Three Reasons to Visit Rouen, FR

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Before this week, I naively admit that I’ve never heard of Rouen, France (north of Paris near Normandy). But now that I’ve been there are really more than 3 reasons to visit this beautiful city; to see the fabulous Rouen Cathedral,to see where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake or to walk through the old town, which is where we stayed.  Amazingly, there are two yarn stores and a huge button store within several blocks of each other.  This is sewing and knitting heaven.

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this tiny store is up the street from the Joan of Arc Memorial as you go toward the Cathedral.  It has an entire wall of buttons. It’s admirers were just about lining up to get in the store. In particular, two women were there with winter coats with a missing button? my bet is that they found one to match.  In addition there is a small amount of yarn, some cottons and lots do sewing notions. Oh how I wish this store could be in my neighborhood.

In addition there were two knitting store – one a Phildar  store and another with a number of brands.

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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).

Never Say Never: When a Shirt is Too Small

The Problem

We’ve all been in the situation where we have a garment we absolutely love but it’s too small.  In the case of a T-shirt, there are few ways for the garment to be enlarged and yet fashionable.  That’s what most of us sewists think, anyway, but for my 11 year old creative GD, she created a way to enlarge a favorite shirt and my job was to make the alterations.  Here’s the story.

The Back-Story

Last summer, Mira and her mother were shopping at a second-hand store when Mira found a shirt she loved.  Although when she tried it on, it was barely large enough for her, much less having the required wearing ease and length.  Despite the fitting issues (and there was always an opportunity to give it to younger sister Caitlyn), they purchased the shirt for a few dollars.

Unfortunately I didn’t have the sense to take a before photo, so bear with me.

On separate occasions, Mira’s mother Angela, and Mira told me about the beloved shirt.  Angela said she didn’t think I could alter it but maybe I could make a pattern from the shirt.  Mira said “Mom doesn’t understand what I mean” and proceeded to describe the alterations she wanted.

The "after" photo.

The “after” photo.

The Alterations

The fabric was similar to a slinky fabric – a four-way stretch poly or jersey, so for the alterations I used navy jersey, to give a similar stretch to the garment.  First I removed the sleeves and opened up the sides of the shirt, the sleeve seam, copied the pattern and then made the following 4 alterations:

1, Widen the shoulders – cut (lengthwise on the fabric) pieces of navy fabric a little longer than the armscye and 1-1/2″ wide, and then sewed it to each armscye.

2.  Add to circumference to the top, cut (lengthwise on the fabric) two pieces of navy fabric the length of the top by 1-1/2″ wide, and sewed it to the front and back side seams, creating a navy stripe down the side of the shirt.

3. Add arm circumference, cut (lengthwise on the fabric) and sewed two pieces of navy fabric 1″ wide and the length of the sleeve underarm seam.  As you can see above, this alteration isn’t visible unless the arm is lifted.

4. Shirt length – cut one piece (across the grain) of navy, 2-1/2″ wide by the circumference of the shirt.  Sew onto the bottom.  I left the bottom unfinished.  

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Once again, here is the result, with a not quite finished shirt I made from the pattern I lifted from the design.  In the end, the shoulders were widened, the circumference was increased by 2″ and the length was increased 2″.  A real success, though it doesn’t look as great in the photos as when wearing it.

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What this shows me is that sometimes I need to think outside the box.  Now I know that this method could be used to alter other types of t-shirts that are a size (or two) too small.

An Unlikely Maternity Coat

Well my blogcation was a little longer than I thought, but at any rate, I’m back – this time to tell you about my daughter’s maternity coat.  She lives in Minnesota and with a winter pregnancy, she needed a coat to cover our future granddaughter.

Image 1When I shopped for the fabric for this coat, Megan said she thought grey would be a good color.  While at SR Harris in Minneapolish, I texted photos of the various fabrics to Megan. When I found hot pink the decision-making was all over.

Initially I thought I’d modify a regular coat pattern but on a whim, I did an Indy pattern search for maternity coats.  This coat on Deuxieme Arrondissement (“Second District” is the English translation) was the perfect match for  the pink wool.  So I sent to France for the pattern.  Actually twice,  as I mistakenly ordered a dress pattern the first time. (It was as cute as the coat pattern, but that’s another story).

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Did I tell you that the directions are in French?  On first blush it was a daunting thought, but not knowing how to speak or read French was less of a deterrent than I thought.  I used Google Translator, typing the text from the directions until I was pretty sure I got a general idea on how to proceed with the coat construction.   It worked amazingly well.

The Zipper

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A rhinestone zipper seemed like exactly the right embellishment for this coat.  With black piping and a black/pin tweed under collar and under cuffs, a black zipper with rhinestone teeth was not only practical but also adorable.  Megan was thrilled when she saw it.

What About the Pattern?

As I mentioned, the pattern instructions are written in French. Overall the construction methods are fairly simple.  There are also fairly simple sketches of the pattern pieces and construction methods.  While not as clear as photos or computer generated graphics used by some pattern-makers, the sketches are sufficient.  One of the great things about the pattern was the marking of the cuff pieces.  The pieces are fairly small and it would be easy to place one incorrectly.  to prevent this, the sides of the pattern pieces and the corresponding sleeve pieces are marked with “a”, “b”, “c”, etc.  I’ve not seen this method used previously but it’s definitely a winner.  Last of all, the faced slit pockets show the contrasting black/pink tweed fabric – a lovely design feature.

If you’re searching for stylish maternity patterns, give Deuxieme Arrondissement a try.  She has some very stylish patterns.

Here is my review on Patternreview.com. http://sewing.patternreview.com/review/pattern/95443

More Photos

To round out this post, here are a few more photos of this unlikely maternity coat.  Best of all, she plans to wear the coat when she’s no longer pregnant.

