Thursday, April 17, 2014

A Triple Duty Tote

My husband and I are going on a company trip to Hawaii in a couple of weeks and I wanted a new tote to take on the trip. Something that would do as a carry-on, shopper, and beach bag. Needing a durable fabric that could handle sitting in sand, I headed to our nearby home dec fabric store. I looked for about an hour and finally decided on a cheery, whimsical floral print. The base was like poplin, so I knew it would hold up to the uses I intended. 

I cut out the bag that evening and was all set to start sewing it the next evening, when I realized what a blunder I had made. This print would be fine in Hawaii, but no way would it play well in the Boston or San Francisco airports. The perfect beach bag, yes. But not, ahem, a sophisticated urban tote.

Sooo, back to the home dec store I went, this time deciding on a quiet gray/taupe linen/rayon herringbone fabrication. I knew I wanted to paint it, and I wanted to make the handles from some dark purple faux suede from my collection. Purple would look great with this fabric, so I didn't think it would be a fail.

I chose the Eucalyptus stencil from Diane Ericson, and went to town painting both sides of the bag. I intended to add some dragonflies the next day. But when I walked into the studio to resume working on it, I saw I had made yet another error. This bag looked so drab, there'd be no way I'd carry it in Hawaii. Maybe in Boston in the winter, but definitely not in April.

Back to the proverbial drawing board. What did I really want? A fabric I could paint. A dark fabric that wouldn't show dirt. A sophisticated look with a touch of individuality. 

Feeling a bit like Goldilocks, off I went to JoAnn's, where I got a yard of black cotton duck at a 40% discount. I took it back to the studio and tried out two new silk screens I got last week from June Colburn. While I love the screens - Lotus Flower and Dragon - neither looked good. They were just not the right size for the large bag. In a last-ditch effort I pulled out my new Calla Lily stencil from Diane Ericson, printed a practice lily, and I knew I'd finally found the right combination.

 I love my new bag! It's colorful without being cutesy, it's just the right size, and it's appropriate for all of my travel needs.

The pattern is the L2 Bag from the Sewing Workshop. I loved making this bag! The pattern is well drafted and written, so it was easy to follow.

There were a couple of tough areas to sew, partly because my fabric was very stiff.

The first trouble I ran into was with the side gussets, which are sewn in after the main part of the bag is lined. That made for three layers of duck and three layers of silk dupionni to sew through. I had to do the best I could with pin basting, as there's no way I could have got a needle through the heavy fabric.

The second trouble spot was sewing the plastic needlepoint canvas into the bottom of the bag (used as a stiffener). It's done by stab-stitching through the center bottom seam, but you have to do it with one hand inside the bag, with no visibility of the plastic canvas. It took a lot of feeling what I was doing, rather than seeing it. Patience and focus paid off, and the task wasn't so bad after all.

I learned a new trick with this pattern: the side pleat on the outside of the bag. I won't try to describe how it's done, as pictures show it much better. But it was easy and I like the finished look.

Yes, I lined the bag with silk dupionni. Extravagant, I know. But I had it on hand, and the color matches the purple paint perfectly. I neglected to take photos before inserting the lining in the bag. Suffice it to say I put in a zippered pocket, and my usual double pleated pocket to hold my phone and glasses case. There was a flat double pocket in the pattern, but I didn't make it because I knew I wouldn't use it.

Lesson learned? Time away from a project can do a world of good. Excited with the idea of a new bag, I had stuck my head in the sand as I forged ahead on the first two bags, not really "seeing" what I was making. In each case, I put in hours of work, only to not like the look of it the next day. After I slowed down for the third one, everything fell into place.

