A tunic for a cardigan

Tuesday, April 28, 2009Johanna / 2 kommentarer

My friend Anita and I have started a new crafty swap. I will make her a rayon/linen tunic with elaborate details such as a lace-up front, metal eyelets and gathered sleeves with ties. A little steampunk meets gothic Lolita perhaps - i.e. a style pretty far from my own. When I think of tunics I envision little pin-tuck pleats, maybe a standing collar and possibly a discreet lace insert. Nothing standoutish - I always gravitate to details that are subdued. So to get into a more dramatic headspace I assembled a quick inspiration board that, in conjunction with a rudimentary sketch that she provided me, hopefully will push me in the right direction.

In turn she will knit me a cardigan in a gorgeous shiny Egyptian
cotton/rayon blend that will be perfect for summer. The colour is called lavender blue and is incredibly lustrous, very different from run-of-the-mill blues.

The cardigan pattern is from Twilleys.

Looking at the cardigan now though I have to say it looks a bit, um I dunno, sedate and conservative in comparison with the tunic concept above. Oh well, at least I did pose in my underwear last week ;)


Adorable pin cushion

Sunday, April 26, 2009Johanna / 0 kommentarer
Pin cushion made by the Etsy seller ReFabulous.

I needed an additional needle cushion for my non-pin needles so I went to one of my favorite one-stop shopping places - Etsy. I am often impressed by the high design standards of many of goods that are sold on Etsy, but have to say I was a little disappointed with the pin cushion range. Many generic designs that didn't look all that well made either. But then I found the seller ReFabulous who makes really cute felted pincushions with various appliqué designs like cherries, apples and gold fishes. So hard to choose just one! I ended buying the cherry one, but the green apple was just as tempting.

Sewing with slippery velvet

Friday, April 24, 2009Johanna / 1 kommentarer

I have been obsessed with silk/rayon velvet since I was a little child. It all started with a small midnight blue velvet shawl that my grandfather had tied around a doll's neck. The doll sat in the sofa bed where I used to sleep when visiting him and I remember stroking the shawl every night, being completely fascinated with the soft, almost watery hand.

When I got into vintage clothing as a teenager I bought several pieces of silk/velvet rayon clothes - a dress, a skirt and a lovely, lovely jacket comes to mind. But apart from some brief refashion attempts I never tried sewing silky velvet. Mostly because I heard it was a really tricky fabric since it couldn't withstand things like ironing, water or pinning.

But a few years ago I caved in and bought 2 yards of a maroon silk/rayon velvet from an Ebay seller. The fabric remained untouched until I saw the Burda dress - I knew it was the perfect match, but also a risky project due to velvet's notorious properties.

So now I will share some of the stuff I learned along the way:

Prewash in cold waterI found this advice and am very glad I followed it for several reasons:
1. Velvet bleeds like crazy, it took me 10 minutes to get rid of all the excess colour.
2. Since I don't want to dry clean I'm very glad to know that the dress will now withstand hand washing and won't bleed or shrink any further.
3. Water creates a slightly crushed surface (very subtle) which in turns hides some of the "damage" that water drips and holes from the needles causes.

Use a rotary cutter
I tried cutting the fabric with a scissor first and it was a terrible experience, uneven edges and the layers kept slipping. So I placed the fabric on my cutting mat instead, put some weights on the pattern pieces and used my rotary cutter. Suddenly it all went like a charm!
Ironing in the air
Pressing velvet against the iron board damages the pile. If you are prepared to fork up loads of $
$ you can buy a special pressing board with spikes to avoid that. I've seen US vendors carrying them, but no Swedish ones. I suppose I could have tried calling up a fakir, but instead I found this great tip in one of my vintage sewing books.

You pin one side of the garment to the iron board and then hold out the rest of the garment while pressing gently with loads of steam. This is a very easy and effective method.

I enlisted the help of various family members to hold the velvet which made it much easier. Don't tug too much though since this stretches out the seams.
Also you need an iron that gives good steam. For small areas like the neckline I used a thick rolled terry cloth that I pressed the velvet against. Again no damage to the velvet.

