Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Alice and Olivia pant

After the disappointment that was the Alice + Olivia pant there was nothing for it but to take my purse on a shopping trip and do my bit in the fight against the recession.

"yes, you can help me. Do you by chance have a pair of pants, in cotton drill, with front and back welt pockets and a centre front fly, with shield, in a size 15 or 16?"

And they did! Harrah! With top stitching! Double harruh!

Still, the words "let it go" do not come easily to me. This is not the last you will hear of the Alice and Olivia 64 step pant. It reminds me of that classic moment in Bridget Jones' Diary. "I will not be defeated by a bad man and a stick insect. Instead I choose Chaka Khan, and vodka." 

Here's the plan folks. I will take that SOB of a pattern and grade it back up to a 16. Now for the trick: I will then magically lose the 4 in the 64 and make a 6 step pant. I will eliminate all pockets. I will eliminate the fly, and cut the centre front facing on a fold. I will put an invisible zipper in the side and wack on a facing.  An afternoon's work redrafting. An afternoon's work cutting. And an afternoon's work sewing. Done.  If I'm feeling adventurous I might put a mock welt pocket in the back. Just a stip of fabric with a loop and a button going nowhere. But then "mock" is practically my middle name so it feels appropriate.

So anyway, here are the pants. I just had to show you the back welt pockets before they go. I know what you're thinking, you're thinking they don't look too bad, just a little snug through the booty. You have no idea how much I had to suck it in through the front though, which is probably just as well. 

Thursday, January 29, 2009

non cogiteram ergo dissuo

It means, "I wasn't thinking, therefore I unpick." 

It is, of course, in relation to the Alice +Olivia pant. I'm about 50 steps through and they're going to be too tight.  Should have known. That old rule, "make your muslin in fabric that behaves in similar ways to your final fabric."  You know that rule? Well, what does polycotton with 5% lycra and cotton drill have in common? Nothing, one stretches, the other doesn't. So one makes you think you've made a size too big, the other tells you you've made a size too small.  I'll finish them anyway, and pour myself into them for a shot and then it's straight to the pink bag. 

I'm really bummed about it, because they are very time consuming and detailed and if they had fit well they would have been a great addition to my wardrobe.

I sat down last night with a glass of wine and a block of chocolate and thought about what to do about it. I realised first off that dieting to fit into them wasn't an option. Nor is putting them in my wardrobe with the hope that one day I might fit them. They'll just mock me every time I open the door. Finishing them with pride, and then passing them on to someone who really is a size 14 seems a good bet to me, since I unpicked them and resewed with the smallest seam allowance possible and they are still too tight.

Still, 2 wonderful things happened to me today that have made me realise that the pain of struggling through those back welt pockets for someone else will soon fade. 

First off, Elle from Wardrobe Revival nominated me for a blogging award. That is so sweet, it's really nice to know someone else gets the joke. Thank you Elle, I accept with pride. I am supposed to pass it on to 7 others but I can't do that : there are too many wonderful blogs out there for me to possibly choose. Not only do I look at the ones down my toolbar, but I follow the ones on their toolbar, and then in my bookmarks folder I have links to ones on no-one's toolbar, but I like to keep a lazy eye on what they're making. How to choose? Impossible. Everyone has something unique to offer, that's the beauty of it.

Secondly I had a wonderful day op shopping. Mary, the woman who runs the Hospice in the village,  invited me out the back to look though their fabric stash. I got some lovely retro fabrics. I got a cotton sateen, and a cotton muslin, and a plain cotton. I got 2 table cloths. One in linen, in perfect condition, and the other on our table, at least for now, until I get around to refashioning it into an apron for Playcentre. 

I realised a very important thing in relation to the Alice + Olivia pant. I haven't the mental energy for complicated patterns at the moment.  I kinda said it before, but this time I'm listening.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Aah  thank you North Shore City Council there is just so much to love about your anti-fouling message.  Evidence suggests that the model for this poster had a hearty lunch and an excellent digestive system.  I applaud your desire for a quick clean up, and I believe the steam adds the urgency required to illustrate the word "immediately" effectively.

More importantly, it's good to see the council taking the matter of dog fouling so seriously with a fine stiff enough to earn respect. I can see you mean business too, with your 24 hour action line. 

Breathe easy Aucklanders, it's safe to walk barefoot in Birkenhead.

