Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Cardigan and pearls

Cardigan material for my next project.

Today I picked up a much anticipated parcel from Gorgeous Fabrics. The second I saw the fabric on Ann's blog I know that my several year long international search for that perfect soft gray wool knit was over. The project I need the wool for is a cardigan similar to those classic 50's pearl embellished ones. I bought the black pearl appliqués three years ago for this particular purpose and since then I have waited and waited for the right fabric. I guess doing pearl embroidery by hand and not using pre made patches would be the most authentic way, but I'm gonna cheat on this one!

The pearl appliqué is attached to organza and I'm not sure what's the best way to sew it onto the fabric. Should I just sew tiny stitches along the edges or sew all over the patch? Any suggestions would be appreciated!


The appliqués is from the Scandinavian mail order company Stoff & Stil. They also have a mega store in Malmö that I visited this weekend (there is also one in Denmark). If you are traveling through Scandinavia I strongly recommend a visit to Stoff & Stil. The first time I was in their Malmö store a couple of years ago I thought it was decent, but nothing special. This time however I was really impressed with how it's turned out. The fabric selection is huge and the prices are often great. I would say the quality of their fabrics is average to above average. No high end designer fabrics, but a great stop for everything else.

The Stoff & Stil store in Malmö.

I managed to score a really high quality ribbed 100% wool knit for 1/3 of the price I would pay in a regular fabric store. The notion section is also great if you are on a budget. The prices of YKK zippers for instance are among the lowest I've ever seen Sweden. Also I was thrilled to see loads of customers - ranging from middle aged men buying fake fur to young goths making party outfits. So no signs of a dwindling sewing interest there!

Perfect display for those who can't get enough of YKK zippers.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The space cadet shirt

Jersey shirt made from a La Mia Boutique pattern.

This is the first pattern that I've sewn from the Italian pattern magazine La Mia Boutique. It's from the October issue, which I've blogged about before. The design is pretty military inspired, and I was hoping to pull off a Major Margaret "Hot Lips"
Houlihan look (of M*A*S*H fame). But the end result is more space cadet I think. I guess it's the embroidery from Sublime Stitching that adds a certian Star Trek touch. Still like my shirt though. I've reviewed the pattern over at Pattern Review.

Sewing a shirt using stretchy knits is pretty tricky, so I used a few handy helpers:

Transparent elastic, spray starch, iron-on adhesive tape and light weight interfacing.

The transparent elastic is for stabilizing the shoulder seams. The spray starch is for keeping folded and pressed jersey in place. The adhesive tape is placed between the inner and outer collar stand to keep it in place when topstiching. The interfacing is Vilene H180, the most light weight fusible available in Sweden. It's great for knits as it has some crosswise stretch and is so light that the knit fabric will still be supple after the fusible is applied.

Pressing thin jersey can be really hard as it doesn't hold folds very well, but here are a few tips on how to get neat folds:

A paper ruler is a great tool when pressing knits. The notches represents 1 cm each.

Press the seam allowance against the edge of the paper ruler.

Spray a little starch over the pressed edge and iron again to fix the starch. This will keep the fold in place.

This is what it looks from the outside. The pressed side will be the inside of the sleeve cuff and thus topstiched in place. The outside will be sewn togheter with the sleeve so there is obviously no need to press that side.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Serenity now

The newly organized fabric stash, divided into four categories.

I know some people view their fabric stash like a precious collection, something to get inspired by and to relish.
I am unfortunately not one of those people. Instead my stash is a constant reminder of how much I have left to sew. I get stressed just by digging through it. I even have a list of my stash fabrics and their assigned projects stored as a text message in my cell phone. Just to add more insult to the stress.

In my last post I referred to my stash as a "black hole". Which was a very fitting description - nothing was folded and all fabrics was mixed together. "You never know when they come in handy"- scraps was thrown in among precious silks and various notions like interfacing and buttons somehow also found their way in there. Which is probably why so many things got lost in my stash.

