Mira’s Sewing Lessons: Pajama Top

About a year ago, I blogged about teaching Mira to sew her first pair of pajama pants.   Unfortunately because we live hours from each other and because visits are filled with other fun activities, we have little time for sewing.  However on our last visit we had a “sewing date”.  Her choice was to make a pajama top to match the beloved but now “high-water’ pants she made last year.  She designed the top, using a complimentary flannel print for the sleeves.

So proud in her new pj top

Hmmm. So how could I help Mira sew a pj top with no buttons and yet so she could pull it over her head?  With not many patterns to chose from, I bought a raglan knit pj top.  By cutting it several sizes larger than her size, cutting out the neckline to fit over her head and by placing a small amount of elastic at the neckline we were set to sew.  As far as the fabric type, pre-washed flannel is great for a project such as this because the fabric is easy to sew and it doesn’t ravel easily so there’s no overcasting.

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Me:  “What’s the first safety rule for sewing?”

Mira:  “Never put your fingers near the needle.”

She passed the test and we were ready to sew.

Little did I know that Mira was envisioning a hood on the pj top.  So when the sleeve and side seams were done, Mira said, “Now, let’s add a hood”.  (Guess I’ve made sewing look way too easy).  Her bathrobe has a hood, so I traced the pattern and we had a hooded pj top.

What a proud girl she was, every step of the way.  Sewing (and trying on) time took about one hour.

Meanwhile…..

Catie did art projects with her grandpa while eagerly awaiting her turn at the sewing machine.  At age 6, she’s not quite ready to sew independently, so we came up with a plan to sew quilt pieces.  It worked beautifully.

Cate sat on my lap and when needed at the beginning and end of stitching a square, she toggled to reverse the stitch.  It was perfect for her – she was involved and still safe.  Meanwhile, her foot stayed right on top of mine.

 What a fun time we had.  To be continued….

Sewing with Pre-ruffled Fabric: Part 2

IKEA Fabric for Valances and Pillows

In the two weeks since my last post, Kevin and I took a road trip to Wisconsin and Minnesota where we visited family and friends, and we saw Megan and Chris’s new home.  All of those miles traveled and I didn’t visit a single fabric store.  Well, just one.  However Megan and I did purchase fabric for window valances at IKEA.  Though the supply is limited, they have great fabric.

More tips for sewing with pre-ruffled fabric:

As I mentioned in the last post, sewing with pre-ruffled fabric was more challenging than I anticipated.  I stopped with tip #7, “Plan for where the ruffles will land on the garment”.  When cutting the black and white tank, I laid the pattern on the center front of the neck so that the entire ruffle would be visible.  That was the correct way to cut, unlike Deb’s tank where I cut in the middle of the ruffle.

Ruffle at center front of neckline is positioned correctly

In the following, I didn’t plan well and cut through the ruffle.  Fortunately I was able to recover by adding a piece of ruffle to the neckline before binding the edge.

Center front ruffle was cut away. Oops, but a little patch fixed it.

8.  Like with other stretchy garments, sew a small piece of stretch fabric or clear elastic into the shoulder seam.  Because the fabric is so lightweight and to avoid bulk, I didn’t extend the stabilizing fabric to the edges.  My choice was a small strip of cotton jersey.

9.  To bind the edges, use a very light weight fabric.  Again, I used cotton jersey with 4-way stretch.  BTW, white looked awful on the black and white fabric.

Sewing a strip of neck binding

Turn the binding over and topstitch

Another binding: 1" wide fabric was folded and serged onto the dress. No topstitching.

When the garments we sew are worn, we always learn more about our creations.  And thus a few more tips:

10.  When planning for an adult skirt, cut the fabric width approximately the same size as the wearer’s hip measurement.  Children don’t mind having a little extra bulk on their hips but it’s not as flattering for adults.  (I am now making this adjustment to Angela’s and Megan’s skirts).

