What Happened to All the Wool

If like me, you’re a lover of fine fabrics, you likely are noticing that wool fabric (and other natural fabrics for that matter) gradually are leaving the fashion scene. When available, the price is outrageous but really, when is the last time you purchased a garment or piece of fabric made fro100% silk or wool?

While I can’t say I’m studying this phenomenon, naively I have assumed the declining availability of wool ready-to-wear and fabric is due to exactly that – it’s not available , as in there are fewer sheep in the world.

Then came my trip to Paris where I’m a duck out of water in my new stylish ski-type jacket. Nearly every woman in Paris wears a (fashionable) wool coat, even on a rainy winter day. Young children wear gorgeous wool coats – the kind you absolutely can’t find in the US. Admittedly these garment are far more costly than the inexpensive and poorly constructed garments we tolerate but they look soooo much better.

What’s more, going into fast fashion stores in Paris, there are tons of partial or 100% wool garments. With this new information in hand, I can only assume that we In N. America aren’t fighting for what we really want to sew with or wear. What a sad state of affairs. The next time I’m in a fabric store and pick up a piece of wool, instead of thinking about the high cost, I am going to thank the proprietor for carrying such wonderfully durable fabric. Then I’m going to purchase it.

(Now my rant is over).

Hemming a Tulle Skirt

It’s prom time and one of my dear nieces asked me to hem and alter her dress and to sew a really puffy petticoat for under the dress.    Absolutely beautiful and a skirt of yards of tulle.

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The first and most time consuming step was to remove and replace about half of the lace applique and bead-sequin trim.  While this took time, it was straight forward.  On the other hand, I knew that hemming the tulle was a once and done affair.  If not done correctly the first time, removing stitches would result in damaged tulle.  Here’s what the hem looked like originally – a narrow turned over hem.

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As you can see, it wasn’t sewed all that well when the garment was manufactured.  It was turned over twice and sewed close to the edge.  Originally my plan was to repeat that process after the dress was cut to the desired length.  Fate changed that plan.

On the day that I was finishing the dress alterations, one of my sewing friends came to my house to see how a serger works.  One of the finishes I showed her was a rolled hem. Immediately I realized that’s what I should use for the hem.  Why hadn’t I previously thought of this?  The result was a beautifully finished rolled hem.

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How to Serge a Rolled Hem

While this process will vary slightly by serger, the general process is the same.

1. Remove the left needle.

2. Thread the right needle and the upper and lower looper with thread that matches the fabric.

Note: Because of the limited serger thread color selection, I used one spool of regular sewing thread and wound 2 bobbins in the same color. 

3. Set to a very narrow stitch width.

4. Set stitch length to a very short stitch – some sergers have rolled hem settings.

5.  Disengage the cutting blade.

6.  Place cut edge ~1/16″ to the right of the right needle.  This part will turn under and will disappear into the rolled hem

7.  Sew a sample one the fabric you’re hemming.

Note: The fabric should not pull or ruffle the edge. 

8.  Adjust tension as needed.

Note: This is the part that varies by machine so it’s difficult to provide specific directions.

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The result is an amazingly beautiful hem and it takes only minutes to complete.  I was so thankful that I remembered to use this finishing method, which would work equally well for chiffon, crepe or many other fabrics.

Settings for a Baby Lock Evolve (or similar serger)

  • Remove left or Overlock 1 needle
  • Disengage cutting knife
  • Stitch width 3.5
  • Stitch Length 1.5R (Rolled hem setting)
  • Stitch Selector  – D
  • Upper Looper Selector – Up position
  • Tension – no settings as this is automatic on an Evolve

Wedding Dress Alteration: It’s too Small

Altering a wedding dress isn’t something I do regularly, but I’ve muttled through on several wedding or formal dresses.  So in case you’re tackling this project, I’d like to share some “how to’s”.  Of note, these same directions are applicable to any formal dress or bridesmaid dress.

Recently when I altered EB’s wedding dress, I needed to find 3″ of extra circumference in for a well-fitted dress.  While that seemed like a lot of fabric gain, it was very manageable and yet it was nearly the maximum alteration I could get without adding additional fabric to the sides (not an option for this dress because of the pleating).  Yes, and then there were the leftover stitching marks – how were they eliminated?

