Monday, August 31, 2009


For those of you who are learning the ways of the sewers, let me explain: a sloper is a muslin mock-up of a planned garment. It will be fitted, tweaked, re-fitted, re-tweaked ad infinitum until it is the desired shape, size, etc. of the intended garment. Then it will be ripped up and serve as the pattern pieces.
Couturiers and bespoke shirtmakers use slopers to custom-fit garments for their most discerning clients. Slopers are also used to produce a perfectly fitting garment when the client is not available for fittings. Once a sloper is made, an infinite number of garments can be made from it, wihtout the client having to come in for the many fittings a couture garment usually requires. For this reason I am undertaking the making of a sloper.
My son, Daniel, just announced his engagement to a lovely girl whom I had the pleasure of meeting this past weekend. [I know. Daniel got himself engaged to girl I hadn't even met. He used to be my favourite.] Kali had her heart set on a stunning, elegant gown that can only be special ordered -- in 4 months. The wedding is set for October.
Katie (of katiekadiddlehopper) and I scrutinized the pictures of the gown on-line and decided that we could make it in 6 weeks. (!)
It has a close-fitting, princess-seamed bodice that laces up the back, and a multi-layered full tulle skirt, whose overskirt separates into ruffles at CB. Really beautiful.
Then inspiration struck. When Kate was in college (St. Mary's University, 1999) I made her an evening gown that had a basque-waisted, princess-seamed bustier that laced up the back. Just like Kali's dress. Kate still had the bustier. Kali tried it on, and only minor adjustments were needed for fit, plus the addition of long sleeves, and the raising of the neckline, front and back. Easy!!
I took copious measurements, made many marks, and took lots of notes.
All that remains, is to transfer all that information onto muslin.
Stay tuned.
This is going to get interesting!

Monday, August 24, 2009

My favourite 4-letter word!!!

SALE!!!! more importatnly: VOGUE patterns on SALE!!!!!
I now sew with , and enjoy patterns from many designers/creators: La Fred, The Sewing Workshop, Christin Johnson. Folkwear, to name a very few. But I first learned good sewing techniques, and an appreciation for doing things well from Vogue Patterns. As much for the designs, and engineering, as for the construction techniques, Vogue remains one of my favourites.
I am happy to report that Vogue Patterns are on sale at their website:

Hurry! Sale ends Wednesday, the 26th!

Happy Stitching!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

My favorite skirt pattern

Over on the author (my daughter) asked for our favorite skirt patterns. Here is mine. It's not really a pattern, per se, but rather, a fabric manipulation method. [doesn't that sound really nerdy and a little hard??]
The skirt pictured (sorry the pictures are so dark -- that fabric is really dark) is my adaptation of an 18th Century Scottish Women's Dress Kilt. (As opposed to the casual kilts that the scullery lasses wore around the castle.) Here's how I made it -- no Passport required. Although you will need a dressmaker's dummy set to your exact waist and hip measurements, or a friend you can trust not to stick you with the pins.

This fabric was 54 in wide, and a difficult-to-find Thai Ikat, so I was reluctant to cut up something I could not easily replace. So, I didn't. Cut it up, that is. I turned it cross-wise, and pinned it to my dressmaker's dummy, giving myself 3 in of ease in the hips, and having the left cut end of fabric where I wanted the underlay to end up. {Traditional kilts are wrap skirts.} Next, I pinched out darts in front and back (roughly mid-way between CB or CF and sides). On the Front, one dart was in the underflap, and the other was in the overlay (pleats at Front Left will take up fullness over that dart). Next, comes pinching up the pleats. Knife pleats are de rigeur, with a slight overlap. Have the last pleat end about 2 - 3 in from fabric's terminus. Step back and evaluate. Are you really happy with the amount of pleats? their depth? their distance/overlap one to another? Make adjustments now. carefully remove the skirt form the dummy (not you) and try it on. Are you still happy with it? If not, make more adjustments. Repeat evaluation steps as many times as necessary.
When you are satisfied with your pinching and pinning, heat up your iron as hot as the fiber you have selected will allow (synthetics are NOT recommended for this skirt), get plenty of steam going, and set in those pleats!!! Stitch darts. Stitch pleats across the top, and down as far as you like, if at all. I stitch down to the hips. After 4 children, mountains of fried chicken, barrels of Dr.Pepper, and no real exercise to speak of, I have enough bulk at my belly buck naked, I don't need fat folds of loose fabric helping.
Now it is a simple matter reinforcing the waist with the right interfacing, hemming, lining, adding a bound edge/facing over the lining at waist and front edges, adding closures.
Ta da!!

