Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas Stockings

My daughter thought of a wonderful thing to do with fabric scraps -- she made these cute Christmas stockings. She has promised to provide a step-by-step tutorial.

My seemingly interminable batman top project is finally coming to an end. After all that work, I'm not thrilled with the results, but I learned a considerable amount. The jacket is made of poly moleskin on the outside and poly satin on the inside. It is meant to be reversible, but I don't think that's realistic with the fabrics I used, since the front edge is meant to fold over and expose the lining. Neither of the fabrics fold easily, so I had to steam the edge to get it to fold over.  Both fabrics feel smooth and soft against the skin. The jacket covers up the batman godet in the back of the top, so to that extent, I succeeded at what I set out to do. But the outfit as a whole seems sort of dull and depressing.

Maybe some beads would help ...

I dunno ... I'm sure I'll wear the jacket, and I'll probably wear the top too, but not often. So here's what I learned from this project:

-- when making a new pattern that involves transitioning through several sizes (eg from size 14 bust to size 18 hips, which pretty much describes my pear-shaped torso), it will save time in the long run to make a muslin.

-- if a garment has a finished edge that goes around the corner from front to bottom, hand baste first, to make sure the facing and hem will mesh properly.

-- when sewing two slippery fabrics together (such as the poly moleskin and satin), hand baste critical-fit areas such as the arm openings on the jacket. It saves time in the long run, because you don't have to rip out and re-do seams, and the basting thread is very easy to remove.

-- when a project isn't turning out well, sometimes it may be best to quit sooner rather than later.

Aside from these specific things I can list, I became more skilled at sewing in a way that's difficult to describe. In the past, I've never paid too much attention to the learning process. When I was first learning to fly single engine aircraft as a kid, I noticed that practicing landings in my mind had a positive effect on my actual performance; and when I studied for school exams I found that writing things helped me to remember them better than just reading them; and the only way I could really learn the stuff for engineering, physics, and math classes was to understand it and work it our for myself, rather than just memorizing formulas. That's about the extent of my prior analysis of the learning process. I'd never before paid attention to unconscious processes that go on when one is learning a skill such as sewing or carpentry. I still have no idea how it works, in the sense of the mechanics; but I notice that specific tasks get easier each time I do them. Threading a needle, for example, or holding the fabric exactly the right way as I feed it through the sewing machine or serger. I'm amazed and delighted to observe these new skills developing, without any particular effort on my part, other than to go through the motions of doing the tasks.

Likewise, I'm improving my understanding of the Spanish language without any conscious effort in the sense of saying "Now I'm going to sit down and study this." I had to replace my computer a few months ago, and when I set up the new one, I chose Spanish as the language, rather than English, which is my mother tongue. Since the computer's set up to use Spanish, all the "help" pages are in Spanish. When I go to my home page, the news is in Spanish. I can get most of the news stories in English if I want to, but if I just want to read the headlines, it's easier to just read them in Spanish than to go searching for English versions. I was amazed one day recently to notice, while reading a news article in Spanish (the headline was interesting, so I clicked on  it to learn more), that I was halfway through the article before it occurred to me I was reading Spanish.

Here's something even more interesting: when you stimulate your brain to learn one new thing, it's as though you've given it a shot of growth hormone or something. Shifting the brain into learning mode seems to make it easier to learn anything, not just whatever is it you're concentrating on. I'm not sure if there are certain things that are, as it were, taboo for the elderly brain. Certainly I would have major problems if I tried to learn, say, ballet, because my knees are shot. So there are clearly limits imposed on physical learning by the condition of the body (but if one had a sophisticated enough avatar, could one learn to be a virtual ballet artist?). But are there intellectual limits? I don't feel especially motivated to study math-related topics at the moment, although my undergraduate degree was in math. But I think I could probably get into learning to play a musical instrument. Is this because I'm afraid I can't do math anymore? I almost feel compelled to do it just to see if I can. If only I could live to be 150 or 200! Then I might have time to do everything I want to do.