Trial and error is most certainly the way the design process works. But learning to look and see along the way is crucial to being satisfied with the finished product. I'm not saying this bag is perfect or exactly as I would like, but it is good enough for my needs and I'll get a lot of use from it!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Whimsical Red Vest

I'm back! After about four months of little or no sewing, my desire to create in the studio is stronger than ever. Which feels sooooooo good! I've been playing in the studio nearly every day for over two weeks now, and I'm learning and creating and having a blast. I've been playing with stencils and paint, making some sample prints and some finished garments. Here is the first item I've made this spring:

As they say here in New England, that's wicked bright! It's a gorgeous linen from Marcy Tilton that's been in my collection for a couple of years now. The trim fabrics are remnants from Sawyer Brook. I used Diane Ericson's Revisions Java Jacket pattern. It was very easy to add a couple of inches at the sides and bottom to make it fit, and it's a very straightforward pattern to follow. The fussy part was the binding on the neck and armholes, but it wasn't difficult. Just painstaking to make sure things lined up just so.

The theme for the vest was determined by the buttons, which are fused glass, made by a wonderful woman who lives in Rhode Island. I see her every year at the regional sewing expo, and she had a trunk show at a local yarn shop this past winter. I've amassed quite an assortment of these buttons over the years, so it was a joy to finally use these red ones.

I love the geometry in these buttons, and how the melting process softens the edges a bit. They're still very angular, but there's a feminine quality to them as well.

No two buttons are alike, so they offer nice variety as design elements. 

I painted the black band and the bodice using stencils from Diane Ericson. The buttons determined the colors and influenced my choice of stencil images. I love the whimsical touch the stenciling adds to the garment!

The pattern offers two lower pocket options, but I decided not to use them, as I didn't want to draw attention to that part of the garment. I really wanted the focus to be at the top, with a strong vertical center element. Those are the lines that seem to flatter my body most.

I neglected to take a photo of the back. It is two overlapped pieces, with a long vent at the bottom. At the waist there's a blue shaped tab adorned with a button.

I'll have a few opportunities to wear this before the weather becomes too warm for it. Then it's into the closet for a few months. It's a great spring/autumn piece, and it will add lots of color to my look when I want it!

Next up: a tote bag I finished today, to take to Hawaii at the end of the month. Stay tuned, as I'll be writing again soon. Promise!

Friday, November 15, 2013

Where Have I Been? Or, What to Do When The Urge Vanishes

Seven months without blogging. What happened? A lot. Where have I been? Here. What have I been doing? Knitting like a fiend. Recently, sewing like a fiend. Let me explain.

In May my sewing mojo took a hike, went on vacation, was missing in action. Gone. A few feeble attempts at accomplishing something in the studio were in vain. I simply had no desire to sew. None whatsoever. So, I decided that aspect of my creative life needed a break. And I started knitting. I knit like crazy, and shawls appeared like bunny rabbits. Lots of shawls - eight completed so far this year, three more currently on needles. I couldn't get enough of them!

Stephen West's Barndom shawl, before blocking.
Knit with Breathless cashmere/merino/silk yarn.
My absolute favorite yarn and shawl of all time.
This knitting fever lasted all summer, into September. So did the sewing heebie jeebies. No sewing for four months. The entire summer my studio sat idle. And I knit shawls. And socks.

Entwined cabled socks. Knit in Hazel Knits Entice
(merino, cashmere, nylon sock yarn).
Letting the sewing landscape lie fallow was a good move. I firmly believe you can't force creativity. If the urge isn't there, there's no making it happen. Letting it rest lets other things come to the forefront. And it's not gone, it's just hibernating. It's lying quietly, brewing ideas, growing new roots and shoots, preparing to sprout.

And then one day the creative urge returns. For me it was mid-September. Subtle at first, it quickly gained momentum and I found myself in the middle of making a coat. I finished it mid-October, and started another, which I completed today. And now a jacket is under way. My sewing mojo has definitely returned, and the creative energy is flowing freely. It's a great feeling!

Meanwhile, knitting has taken a back seat. I still dabble in it, but I'm not knitting for hours every day like I was. My creative energy has shifted, and that's ok. I finally feel like blogging again - another creative pursuit that ebbs and flows. So here I am, and that's what happened over the past seven months.


