Buying RTW

Of all the things in the world that I dislike, clothes shopping is near the top of that list. I’ve never had luck with clothes fitting me, the fabrics can be uninspiring, and oftentimes I could just as easily make it instead (even if I don’t). So where did I find myself yesterday? TJ Maxx, clothes shopping.

One thing that really struck me was the sheer number of knit tops compared to woven ones. I don’t know if it’s the ease of selling them as you can size it small, medium, large, or if they are cheaper to produce, but I was looking for lightweight breezy summer tops and there really weren’t that many of those around. The knits are ridiculously thin to the point of unpleasant sheerness and yes, I know, layering t-shirts is supposed to be a thing. It is not a thing that works for me with the summer humidity here in Virginia. I did find some cute sleeveless knit tops made of a rayon/spandex blend that I liked and I found some of the construction details interesting. All of the ones I liked had a cowl drape, so just a turned under facing with the edges serged for the front neckline. The back neckline and armholes were finished with self fabric bindings to the inside with only a single row of topstitching visible from the right side of the garment and then coverstitched bottom hems.


Easy enough finish for a sleeveless knit top, I think


I like the generous size of this facing along with how it is caught in the armhole finish to keep it in place

I also got two poly/lycra knit dresses, both of which are self fabric lined, complete with understitching around the neckline and arms. The lining construction switches around halfway down from seam allowances between the fabric layers to seam allowances against my legs. I’m not sure why it would make sense to sew the side seams in two passes instead of one, but that’s not the weirdest thing about these dresses.


Seriously, WHY? This lining seam makes zero sense to me. Bodice is to the right, left goes to the bottom hem

The wrong side of the fabric faces out. I was so initially uncertain that I compared their fabric against the one printed knit top I picked up that was poly/lycra as well and was the exact same type of knit pattern (an ITY jersey?) and the dresses are definitely not right. I guess that’s why they were at TJ Maxx in the first place? It won’t stop me from wearing them, but I have to wonder if this is a common problem as these items were assembled in two different countries and I know I have to double check for the right side when dealing with solid colored polyester jersey as well.


I can’t decide if this should bother me or not, but at least the manufacturer was consistent with which side they used, even if it was the wrong side.

Trying on a bunch of clothes and rejecting most of them was an enlightening experience, and I appreciated the opportunity to try different looks and colors outside of my comfort zone.  However, I think I prefer making my own clothes as what I’m looking for fit and style wise are not found at the price points I’m willing to shop at.


Instant gratification

After my latest Renfrew, I figured I would move on to another garment type, as I’ve been excited about making a new dress for spring. Is that what I did? Of course not. I was sorting through dress patterns and realized that the fabric I wanted to use needed pre-washing and there was no way that project was going to get started that evening. However, I really, really wanted to cut out something, and with cutting being my second least favorite part of a sewing project, better for me to strike while the iron was hot. I remembered that I had previously cut out the pattern pieces for New Look 6150, selected a nicely aged fabric from the stash, and then never did anything with it.


Naturally, it was the perfect instant gratification project. I laid out fabric, four pattern pieces, and had everything ready to go for whipping up another knit top. I didn’t have to do any thinking, and clearly I didn’t, as I cut the back piece on the fold and it has a nicely shaped back seam. Oops. At least that was an easy fix, even if the shaping isn’t there. Maybe next time I’ll pay attention to the fact the pattern piece had a grain line arrow. I did read the construction instructions, though, and I liked how it directed for the stitch in the ditch around the collar to catch the facing making for a clean interior.


I basted every seam first, and stabilized the shoulder and its gathers with quarter-inch black twill tape. The top has a wraparound collar that ends in a front pleat, so to neaten the shoulder seam with the serger, I clipped into the front piece a half-inch. This allowed me to keep the rest of the front clear of the serger blade.


After that, I considered serging the seam allowance around the neck, but decided that it was fine encased by the fold over facing. After that, it was a small matter of sewing the sleeves in flat, gathering the left side front, sewing it all together and hemming, and voila, a new top with little effort.


