Wednesday, August 19, 2015

refashioned shirt quilt

I've been blog-dead for many moons, but this year I decided to participate in The Refashioners, hosted by Portia, because it seemed like a fun and creative way to reengage with the sewing blogosphere. The challenge was to refashion a man's shirt, but I took it in a slightly oddball direction. I decided to make a quilt out of many men's shirts! My goal was to make a cool modern quilt that happened to use secondhand shirts, instead of making a "shirt quilt" that looked like a bunch of men's shirts, so it took me many thrift shopping trips to find these bold solid colors that matched my home decor.

Head over to Portia's blog to see my full post about the process, and while there be sure to check out the rest of what The Refashioners have done this year. Pretty amazing stuff! If you decide to participate yourself, there's an enormous prize package to be had by one random winner. Yeah, it's like laughably enormous. 

I do plan to be back soon with a brief tutorial, and perhaps a post about the Colette Cooper backpack I recently made. As you probably know, you can always keep up with me at Instagram (@foursquarewalls) where I'm slightly more active...

Get shirty!

Friday, May 1, 2015

me-make may?

Denim Archer shirt I made for myself (for fun!) a few months ago

I know. May is the time of year when all the AWOL sewing bloggers suddenly show up in your blog reader with bathroom selfies galore for Me-Made-May. Don't worry; I've definitely been AWOL and here I am suddenly on May 1st, but bathroom selfies ain't me. I decided that I wouldn't make a proper pledge for MMM15, because I tend to (try to) wear at least one item of handmade clothing everyday and I'm pretty aware of my wardrobe needs and desires already. 

Kimono thing I made two weeks ago. Sooo slapdash but I'm kinda obsessed.

My problem is actually making time to address those needs and committing to sewing for my own damn self. When you sew for a [modest] living, every moment at the sewing machine is a potential money-maker, so it's hard to shove my to-do pile aside and sew for fun. I figure May is a good enough time to spoil myself, though. I've been having major Insta-Envy, where I scroll through Instagram with a pit in my stomach because everyone's making Ginger Jeans and Morris Blazers and undies and cool bags and all the things I want for myself but don't have time to make. #PoorBaby. I know it's the price I pay for choosing this ridiculous career path, but I'm grateful that my passion for sewing is still strong and that my only limitation is lack of time, not lack of desire or inspiration.

Baby quilt for my future nephew I made in March. Really should have taken better photos on a proper camera.

So I'm calling it Me-Make-May, where instead of just wearing my existing handmade stuff, I'm going to try to set aside time to sew more clothes for myself... that aren't cut off-grain and slapped together on a serger and left unhemmed as per usual these past few months. I'm afraid to set quantitative goals for myself because I can't always predict my work schedule and deadlines, but I would love to work towards accomplishing the following:
  • Tops. I wear black jeans like everyday and have few tops to pair them with. Maybe one knit tee and a short-sleeve button-up?
  • Maxi dress. I still feel like I'm playing dress-up when I wear the one I have (never blogged), but it's so damn comfortable that I need another.
  • Pajamas and underwear. Not very fun but the situation is dire.
  • Dress for my friends' wedding at the end of May. I have some knit lace I want to use, but need pattern inspo.

Linden Sweatshirt I made as a sample for my knits class at Butcher's Sew Shop

Here's to hoping I can get all that done. My plan is to check in with you all again, either halfway through May or at the end of it (let's be real... how about July?), to see how I did. Fingers crossed!

Do you guys also have sewing goals for MMM15, or is it more about reflecting on and celebrating what you've already made?

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

heidi hoodie cardi(s)

Back in September, I went on a trip to Michigan with my mom and her friends. While packing I thought, "Vacation! Lake Michigan beach walks! Porch lounging and wine drinking! I'll bring a bunch of my handmade dresses and tees and, like, one cotton cardigan." Obviously that was a mistake. My sweet mother, always concerned for my comfort, insisted on buying me something warm to wear after I suffered through a 50-degree rainy day and we were all eating dinner with quilts wrapped around our shoulders. On her generous dime I scored a wonderful cardigan/jacket from Toad & Co. made of 100% merino lambswool. That sweater is probably the best garment I own and I continue to wear it constantly, even to bed, because our drafty apartment is a miserable place to be in the winter. Thanks, mama.