Here are the steps I went through to get this lovely result.

Great dress

Altering the sides of a wedding or formal dress that’s too small:

1.  Start by taking a peak at the side seam and zipper allowances, which for most dresses is where you’ll find the extra fabric.  (This dress had 1″ side seam allowances and 3/4″ seams for the back zipper). 

2.  Establish the amount of additional fabric needed in order for the dress to fit. (3″ for this alteration).  Do this by measuring the gap at the zipper.  In other words, with the zipper open, use a seam gauge to measure the exact amount of space between the zipper teeth. This is the moment of truth and it’s basic math.  If the amount you need to alter (i.e. let out) is more than what is available in the seams, it’s likely not possible to do this alteration.

3.  Determine how much can be obtained from the side seams.  (I could steal 2-1/2″ from the side seams and 1/2″ from the zipper).

4.  Carefully remove the side seam stitches from the outer layer and the lining of the dress – all the way from top to bottom or for the area where the alteration is needed. This means “cut”, not “rip” the seam as ripping can increase the size of the thread hole.  Sometimes this can include the seams of the skirt.  If the seams aren’t finished or are susceptible to fraying, you may want to finish the edges before manipulating the fabric.

5.  Sew the dress and lining seam back together. ( I was lucky here – the dress and the lining had a thick fusible lining which made the seams very stable and there was no fraying).

Old seam-line and new seam close to the edge.

6. From the inside, press the seams open.  A sleeve board or clapper covered with silk organza works well for this step.

That’s it for sewing the side seams.  While it seems easy, manipulating such a large amount of fabric is what takes the most time.

Altering the zipper or (usually the back) of a wedding or formal dress that’s too small:

1. Remove the old zipper.

2.  Press out the old seamline.

3.  Re-sew the zipper – you may wish to use a new zipper just in case.  My preferred method is to hand-pick the zipper.  The look is beautiful and for my level of experience it’s easier than machine sewing a replacement zipper when you’re trying to handle yards of fabric.  (I was able to get an additional 1/2″  of the required alteration from the zipper.  Also, I modified the zipper from a lapped to a centered zipper placement).

Pressing the alterations – and removing those pesky stitch marks which are tiny holes in the fabric.

Admittedly, this is the most difficult part of the process.  Here are some tips to help you:

  • Use a good pressing cloth such as silk organza.
  • Use lots of steam.
  • Place a sleeve board or clapper under the seam while pressing.
  • While pressing, apply pressure from the edge of the iron directly on the old stitch-line.
  • If you aren’t getting the desired result and you think it will never look good, dab a small amount of diluted vinegar (1:1 with water) on the original seam or the stitch line.  Brush lightly with a new toothbrush to reduce the size of the stitch marks and then press the fabric, again using a pressing cloth.

That Special Wedding Dress: Last Minute Alterations

At the end of August my dear friend Kathleen’s daughter EB was married.  It was a beautiful outdoor event in a lovely park and on a sunny summer day.  Sounds like the wedding made in heaven.  As with all events of that magnitude, there are always a few last-minute glitches.  In this case the most significant “week before the event” change was the wedding dress.  Originally EB selected a vintage dress and had it altered so it fit perfectly.  It was ready for the big day.

As we know, there’s more to a great wedding dress than “fit”.  EB loved the dress but the style (for her) wasn’t quite right.  So with 10 days to the big day she found an amazing dress in a bridal shop.  Now she was really in love – with the guy and the dress.

My dear friend Kathleen, EB and her brother Patrick

The bridal store clerk sold EB the dress and said it would be no problem to do the alterations in a week.  They quoted $100 to alter the sides, repair/place a new zipper, adjust the shoulders. shorten the dress 7″, shorten the slip and to add a bustle.  As Kathleen told me this, I thought, “The people at the bridal store were taking EB for a ride.  There’s no way they’d do all of those alterations for $100”. Truthfully I was a little annoyed that a bridal shop would be so disingenuous as to give a low-ball quote. Haven’t we all heard the tales of bridal shops charging exorbitant prices for alterations services?