In an effort to catch up on blogging, I'm showing two bags I made in April and May. I have only one photo of the first, view B of Diane Ericson's Pacific Purse pattern.

The fabrics are silk duppioni, linen and quilting prints. The button has been in my stash for many years, and it was the inspiration for the bag. The flap and most of the back are stenciled using Diane Ericson's Spring Leaves stencil and Lumiere paints. To create the stripe effect, I used strips of sticky-back paper (like Post-It Notes) to mask part of the fabric. Then I did the stenciling, and carefully peeled the paper away. This could be done with masking tape, also. I added some hand embroidery to add some definition.

I really like this bag, but I never carry it as the greens are too yellow for my coloring. They just don't look great with my wardrobe. I don't want to give the bag away, either, because I like the button too much. For now it will stay as it is, but I suspect the button will some day be removed to be used on a jacket. In the meantime, it can enjoy living on this bag.

The second bag is one of my favorite painted creations. I used both stencils and silk screens to embellish this tote.

The basic shape was achieved using Butterick 5866. I added the pockets on the front and back, plus some in the interior. The fabrics are deep purple cotton shirting, lavender wool gauze, linen, and silk organza. I especially like the organza overlay that is crinkled and embellished with buttons.

That's a foiled damselfly at the top left. I used the foil on a couple of moths as well. The writing on the front is bleached using a dye resist through a silk screen. All of the screens used are from Marcy Tilton. The eucalyptus stencil is from Diane Ericson. It was really fun to combine purple and pewter paint in the stenciling.

The lining fabric is a textured linen/rayon blend, and I added my usual tucked slip pockets to the zippered pocket that came with the pattern.

Once completed, I realized I don't care for the drawstring closure on the top. There's no way I'm going to use a tote with a drawstring for everyday use. So this became my knitting bag, and it's carried many a shawl-in-progress over the past few months.

That wraps it up for this catch-up post. Thanks to those of you who checked in on me during my silence, and visited the blog despite there being no current postings. I love the feedback you readers give, and I missed the online sewing community I've found through this blog. I'm so glad to be back sewing and blogging!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Purple Stripes on the Double

Apologies to my regular readers for not blogging in so long. I seem to go through stretches where I'm just not inspired to post photos of myself online. Here's an attempt to get back into a routine.

Back in February I made two different garments using purple striped fabrics. The first is this knit top:

This fabric is a gorgeous purple and black striped double knit from Marcy Tilton. It has a beefy hand and was a dream to sew. I used Katherine Tilton's V8710 , which I've made a couple of times before. I raised the neckline and added a twisted, loose turtleneck to this one, making it perfect for winter wear.

Some non-plus size sewists have complained about the fullness of this top, but I really like it. There is a lot of extra fabric, however, so if that's not your ideal, I recommend slimming it down.

I enjoyed wearing this in the cold months, and will get a lot of use from it next fall and winter. It's really comfortable and cozy!

The second garment is this shirt, made from a tone-on-tone striped cotton shirting, also from Marcy.

The pattern is a hybrid based on an out of print Sandra Betzina shirt pattern, with details from Diane Ericson's Nuevo Shirt pattern (sorry, I can't get a link to the pattern itself), and her out of print Just Pockets pattern. I love, love the pocket, and the interesting cuffs:

The layers of the pocket are assembled and basted on top of the base piece, then the entire thing is inset into the shirt front (rather than laid on the shirt and topstitched). It's finicky, but I really like the look.

I was hoping to really like the shirt, but I have to say I don't, just because I don't like how woven fabrics drape on my body. There always seems to be too much extra fabric in a shirt, and I feel sloppy wearing one. Maybe it's because I haven't found a good fit in the chest and shoulder area. Or maybe that's just how a shirt fits. I don't know. What do you think?