11. Last of all, I learned that some of these fabrics may not work for children’s clothes.  At age 5, Catie proudly wore her new skirt to the playground.  After she went down the slide a few times the edge of the ruffles started to ravel (or unravel if you chose).  I don’t know if this would occur with the more commonly available poly or poly/nylon pre-ruffled fabric (i.e. black and white tank).  The grey ruffles feel like they are made from rayon, are softer and less stable.  It’s hard to be sad about the skirt as it was fun to sew it.   I’ll make her a new one from the yet unused black fabric.

Did I mention that  I paid $8.00 for all of the fabric for these garments.  It was great fun to find such cute fabric for such a bargain and to plan for the garments; but it was frustrating at times until I learned the nuances of working with pre-ruffled fabric.  

What are your experiences in working with this fabric?


Ruffled by Pre-ruffled Fabric

For some months I have been enamored by the pre-ruffled fabric which is common in ready-to-wear garments and which is sometimes but not often seen in the sewing circles.  Surely it’s not a product I’ve been able to find at the name-brand sewing and craft stores.  So when I found four pieces of pre-ruffled fabric in a bin at Jomar’s recent half-price sale, I was thrilled.  That is until I began to make garments from it.

Since I struggled to learn how to work with this unusual fabric, it’s only fair to share some tips with you. With about four yards of fabric in hand and because several pieces were 72″ wide, I was able to make one garment for each of the girls in our family – six in all.  So now we’re all dressed in grey and black.

Cate's skirt - wide twill elastic on a single piece of rectangular fabric.

Mira's jumper/sleeveless dress. Learned that its tough to make anything other than a straight skirt.

My tank top. Edges are finished with black jersey.

Deb's tank top. This is tapered but the effect is lost with the ruffles.

Angela's skirt - slightly longer. Waistband of black wide elastic.

Megan's skirt. Yoke top made from black jersey and has 3/4" elastic at the waist (no zipper)

10 Tips for Sewing with Pre-ruffled Fabric:

1. Use simple designs, preferable with straight lines.  The easiest and best look is to cut a rectangle of fabric and add a waistband to the fabric.  Absolutely avoid darts or multiple seams.  Even a tapered tank was more design than this fabric could handle.

2.  Pin the ruffles in place prior to cutting as it’s really easy to remove a part of a ruffle that you’ll want later.

For this skirt, I sewed the elastic and then pinned the ruffles in place before cutting.

3. Because the backing fabric is made from nylon knit (think nylon stockings), it runs.  Avoid pulling the fabric.  Even removing stitches created runs in the fabric.

4.  Machine baste all seams before placing the final seam (yes, that means all).  I made the mistake of trying to sew the edging without basting first.  When I removed the stitching it was a real mess.

5. Plan for the garment to be longer than you desire.  Shortening is easy – just cut the nylon backing between the ruffles.  Couldn’t be easier.

Fabric back - easy to hem by cutting away what you don't need. No other finishing is required.

6. When cutting, match the stripes perfectly.

7. Plan for where the ruffles will land on the garment.  Here’s an example of a time when I cut away part of the ruffle.

Center front ruffle was cut away. Oops, but a little patch fixed it.

I have more, but since the hosting site isn’t cooperating, I’ll have more tips in the next post.  Stay tuned!

Post-publication note:  Part 2 is here

Graduation Dress(es)

Parents have so many opportunities to be proud.  Several weeks ago we had one of those occasions when Angela graduated with a master’s degree in nursing.  Kudo’s to you, Angela.

Of course, for graduation, a new dress was in order.  If not for the graduate, at least for the daughters of the grad.

Angela’s graduation and our trip to see her family was only a week after we returned from our Central America trip.  Being away for several months, I hadn’t sewed any clothing for Mira or Caitlin and I just couldn’t show up empty-handed.  That just doesn’t happen. Imagining that graduation would be a sunny May day, I unearthed Simplicity 3943 and sewed a sun dress for each granddaughter.  Instead it was 49 degrees, windy and rainy but that didn’t stop the girls from enjoying their new dresses.