Note: the fabric used to make this skirt is a Thai Ikat that I bought at Sewing & Stitchery Expo in Puyallup, WA 3 years ago. This frabic is distinguished by its method of fabrication. Always made of silk, the yarns for both warp and weft are spot dyed before and/or during weaving. It requires a highly skilled weaver to execute a design of 4-5 colors. This one has 9 different colors. I really did not want to cut this fabric. I must tell those of you who don't know: my actual degree (although my transcripts use the more generic : Human Ecology) is in Textile Artifact Conservation. {yeah. I know. A "do-you-want-fries-with-that?" degree} I mention this so that you will know that the irony of my having used a fabric which dates to 14th Century Siam to make an 18th Century Scottish Kilt is not lost on me. Neither was it lost on one of my favorite professors, the late Dr. Ardis Rewerts, who teased me mecilessly about it. May the great lady rest in peace.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Sleeve Detail

A good friend came in to my office today wearing a blouse with this great sleeve detail.
I should tell you that, she has, over the past year lost over 100 pounds through the time-honored method of portion control and moderate exercise. (Successful as she is, even she doesn't have the magic pill.) As her new shape emerges she is starting to wear some of the cutest clothes in the best colours! This blouse was no exception.
As you can see, it really is a simple adaptation of a classic gathered sleeve. Instead of gathering the bottom, the fullness has been taken in with box pleats, and topped with a button-embellished tab. Cute!!!
Lynette advises that when I do this, I should also make the back full enough to gather at the waist with the same pleat treatment.
"When I do this"?????
I'll just put that on the list.

[yeah, I'm going to do this,]

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Rolls, and Boards and Hams. Oh, my!

I promised I'd talk about pressing tools.
I didn't promise it wouldn't be corny.

Tools can make all the difference in the ease with which a job is done, as well as the results. It took me a few years of doing things the slow, hard way before I realized the extent to which this is true of pressing tools. I don't know why I thought $15.00 was so much to spend on something I didn't have -- maybe I needed to be shown the full value. After over 20 years of sewing for myself and family, I was finally shown the value of pressing tools when I had to master them to pass a course required for my degree. (University of Texas - Austin, BA - Human Ecology/Textiles - 2002). Nothing like a little academic pressure to open one's mind.

Let's start with the two I have, then, I'll tell you about the one I still don't have - and why.
A Sleeve Roll is a foot long tube with rounded ends constructed, usually, of muslin on one side, and wool flannel on the other. In America, the Dress Stewart Tartan seems to be the flannel of choice. I don't know why. I am guessing it's because there is really only one company manufacturing rolls and hams (Dritz), and that is the tartan they like. Tradition, you know. [To say nothing of lowered production costs] The roll is packed firm, but has some pliability. It is essential for pressing the sleeve in a woman's blouse without the masculine crease. Lay the sleeve flat, seam towards you, and press the seam, and to within 2-3 in of the top side. reposition the sleeve so that the seamside is down. Insert the roll and press the sleeve over the roll. Your flat iron will now roll over the sleeve, smoothing out any wrinkles without putting in a crease. [Does this work on faces?] A Sleeve Roll is also great for pressing short darts and pleats on a cuved area.
A Pressing Ham is of the the same construction as a Sleeve Roll (down to the same Tartan), but is, well, ham-shaped. It's about the size of a 3-lb ham. it is used for pressing flat seams, darts, tucks and pleats that are positioned on a curve. For instance: opening the Butterfly seam on a side seam from hip to waist.
The Sleeve Board, is a bi-level padded board that has 2 sleeve-shaped boards, one wider that the other, that are held with a metal bracket/stand about 4-6 inches apart. It is basically a mini-ironing board in the shape of a long sleeve. This is the one I don't own. More expensive than the other two, I find that it serves the same purpose as a sleeve roll, with only slightly more convenience. For the price, (around $30 - $55), I can't feel the need to add it to my voluminous collection of tools. If you feel otherwise, let me know -- maybe I am not yet enlightended on this.