Isn't it amazing the threads of interest we carry through life. I first became interested in anti-fouling signage in Vienna, when there was a prominent sign in Freud's communal garden: being in German gave the sign a certain gravitas that greatly amused. Freud could have spent years analyzing his own grass.

I think the Alice + Olivia pants are getting to me. I'm only 8 steps through. 56 to go.

Friday, January 23, 2009

The importance of being fit

I am still in the twixt land between the builder coming in to measure up the shelves, and the shelves being installed. In other words, sewing is still a chaotic affair, even with kind, friendly fabric.  So I'm working through things on my sewing "to do" list, which don't require any sewing, as such.

One such thing is interfacing my Palmer/Pletsch slopers so that they can hang on the wall for easy reference. The body provided by the interfacing will protect them from general wear and tear, and make them easier to handle.

Fit has always been an issue for me because of my full bust. With a full bust, you have several options in RTW. You can buy the mostly correctly size and never do up the top buttons. That's what Susannah, of Trinny and Susannah fame, does.  Or you can learn to be a good sewer and adjust your patterns, like I do.  

With sewing your own clothes there are also several fit options. I did it the hard way first, by formally training in pattern design. I studied part time for a year, in a course that was 2 hours per week. In the first term we drafted our slopers from our own measurements - and we made so many! We made the standard bodice, skirt, sleeve and trousers. Then we made a dress block, a coat block and a kimono block.  It was in fact a very useful exercise in understanding the ratios and proportions of how things are spaced, and that knowledge still serves me well. 

In the second term we learnt how to draft facings, collars, lapels, stands, pockets, yolks. We learned how to manipulate darts and manage ease.  

In the third term we drafted our own patterns. I dropped out half way through, because I was in the middle of my university degree and had to prepare for exams. I still drafted several skirts and several pairs of trousers with varying degrees of success. 

The biggest drawback of this method is that you have to have an awful lot of construction knowledge behind you. I simply did not have the experience to know how to put the pieces together once I'd drafted them!  Secondly, slopers are skin measurements. You have to know how much wearable ease it is necessary to add to enable you to walk, or move your arms, or get in and out of a car.  I often made garments that were far too tight.

Also, successful design looks effortless but requires taste and experience. I would like to create original garments but I have to purchase my good taste from a well drafted pattern.

So the second, and much easier way to get good fit is to learn how to adjust patterns to your body. That's why I love the Palmer/Pletsch method. It is all done without tape measures, simply fitting the tissue to your body and seeing where it falls. With this method, you can see exactly where you body differs from the standard block that most companies draft from. 

Look at my skirt pattern for example. My waist drops 2 inches centre front (the red line) eliminating the need for any darts on the front. This would not show up on a self drafted sloper but can only be seen on the body itself.  

I'm just amazed at the many differences between myself and Joan Bloggs, not just the obvious bust line. Once you know what the differences are, its just a matter of adapting every pattern, every time you feel like it. It takes me quite a while to prepare my patterns but I never begrudge the time when the garment is successful. 

You can buy the Palmer/Pletsch fitting slopers from McCalls but it would be quite hard to fit yourself. Much better to do a weekend course. Here in New Zealand it is run by Carol Mill (email: who is the loveliest sewing teacher. It takes a full weekend, and costs around $400 NZD, and she is Auckland based. People come from all over the country and make a weekend of it. But so, so worth it if you love sewing and want to get a good fit using any pattern. There is a maximum of 4 people in the class, so you will get slopers meticulously fit to your body. 

For those in the rest of the world if you google Palmer/Pletsch you'll find an instructor in your area. 

Disclaimer: Palmer/Pletsch design and make clothes appropriate to their age and social group. (I hope you are reading PLENTY between the lines here)  You probably won't want to sew any of their designs, but when it comes to fit, they know their stuff.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


I don't know about outside New Zealand, but for the last year 2 trends in interior decorating have emerged quite strongly: bus blinds and word art.  

If you haven't seen word art, it usually consists of block letters, wooden, painted, arranged on walls or shelves to spell out words: things like "eat" in the kitchen "sleep" in the nursery, "play" in the living know the sort of thing.

Of course, I have amused myself greatly by imagining alternate kinds of words that might be seen above the toilet,  amongst other places. 

But why not leave a little more to the imagination and write %*!@ above the master bed, like I did. The possibilities are endless. And of course, I made the lot out of scraps.  I even stuffed them with scraps. 