In position

 

As usual, I put the finishing touches on the dress after we arrived at their house – in part because of time constraints (shouldn’t really have this as an excuse now that I’m retired), for fit and so the girls could help if they desired.  Catie was thrilled to have the opportunity to help sew on the straps and roses on her dress and on Mira’s. Then she was so excited to wear the dress that she tried it on about six times but each time she wouldn’t allow her mother to see her.  She decided to make her dress a “surprise” for the graduation luncheon and program. I am sure this is a day she will always remember, which is probably just how her mother wants it!

  

Steve the Sweater

One of my winter projects was to upcycle a sweater which I purchased from the local second-hand shop.   It was a rather boxy size medium Sigrid Olsen women’s sweater with the neckline trim made of crochet and cut loops of yarn.

Unfortunately I didn’t photograph the sweater but it looked much the same before and after – originally just a different size and with less shaping.  

Tutorial

This is a pretty easy project and doesn’t take long to finish.  For this type of sweater, the steps are:

1. Remove the neckline trim and crocheted bottom edge and the buttons.

2. Felt the sweater in the washer and machine dry until you have the desired amount of felting.  The result was not only a sweater of a smaller size but one that was incredibly soft.

3. Cut the sweater pieces apart at the seams.

4.  Re-cut using a child’s sweater or sweatshirt pattern. Keep the front overlap intact so you can use the buttonholes and finishing. In this case there was barely enough fabric to cut a size 7 sweater.

5.  Sew the pieces together by laying one seam over the other (probably a 1/2″ overlap), using a backstitch.  This results in a nice flat seam which is amazingly strong.  It takes several hours of sewing time in front of a good movie.

6. Re-attach the neckline trim and the braid at the bottom both with a backstitch.

7. Replace the buttons.

The Result

On our last visit to Wisconsin, I gave Mira the sweater.  She loved the softness and named it “Steve the Sweater”, in place of her favorite plush bedtime partner, Steve the Fish.  He was mysteriously missing so Steve the Sweater became her replacement sleeping partner.

Mira’s request:  “Ramma, will you take a photo of me and put it on your blog?”

So this blog post is for you, Mira.

Love, Ramma.

Giveaway: Upcycled Felted Wool Sweater

It’s Been a Year

It’s been a little over a year since I started this blog.  Thus far you could observe that I’ve been dabbling in a number of types of sewing.  It may seem that I’ve not immersed myself in one particular type of sewing – that’s because I do enjoy just about any type of sewing (excluding mending).  Over the years the type of projects seem to depend on what’s going on in my life.

Changes Ahead

Speaking of what’s going on in my life, I’d say we’re in a year of significant change.  I’m retiring in a month, we’re taking a 2 month trip to Central America, selling our home in Philly and moving back to the midwest.  How’s that for change?  It’s a little weird that I won’t use a sewing machine for 2 months and what about not getting up and going to work every day.  Sound good.  Oh, and I may need to send one or two machines to storage while we show our home.  Hmm, which can I part with?

Where is this going, you ask? It’s a long way of saying that I want you to stay with me while I am not posting about my sewing life.  In the months of March and April, I’ll replace sewing content with traveling content.  Maybe even a word or two of Spanish if my brain can soak up a few phrases.

Giveaways

I don’t want to lose you, my loyal followers.  To get you in the habit of visiting my blog while I’m away, I’m going to do a series of giveaways which are representative of my last year’s sewing.

The first one is your choice of three felted upcycled toddler sweaters.  All you need to do is to leave a comment indicating which one you’d prefer.  If you’re interested in making one of these in the future, ask a question about how to make the sweaters.  The deadline is midnight Monday, Jan 31; then the random number generator will work it’s magic.