Anyway, a girl can't wear the same sweater day in and day out, especially when she's trying to be an ambassador for a handmade lifestyle (which is what I like to think I'm doing?). What I like about that Toad & Co sweater is the warmth, but also the style --- it's long and covers my bum, but isn't bulky, and the hood is a practical element that draws attention to the face instead of the hipz. So I decided to try to sew a similar version.

I found the Style Arc Heidi Hooded Cardigan pattern and thought it was a pretty close match so I gave it a go...twice. Style Arc produces so.many.patterns but I feel like I don't often see them made up in the blog world. They advertise each pattern with a fashion illustration, versus a human/dressform, which throws off my ability to determine if I actually like the garment. The line drawing looked promising so I took the risk.

Luckily, Style Arc now offers PDF versions of their patterns on Etsy, and each pattern comes in a range of three sizes (i.e. 4, 6 and 8 comes with one purchase). From what I gather, they used to only offer printed patterns and would ship you one straight size. Bollocks. This new offering is a good idea, but the sizes are still separate files (not nested) so it remains tricky to grade between sizes. A cardigan has room for error, though, and I could tell the cardigan was slightly A-line so I didn't stress too much about fit. I made a straight size 8 and it's alright. The sleeves are pretty slim so it's not great for layering, but with a tank or bodysuit underneath it works fine for me.

This pattern is very fast to sew because the edges are all finished with bands (instead of being hemmed) and the bands aren't stretched to fit the openings so you barely have to fiddle with anything as you sew. The seam allowance is 1/4" so it can be whipped up on a serger. You have the option for a one-button or snap closure but I skipped that. I also skipped the pockets because I'm lazy bones and didn't feel like topstitching these sweater knits I used.

One note about the bands: the pattern has you cut the bottom hem band along the lengthwise grain instead of along with the stretch, which I think is kinda weird. I feel like it should stretch along with your hips for ease of sitting, so I cut it that way. For this brown/black version of the cardigan I also cut the front band in the opposite direction from directed, I think to save fabric? The print is thus sideways down the front.

Another thing to discuss: the facing. The pattern has a facing for the hood, so that you don't see any exposed shoulder seams and center back seam of the hood when the hood is down. Sounds like a good idea, but in actuality the hood facing is awkward. You still sew the facing to the existing band seam, therefore that seam remains visible and it means you get double layers of serging thread, which looks dense and sloppy. The lower edge of the facing isn't secured to anything so it just flops around on the inside. This would be fine if I did use a button closure on the cardigan, but I always wear my cardigans open so I keep having to adjust the fronts of the cardigan so my facings don't flash themselves. Naughty things:

For my second version of the cardigan (the blue one), I combined the hood and the front bodice pieces to eliminate the need for that seam where the hood meets the cardigan. I didn't use a facing at all so you can see the wrong side of the fabric when the hood is down, but I don't really care about that. I also added two inches to the length of the cardigan, which meant I had to add four inches to the total length of the front band.

See, no facing OR neckline seam:

I do want to keep tweaking this pattern because I find it appropriately casual for my lifestyle, highly wearable and a nice shape. On my next version I think I will make the hood piece bigger so it's not so fitted on my head and hangs a little nicer in back. Also, the sleeves are too short and the cuffs aren't tight enough. I always wear my sleeves pushed up so I didn't even think to fix that issue when I was cutting the second cardigan. Next time I'll definitely add an inch to each sleeve and tighten up the cuffs so they're more snug. My right sleeve kept falling down while taking photos:

I also want to use better fabric. Both of these versions were made with acrylic or acrylic-blend sweater knits from a local store in Philly. The blue one seemed especially nice and squishy in the store, but by the second day of wear was already pilling and attracting lint and threads like cray. I tried cleaning them up before taking these photos but you can still see fuzz balls and thread danglies galore. They're not nearly as warm as my Toad & Co. wool cardigan so I'm not as inclined to wear them when it's 15°F outside and thus 45°F in our home.