Last year I studied Hebrew just to see if I could. I signed up for online classes with It was really cool. The instructors were in Israel, and the students were from the U.S. and Australia and France and the Phillipines -- really all over the world. We used AT&T meeting software. I noticed that after working on Hebrew lessons, Spanish seemed very, very easy. I reluctantly made the decision to work on Spanish rather than Hebrew, since Spanish is a language I need to know every day, living in San Antonio.

Friday, December 16, 2011

A New Top and A Great Fabric Store

I took the day off from work yesterday to spend time with my daughter, who has come back to Texas  from Nevada to be in her friend's wedding. She'll be heading back to NV on Monday. There was rain off and on the whole day, which I was very happy to see. It doesn't mean the end of the drought. We're still far short of our average rainfall amount for the year; but some rain is surely better than none at all. I heard on the radio that now "only" 41% of Texas is in the Extreme Drought category, whereas the figure was 88% at the start of October.

Here's a photo of Austin's CBD from our car cruising up South Congress. Light rain was falling even as my daughter snapped the photo using my phone.

The highlight of the day, and the reason I'm writing about My Day Off in my sewing blog, was visiting a relatively new fabric store called Austin Texstyles, owned and operated by the very talented Benson Roberts and Markhollan Swientek. It truly makes a difference when the owners of a business also operate the business on a daily basis. We got a warm welcome and were encouraged to look as long as we liked. Benson and Markhollan were there to help when we needed advice, or help finding exactly the right fabric. If you live in the Austin area and appreciate nice fabrics, you can see for yourself. The shop is located at 2605 Jones Rd, Austin TX 78745. Be sure to check them out of Facebook too, as they sometimes list surprise sales there.

Here I am at Austin Texstyle, wearing my latest finished garment, Vogue 1071 again, but this time I made view A, which has buttons down the back. This is a wearable muslin (I learned a lesson from the mistake I made with View C). This time, the top fit perfectly (The top is worn under a denim jacket I made from a slightly altered Burda pattern).

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Hanging Around the House Clothes

I have a tremendous lot to learn about sewing, of course, but it's encouraging to note how easy it's become to make simple, comfortable garments like the brown linen jersey leggings I'm wearing in the photo. It got cold here a few days ago, it it was very nice to be able to make leggings and a long-sleeved knit top in just a couple of hours. 

I'm also working on a turquoise blue crinkly-satiny polyester top that's a practice run for the same top in silk chiffon. The turquoise poly top is turning out to be quite attractive, so I'm sure I'll end up wearing it. Also a dark navy skirt and jacket. The fabric, ordered online from is pretty nasty. It's a rather loosely woven wool that I can tell will not hold up well. It would have to be underlined to hold any shape at all. I believe it will be quite comfortable as a loose-fitting jacket -- the same Lois Hinse kimono pattern I used for the oatmeal colored jacket. It flows so loosely anyhow, I don't think I'll need to underline it.  I'll have to underline the skirt to keep it from being lumpy and shapeless, but that's OK. 

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Möbius Band As A Continuous Bias Strip

Upon studying the instructions for vintage Vogue Pattern # 1071 (View A) last night, I was perplexed by the instructions for creating a long bias strip to use for binding the neckline. The pattern piece looks like this:

Here are the written instructions:

With right sides together, pin ends of CONTINUOUS BIAS together, matching symbols. Stitch. NOTE: Edges will not be even at ends of seam.  Starting at one extending end, cut along cutting line, forming one continuous bias strip, as shown. 

As shown? As shown??? The illustration provided in the instructions was worse than useless. All I could do was cut out the fabric, play around with it, and see what I could come up with. I was delighted, upon fitting the two ends of the pieces together in the only way that would possibly produce one long continuous strip of fabric, to find that I had constructed a Möbius Strip, which is a strip of paper (or fabric, in this case) with the ends of the strip fastened together after giving the strip a 1/2 twist. The resulting strip has only one boundary, which you can prove be drawing a line along the length of the strip starting at the seam. The line will end up at the seam, but on the "other side" of the strip.  Here's the way the fabric looks:

Instead of trying to mark the cutting lines on the fabric, I pressed them into the fabric. This made it a bit difficult to produce a completely even edge, but that shouldn't matter, since the raw edges will be hidden within the seam. When I cut along the 3 cutting lines (all in one long cut), I ended up with a long, continuous strip. Is that cool or what!