What are friends for?  I was pleased to do the alterations.  Besides this was self-serving as it nourished my hunger for working on a wedding dress.

The schedule:  With six days to go, EB came to my house for a fitting.  For 2 days I ripped, cut, sewed and pressed.  In 48 hours or 4 days before the wedding EB came for the final fitting and it was perfect.  She loved it and the dress looked fabulous on her.

The Bride and Groom

The back had buttons all the way down to the hemline – a lovely design detail.

Great dress

How wonderful it was to see the a bride feel beautiful on her special day.

BTW, since I had difficulty finding websites with information about “Side alterations – too little fabric”, my next post will be on this topic.

Forty Years Ago Today

Forty years ago today and six weeks after Kevin returned from a 14 month tour in Viet Nam, he and I were married.  In the ensuing years we have been blessed with wonderful times (and of course some tough times); three incredible children, their wonderful spouses and two adorable grandchildren for which this blog is named.  Along with family and friends, we have created a lifetime of great memories and Kevin is still not only the love of my life, but also my best friend.

Our family - Megan and Chris's wedding

Congratulations to Megan and Chris, who are celebrating their first wedding anniversary today!

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Oh my, how times changed us.  I guess you would call us “vintage”.

At Shaun's Wedding - Sept 2010

About my dress:  Because this is fundamentally a sewing blog, a little information about my wedding gown only seemed appropriate.  (And for those of you who remember the awful plaid suit I made for Kevin in the 70’s, I didn’t make his tux.)

The following is an old folded copy of the dress I copied from a 1970 bridal magazine   then I like “knockoff’s”.  The fabric was a sheer poly of some type purchased from a fine Milwaukee fabric store that bit the dust about 20 years ago.  The cape and veil were made from yards of silk illusion, which is now a rare find and the lace was beaded French alencon.  I cut all of the lace and spent hours beading it, but had lots of time since Kevin was in Viet Nam.

A little hiccup:

For the  year that Kevin was in Viet Nam, I lived with my parents.  They had a toy terrier who was usually well-behaved but like all animals he had his moments.  One day I was working on the nearly completed cape (fine silk – just right for a dog bed) and left it on the couch, never expecting that the dog would climb on the couch and nuzzle in my dress.  But he did, and tore the fabric in several places.   Grrrrh.  I was able to move some of the appliques and cover the tears so all was well in the end but at that time it seemed such a big deal.

Free Child’s Crinoline Pattern

One of the fascinating things about a blog is taking a peek behind the scenes of a website.  As the blog owner I have regular access to the type of searches and other sites which refer users to the blog.  For me, this experience provides the same level of intrigue as other “back stage” experiences; maybe like being in a cockpit of a plane or in a production studio.

You Asked: Free Crinoline Pattern


For me, a peak into the wonders of the internet revealed that the most common word searches for my blog are submitted by sewists seeking a (free) crinoline pattern for under a child’s dress or a wedding dress.  About six months ago, I posted a brief tutorial for a wedding dress crinoline, which is what the search engines are targeting.  I understand why that posting gets a lot of hits, because when I tried to find a free crinoline pattern online, I struck out – hence the reason for the post.

Last week as my good friend Barb, was making a flower girl dress for her granddaughter, she asked me for directions on how to make a child’s crinoline.  That request reminded me that I’d started this post a long time ago.  Because of the number of photos and the length of the text, this would have been a really boring and long blog post.  Instead I put the instructions and photos into a really long and boring document.  This is hardly high fashion, but it’s a try at writing instructions.  Now I understand why there are so many patterns which are poorly written – It’s really tough to describe how to sew a garment, even with a lot of photos.

Click below to open the pdf:

Childs Crinoline Pattern

Please leave a comment with feedback on whether this give you the needed information.  Enjoy!





Hand-picked Zippers

Three Options for Hand-picked Zippers

One of the things I absolutely love is to hand-pick a zipper however I’ve not had many opportunities to use this technique.  That changed with the recent surge in sewing wedding garments and now I think I’ll use this method in other garments, even pants.