Have any of you made Style Arc patterns or tried their new PDFs? Please link to your finished garments so I can see what they look like on real human beings!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015


Hallo, hello!

Now don't worry; it is not me launching my own sewing pattern company so you can breathe a collective sigh of relief. I'm here to help get the word out about Lilith & Eve, an emerging pattern company led by two of my talented former colleagues, Sarah Frack and Nicole Davis. They have been scheming and working HARD on this baby since before I met them last year, and they are now at the stage where they need discerning home sewers to test their first pattern before publishing. That's where you come in!

Lilith & Eve Patterns are inspired by two distinct personality types. Lilith is a more carefree child of nature and Eve is the adventurous sophisticate. Each sewing pattern includes two versions that represent these styles, which is pretty clever and provides a lot of fun and versatility. The goal of the company is to provide patterns for sewers of all levels (not just beginners!) that are thoughtfully designed for a proper and modern fit.

Sarah and Nicole, the designers and patternmakers behind L&E, both have fashion degrees from Moore College in Philadelphia and have been sewing professionally for many years now. Sarah has worked as a technical designer in the fashion industry and has quite a bit of experience with pattern grading and altering patterns to fit. Nicole is designer, illustrator and seamster extraordinaire.

Despite their impressive resumes, they still want to ensure that they're putting out a high quality product that is well-packaged, well-designed and appropriately fits a wide range of sizes. If you would like to throw your name in the hat and are willing to be a pattern tester now or in the future for Lilith & Eve Patterns (in print patterns, not PDF, by the way), it would be much appreciated.  As a pattern tester, your feedback on the instructions, pattern grading, fit and style is incredibly valuable to the designers so they can make necessary changes before the final print.
You don't have to have a blog and you won't be pressured to promote the product after its launch. I know how labor intensive it can be to be a pattern tester, so your commitment is not taken lightly. Each tester gets a package of goodies as a thank you, and of course free access to the finalized patterns.

Please sign up using THIS FORM. Sending in your response is not a concrete commitment, so if you would just like to learn more, certainly sign up anyway and you can decide later if you have time. On behalf of L&E, thank you in advance for your help! You can find more info on the L&E website, and if you have any questions about the pattern testing process, you can contact lilithandevepatterns @ gmail.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014


I knowingly skipped over my third blogiversary, or however it's spelled, because I felt that my neglected blog didn't deserve any hoopla at the time. As the year 2014 rolls to an end, though, I thought I should revisit this space to catch up and do a bit of reflecting on the past year of sewing in general. If only to distract myself from thinking about the impending nightmare of filing my taxes as a self-employed person for the first time. And I've certainly missed you all!

As you may know (from this blog post), in February I quit my position as a grant writer in order to sew for a living. For awhile after that I was mostly sewing for a studio that did bridal alterations and custom projects. The owner ultimately decided to narrow her focus and cut down the volume of her workload, so I stopped working there in early September and ventured out on my own. 

One of my last projects at Seamstress for Hire: a tablecloth playhouse. Naturally I had to try it out for myself.

Since then I've been freelancing, sewing on-demand for a few Etsy shops and local brands (Rebourne; Cuddle Sleep Dream; Brynnie). The work is consistent and I get to work from home on my own equipment, which is excellent in that I can set my own schedule and I certainly enjoy the autonomy and pajama dress code. But it also means that my small sewing room is in a constant state of chaos and I never know how to stop working because the work is always staring at me.

Above: my pile of items to sew/alter before the holidays

I have also been teaching more often at Butcher's Sew Shop, leading the Sewing with Knits workshop as well as some sections of Sewing 101 and 201 and private lessons for adults. In the past I never imagined myself being any sort of teacher due to my introverted nature, but teaching people how to sew has been incredibly fun. I'm lucky that Butcher's is a laid-back and warm environment, and it's rewarding to witness the students' proud moments of finishing a new project. I've learned that patience and encouragement (...and being able to multi-task like kRaZy...) go the longest way as a sewing teacher. If you're interested, you can read more about the talented owner of Butcher's on Madalynne's blog here.