Keeping the fabric in place while sewing
Velvet is super slippery and a walking foot is recommend. I don't have one so I had to make do with my regular one. Allegedly a common problem is having the top layer stretching out while sewing. I didn't have this problem much, but I'm pretty good at handling/stretching fabric while sewing which might have helped. My main problem was instead that the top layer wanted to slip sideways. To remedy that I put the top layer a few millimeters out from the under layer so when the presser foot went over the fabric the top layer aligned with the under layer. I didn't baste the long straight seams because I was too lazy, but for the gathered bodice I did baste which helped a lot.
So what I'm trying to say here is that you CAN sew velvet without a walking foot

Apparently Sandra Betzina suggests using double adhesive tape when sewing velvet, I toyed with trying that idea during a particular desperate session, but never got around to it since I was again too lazy to go to the store.
I also used a wide seam allowance 1,5 cm/5/8 inches (the pile frays a lot) and a small needle - a Microtex 60 which left almost no detectable holes at all. I zigzagged all the seams and used a narrow hem for the skirt.
Repair with steam
Steam is a miracle worker when you need to heal small holes and crushed piles - they disappear in an instant. I just used the steam "puffer" function on my iron, but another of my vintage sewing books has great suggestions for treating larger areas.

Place the velvet over a pot of boiling water and brush the velvet gently against the pile direction. This will remove surface damage.
Another way of removing flattened pile is placing the pile side of velvet over a boiling pot and gently ironing on the wrong side.

Also for more info on sewing silk/rayon velvet check out Debra H's great tips over at Pattern Review.

Several of the commenters asked if silk/rayon velvet is on my "never again" list after this experience.
Well the answer is (drumrolls....): I will definitely sew velvet again! But next time I will pick an easier project and I don't think I'll ever make a darted dress in silk velvet. That would just be too painful.

The perfect bathing suit

Wednesday, April 22, 2009Johanna / 6 kommentarer

I am very grateful that the Swedish retail chain Lindex had the courtesy of reliving me from the pain of sewing my own bathing suit. This is better than anything I could have ever designed and sewed myself and now I am longing for a very warm summer :)

And the bikini bottoms in the same collection aren't bad either.

featured Made by me

The finished velvet Burda dress

Friday, April 17, 2009Johanna / 14 kommentarer

This was the biggest sewing challenge I've done in a long while. It was just really, really hard getting everything right. This goes for both the pattern (from Burda magazine 3/2009) and the fabric (silk/rayon velvet). The picture might look serene, but I can assure you that there has been a lot of profanities involved in the making of this dress. But I'm very proud of myself now, because the dress turned out even better than I had hoped it would! Also this is a petite pattern, so the only alteration I had to do was adjusting for my sway back.

As for sewing velvet without any special helpers, like a walking foot and a velvet pressing board, I will talk about that experience in a separate post where I will share the stuff I learned along the way.

Regarding the execution, I'll be the first to admit that it's less than stellar in places, there was a lot if salvage stitching involved, but when I look at the dress now, I think it looks pretty good.

The dress has an interesting yoke that goes all the way to the back.

The lining. Because the bodice and skirt has a tricky shape I treated the lining and velvet as one piece and attached them with a seam that I serged.

You can read my review of the pattern over at Pattern Review where I talk more about the specifics. Also I want to direct a special thanks to Melissa who not only wrote a very helpful review, but also took the time to answer my assembly questions over e-mail.

A guest appearance

Monday, April 13, 2009Johanna / 4 kommentarer
Not my doing. This bag is done by my daughter.

After seeing the Burdastyle Diana bag that I made, my 10-year old wanted one too. Apparently low slung messenger bags are all the rage among kids her age. Since she has gotten more confident with her sewing skills lately (thanks to home ec) she wanted to make the bag herself.

I have to say it went very well. She has gotten really proficient with the sewing machine and is pretty meticulous for a 10-year old I think. I only helped her with the topstiching and the lining attachment - the rest she did herself. I can really recommend this pattern for a kid who wants to sew something that's is slightly challenging, but not overtly so. Also since the bag can be customized
easily, it's a fun project too. My daughter choose on some iron-on appliqués - the letters are her initials. When I did the bag I used a side piece to give the bag more shape, but since that's a bit more tricky, my daughter's bag is done with darts like the original pattern.


A velvet dress update: The sewing is going less than smooth - no surprises there! I feel like I have been taken back at least 10 years in terms of how much I struggle. Apart from the velvet being such a pain in the ass to sew, the rayon lining has decided to repetitively tear itself apart - I don't understand what's up with that. So I have had to mend it with some ugly stitching. Maybe I will finish the dress, maybe I will not. Right now I want to throw up every time I think about it. The actual design is really nice though, so I will probably do it again in a more forgiving fabric.

A velvet Burda dress

Friday, April 10, 2009Johanna / 10 kommentarer

Right now it's just some fabric pinned to the dress form, but what I'm trying to do here is the brilliant dress from Burda magazine's March issue.