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Faced pocket reveals black/pink tweed contracting fabric.

Now we can’t wait to see what’s under this coat. Maybe before Christmas?

Bad Irons: It’s my Turn

For those of us who sew and bear our souls about the sewing experience, bad irons are a common topic.  Many of my fellow bloggers have taken their turn at complaining about the quality of steam irons and the need for frequent replacement.  Even my husband knows of this problem – right after telling me that tennis shoes were $2.00 when he was a kid, he tells me that his mother only owned one iron in her whole life while I need to purchase a new one every year.

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Oops, I had the iron on this fabric for a nano-second.

A Smoking Iron?

Last week, when I was pressing some garments I sewed for a woman, my one year old $80 steam iron (brand name rhymes with mark) nearly burned the house down.   While ironing it started to sizzle very loudly.  Confused by what was occurring, I thought I’d test it on a scrap of cotton and in a second it burned the scrap as well as the ironing board cover.  Then more sizzling followed by smoke coming out of the seams of the iron.  At that moment I unplugged it and opened the windows to relieve the room of smoke.  Can I tell you how grateful I was that the burned item was a fabric scrap and not a garment I’d just finished sewing?

Of course, the warranty had expired, although the company offered to repair it for $42 plus shipping.  Having now “burned” through 2 irons in the past year, I  searched for other options.  Thanks to fellow bloggers and sewists, it became clear that I needed to make the jump to a gravity feed iron.  At under $100, the Hot Steam SGB-600 seemed to be a good option.

Before the new gravity-feed iron arrived I borrowed a 25 year-old made in Germany Rowenta from my mother who used it when she was a quilter.  As you can see by the following photo, it must have been dropped a few times so the steam doesn’t work but the iron is great.  Even without steam, it pressed better than the [rhymes with mark].

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The New Arrival – Hot Steam SGB-600

When the package arrived, it was a little daunting.  Would I ever stop unpacking?  Many of the components were obvious but what about all of the pieces that aren’t pictured in the manual?

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After reading the manual the cobwebs in my head cleared, though there remained a few plastic adaptors not described or pictured in the manual.  It seemed a little weird to think about a huge bottle hanging in my sewing room.  Maybe I needed to get my own IV pole?

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SGB-600 all set up

Review

Steam:  Although I’ve only used it for a short time, this iron is amazing.  The burst of steam is generous and at a setting of “3” every item has been incredibly well pressed, usually with a single swipe of the iron.  Some reviews have said this setting works for nearly every type of fabric.  I’ve used it on wool, cotton, cotton-poly and polyester and it worked well.  The iron is definitely heavy and it’s unusual to not set it on it’s heel – just a matter of learning a new behavior after years of doing it another way.  Also, the water valve on the tank needs to be turned off after every use.  Hope I don’t come home to a flooded sewing room some day.  Heats to the desired temperature in several minutes.

Silicone mat:  The mat is very thick and the heat doesn’t radiate to the bottom of the mat.  Some have recommended placing a tile below the silicone mat, however at this time I don’t see the need.  Some sellers do not include the mat with purchase however Wawak includes this and the sole plate with the iron.

Cord: The cord is very heavy and the length sufficient.  It is important to keep the water tubing connected to the electrical cord.  Four connectors come with the unit – some of the parts not described. Because the iron is so heavy, the weight of the cord moves freely with the iron.

Hanging method:  Mine is hung from a ceiling hook and the type of chain that is used for hanging lamps.

Auto shut-off:  There is no auto shut-off, which will be another behavior change and it might be a tough one.

This whole setup wouldn’t work well if you have a temporary sewing space however in my sewing room it is great.  At this point I’m pretty high on this iron.

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

I Own Print Blocks, but Now What?

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It seems so long since we were in India and Nepal though in reality it was only one month ago.  Not only was I left with substantial knowledge of the countries and cultures, and great memories, but also a new textile-related interest.  Previously I wrote about the decline of the textile industry in Nepal.

Interestingly, as a result of textile companies going out of business, there were print dye blocks and bulk powdered dye was for sale in flea markets and souvenir stalls.  The dye colors were intriguing, but what if I could actually dye fabric with the blocks?

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Powdered dye in gorgeous colors

Since I didn’t purchase any fabric, it only seemed appropriate to purchase some dye blocks and dye – maybe I could make some interesting fabric?

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It must be said that I knew absolutely nothing about how to dye or print dry fabric, but I was confident that I could learn.  My GD’s and I gave it a try several weeks ago, using standard liquid dye and fabric paint.  They had so much fun, especially because one of the blocks is a cat, and they have each wanted a piece of clothing with a cat design.  It was great fun I found out that I have lots to learn.

Stay tuned!

Textiles in Nepal

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Women in historic Bhaktapur

Like India, Nepal’s fashion scene is pretty spectacular.  While the clothing is different from your favorite fashionista’s attire, the colors are beautiful and women wear their garments with great pride.

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Time for Socialization

Unfortunately, instead of being manufactured in Nepal, using the traditional block printing methods, many of the fabrics are now imported from China.  This causes concern on two fronts: 1)The end of the tradition of block printing and 2)Loss of jobs for persons who work in the textile industry.  Our tour guide spoke of two textile plants recently closed leaving 1400 people unemployed.  As China produces fabric more inexpensively than Nepal, this will continue to occur.  Not to Nepal’s benefit, there are rolling electricity black-outs in most communities which certainly doesn’t benefit this or any other industry.

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One of dozens of fabric stores in the Kathmandu Valley

All of the gorgeous fabrics are not cottons as many of the sari’s are also made from polyester.  No matter which fabric, the colors are gorgeous.  Below are several more photos.

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Mother is rubbing mustard oil on baby’s hair

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Daily trip to the community well to obtain water

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Babas in their colorful garments