, and it looks like it would be really challenging to make it fit well. Before entering the sewing bee contest, I committed to making things that fit into my wardrobe, and this doesn’t really. Also, reading a little bit about other people’s challenges with the pattern sealed it for me. As a matter of fact, after the Sewing Bee participants were well into making their Rue creations, Colette announced they were taking the pattern off the market to make some corrections.

So by not advancing in the Sewing Bee, I was free to make whatever I want—and then I saw another contest. This one was easy—I just had to make pajamas, and I had already picked out a pattern, I had some great vintage plaid cotton fabric with “PJs” written all over it (figuratively). And as long as I posted and tagged my photo on instagram (where I already share a lot of my sewing projects), I would get a merit badge! I don’t think I’ve been recognized in this way for my sewing since I was about 9, and my Girl Scout troop sewed our own uniform skirts. I don’t know what I’ll put the badge on, but it will be fun to have. And I would have a chance at winning a new Singer sewing machine.

Camp Workroom Social pajama entry

Camp Workroom Social pajama entry on Instagram

In the end, the merit badge was the only part of the PJ contest I won. If you’re curious, you can read about the contest winners here: http://campworkroomsocial.com/blog/ Losing this contest was also bittersweet—I don’t have to figure out what to do with a sewing machine that I didn’t really want.

Next time I’ll tell you about the pattern drafting class that I attended recently.

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Second contest entry

I am not terribly competitive. I do like winning (who doesn’t?) and enjoy a good challenge, but when it comes down to it for most things, I’m in it for the experience. So I was kind of surprised with myself and my motivation for this contest.

I decided on the buffalo plaid from Switzerland, and a skirt pattern called A-Frame. It’s one of a few patterns designed by a young woman who lives near my hometown, and I thought it would complement this fabric very nicely. It has center front and rear triangular (A-frame) shaped panels, and my plan was to put these on the bias. But I had to be sure of two things: that it would fit nicely, and that I would have enough fabric.
Test skirt in denim
So I cut a cheap piece of denim the same size as my plaid fabric and set to cutting the skirt pieces out with the same orientation (some bias, some straight-grain). OK. It worked. I did it. Phew. Then I sewed the skirt together, (a pretty quick project) and was pleasantly surprised that it fit. I had enough fabric. Phew—another sigh of relief.  But would I be able to match the plaid? In sewing, pattern or plaid matching is when the creator lines things up nicely across seams. This usually takes a bit more fabric, and sewing patterns often note that yardage requirements are increased when using plaids.
And what else uses up more fabric? Cutting a pattern on the bias.  I found myself with a double-whammy, bias and plaid, AND since I was using special fabric that my in-laws got me in Switzerland, all I had was one piece, so there was no fixing any mistakes by re-cutting anything.


I traced each piece before cutting anything, drawing lines on my paper pattern pieces so I would have the plaid “stripes” lining up correctly. I wanted the triangular sections to have a chevron effect, and I wanted the plaid to line up nicely on each of the side pieces. I stressed a bit over this because I’ve never been very good at plaid matching. It’s difficult to wrap my head around how to do it well. But this time, it feels like I knocked the ball out of the park.

Deadline was Tuesday at midnight, and my review was in well before the deadline. I’ll be judged on these criteria:

1. Follows all contest rules. Failure will result in disqualification and entry will not be judged.
2. Sewing Quality.
3. Comprehensive review with pertinent details; outlines steps taken; explains how modifications helped achieve result.
4. Good quality photos; Can envision the project as if viewing in person
5. Project incorporates one or more creative elements.
6. Fit – how well the item fits body.
7. Overall Impression

I had some good news as I started writing this post: the winners will be announced tomorrow. It’s good news because I had been thinking I would have to wait another several days to learn if I advance to the next round. Out of 56 entries this time, 25 will be advancing, and I hope to be one of them.


I told my photographer that if he took pictures for me, I’d pose wherever he wanted. That’s his truck behind me.