This Sunday I felt something had to be done. With the help of four plastic Curver storage boxes and the idle hands of two children, I managed to sort my stash out in less than an hour. The funny thing is that now it seems like my stash has been reduced by 50 percent, even though I only threw away a few yards.
But an unexpected side effect of this sudden "reduction" is that it has spurred a strong urge to buy more fabric... maybe I need to work on my fabricohoholic tendencies next? Or maybe I just need to adapt a more forgiving attitude to my hobby!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Sublime stitching

Embroidery pattern is Swanky decor from Sublime Stitching

I have started on the jersey top from the October issue of La Mia Boutique. It's been a pretty long time since I last used someone else's pattern. I did toy with the idea to adjust my fitted knit block according to the LMB pattern, but in the end I realized it would be a lot of extra work.

The embroidery in the hoop is from
Sublime Stitching. The designer Jenny Hart makes a lot of cool patterns that look really different from traditional embroidery designs. Also her patterns and techniques are great for beginners, the slip stitch I use here is very ingenious, like a simplified chain stitch. Embroidery on thin cotton jersey is not however a simple task. I've stabilized the fabric with fusible interfacing, but it's still very hard to get an even result. I can really recommend using Solvy when stitching on knits, however my Solvy sheet has mysteriously disappeared in the black hole that is supposed to be my stash.

The embroidery will be on a breast pocket. The pattern actually doesn't call for a pocket, but I thought it would be a nice addition.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Tools for adding seam allowance


Sømometer, Saummass, Zoommaatje, Seam gauge, Pfiffkus. It has many different names in Europe, but the purpose is the same - making the dreary process of adding seam allowances to patterns a little easier.
It's a simple but pretty ingenious tool. As you can see in the picture, every corner has fixed width, ranging from 1 cm (~ 6/8 inches) to 6 cm (
~ 2- 3/8 inches).

What you do is align the seam gauge along the stitch line and mark the seam allowance with little dots.

Obviously the more dots the more precise the line will be. But you can get away with just a few dots as well.

For curved seam I often use my flexible ruler that I align with the dots.

1 cm (6/8 inches) added to a pattern for a jersey top. This method is both quick and accurate.

The seam gauge is made in either plastic, cardboard or metal and comes in several different versions. The metal gauge shown in the pictures is my favorite as it's also a great tool when folding and pressing hems. Just fold the fabric over the chosen width and press.


Another version of the seam gauge.

Monday, November 10, 2008

A tote named Vanja

The Vanja bag in corduroy

This is the Vanja bag. The story behind her is that I mistakenly ordered some wide wale corduroy off Ebay earlier this year. It was too wide for the pants that I had in mind and thus the fabric has remained untouched in my stash. But a couple of weeks ago I suddenly got the idea to make totes out of the fabric instead. So I drafted a very rough sketch in my note book during a break in a table tennis match that I was covering. I wanted to come up with some kind of a "signature" tote, i.e. a design template that can generate many different versions. The corduroy version in the picture will be a gift to a friend who, like me, loves corduroy.

In the future I plan to make more variations of the Vanja bag, perhaps by using details like colour blocking and top stitching. I think a blue and white navy inspired version would look really nice for instance.

The lining is made of cotton curtains that I found in a sales bin. Also there is a little pocket inside for things like wallet, cell phone and keys.

I used magnetic snaps for closure so one doesn't have to fiddle with a buttonhole when closing the lid. The wooden button on top is purely for decoration purpose.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Stop Staring

Stop Staring dress from Red dress shoppe

Stop Staring dress from the Stop Staring store

Stop Staring jacket from Daddy-O's

Whenever I see clothes like this from the LA-based company Stop Staring I get so inspired. I love the way they use contrast colours and details like fabric covered buttons and piping. Stop Staring's clothes manage to look both retro and modern, and most of all very desirable.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Idealism and fashion - can it work?

How about a clothing line based on these premises?

  1. Great styles that could be used for several seasons
  2. Only natural materials
  3. All ages and sizes should be catered for
  4. The clothes should be beautiful
  5. The clothes should be produced domestically
I think a lot of people would buy into these concepts – at least in theory. But how does it work in practice? Well in 1966 three young Swedish textile designers decided to give it a go and created the company Mah-Jong. All three designers had gone to art school and now they wanted to make clothes that combined a certain artisan feel with modern massproduction methods. The clothes should last many seasons, and each collection should build on the previous one so that it would be easy to combine styles from different seasons.

A Mah-Jong collection from the early 70's. Notice the guy on the right. He manifests the Swedish type " The velour man" i.e. a man who is in tune with his emotions, loves to cook and takes at least half of the paternity leave.