Now isn't that a more imaginative, and environmentally friendly, use of word art?

PS thanks to all comment writers. I truly appreciate your kind and generous words. I don't know whether spending 2 years of my life hand stitching a quilt was an act of love or stupidity. But given the usual acts of stupidity committed in teenage years I feel I came off pretty lightly in this case. 

PPS  %*!@  seems to be word of the day ... I've just discovered someone has been into our front garden and denuded our entire lemon tree .. we're talking every edible lemon gone.

Monday, January 19, 2009

A half century!

Wow - I've made it to 5o posts. I find myself slowing down a little now but that's mainly a mental thing. I haven't the energy to be very creative at the moment - running round after a toddler on the one hand, and my thoughts inevitably returning to my dying father on the other. The Alice + Olivia pant has been well and truly consigned to the "too hard" basket. And rightly so, 64 steps don't happen in a day. 

Having said that, a little progress is being made. I did take on board all of the suggestions around my scrap pile, and it is so very big that it was pretty easy to do. Here is the result of one suggestion. I divided the scraps into useful and useless and all the patchwork and wool scraps have now been catagorised and put into separate wheely bins to be stored under the spare bed in the sewing room.  I got my scraps down to 4 bins to slide neatly under the bed, and sorted my patterns into 4 other bins, to go on the other side. If you have to have a dual purpose sewing/spare room this a very good use of space, might I add.

You can also see in this picture my love of a dressed bed. It's all made from scraps and second hand stuff from my local Sally Army. You will recognise a baby knitted quilt in there, as well as an old blanket I trimmed with a silk tie, some remnant upholstery fabric and of course my left over fabrics sewed recently into feature cushions.  

You might also like to note the new colour of the walls - painting all finished. While you are at it, take time to admire my 1200+ hand pieced quilt made by yours truly as a teenager. Just goes to show, the Nanna force was strong with me even then, two decades ago. 

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Left over love cushions

Left over love cushion tutorial

  • bitch fabric   
  1. anything that frays easily and will get trapped in your feed-dog, or will fray outside the scant 6 mm (1/4 inch) seam allowance.
  2. anything silky that is cut on the bias
  3. anything that moves a lot when you cut it out.  To test, cut a small square, and hold up. Does it still look like a square ? 
  4. anything which is followed by the words crepe, georgette, satin or charmeuse  
  5. anything sheer so you have to sew a separate inner
  6. you can make your own bitch fabric by taking a nice easy piece of fabric and adding piping to the edges without a piping foot
Sew, cussing as you try to ease the circles into the gusset. 

I had the worst afternoon of sewing ever to try to sew these cushions. "Lumpy Love" got finished, and actually looks very nice on on the spare bed with the other dressed cushions.

The second one, the one with the white and brown slub so perfect for my "Ralph" cushion was the biggest nightmare of my sewing career. Yes really. Oh except the fabric and stuffing cost me nothing. Plenty of insult, but no real injury.

I made some piping for the cushion which stretched so badly that it shrunk the outer cushion by 3 inches when I attached it. I cut the bottom down accordingly and sewed, unpicked, sewed, unpicked, sewed, unpicked still couldn't get it to fit the gusset. Finally it did but it was smaller than the top piece so it made a big fat ice-cream cone cushion. I would show you a photo but I still have some pride.
Thank you for all your suggestions for the rest of my leftovers, which I will implement as soon as I can bare to look at another scrap. 

So it's back to Vogue 1051 the famed "64 step Alice + Olivia pant", real thing. 

I could be gone some time. 

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

crocheted cupcake

I bought back this cute little cupcake from my holiday in Nelson: gorgeous detailing on it - chocolate chips, a strawberry garnish and a dollop of cream. It's going to sit on my new shelves in the sewing room, soon as I get them installed. It will remind me of the importance of details, that details turn an ordinary garment into a special one.

I had serious sewing withdrawal on my days away.  Fortunately my sister came to the rescue and gave me a pattern to tissue fit for her and one to take away for a little bed time reading.

I now have a list of many exciting projects to undertake, but first I must finish off my "left over love" cushion in bitch fabric.   