 

Description:

1. Hooded Grey merino with snowflake design.

2. Wool and cashmere.   Sleeve, 1/2 of the front and the back are felted cashmere.  Oh, so soft.

3. Red wool Snowmen with wool/angora cabled sleeves.

Time for Leggings: Free Pattern and Tutorial

In the N. Hemisphere it’s winter and that means it’s time for females to cover their legs.  Well, maybe not all females; even in the depths of winter we all see young women and teens with bare legs but not me.

So I say it’s time for leggings; a fast sewing, get results in minutes item for the winter, mostly for my granddaughters but also for my daughters.  I’m talking about the footless “tights alternative” as opposed to the ever popular leggings which are more of  a “pants alternative”.  The web is full of  photos and comments about whether it is appropriate to wear leggings in lieu of pants.  Rest easy in that we’re not touching that fashion controversy in this post.

My 2 GD’s absolutely love the leggings I make for them.  They wear them as tights under skirts or dresses and as an additional layer under pants, especially during very cold weather.  Since they’re inexpensive and very easy to sew, I often make 8 or 10 pair at a time and they are delighted when I arrive with package in hand.

Leggings Tutorial and Leggings Pattern (pdf)

Materials:

  • Length of 2-way or 4-way stretch knit fabric.  I often use spandex or lycra which would be used for leotards or dance-wear but also use other cotton or cotton-poly stretch knits, often to match a t-shirt or top.
  • Leggings pattern (pdf)
  • Narrow lingerie elastic for the waist

Notes:

The pattern is a size 2-4.  In order to make a larger size (girth), split the pattern down the middle and add 1/2-3/4″, depending on the amount of adjustment needed.  This works well great for girls who need a little more sizing but no more length.

To make a size larger such as a size 4-5, make the same split down the center of the pattern piece and add as much length as you need.  No worries if you make it too long, you can just cut the bottom off later.

Cutting:

  1. Cut 2 identical pieces from the pattern.
  2. Generally when cutting fabric I try to avoid the need to cut against the grain, for leggings you want to have the greatest stretch across the garment, not lengthwise so the leggings are comfortable with movement.
  3. If possible, cut with a rotary cutter.  It goes much faster and makes a nice clean-cut at the bottom.

Here is my mass production – 3 pair for my Mira and 2 for Cate.  Yes, there will be comparing when I arrive with clothes in hand but I’ll make sure they each have the same number of pieces of clothing!

Sewing

  1. Serge (or use a lingerie or knit stitch on a standard sewing machine) center front and center back seams.  A straight stitch will not work for this as the seam will rip out during wear.
  2. Serge inseam in 2 steps.  Start at the mid-point of the inseam and stitch toward the leg bottom.  Then sew the second leg.  (The reason for this 2-step process is that when starting the seam, the serger has a difficult time keeping the bottom fabric even).  Or maybe it’s me?

This has probably taken 5 minutes of sewing time: You now have nearly completed the leggings and just need to add the elastic.

Attaching the Elastic

Sew the elastic using a zig-zag stitch.  (You could use a coverstitch but I find that zig-zag works just as well and it’s much faster).  As you can see in the following photo, the elastic needs to be slightly smaller or tighter than the waist, otherwise they won’t stay up.  Mira and Cate are both pretty slim, so keeping them up is a problem if the rise is to short or if the elastic isn’t tight enough.

Finishing the Bottom

If using lycra or spandex, I usually leave the bottom unfinished.  If using cotton-poly-stretch, a narrow rolled hem works well.

The other step I take is to secure the bottom of the seam with a few stitches.  Or you can tuck in the serger threads.  The purpose is to keep the bottom of the seam from opening during wear.

Here you see a photo of about a dozen pair I made a while ago.

Leggings for Adults:

There are probably lots of ways to construct a leggings pattern for adults, however here’s what I did:

1. Take a pants pattern front and back and tape or pin together at the side.

2. Tuck or fold the pattern from top to bottom to reduce the width of the pattern.  In this case, I aimed for the pattern to be 3/4 the size of my daughter’s actual measurements.