Mah-Jong's business story is chronicled in the great book “Det är rätt att göra uppror” (It’s alright to rebel) by Salka Hallström Bornold, published by Modernista. It’s a very interesting take on how difficult it can be to combine idealism with running a business.

So let's travel back to Sweden in the mid 60's and the beginnings of Mah-Jong. There is a recession and the once strong Swedish textile industry is on the decline. The migration to cheap labour countries has begun and a lot of seamstresses are faced with unemployment. The three women behind Mah-Jong decides to try reverse that development and starts to collaborate with the remaining Swedish sewing and textile production factories.

They produced their first collection 1967. It was in many ways groundbreaking; colourful and flattering, made of easy care and comfortable materials like rib knit cotton and corduroy. Mah-Jong was also one of the first designers in Sweden to use printed rayon knits. In other words the clothes looked and felt very modern. The label was an instant hit and they got a lot of exposure, both in media and from famous people wearing their styles.

But there were also a lot of problems from the onset. Firstly, the small factories they hired had huge problems with consistency, so Mah-Jong got a lot of second grade goods that had to be reordered or fixed. Secondly, they had problem making money. The cost of producing locally made the clothes very expensive, thus alienating many of their perceived customers. Also the fact that Mah-Jong regularly undercharged clothes didn’t exactly help their business either.

Another problem was the dynamics between the three designers, there was a lot of arguments on the direction of the company. After a few years one of the designers left, partly because she didn’t feel like she could contribute any more, since the styles, and also many of the prints, was now set. Thus leaving very little room for her to contribute creatively.

All these problems and others stacked up and in the mid 70’s Mah-Jong folded for good. One of the designers has since then restarted the business using similar design concepts, but on a much smaller scale. Her company is called Vamlingbolaget.

Mah-Jong for the 21th century from Vamlingsbolaget

I don't think Mah-Jong’s story says that it’s impossible to succeed with an idealistic fashion business model. But what it does say is that it can be a challenge on many levels and I am pretty sure many designers today can vouch for this too. Also you need to have great business acumen, idealism can never stand on its own. And reading the book I can see that Mah-Jong made a lot of business mistakes.

But as I said, it doesn't have to be this way. Another Swedish designer started around the same time with similar (but less hardcore) ideals and she has managed to build a very successful company. Her name is Gudrun Sjödén and I plan to write something about her too in the future.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Dress with a bib

A rayon/silk dress with a pleated bib. The pattern is selfdrafted using my personal sloper. You can see some of the pattern pieces over at Flickr.

This is my latest finished project, a bibbed dress. I feel a certain ambivalence about the vibe of this dress - can't decide if it belongs in church or on Courtney Love ca 1994. But even if I lack that certain spunk that Courtney possessed back then I really like the dress, and the soft rayon/silk blend makes it very comfortable to wear.
The construction is really simple - a classic sheet dress with bust darts in the front and waist darts in the back.

This is the first time I've made stitched tuxedo pleats. Doing this kind of exact sewing work always makes me a bit nervous so I googled a bit in order to find some method that was really quick and easy. Didn't stumble on anything so I decided to try a method that I came up with myself.

1. For marking I used my kids Hello Kitty ruler that was suitable narrow and a textile magic marker pen for drawing the lines. Ideally the ruler should have been a bit longer, but it worked okay.


2. I folded every other row and pinned them carefully while checking that the purple lines met on both sides.

3. Then I sewed the pleats, using the sewing machine ruler to ensure that my lines was really straight.


4. This is what the fabric looks like before rinsing and pressing. To see if you got enough pleats just lay the pattern piece on top. Remember that if you have a shirt placket on your bib that part should be unpleated.


5. After that I rinsed the fabric to get rid of the markings. This is very important to do before ironing as the heat fixates the marker. Then I pressed the pleats.

6. The next step was placing the pattern pieces on the pleats and cut out the bib.


7. As a safety measure I also secured the pleats with a straight stitch line.

.
8. Finshed! This method took me about 30 min from start to finish and was very accurate.

Another note on construction, I used bias tape instead of facing to hide the bib seam. I can't stand flimsy facings that never seem to stay put unless I hand stitch, so I was happy to discover that bias tape worked really well on this curved seam. Ideally self fabric should be used, but I was lazy and used store bought bias tape.

The inside of the dress. I clipped the seam before topstitching the bias tape.