Burda totally outdid themselves with this vintage inspired gem. Melissa of Fehr Trade has already made a wonderful Atonement inspired version and I will also take my cue from a movie with a strong costume department - Henry and June (the actual movie is a bit corny, but I only watch it for the dresses ;) )

The gorgeous Maria de Medeiros as Anaïs Nin in Henry and June. I haven't seen Maria in something for ages, has she done any major movies since Pulp Fiction?

This is the first time I'm sewing in silk/rayon velvet and damn is this fabric hard to deal with! And I haven't even gotten around to the sewing part yet.

A space of my own

Tuesday, April 07, 2009Johanna / 10 kommentarer
My new sewing corner.

I occasionally get asked how I manage to sew so much. There are many reasons to that, such as making it a priority (frequently at the expense of other hobbies, like exercising and reading). The sewing experience that I have also helps of course. But another important reason is that I have a dedicated sewing area. During the years when I had to make do with kitchen and living room tables a lot less sewing got done.

I use Ikea wooden drawers for all the notions and the vintage string shelf also hosts some beloved memorabilia from my family.

I'm a strong believer in the feminist statement about creativity that Virginia Wolf makes in her essay A room of one's own. But interior wise it's not always possible to apply that in a literal way. Although the four of us have moved to a slightly bigger apartment, it still just has two bedrooms. Such are the conditions if you want to live in a big city and don't have tons of money - large apartments are rare and expensive in my hometown. So the only change regarding the sewing space is that I've been able to move it from the bedroom into the living room. In the last apartment my boyfriend and I shared "office" in a narrow corner of our bedroom, and while it worked okay, it's not all that feng shui to sleep among a zillion electrical appliances and loads of fabric lints. So this time we set up shop in the living room, it's not large at all, but we have divided it into an office area and living room area and it works really well I think.

An old wooden hanger now takes care of my rulers.

Although it's important for me to have my own space, it's not important to have my own sewing room. In fact I like to be part of the family action - even when I'm doing my own thing. Also I like the convivial time together that I get with my boyfriend this way - our tables are facing each other and it's such a nice way of hanging out I think.

I have a loads of jugs and baskets to store my pens and tools.

As for the actual space I think it's pretty good in all it's smallness.
It's not a study in perfect organization and optimal functionality, but I don't mind that at all, since these things often make a space feel less homey and cozy. If I had a dedicated studio I would feel differently, but when you work out of the living room an industrial look isn't the best option anyway.

No inspiration board yet. But I bought a poster! The Horst P. Horst cover with the red ball was OOP so I got another classic Horst Vogue cover instead.

New curtains

Monday, April 06, 2009Johanna / 5 kommentarer
Linen curtains with pleated hem.

I think this is the first time a home dec project makes it into my blog. The reason is simple - I don't find sewing home dec all that enjoyable, loads of grinding work and very little creativity. Cindy explains these feelings well - sewing straight lines gets boring really fast.

However we needed curtains for our new living room window and since I got a very specific idea straight away I decided to sew a pair. The pleats are actually something I had planned to use on a dress, but never got around to. The ivory coloured linen is bought on the cheap from Ikea, and while I'm a sucker for fine and expensive fabrics, the Ikea version is actually pretty nice. I wanted the curtains to be a tribute to the home weaved linen and cotton curtains that my farmer grandparents was very fond of and that my mum also uses from time to time.

A pattern perfect stool

Sunday, April 05, 2009Johanna / 6 kommentarer

We visited a recycle/refashion center today and this little piece of furniture just begged to be brought home to our household (although I don't think my boyfriend heard the stool's call quite as loud as I did...). The pattern tears must be from a pattern magazine, I suspect it's from the Swedish Allt om handarbete but I can't tell for sure. The surface is coated with some kind of lacquer that looks like it's acrylic based.

This patterned piece now resides in our kitchen and I have to say it's the most charming stool I have ever met

Making many buttonholes quickly

Sunday, April 05, 2009Johanna / 4 kommentarer
Thank you for all the lovely comments on my pants! Today I want to expand a bit on the topic of the numerous buttonholes by showing how I did it - using my machine's automatic 1-step buttonhole function. This method eliminates the need for meticulous markings since you only need to mark where the buttonhole should start. This works best for vertical buttonholes, but can also be used for horizontal ones, but that might require some additional markings.

What you need:

  1. Self erasing marker pen.
  2. Awl.
  3. Sewing machine that can sew automatic buttonholes in 1 step.
  4. A pattern that is marked with small holes or notches where the buttonhole should start.

Mark the buttonholes by making small dots with the marker pen.

Remove the pattern and run an awl through the dots to mark the other side of pattern piece without having to reverse it. Then interface and press/fold the placket.