I used a size 10 for the shoulder and size 14 below the armscye, even if I should be a 16 by the waist/hips measurement, but I think sizing down gave me the proper amount of ease through the lower part of the garment. I don’t like a huge amount of ease below the bust, but at the same time, I am not aiming for negative ease there either. In the past, I’ve had difficulty with surplice tops gaping or being too low, but this pattern shows less skin, and I really like the effect.  In the fall, I may have to try this again with a less busy print or a solid.




Another day, another Renfrew

I love how quickly this top makes up.


While waiting for the rice to cook for last night’s dinner, I cut out another Renfrew, and had the neckband applied in the short time after putting the kids to bed. I put the sleeves on between breakfast and putting my daughter on the school bus and had the rest completed by 8:30. Total sewing time- 1 hour 15 minutes. I love this pattern.

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The shoulder seams are stabilized with clear elastic. I hate the stuff. It doesn’t play nicely with any of my machines and in order to baste it into place, I had to use scraps of pattern tissue between the elastic and the presser foot so that it would feed with the fabric. I chose to baste every seam first before running through the serger to have better control of the fabric when serging. I’ve ruined neckbands in the past by skipping this step and I was enjoying the amount of control it gave me, so I did the entire top this way. It really didn’t add too much time to the sewing and I think I was more accurate than I usually am when making knit tops.

The fabric is some cotton and mystery synthetic rib knit from Jo-Ann that I bought two or three years ago. Anyways, the fabric has really good recovery, but experience from my purple Renfrew tells me that it will fade badly around the cuff hems where there are multiple layers of fabric. I also had to be careful in pressing as I was worried that the heat from the iron was leaving marks too. I really hope I don’t have anymore of this hanging around. I seem to have so-so luck with cotton knits from Jo-Ann, but I keep buying them regardless. I do like their rayon/lycra knits though and just wish they had a better color selection in that line.


I think I need to go down a size in the shoulders next time I make this. I have been cutting a straight size 10, but I have small shoulders, and I prefer the shoulder seam to pass through my shoulder point, not over by another inch like it is here. Also,  I get fabric folding over above the bust and this knit has enough body that it will stand away from my shoulder if I don’t pull it down into place.  This becomes more of an issue when I sit down. I should note, by my high bust measurement, I should use a 6, and then add for the bust, waist, and hips; but for a casual top, I haven’t made the effort thus far.  I should have.

Fiat Saleslady

Can I interest you in a quirky version of a commuter box?

I’m done with the Renfrew for a while, as I have a bunch of summer tops already, but I’m looking forward to revisiting this one again in the future.

Playing with my old machines

Remember the embarrassingly bad buttonholes I did on my daughter’s coat? I certainly do, and it coincided with my husband telling me to get the Singer 401 looked at so that I can use it. I took it to the local sew-vac on Saturday and was almost seduced by a lovely computerized new Babylock that I DON’T need. I did inquire about a coverstitch only machine, but the saleswomen were big on the serger/coverstitch combo machine that they keep in stock. Erm, no thank you. Anyway, the demonstration buttonhole was satisfactory, though not overwhelming, and when I got home, after looking at all of the nice machines to be had online, I decided that I should use all of the machines I have right now before I get too hung up on the idea of something new. That’s right, Bernina 830 Record, I will figure out how to use you. Thankfully, I found the manual for it on Bernina’s website yesterday, and the Singer was ready for pickup today, so I spent the afternoon getting to know the vintage machines I already owned.


Look at that vintage goodness.  I just need a cabinet for the machine and I’m set!

The wonky tension I had been struggling with on the Singer was fixed and I had a lovely straight stitch. Trying to figure out the zigzag setting was a little more problematic since the machine’s dials are lettered by letter with no indication what each letter means. A chart in the manual would have made sense, but apparently in the 1960’s they weren’t into that. After finally realizing that BL3 was the winning combination, I put the buttonholer on and gave it a whirl. Oh my goodness, it was amazing. The machine I asked for solely for this buttonholer has justified its place in my sewing room. The buttonholes are fast and the legs look the same, which is more than my poor Elna has ever quite managed and I think I’m looking forward to a project requiring buttons just to try it for real instead of samples on muslin.


