Website Review:

August 2, 2007

I stumbled across Vintage Sewing this morning when I was looking for some information on drafting cowl necks. The site is run by a nonprofit and maintains a library of public domain sewing references, which are reproduced in full on line.

There’s some stunning stuff there. My own search for cowl neck patterns lead me to the full text of F.R. Morris’ Ladies Garment Cutting and Making. Which is an extremely comprehensive reference in itself, with some beautifully clear pictures.

The history of sewing references is also a fascinating look into the world of women and girls in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Olive C. Hapgood’s 1893 School Needlework is a classroom text for schoolgirls.

It begins:

DEAR GIRLS: You have now become old enough to prepare for woman’s duties; one of these is the art of sewing, which we will take up as simply as possible. By following the given directions carefully, you will become able to dress your dolls, assist your mothers in mending, make garments, fancy articles, etc.

Then Ms. Hapgood (well, probably not Ms., actually) dives right in. By half way through chapter two, she has the girls “honey-combing”. I’d never heard of this before, but it’s actually a very beautiful piece of fancy stitchwork:

This is schoolgirl work in the 1890s. Schoolgirls. No way am I doing handwork like that.

The site has materials from as early as the 1890s through the 50s. Wanna make yourself some gloves? Consider these basic pattern drafting instructions from How To Make Gloves by Eunice Close.

The jewels of the site, as far as I’m concerned, are of course the pattern making books. As well as the abovementioned Morris text, there’s also Harriet Peplin’s 1942 Modern Pattern Design. Between those two there’s a wealth of pattern making information that’s not only of relevance to those interested in vintage sewing, but also entirely applicable to making clothing with modern lines.

Oh. And as for the cowl neck problem that led me there in the first place. There are a variety of ways to do this, but the for the one I’m interested in, you alter the pitch of the front armscye so that the distance between the shoulders is broader, and then curve the “neckline” upward.

A picture &c. :


Free Patterns!

July 30, 2007

I just discovered that Burda has free downloadable patterns. They spit out as multipage pdfs, which then need to be printed and attached in the correct way (there are instructions for that process). I’m intrigued.

There are 14 patterns offered, of which 5 are bags or purses, and one is a cushion, but there are some apparel patterns there — couple of skirts, a pair of pants, couple of dresses, and a knit tank.

I downloaded the tank top pattern, just to see what the files look like. If I come across suitable fabric, I might make this up. Or not. It’s cute. But I don’t have anything stashed away right now that would suit it.

Givhan gets it wrong

July 24, 2007

Those who know me know that I am typically a fan of Washington Post fashion correspondent Robin Givhan. I think she writes sensibly about both haute couture and about the clothing choices and their signification of ordinary and not-so-ordinary women and men. Sure, her beat covers the frivolities and excesses of the Milan and New York catwalks, but she always keeps in mind that real women aren’t going to wear a feathered jumpsuit to work, no matter how “challenging” it might be.

Givhan also writes about the sartorial choices of the inside-the-beltway aristocracy; she’s criticized Cheney, poked fun at Bush, praised Sharpton, and cataloged Abramoff’s meltdown. She took some flack from feminists for her coverage of Condaleezza’s boots and Pelosi’s jacket — and at the time, I stood up for her.

The major feminist critique of Givhan is that “you shouldn’t focus on the clothes of women in politics — it suggests they are frivolous, and you wouldn’t do that with men”. There’s a very clear historical precedent for that critique, and it’s usually true — unless you are familiar with Givhan’s work. Then you start to notice that she does in fact cover the clothing of political men just as much as that of women. A casual reader of a single article isn’t going to notice that, but I think Givhan is very aware of what she’s doing.

Alas. Our idols have feet of clay.

Her latest piece is on Hillary Clinton’s cleavage. This one is different.

Assume for the moment that giving equal opportunity to analyzing the clothing choices of powerful women and men mitigates the problem that it has historically been women’s clothing that’s been overanalyzed. (I’m not sure that’s entirely true, but allow that reasonable people can disagree on the point.) But if you do accept that premise, you can’t write about cleavage. When you write about a woman’s cleavage, you get misogynist responses like these (from the comments page of the Post article):

  • What makes this newsworthy to me is not Hillary’s cleavage, which rivals Paul Reubens’, but the fact it may be the first public photo of any skin below her chin in 15 years…
  • a 60 year old womans boobs is not a pretty sight.
  • Hillary Clinton used to discuss her cliter (sic) and its needs during her famous battles with numerous Bills’ girlfriends.
  • Falsies. She used a whole box of tissues to beef up those jahoobies, such as they are.
  • Thanks for not showing a picture, cause it was bad enough reading about Hillary’s cleavage. A barf alert would have been nice though.
  • Just what we all needed, a shot of a post menopausal old bag’s boobies.