If any are interested in purchasing these tools: I found great prices on hams and rolls at : and good prices on sleeve boards at:

Monday, August 3, 2009

The Cassandra Skirt

A new outfit Part Un:

Here is a picture of my newly constructed Cassandra Skirt. This pattern is designed by Fred Bloebaum and is available from her website:

This is the second Cassandra I have made in less than a year, so, clearly, this design is a winner!!!
It is constructed of only 4 pattern pieces, 2 of which are facings. The front and the back are attached at the waist, and only about 4 inches on each side, at that. Sounds flimsy? It really isn't. The front piece wraps around past where a side seam would be, and the back wraps around to meet the front at CF. It goes together in a trice, and Fred includes great professional construction tips helping you to learn as you sew. This skirt gives the sewer a great opportunity to learn, and practice mastering mitered corners. it's a very comfortable skirt, and the designs offers this rare bonus: if you are currently on a wieght-loss regimen, this skirt is super-simple to alter!
I had the pleasure of meeting Ms Bloebaum in person at Sewing & Stitchery Expo in Puyallup, WA 3 years ago --- she is as lovely in person as she seems on her website. She offered great advice in helping me choose designs that suited my physique (hint: I am NOT model-thin), and I am a dedicated customer.
This skirt was rendered in 100% cotton from the Spring 2009 mailing at

Do you like it as much as I do????
Up next: the co-ordinating top: a Sandra Betzina for Vogue pattern, rendered in crinkled silk, also from

Happy stitching!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Pressing Matters

I had hoped that my first 'real' post would be a tutorial regarding a great no-sew invisible hemming technique that I recently learned from a Threads DVD. Alas. My camera is not co-operating with me, and the tutorial sans pictures, sucks. So: let's talk about pressing vs, ironing.
I recently conducted a week-long summer sewing camp for raw beginners through the Extension Office, and one question that came up was, "What is the difference between pressing and ironing?"
I explained and demonstrated, and was surprised to learn that, while my adolescent students merely took the info in, my adults were shocked. They didn't know there was a difference between pressing and ironing. I guess this is something else that is no longer taught in High School Home Ec. I'll just add that to the list.
The difference between the two is the location of the iron with regard to fabric when the iron is in motion. In other words: if the iron is touching the fabric while it is being moved across the fabric, then you are ironing. If the iron is placed on the fabric, then lifted, moved, then set down again -- you are pressing.
Does it matter which you do??? Maybe. If your goal is to reduce wrinkles, then either method will work, but do know that ironing will get that job done much faster, and with slightly less tedium than pressing. To lay darts, tucks and pleats down flat, pressing is preferred. Even if the pleat runs the length of a skirt, press! Ironing runs the considerable risk of distorting the grain you have so carefully folded your pleat along, and your pleat may not so much crease, as ruffle. I have done this. If the fiber being pressed lends itself well to creasing (silk, wool, cotton, linen), then the only remedy is to thoroughly wet the fabric, and start over. So: yes, it matters. When pattern instructions say to press a dart, or pleat -- they mean it.
When next I post (no promises on a date) I shall discourse on pressing tools: hams, rolls, and boards. Stay tuned!