Oh for the keyhole buttonhole on the coat ::wistful sigh::

Buoyed by my good results, I decided that I wanted to see if I could figure out the Bernina’s 4 step buttonhole. The manual makes everything easier and I have a good straight stitch with my West German-made Gutterman thread (I shudder to think how old it is). How hard can a buttonhole be? Well, when the machine refuses to do a zigzag stitch, pretty damn hard. I couldn’t make any of the embroidery stitches work either, so right now, it’s a straight stitcher only. I really hope the guts aren’t too messed up inside as I don’t want to put a lot of money into it.

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Pretty machine and this is what it gives me.  Only one of those lines was intended to be a straight stitch, alas…

I enjoyed learning more about these sewing machines, but they both gave me a new appreciation for my modern one.  Yes, it’s mostly plastic and hence lighter weight and doesn’t have the speed of the Bernina or the projected longevity of either, but it has a thread cutter at a location that makes sense, swapping feet is easy as can be, and all of the stitches and stitch lengths were intuitive right out of the box.

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I love the old packaging and manuals.  Of course any housewife worth her salt sits around in her living room sewing on the coffee table.

Put a bird on it

Much like that one skit from Portlandia, I love bird motifs. LOOOOOOOOOVE them. So naturally, my daughter needed a shirt with birds on it, right? The colors in the fabric are mostly purples, her favorite color, and adding a puffy sleeve adds up to awesomeness for a little girl.

I used Burda 9439, a t-shirt pattern with tank top, puffed sleeves and long sleeve variations. I always trace out kid’s patterns when I think that I will want to use it for multiple sizes and this envelope has up to size 12, suggesting many more years of use out of it. My first snag was when I noticed while tracing that the neckline said no seam allowance. Umm, what? I thought the pattern had a standard neck band, but instead it uses a knit binding of the edge. Yay for reading directions! The finish was not one I had done before, so I figured, why not. I was a little leery of the idea of finishing the second shoulder seam after binding the neckline, but I had seen this before in ready to wear and who knew, I might find this simpler than my usual quartering of neckbands and hoping that I don’t get too crazy with the serger.


I dutifully pinned the binding to the shirt, careful not to stretch anything, and threaded up the sewing machine with the twin needle for the topstitching in place. Snag number one, the binding was thick at this point so I had to keep the binding centered under the zigzag foot just to keep from veering off of the binding. I wasn’t enamored of the look as I would have preferred to have the stitching follow the edge a little better, but hey, new technique, right?!


Oh boy. I don’t know how I ended up stretching everything out of shape, but this turned into a hot mess. My hopes of a beautiful shirt disappeared in an instant. Optimistic me decided to see if anything could be steamed back into place knowing that the possibility was remote. Yeah, not happening. Sigh. Seam ripper time, woo hoo! I removed the binding, decided it would make a better neckband, and set about to figure out how much to shorten it so that it will pull inward as it should so as to lie flat against the body when worn.

Sadly, despite my gazillions of sewing books, not a single one gave me adequate directions, so off to the Internet. Courtesy of the nice members of Pattern Review who posted the link to this video, I was able to regroup and finish the neckband of the shirt.


Much better

The rest of the shirt was quite easy to assemble, though after the neckband debacle, I basted the gathered sleeves in before I serged the seams.  The gathering at the bottom of the sleeve was accomplished by elastic thread but I’m not sure how well it will hold up to wear as I’ve never used it before and it’s just knotted in place.  At least I have plenty more.  My sewing machine was a bit cranky about doing the twin needle hem and sometimes skipped stitches.  I think the poor thing needs a tune up as I’ve been using it a bunch since 2005 and this isn’t the first project where at full speed the stitches skip.  At least everything still work when sewing at a snail’s pace, which is about my speed for getting everything done right the first time.