By the way, those are rounded square tagua nut (a.k.a. corozo) buttons, from Sawyer Brook. They are a perfect color match and I love their angularity on this garment, as the design lines are angular too.

There are several more items in line for me to blog about, including a jacket and two bags, so stay tuned!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

And the Winners Are...

My husband drew two names from the pile for me, and the winners of the Plus Sized Pattern Pyramid Give-Away are (drumroll, please):

chiralcraft and megan

Congratulations to the winners. Please send an email with your addresses to me at whistlingdixie "at", so I can send the patterns on their way.

Thanks to all who played along. Be sure to follow Laura at Chiral Craft and Megan at The Green Violet for more chances to win!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Plus Sized Pattern Pyramid Give-Away!

Hurray! The infamous pattern pyramid started by BeaJay made its way to me in Massachusetts last week. Here is what I received from KC:

How about that fabric bag she made for me? It will be great for knitting projects or packing.

Since the collection is thinning down (pun intended), I decided to sweeten the pot with some unloved patterns from my collection:

If you'd like the opportunity to choose a couple of these patterns for yourself, leave a comment. I'll be drawing two winners on April 10th, so be sure to check back then to see if you've won!

Friday, March 1, 2013

Black and Plum = Yum

Finally, a photo opportunity - when husband was available and light was bright. I modeled this top and vest, made in December and January:

Let's begin with the top. Both fabrics are from Marcy Tilton, and have been  marinating in my collection for a while. They were separate purchases, but when I saw them together I knew they would be perfect in one garment.

I love the idea of combining mesh and opaque fabrics, but as a plus size gal, there's little of my body I want to expose through mesh. I pondered the challenge for a while and came up with the idea of a cowl and scrunchy cuffs.

I love the sheerness and gathers of the mesh against the tiny polka dotted rayon. The mesh is very light and easily collapses into a frothy ring around my neck. Fun!

I used a TNT pattern for this, and simply cut the cowl to fit the neck opening. It is quite high; if I pull it up it entirely covers my head. The mesh and jersey were a really easy sew, and the top is a delight to wear. (Of course it is. It's purple!)

The vest was made using an out of print pattern from Diane Ericson:

The teatowel vest is certainly outdated now (was it ever exactly fashionable?) but I think I can get a lot of mileage out of the other two designs. I used view A.

I started with a gorgeous wool crepe from Sawyer Brook. Wanting to take advantage of several textural black fabrics in my remnant collection, I decided to design pieced lapels. The pattern includes only a long, straight lapel piece. Here is the pattern mock up as I designed it:

And here are the lapels I spent hours designing, cutting out and sewing together, only to decide I didn't like the look:

If you click on the photo to enlarge it, you'll be able to see the textures a bit better. The reason I nixed these lapels is they were just too much. I didn't like the choppiness of the edges, even though I had staggered them. In a nutshell, it just seemed too crafty. So, I backed off and went for the streamlined look of the original pattern piece, and chose one of the textured fabrics. 

The vest has a fun construction detail. Except for the shoulder seams, all seams are overlapped and topstitched. To do this, the entire vest is lined to the edge and turned inside out. Then the back pieces are overlapped and stitched, and the sides follow suit. This means lots of pin fitting, and making sure of where the seam lines will be before attaching the lining. The overlapping leaves little vents at the lower back and side seams.

I like the asymmetrical back and the button detail. The seam gives a nice vertical element to the back, too. Always a benefit for a plus size!

The hemline is angled from high in the front to low in the back. My full midriff tends to pull hems up in front, so I added about an inch in length to the center front. I love how this vest falls over my curves. Both the ambiance rayon lining (which feels scrumptious!) and lines of the pattern allow for this.

The vest is a valuable addition to my winter wardrobe, as it layers easily over almost any top I've made. It's the perfect layer for keeping a touch warmer when the temperatures are cold. It can also be dressed up or down, depending on the occasion. I'm loving it!