Wednesday, June 30, 2010

A Lucky Find

No, this is not my dirty laundry even though I do plan to wash it. My mum and I went thrifting today, and I finally hit the jackpot.

We had stopped by the Assistance League Thrift Shop on our way home from someplace else, and while my mother worked her way through the racks of clothing, I idly flipped through the sewing patterns and pawed through the fabrics and linens. Nothing really exciting. However, I bought two mildly vintage patterns, McCall's 8335, which was published in 1966, and Butterick 6037, which is probably from the mid-seventies. I already have plenty of patterns, but lately, whenever I find a vintage pattern, I react the same way Huck Finn's father did whenever he encountered a chicken.
Pap always said, take a chicken when you get a chance, because if you don't want him yourself you can easy find somebody that does, and a good deed ain't ever forgot. I never see pap when he didn't want the chicken himself, but that is what he used to say, anyway.
Except that I always pay for my chickens -- er, patterns -- before I take them home. (They were only 25 cents apiece!)

Then I saw the sign -- "Fourth of July Sale." All clothes and shoes and were marked down to $1.00. Hooray!

How often I've read with envy those posts on Quiltville Chat from ladies whose local thrift stores sell men's shirts for a song. Some even sell them by the pound. But the shops in our area often want as much as $5.00 per shirt.

I've been wanting to make this thrifty quilt for quite some time. Now if I can just find a couple of light shirts at a yard sale, I'll be good to go.


By the way, the feline blur is our tabby, Priscilla, who takes her job as a fabric inspector very seriously.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Apron and Bonnet Progress -- Or Lack of It!

I thought I was going to be finished with the second of the prairie aprons and sunbonnets today, but I made an annoying mistake on the inside of the brim which is going to call for some "frog-sewing." (Rip-it, rip-it!)

My problem is that I tried to modify the lining of the bonnet brim, and now it doesn't fit. Sigh! I think I have trouble altering garments because I find it so difficult to visualize in three dimensions. Quilts, being two dimensional, are so much easier to design, sew, or modify.

(The purple and lavender floral to the right of the apron is the print I'll be using for the next one. It looks rather washed out on this photo; it's really brighter than it appears.)

Since reverse sewing always makes me downcast, I decided to take a break and do the hand work on the inside of the apron's waistband.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Hand Piecing

Here's the other hand piecing project I worked on while I was recovering from foot surgery. It's called Bride's Pride, and I got it from the June 1978 issue of Quilter's Newsletter Magazine. This issue was published back in the Precambrian Period which means that the templates were printed without seam allowances. Yes, boys and girls, I traced them onto translucent template plastic and carefully inked the match points with a fine-tipped Sharpie marker. Then I traced around each template on the wrong side of my fabric with a pencil, added a 1/4 inch seam allowance, cut out each patch with scissors, and stitched them together by hand.

Why, you may ask, would any quilter-- here in the technological vastness of the future -- go to so much trouble? Personally, I always thought I'd be one of those "life is too short for hand piecing" kinda gals until I discovered this little secret: piecing curves is far easier by hand than by machine. Hand piecing is also portable and can be easily done in bed (or other locations where a sewing machine would be inconvenient). And there is something inherently satisfying about making things "from scratch."

But if I'm going to invest the time to piece by hand, the project has got to have some sort of "wow" factor such as curves. That's why once these blocks are finished, I'm thinking of joining them by machine. (Straight seams -- ho, hum.) But I'll definitely do the quilting by hand. And when it's finished this quilt will go on my bed. (That's why I'm leaving out the hearts that are supposed to be appliqued in the white space where four adjoining blocks meet. No bridal motifs for this widow's bed!)

By the way, making templates is my least favorite part of the process. I recommend the nice metal templates made by Ardco. I wish they'd had this particular pattern.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Would Captain Picard Choose a Bernina?

Had it not been for Doug at Savage Chickens, I would not have known that yesterday was Captain Picard Day.

(I would so love to have this on my sewing room wall!)

And it brought back memories of my one visit to L.A.'s garment district way, way back in the '70s. I was in college at the time, and a friend of mine had entered a costume designing contest connected with Equicon. She designed a dress uniform for Uhura, something which the television show had neglected to do. She won -- and was taken to the garment district (along with some other winning entrants) by Bjo Trimble to buy fabric and patterns for their costumes. My friend invited me to tag along, and I had the most amazing time of my young life, despite the fact that I was so shy I probably never opened my mouth once during the whole trip. I'd never in such close proximity to Star Trek fandom before, and I had certainly never seen such an amazing fabric selection. I was impressed at the way our hostess could unerringly pluck a suitable pattern to be adapted for a particular costume out of a whole bin full of patterns.

As time goes by, memory fades. I can't remember if I ever saw a picture of my friend's costume after it was sewn up. I know I didn't see it at the convention because I didn't go. Equicon was always held during Easter weekend when I was busy with -- um -- a different Fandom.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The First Apron and Bonnet Are Done!