A pleased recipient

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Hey, Mommy, didn’t you notice how cold I am?  Stop with the pictures already.

*By the way, can anyone explain why I have to go to Simplicity’s website to find the Burda envelope patterns as the Burda site seems to only have the magazine patterns?

A walk in the garden

No sewing here today, it was a GORGEOUS Sunday that finally feels like springtime. I love how quickly the trees turn from bare to festooned with flowers to leafing out. My husband had finished creating the bed for this year’s vegetable garden and it is time to plant!

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We went with a real plan this year as opposed to the past when we winged it and didn’t get a good harvest since we didn’t know what we were doing. Last year we sited the garden where nothing got direct sun after 12:30 and the tomatoes never ripened. It was kind of sad, really, but live and learn. That and we labeled everything this year as well as creating a schematic to refer back to later. I finally got our strawberries out of their containers and am trying blueberries and raspberries to see if we can grow fruit ::fingers crossed::

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In addition to the new vegetable garden, my Meyer lemon is back in bloom and I finally have lemons that are making it to a respectable size for the first time in the two years I’ve had the plant.

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Lastly, my front garden, primarily species indigenous to Eastern North America, is showing signs of life. The bluebells I planted on faith last year are a delight and the columbine just started sprouting. My redbud tree in the side yard is still tiny, but in its third spring here finally showing lots of flowers.


Virginia Bluebells


I can’t wait for serviceberries!


My favorite ornamental tree – long lasting blooms and pretty heart shaped leaves

One way ticket to Waddersville, please

Me, purple knit fabric, and my trusty Renfrew with the short sleeves newly traced off. How hard can this possibly be?

Well, there’s nothing wrong with me or the Renfrew, but the fabric, oh that fabric. Thursday night I decided it was time to grab the purple knit off the guest bed and match it to a pattern. I bought it thinking it would become pajamas, but I discovered that the pattern I thought I wanted to use was for wovens and at the moment I don’t have a short sleeve t-shirt pattern cut out. Besides, the fabric, a mystery fiber from the Jo-Ann’s red tag table, is probably a polyester and for Tidewater Virginia not a good choice for warm weather pajamas and I don’t need any more cold weather ones. I was ready to chuck it back in the pile of fabrics except for me writing that I wasn’t going to do that. Sometimes I hate my good ideas. On the bright side, it’s a really drape-y knit, so perfect for another Renfrew, right? Right.

First came the task of deciding which side was the right side, given that it was shiny and shinier depending which side I looked at. I think it was an interlock but what I took to be the right side had a bit more texture to go along with that shine and I was starting to feel some trepidation about it. However, it cut out fine and I sat down to rethread the serger. Which promptly started misbehaving. I threaded the lower looper ten times before figuring out that it wasn’t going through the tension disks hence why it kept unthreading itself and making a mess. When I ran the thread through initially, it was properly tensioned, so I don’t know. Maybe the serger knew something that I didn’t…

Everything cut out fine, so I sit down to give a test run of the serger on the scraps. Eh, it feeds through weirdly. Hmm, but I’m trying to get this done before dinner and figure that it was no big deal. Trying to get the twill tape and the front and back pieces to sew the shoulder seam was an exercise in frustration, so I decided that I wasn’t going to bother stabilizing the second shoulder seam. Just wrangling the two pieces together worked okay, so I kept going. Both sleeves attached, the side seams sewn up, I even got the bottom hem band attached ever so wonkily when I decided to see how it looked. I had been getting more annoyed with each seam sewn, and I was not about to commit to the sleeve bands or the cowl before checking progress in the mirror. And there I realized why this fabric was a mystery find on the table at the back of the dingy Jo-Ann. It became see through. I could see the exact pattern of the lace on my bra. And remember the shiny? Yeah, not helping matters.

I looked at it, realized that I wasn’t getting those 90 minutes of my life back and chucked all of it in the trash.

From my husband, “Is it supposed to look like that?” and “I just can’t take you seriously while wearing that.” Me neither, me neither.