Clockwise from top left: Sewing 101 students with their finished clutches; a student's Linden sweatshirt from my Sewing with Knits class; me with a student in Sewing 201 working on the Salme Kimono top (photo by Maddie found here); and a student's finished Deer & Doe Plantain tee.

The rest of my time is spent doing custom projects and alterations. I'm trying to shy away from this type of work when possible because it takes a lot of (unpaid) time to meet with people and do fittings, and the work can be unpredictable. The majority of these type of clients so far have been friends or people I know, though, which is certainly more enjoyable that way.

Clockwise from top left: Custom button-back top for my friend Charlotte; duffel bag made from firefighter gear for a retired fireman; a Craftsy post I wrote on hemming jeans (quite a controversial subject according to the comments); and a flat tummy adjustment in progress on a RTW dress.

My hobby sewing (and blogging, as you know) has slowed considerably, but I have cranked out a couple easy things for myself in the wee hours. I did sacrifice a whole work day and made hedgehog costumes for Corey and me for Halloween. (People thought we were lions.) I also took time where possible to make birthday and Christmas gifts for some dear ones this year.

Above: wide-wale corduroy pants I made for Corey's birthday. I used the Thread Theory Jedediah Pants pattern, which fits him perfectly with no modifications. He wears these cooooonstantly!

Favorite makes this year, clockwise from top left: Linden sweatshirt for myself in a loopy sweater knit; Portside duffel bag I'm obsessed with (I replaced that white zipper with a gold metal one and it's bangin'); Several pairs of handmade underwear because I hate shopping for anything anymore; Hedgehog costumes made from fleece and a ton of felt triangles.

2014 has been a truly bonkers and amazing year. I almost can't believe this is my life now. I certainly do not miss working in the office environment and never for a moment have regretted my decision. Working for myself of course comes with its own stressors, like unreasonable deadlines, taxes, business licenses, expense tracking, clutter!, picky clients and 15 hour work days where I don't leave my house. I work about 70 hours a week and earn less than half the income I had at my office job. But! I feel as though I own my stress because I can decide what work I'm taking on in the end. It's taken me awhile to build confidence and I still get frustrated at myself for making dumb mistakes or taking too long, but I've more often been proud of myself than anything for what I've done so far.

So here's to another bonkers and amazing 2015. Happy new year, friends, and I will see you on the other side!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

steaming out permanent creases on altered garments

I seem to know a lot of tall guys. Poor guys, can't find shirts or suit jackets that fit in the shoulders and chest AND are long enough for their gorilla arms. Poor seamstresses (me), having to alter the tall guys' sleeve lengths and mess with those awful mitered vents.

I will answer a couple major questions here. Can you lengthen a suit jacket sleeve? Despite the sad lack of internet tutorials on how to do so, YES, you can. In this case I lengthened the jacket sleeves by 1-1/4" and added a facing so I would have enough fabric to recreate the sleeve vent. The buttons along the back sleeve seam are not functional, so I could pop them off and re-position them after the sleeves were lengthened.

Another major question: Can you get rid of that pesky horizontal crease that persists from the original factory-pressed hem? YES. Maybe not 100%, but yes. Here is what it looked like before, even after pressing and steaming, steaming, steaming with water multiple times:

Many moons ago, Megan Nielsen blogged about steaming out a seemingly permanent crease on her denim Kelly skirt using a brown paper bag that she wet with a 50/50 mixture of white vinegar and water. Luckily I was able to find her post again (HERE) and followed her lead to remove the hem creases on this suit jacket. 

I cut a scrap of brown packing paper from one of my far-too-frequent Wawak mail orders, then I dipped that in a mixture of white distilled vinegar and water. I placed the wet paper on top of the creased area, then steamed the daylights out of it. Held my iron there with constant steam for maybe 15 seconds until the paper was dry, then moved to the next section.