3. Shorten the rise so it is slightly shorter than the measurement of the person who will wear these.

4.  Narrow the width of the leg so it is slightly smaller than the actual measurement

5. Cut and sew in the same manner as the children’s leggings.  If you have access to 1″ lingerie or fleece-backed elastic, it words well.  I would stay away from the harsh elastic for general use.

Why not Mosquito Netting?

Several weeks ago after she posted a comment on my blog, Dhilma and I shared a few sewing related email messages.  She is a physician working in Sri Lanka as a lecturer and like many of us, has a passion for sewing.   She was very interested in making a crinoline for her niece.  So before I posted a child’s crinoline pattern, several weeks ago, I sent the pattern to her.

A few days ago I received a very kind email from Dhilma – I could feel the excitement in her message.  With her permission, here is an excerpt:

“I really enjoyed making it [crinoline] and then admiring the end result! In our country (Sri Lanka) tuille is very expensive and so I used cheap mosquitoe netting which I bought at SLR110 (less than $1.00) per yard (60 inch width)I used the whole yard that I bought and some poplin (cotton material) for the short lining and the band at the waist. I am sure my niece is going to strut around in this petticoat alone so I plan to embelish it with some shiny sequins.”

Now isn’t that an absolutely brilliant idea?  Why not use mosquito netting instead of tulle?  For some of us it might be as difficult to obtain mosquito netting as it is for Dhilma to get tulle.  Oh, and never mind that for those of us in the North, mosquito netting is the last thing on our mind right now – maybe thick wool or a fleece throw for those of us in the deep freeze?

The real point is that sometimes we need to improvise and if we allow our creativity to rule, it will work out just fine. Thank you Dhilma for reaching out and for sharing your beautiful creation.  It is absolutely adorable and I am sure your niece will love it.

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!





Teaching Mira to Sew: Chapter 2

A Hand Crank Machine isn’t the Answer

Teaching a child to sew isn’t something I have expertise in, so my efforts with GD Mira are somewhat of an experiment.  Like many experiments or sewing projects there are successes and failures.

Several months ago I proudly blogged about 8-year-old Mira’s first attempt at machine sewing with her mother’s sewing machine.  Sewing lesson #2 was several weeks ago, which from my perspective wasn’t as successful.  Her viewpoint may have been different as the quilt she’s making is now 16 squares and she continues to be quite proud of her accomplishment.

Proud as Punch

Here’s the story.  Several months ago I bought a Singer Spartan vintage sewing machine for $9.95 with the hope of replacing the motor with a hand crank.  Through a series of unrelated events, this too heavy to be mailed machine was transported from Philly to Mira’s house in Wisconsin.  Prior to our visit several weeks ago I ordered a hand crank for the machine (this little attachment was surprisingly heavy for the size of the wheel – I guess maybe that’s the point).

In case you’re wondering if it’s difficult to convert to a hand crank, it took our technically inclined SIL Stephen about 5 minutes to remove the motor and install the crank.

My thinking behind this was that it would be easy for Mira to use a hand crank machine independently – much like a child’s sewing machine. Additionally I thought possibly the hand-crank machine would make it possible for Caitlin to sew as well – after all if big sister does it, so will Caitlin.  It turned out that I was a little off-base on this thought process.

The hand crank was actually difficult for her to maneuver; needing to turn the crank with one hand and guide the fabric with the other was difficult.  Maybe the tension wasn’t set correctly or the needle was too large but at times, the needle didn’t go through the fabric easily which made it even tougher for Mira.  She felt much more competent when she used the electric machine, which she could do without my assistance.

On the other hand, this was a great solution for Caitlin, who now has 4 pieces sewn together.  She loved turning the crank while I held the fabric.

In this case, higher tech was better.  Next time I’ll pull out the electric machine for Mira and will tag-team with Caitlin to use the hand-crank.  This experiment didn’t work as I anticipated but then how would I know if I hadn’t given it a try?