Now it's time to settle on the size of the buttonholes. Mark the buttonhole on a fabric scrap.

Program the machine and sew a sample. The machine will memorize the size of the buttonholes and then automatically replicate them over and over again.

Now it's time to switch into high gear. Place the needle over the marking and start sewing, using the plate ruler as a guide to keep the buttonholes straight. The machine will sew the buttonholes in one step without further adjustments.

Finished. The buttonholes for each leg took me less than 15 minutes to sew.

Made by me Pant sew-along

Pant sew-along - The end result

Saturday, April 04, 2009Johanna / 13 kommentarer

This feels almost surreal, but yes they are actually done and I love them too! The pant sew-along has been a great learning experience and the suggestions that has been given to me and the other participants have been invaluable.

The tie waist.

All 26 buttonholes are fully functional.

Of all sewing projects pants seems to generate the biggest frustrations - at least that's the impression I'm given when reading blogs and reviews. Do you agree with me?

I think the reason are two folded. Firstly getting the fit right is really hard since there are so many variables involved, and if you change one thing another might suffer instead. And as many of the participants have noted, the wrinkle analyzes can drive you up the wall! The second challenge with pants is that it's hard to get a truly professional looking finish in a home sewing environment. And while not all trousers are made like this, this segment from the great show How it's made was a real eye opener to me. No wonder I can't get my jeans to look like the ones in the stores.

That said, I will continue to make my own pants, since it's pretty much impossible for me to find well fitting ones in stores. And I feel more and more confident after each pair that I make, which is really encouraging. Now I just want the summer to arrive so that I can take my new pants outside!

And finally I want to dedicate this post to my fellow sew-alongers:

Antoinette (who also initiated the sew-along)
Mary Nanna

Keep up the good work!

Fabric Fact Friday - Treatments

Friday, April 03, 2009Johanna / 6 kommentarer
Blast from the past. 80's jeans washes has made a huge comeback this season. These pairs are from Cheap Monday.

Sanforized, sand washed, enzyme washed, mercerized. We have all seen those descriptions on both fabrics and clothes, but what exactly do they mean? And why do manufacturers use them? Today I'll talk about some of the ways fabrics are treated before they hit the stores.

Stone wash
This is the most common wash for jeans. The finished garment is tumbled with
pumices, which is a stone made of lava. The stone wash brings out the white fibers in the denim twill, thus making the fabric brighter and giving it a used look.
The drawback with stone wash it that it can cause a lot of damage to the fabric. According to my text book Textile science, abrasion can be so severe that 15-20 % of the garments needs some repair before hitting the stores!

Acid wash
Acid wash is a variant of stone washing.
An oxidation wash, usually a strong dose of chlorine, is added to pumices to give the fabric a speckled, distressed look. Acid washes also softens the fabric. Acid washes or snow washes as it's also called, was very popular in the mid 80's and have recently made a strong comeback on jeans, but now they are sometimes called ice washed instead.

Enzyme wash
Enzyme wash is a way to soften fabrics, to give garments a worn feel from the get go. Enzyme washes has been hugely popular during the last decade - and can be found in a large variety of cotton garments - from t-shirts to jeans. The enzyme wash is cellulase based and degrades the surface of the cotton fiber. It damages the fabric less than acid washes and is also more environmentally sound.

Sand wash
Sand wash is also called sueded or peached and is mostly found on silk fabrics and rayons, but can be done on most fabrics. It's done by either gently brushing the fabric with a very fine sand paper or washing it with silicone balls. Sand wash creates a very soft matte surface.

Mercerization gives cotton fibers a lustrous shine, and is very common in embroidery floss and knitting/crocheting yarn. But it's primarily used as a way to increase the dye affinity of cotton fibers - it takes much less dye when the product is mercerized. The effect is caused by dipping the fabric or yarn in a sodium hydroxide which causes the fibers to change their shape. Mercerization also makes the fabric stiffer and stronger.

This method is used to make cotton, rayon and linen less shrinkage prone
. Sanforization is done by running the fabric through a special pressing machine and the process is called compressive stabilization. The treatment can be done on both knits and wovens and is sometimes combined with a liquid ammonia bath in order to make the fabric soft as well.


Pant update - Part 723344
They are pretty much done now. I only have the hemming and the waist fastening left. And unless something goes horribly wrong during the final lap I plan to show them off tomorrow.
The pants look really nice and I hope that it translates into the photo as well. It's been a huge undertaking for several reasons, but the actual assembly of the pants was pretty swift, which I think is due to the massive ground work I did before cutting the fabric.