Side note: I have a "one size fits all" iron shoe tied to my iron, in case you're wondering what that thing is. Helps prevent scorching and shine.

And here's the finished sleeve after the vinegar magic show:

Not bad! The garment does not smell like vinegar, though my sewing room and hands now do. I'll also note that the thinner packing paper worked better on the crease than when I tried this with a Trader Joe's paper bag, which is a bit thicker. 

That's all. Just wanted to share this tidbit in case you ever have to alter clothes for a tall guy (or gal). Have you tried this?

Friday, October 31, 2014

fear fabric: leather

This past year of sewing has been all about facing (not necessarily conquering) my fears -- fabric fears being one of them. I mean, just think of how many wedding gowns and bridesmaid dresses I had to work with. That's a lot of chiffon, satin, organza, netting, lace, beading, charmeuse, and many more types of shiny polyester that nearly suffocated me mid-bustle. Nothing's scarier than being trapped under the train of a two-ton wedding dress, swimming upstream through miles of scratchy tulle as you try to find where you dropped that hand needle...

So when Beth of 110 Creations announced her Fear Fabric challenge again this year (I sewed lace last year), I was stumped for awhile deciding what kind of "scary" fabric could top bridal fabrics. The Project Runway devil on my shoulder made me briefly consider neoprene or, ha!, fringe. I don't know where to find those fabrics locally though, or most importantly, where I would wear those garments locally. 

I decided to return to the basics: leather. I've sewn vinyl before, as seen on my beloved Portside Duffel, but never the real deal because it's expensive and I figured my machine couldn't sew leather. The ethical issue I won't really get into here, but I've recently swung my moral pendulum after a lifetime of purchasing cheaply manufactured fake leather items from Target that peel or fall apart before the week is through. Which is now an industry I'm no longer keen to support. Anyway, I bought a black leather hide remnant at a local shop on Fabric Row in Philly. The piece was damaged so I got it at a discount. I know that my machine (and wallet) can't handle much, so I decided to keep it on the small scale and just use it as an accent on a bag.

This pattern is a foldover clutch that students learn to make in Sewing 101 at Butcher's Sew Shop, the studio where I work sometimes. Appropriate that I'm sewing with cow skin in an old butcher's shop? That's dark. I'm at the studio quite a bit, so I'm always getting inspired by what the owner and the students are making. Those newbie sewers blow this bag out of the water, by the way (example here).

This is a lined zippered bag with D-rings on the sides to attach a strap. I did not make the strap shown in these photos, and I know it doesn't really match, but my machine would NOT sew through the layers necessary to make my own leather strap, try as I might, so I swiped this one from my camera bag for the time being. The fold in the foldover clutch is also supposed to be deeper, but I wanted to make it tall enough to carry my laptop/tablet thing.

The upper layer is camel colored wool, also purchased locally at yet another fabric store that is going out of business in this world. RIP PFO. 50% off though, yo. I used a gold metal zipper and lined the bag with a quilting cotton print I bought, like, pre-blog. I applied fusible fleece to the lining pieces because I originally hoped to use this as a laptop bag, but the zipper I used isn't long enough for my laptop to fit through, horizontally anyway. Nice planning!

Other than the strap issue, my machine did okay with the construction. I found it slightly easier than vinyl to sew because it was more pliable and less sticky icky. I used a walking foot, a leather needle, and Wonder Clips instead of pins to keep the layers together. I bought 20 Wonder Clips two weeks ago and I'm already down to 14, with the lost six huddled together somewhere hidden, giggling at me. How does that happen?!

Happy with my bag because obvi I love black and camel as a color combo, so it matches like 85% of what I've been wearing lately. I'm also happy that Corey recognized the genuine leather on this bag and thus assumed I didn't make it. Boomy. I did.

Paired here randomly with New Look 6299 that I made in black and gold stretch denim. Unblogged, like most of what I've made in the past 6 months. Sorry about that. Rest assured that most of what I've made is either black and white, black and tan, or black and brown. Or are undies.

Thanks for hosting the Fear Fabric challenge again this year, Beth. And Happy Halloween, spooksters!