The first of the prairie girl outfits is finished. I sewed a size 3-4 for the youngest granddaughter using a piece of pale yellow calico from my stash. The bonnet is trimmed with a bit of lilac ribbon to match the floral print and it looks very sweet. I started on Sunday and would have finished sooner if I hadn't had to interrupt myself so often to elevate and ice my foot.

Here are my tips for sewing this pattern:

1) When fusing interfacing onto the apron waistband, put some kind of mark on one side of your damp pressing cloth so that when you go to fuse the bonnet brim, the same side of the pressing cloth will be facing down and there won't be any chance of getting stray bits of fusible onto your iron. (Don't ask me how I know!) Bonus Tip 1-a) Don't let your sewing room get so messy that you can't find the iron cleaner you bought at the last quilt show.

2)When sewing the long ties on the apron and sun bonnet, use a large wooden dowel to iron the seams open before turning the ties right side out. I just slide the dowel into the sewn fabric tube and then press the sewn end of the tube by pressing a dry iron against the end of the dowel. Then I lay the whole thing down on the ironing board and and press the long seam open. The dowel functions as a long narrow ironing board. (Don't use steam -- your fingers will thank you.) Then turn the tube right side out and do the final ironing; which will be much easier and neater than you'd expect.

3) And to turn those ties right side out, nothing beats this handy little gadget: the Dritz Quick Turn Fabric Tube Turners. This is one gadget that is definitely worth the money even if you don't get it at Joann's using one of their 50% off coupons. There's a quick illustrated tutorial on how to use it over at Sew Little Time.

4) There's a bias tape casing on the wrong side of the back of the bonnet. You're supposed to insert 1/4 inch ribbon through it which will come out through button holes in the middle of the right side of the back. Don't even try threading it through with a tiny safety pin. Use one of those double sided needles that are meant for threading serger tails back into a serged seam. Just fold the end of the ribbon in order to make it narrow enough to fit into the eye.

5) You're supposed to make two buttonholes in the back of the bonnet, and the instructions tell you to baste two one-inch squares of fabric underneath the buttonhole markings so you'll have enough thickness for a machine made buttonhole. That just sounded kind of dumb to me, so instead I cut a one inch by two inch piece of fusible interfacing as a stabilizer. Worked fine.

6) Unfortunately, as mentioned in some of the online reviews, the bonnet is runs large. The pattern I bought contains sizes 3-4 and 5-6. But there's only one bonnet pattern for that whole range of sizes! Supposedly you can fine tune the fit a bit with the drawstring ribbons in the back, but it still looks huge. I tried this bonnet on my mom who has a 21 inch head (the same size as my eight year old granddaughter). It fit her easily. Oh, well. I guess I'll just return the size 7-14 pattern I bought for the older girls. I can just use the younger girl's bonnet pattern for them. (I won't need a pattern to make their aprons!)

P.S. That's my upright vacuum cleaner posing as a dressmaker's dummy.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Grandmother's Eternal Flower Garden

Ideally, I would have prepared some handwork for my convalescence. But I was too rushed to do the machine work for the binding of my baby quilt in progress. Otherwise hand stitching the back side of that binding would have been the perfect project for my recovery period. And finishing the redwork for the other baby quilt in progress would have been a good choice too. But my sewing room is such a mess right now that I just couldn't find it!

Fortunately, I also have some long term hand sewing projects that I've been working on forever. Like Jane Austen, they never let me down because they are always at hand and ready to go when I need to take something with me to keep my hands busy.

The first is my Grandmother's Flower Garden. I started it early in my quilting career. I was at the Glendale quilt show when I fell in love with an antique GFG in a vendor's booth. It was beautifully pieced and quilted, and I instantly fell in love with '30s prints and Nile Green. Alas, the price was more than I could afford even had I been willing to fling caution to the wind. But then I said to myself, "I may not be able to buy this quilt, but I am a quilter -- albeit a new one. I ought to be able to make this quilt."

Being an omnivorous reader, I already knew that English paper piecing was the easiest way to make a GFG, and that the only skill required was the ability to sew a fine whip stitch, something I'd been able to do since childhood. As yet, I had no '30s reproduction prints in my stash, a lack I immediately set out to remedy.*

Having a specific project in mind is a wonderful justification for indulging the hunter-gatherer instincts inherited from our ancient foremothers. (I think that's why we women enjoy shopping so much!) And in the course of digging through fat quarters in quilt shops and vendors' booths, I discovered that I could also buy my hexagons ready made -- and die-cut from card stock for accuracy. And I learned that by basting through only the fabric layers at the corners, it was possible to pop out the hexagons to reuse them -- not to mention quicker and easier on the hands. I also committed myself to buying '30s repros for several years. After all, I wouldn't be able to get the proper degree of scrappiness merely by buying what was on the shelves that season!