Since there are great tutorials on the web and specifically because most point pack to Susan Khalje, there’s really not much for me to add.   If you’re interested, Threads Magazine‘s article by SK describes the technique beautifully and the title says it all: “A hand-picked zipper is worth the effort”.

Now for my three samples:

1. Side zipper

The first is the side zipper in Megan’s wedding dress.  Because I was nervous about the zipper breaking on the day of the wedding, I decided to use 2 rows of stitching on each side of the centered zipper and a double strand of waxed silk thread.   Two rows of stitching wouldn’t have prevented the zipper from splitting but it made me feel better. Maybe I put in a second row because hand sewing is so calming that I couldn’t stop sewing?  In the end the two rows of stitching afforded a nicely finished appearance.

Side zipper with 2 rows of hand stitching (not pressed)

Up close

2. Replacing a Machine-sewn Zipper

The second was on Deb’s wedding dress.  The dress was beautifully constructed except the lapped zipper stood out straight and completely exposed the teeth of the zipper.  As a part of the alterations, she asked if I could do anything to make it look better.  With the yards of fabric in a finished gown, I couldn’t imagine putting the dress on my little sewing machine table.  Besides, as you can see in the photo below, there was some beading which needed to be removed for machine sewing.

My first attempt at hand sewing didn’t look good – even with a double strand of thick silk thread, the stitches sunk into the fabric and looked like snags or fabric flaws.  That’s when I decided to use small pearls.  Unlike Susan Khalje’s tutorial, I stitched the pearl as a part of the back-stitch.  I think SK adds the pearls in a second round of stitching.

Deb loved it this small change to an already beautiful gown.

Machine sewn zipper replaced with pearls and hand picks

3. A hand-picked invisible zipper?

The third one was in the dress I wore for Shaun and Deb’s wedding. The fabric had some distressing in it and the dress bodice was ruched. A machine sewn zipper wasn’t in the cards anyway. The problem was that I planned to use an invisible zipper and that’s all I had on hand. So I improvised and hand-picked the invisible zipper.  Instead of stitching 3/8″ from the edge, I sewed about 1/8″ from the center edge, again using a double strand of waxed silk thread.  It worked very well and I’d definitely try this again.

Hand-stitched Invisible zipper

If you haven’t tried this technique, give it a try.  It’s much easier than a machine sewn zipper and less frustrating than pulling out the stitches if you didn’t get the zipper in straight.  This is way easier than you think.


9.5.2010 Another Celebration of Love


What a Joyful Time for our Family

A week ago our out-of-town family started to arrive for Deb and Shaun’s wedding weekend which was filled with parties, family time and lots of fun.  As for all big events such as this, the preparations took months and it was over in hours.

We’re left with wonderful memories and more importantly, we’re thrilled to have Deb as an official member of our family.


After a summer of temperatures above 90 degrees, it was a sunny and warm day with a bit of fall in the air.

Having been in 2 weddings within 3 months, Mira and Caitlin are now fully experienced flower-girls – if know anyone who needs flower-girls, they know the part.  Yes, the dresses are the same style as the ones they wore in Aunt Megan’s wedding several months ago – lavender this time and with a rose instead of Japanese Cherry blossoms.  Having now made this dress five times, I’m as experienced at making the dresses as Mira and Caitlin are at playing the part of flower-girl.  This also means I have some great tutorials coming in the future.

Mira, Natalie and Caitlin


This time there was a third flower-girl, adorable little Natalie.  She had so much fun with the rose petals – who ever thought that flower petals could double as a toy?  All three of the flower-girls had a ball – they danced the night away and closed the reception with all of the adults.  As you can see, at a young age, Natalie learned that you need to remove your shoes for a wedding dance!

The After Party

Mira is now so experienced that at midnight, she thought she should be able to attend the party in our hotel room.  “After all, I am a flower-girl”.  Her mother quickly nixed that idea and then came to join the party herself.

A Week Later

While Deb and Shaun were away, we continued to celebrate with family members. After a week of guests, our house is now empty.  We are left with enough dirty towels and sheets for a family of twelve.

The laundry is temporary but it will be a long time before the memories fade.  We enjoyed time with those we love and who traveled from afar to join us for Deb and Shaun’s important day.  What a joyful time.