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?


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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.






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On to Round 2

I was selected, based on my review of my new favorite shorts, to move on to the second round of the Pattern Review Sewing Bee.  I got pretty excited when I found out yesterday… and now that the challenge for Round 2 has been posted, I’m a little bit nervous.  I tend to get nervous, so that’s no surprise really. And, I admittedly have a hard time making decisions. So, I have to decide what to make, and how to approach it in a way that makes me a winner—if I want to move on to the next round.

The rules state:

You will have one week (starting 9/14/2016) to cut, sew and photograph a garment made using fabric cut on the bias (45 degree angle). See rules below.

1. Sew a garment using fabric cut on the bias grain.

2. The garment may be made from any woven fabric. Knit fabrics and stretch woven fabrics are not allowed in this round.

3. The entry must be intended for an adult. It can be for a man or a woman; it can be for yourself, members of your family, friends, acquaintances or charity – basically, any adult! As always, items intended for sale are disallowed in this contest.

There are other rules that deal with constructing the review and how we’ll all be judged.  Since the first round, I’ve learned that creativity counts, and the judges have reminded us to post good clear photos (showing details of the garment) in our reviews.

Right now I’ve got three ideas for patterns—two different blouses that I’ve made before, but which I should do some fitting adjustments with, or a skirt that I have’t tried before, but which is a pattern that was already on my “want to make” list.

I don’t want to give too much away, but these are the fabrics that I’m considering. A heavy cotton check, a lightweight linen stripe, and a mystery slippery, crinkly crazy-print floral. Stay tuned to find out what I’m making.57838


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It’s the waiting game.

I entered a contest, along with about 90 other people, and we all sewed shorts or capri pants. This is the third time PatternReview.com has held a contest like this, and I was apparently one of 19~ people who were entering their first contest. There were various rules that everyone had to follow, and the entries had to be made (via a pattern review at the website) by midnight on September 7. Winners will be announced tomorrow. These are the shorts I entered:


I hadn’t worn shorts during most of my adult life. I just hadn’t (and if you are thinking my legs look so white that they may have been covered up for years, you might guess one reason why I hadn’t). I did make a couple pairs in the past 6 years as practice garments in my quest for a good pants pattern and they’re not really around any more. One never fit very well and has a fatal hole in the back side (I should probably salvage the zipper and throw out the rest of them) and one was made from lousy fabric, eventually wearing out. After several Virginia summers, and after discovering this pattern, It’s safe to say that I’m into shorts again.

These are made with a lovely soft brushed twill, bought at full price several years ago—making it very dear to me. I made pants from the fabric a few months ago, and I cut these shorts from the leftovers. A large scrap, if you will. I was determined, and besides putting a seam in the waistband, I didn’t have to do any magic to make the pattern pieces fit on the cloth. Check out my last post if you want to see how little was left after cutting the shorts out.


But then about halfway into the process, I realized I had cut the front of the shorts incorrectly. See, earlier in the summer, I used the same pattern for denim shorts, but I made the version with a side zipper (not the sailor version). Because I used the pattern piece for the other version of the shorts…

Denim Endeavour shorts

…I just cut the same pattern piece for the green shorts. That was a mistake! The actual pattern piece I needed was about 1 1/2″ longer than what I had cut, sewed, pressed, and topstitched. The corner you see in the photo above—it should have been quite a bit taller, because it lines up with a waistband. I started to feel defeated. I felt there was no way I would take it apart, I didn’t have any extra material, but I did have a machinist husband with clever ideas. He knew I had added length to the shorts legs, and suggested I lower and re-cut the front seam curved edge. I took a few deep breaths and did that — and it worked.

I do really like the shorts and hope I have as much success when I make the long pants from this pattern. I hope I progress to the next round of the sewing contest, but if I don’t, I have plenty of other projects to work on.

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It’s back

National Sewing Month. Every September since 1982, when  Ronald Reagan made the proclamation “In recognition of the importance of home sewing to our Nation.”

national sewing month
In the online sewing community, the month is observed with contests and challenges in the blog-world and Instagram. Sometimes there are prizes, but mostly these activities offer us a chance to work a little harder at our technique, creativity, and blogging practice. This year, I entered a competition for the FabricMart Fabricista challenge. I was not chosen as one of the six competitors, but will be following along to see what they come up with. There’s another competition going on at PatternReview.com, and so far, 84 people have thrown in their hat. There are eliminations each week, so we’ll see how this goes.

Remains after cutting shorts from a scrap. "Cutting it close"

Remains after cutting shorts from a scrap. “Cutting it close”

The first challenge is to sew shorts or capri pants, and I’m making shorts from a pattern I made in denim last month. I cut the fabric out of a large scrap of brushed twill, with some quilt cotton for facings and pockets. They will have grey topstitching and a sailor-style button front. Wish me luck!

Shorts status after one evening

Shorts in the morning sun – progress after one evening