My first flowers consisted of just a single ring of pieces around a central white hexagon. I used two contrasting modern fabrics for each unit. I'm not sure yet what I'm going to do with them, but every now and then I get them out and flip them over so that I can admire what tiny whipstitches I used to be able to make when my eyes were less -- ahem -- mature than they are now. Fortunately, I'm a quilter who is in love with the process rather than focussed on finishing the project.

The picture at the top shows some of the twenty-one Grandmother's Flower Garden blocks which I someday intend to set with white background hexagons and a Nile green "path." My mother keeps asking me who it's for and when it will be finished. (She's a "project" person.) Well, this quilt is for me, and it will be finished when it's finished.

*I wonder if I've spent more on '30s style fabrics than it would have cost to sew the original antique quilt? No matter! I'll have the left over fabric which can go into countless other quilts.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Vintage Sewing Machines and Buttonholes

Susan at Spare Time has been writing a series of posts about Using a Vintage Sewing Machine. Currently she's demonstrating the various specialty feet. But if you keep clicking on "Show Older Posts" you'll eventually get back to the first one, Preparing where she outlines what she'll be covering.

Although I love my two, lightly-computerized Berninas, I learned to sew on older mechanicals. My mom had a Singer 500, a.k.a the Rocketeer. And the sewing machines we had in my junior high home-ec class were old Singers very much like the one Susan is writing about. (Her descriptions of needles, threading, and tension on her 15-91 triggered a lot of forgotten memories!)

I own three vintage sewing machines right now. The first is a Singer 401A. I bought it on e-Bay because it looked so much like my mom's 501. It has cams for making special stitches and I managed to find a box of attachments. I also have a buttonholer for this machine, though I have to admit that I haven't tried using it yet. It comes in a pink plastic box shaped like a football.

I also have two Featherweights:* one which I inherited from my mother-in-law, and one which I discovered at a yardsale. I've got a box of attachments for both of them, including a buttonholer. I haven't yet tried out the buttonholers for any of these machines, but Susan has just posted a detailed (and well illustrated) tutorial that will finally will finally give me the courage to attempt it. Even if you don't own one of these, check it out. It's fascinating!

*Um, not a picture of one of my own machines, just a link to show you what a Featherweight looks like.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

My New Pin Cushion

When did the red tomato pin cushion become iconic?

At left is a photo of my new, felted wool pin cushion. I balanced it on edge so you could read its cute little label, but when sitting on its bottom, it's actually egg-shaped and looks rather like a short-haired Tribble.

At one time these were commonly found at quilt shows. I longed for one but when I finally decided I could afford it, they were no longer to be found. It finally occurred to me to search online and I bought this one on eBay from this eBay seller. It's so cute, and the lanolin in the wool is supposed to be good for your pins. I haven't had a pin cushion in years. When my previous red tomato wore out I bought a new one at JoAnne's, but the glue holding on its leafy green top was so thick that I couldn't poke a pin through it. So it was essentially useless. My pins slide into this wool one as if into butter.

Instructions for making your own are here, but there's no way I'd ever actually do it. And although I bought mine on eBay, I've since discovered that they are also available at Brush Hollow Studio. (Caveat: I've never ordered anything from them, so consider this as information rather than an endorsement.)

Monday, June 7, 2010

Back to Blogging

Hello! I'm finally feeling well enough to sit up and use my laptop.
One of the awkward things about foot surgery is that you spend most of the following two weeks lying down with your foot elevated -- which really doesn't leave much lap for your laptop. But now I can sit in an easy chair (with my foot propped up) and read quilting blogs. At least I can feed my sewing urge vicariously, because I have no idea how soon I'll be able to sit at a sewing machine. Using the foot pedal is not a problem. The surgery was on my right foot, and I'm already used to using the left foot when I sew. The problem is that I'm not supposed to let the right foot dangle down for any length of time. Bad for the circulation, I guess, and makes it feel prickly and swollen.

But as soon as I'm able to sew, I'm going to make McCalls 4547 (pictured above). While lying on my bed of pain, I heard from my daughter-in-law about how the three little granddaughters have been reading through the Little House on the Prairie books. Recently, they made ginger water from the Laura Ingalls Wilder Cookbook which I remember my own kids doing back in our homeschooling days. So I thought it would be fun to make sun bonnets and aprons for the girls so they could play at being pioneer girls in the back yard. (I figured that girls with lively imaginations wouldn't need dresses or pantalettes to play on the banks of Plum Creek or battle their way through the Long Winter.)

If I were making the dresses I'd be concerned about some of the construction details. For instance, the dresses are gathered at the neckline by putting a ribbon through a casing. That's all right, I suppose, for a costume which is only being worn for one night. But I can imagine that those ribbons would soon slide out of the casing or, worse yet, get pulled inside.