"Cushions are a great way to use up scrap fabric,' I said to my sister. 
"Wouldn't all those scraps make the fill a little lumpy?" 
"Ah yes, I thought I might experiment by using a towel to make a thicker inner cover."
"But it will still be lumpy, and lumpy stuffing isn't that comfortable." 
"Oh but they're only to dress the bed with, so it won't matter,"
"yes but it will still look lumpy, and that's not nice."
"Oh well, maybe I'll just have to go with the lumps, use a textured outer cover, something with a pale slub running through, and call it 'ralph' or 'hurl' or something." 
"well.. I suppose you could..." her voice trailed into silence.

Maybe landfill isn't such a bad destination for these fabric scraps after all.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Nanna cushions.

I absolutely fully accept that my style is less retro, more fashion backward, and to celebrate that I have designed and created these 2 pillows: "the Nanna cushion" and "the Nanna tiki knits."   

Well the Internet is a big wide space and there's plenty of space for everyone and every taste. As if to prove it, yesterday I came across a blog site whose sole raison d'etre is to sew bags out of old jeans and decorate then with tatting. Don't believe me? Look here

I lOVE other people's blogs. The creativity! It is so inspiring to see the endless variety of tastes and self expression. 

I designed these cushions to use up my fabric scraps. When I cleaned out my hope chest, I bagged up my fabric scraps and quicker than you could say "landfill" I knew I had to find a way to repurpose them. The first cushion, the knitting tiki, I made a while back to use up some furnishing fabric. If you are not from New Zealand, you may not know that the tiki is a Maori emblem used to guard the entrance to sacred places. And what place more sacred than the entrance to a sewer's sewing space? 

The second cushion is only half complete. It is made from bitch fabric (silk chiffon, it slides everywhere). I looked everywhere for a pattern for those round old cushions with the gathered centre and tufted buttons but to no avail. I sat down yesterday and drafted one from scratch, so you could say I'm still mid-muslin. As soon as it's finished and I've ironed out any construction/drafting issues I'll run a tutorial. 

Who knows? If 10 people can sign up for a group blog to turn their jeans into bags with tatting embellishment then there will probably be other sewers out there who'd like to make a tufted cushion from their fabric scraps.

How do you use your fabric scraps? Any ideas, links etc gratefully received. 


Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The hope chest

The sewing room is taking shape.  I have finished painting it, and today I cleared out the blanket box, hitherto home of every scrap of fabric, notion, tool and thread. I dreaded every time I had to go into it, because the chances of finding what I was looking for was low to begin with, the chances of finding it not tangled in overlocker thread, negligible. 

I bought the box unpainted, and saw a great idea in a craft book where you painted the box in pink, and covered it with pictures of happy couples, alluding to the old custom of "hope chests" where young single women collected household linens for their future married lives.

Here's what happened, I got to the paint store, saw that this colour was called, "Kermit" and fell in love. Not with the colour, with the name. Then the reasoning process kicked in. It's not so hard to imagine kissing a frog and hoping it turns into a handsome prince. Is that fairy tale end more removed than the promise of a hope chest?  

The joke wears pretty thin after living with the colour for a while. But, in what I see now as portentous, it matches one of the colours on my blog header. 

Now it houses my stash, and will be a hope chest once more. Don't you need a lot of hope every time you start a sewing project? 

Sunday, January 4, 2009

The sporan bag

Well here it is. It took a little longer than expected due to me not having a sewing room. I cut it out using kitchen snips, not something I'd recommend. 

I had a few "ah ha" moments when I was sewing this. The first relates to me thinking I could be clever and just use top-stitching thread in the bobbin and avoid having to completely rethread and change the needle every second seam. But when you sew something upside down you can't actually see where you are going. As a learning experience for you, I draw your attention to the top stitching on the pocket which veers about half inch away from centre front. Enough said.

It's so long since I sewed a big print that I forgot you need to centre them. Wouldn't this bag look a little more stable if the blue stripe ran down the centre? Just a thought for your edification.

Other than that, not bad, not bad. I believe the queen of loud prints, Ms Donatella Versace, would struggle to top this tartan. You'll be pleased to know that there is still some of it left, should you find yourself anywhere near the Scottish shop in Dunedin. Apparently it's been on the shelf for 10 years, "The kilt maker just can't shift it, it cost $26 000 to have a bolt woven so he's decided not to restock it when it runs out."  

So don't tarry people, once gone, 'twill be lost forever.

Bag: Favourite things little should bag, pattern number 065
Fabric: Otago Tartan, 100% wool, woven in Scotland