Happily, these are a tiny, tiny minority of comments — but the point remains. Despite your intentions, you have declared that her breasts are fair game for public discussion. And this never, never happens to men.

Although perhaps we can expect articles on the significance of whether the other presidential candidates dress to the left or to the right … ?


July 24, 2007

One of the problems that I have with both ready to wear clothing and patterns is that the arm openings are often too tight for me. This makes sense — clothing is typically cut for people who are smaller and shorter than me. I had read about a technique of inserting a gusset — a diamond shaped piece of fabric — into the armpit to allow for more room in this part of the garment, but the technique never made any sense to me.

As I was visualizing the problem, the diamond shape gusset simply wouldn’t fit into the space made when the seams at the armpit are opened up. If you open all the seams at the armpit, the shape you get resembles a cross, not a diamond — shown in red below.


If you clip the cross to make it into a diamond, you get the right shape, but the amount of fabric that you would add would be the same as you had clipped out. So the overall size of the garment would stay exactly the same.

The solution to this problem came to me this morning in the shower. Archimedes would have been proud. I had been thinking about opening all of the seams at the underarm. Then I started thinking about how you insert more space at, say, the hipline on a shirt. You open the seam, and you insert a triangle shape with the apex at the waist. A diamond, is of course, two triangles abutting each other. And the solution to this problem is to insert two abutting triangles into a seam — but only into one seam.

To properly insert a diamond gusset at the armpit, you only need to open the side seam. The piece then fits, thusly:


Unlike Archie, who was probably playing with his bathwater when he discovered the volume displacement principle, I don’t have a set of pattern-shaped pieces in my bathtub. Maybe there’s a market failure there? Floating visualization tools for patternmakers?

Fly front

July 19, 2007

Step 2 in the evolution of Simplicity 7513 is to add a fly front. Again, I’m cribbing from another pattern in my stash — this time, Vogue 7481, which is a simple pair of fly front pants (designed for stretch wovens, but we’ll ignore that).

There are two pattern pieces for the fly front — the right facing and the left facing. They look like this:

fly front facings

Instructions on putting them together below the fold.

Read the rest of this entry »

Pants pants evolution

July 18, 2007

So my blue sandwashed silk is going to turn into pants. I’m basing the pants on the Simplicity 7513 pants, but I feel this pattern needs some tweaking to justify the fabric.

There are three things I want to do to the pattern:

  • 1. Add a side seam
  • 2. Add a fly front
  • 3. Add a separate waistband

And possibly (4) take the pattern in at the waist.

The original pattern is what is known as “one seam pants” — I’m not sure why, since there are in fact 2 seams in the pants; a crotch seam and an inseam. Adding a side seam (1) will mean that the grainline of the fabric will run down each leg rather than running down the side of the pants. This will give a better drape to the pants, and it also will allow me to add some pockets in the side seam. My original version of these pants is seriously missing pockets.

(2) I think just looks nicer, and is a prerequisite if I want to nip them in at the waist.

Adding a separate waistband will also improve the hang of the fabric, and it can be interfaced.

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Fabric Geek-out: Sandwashed Silk

July 17, 2007

I recently picked up four yards of midnight blue sandwashed silk from my local fabric store’s remnants bin. It’s a gorgeous piece, and warrants some research on how to handle it.


Silk is a filament fiber, which means that unlike short spun fibers, the fibers don’t need to be twisted together to form lengths of thread. It’s extremely strong, and because the fiber filaments are triangular in shape, it reflects light, giving it a shiny appearance.

Sandwashing is when the silk is washed with abrasive chemicals which “polish” the finish of the silk. The piece that I bought was extremely, well, silky, in appearance, with a smooth glossy finish and a very soft drape. It also has the diagonal texture characteristic of a twill weave, although this is only apparent upon very close inspection.

Emma One Sock recommends washing with a tiny drop of baby shampoo. I did this, and it took off the very glossy finish. It also significantly reduced the static of the piece. Depending on your plans for the garment, you could go either way on this. If you are looking for a very dressy piece, you might want to skip washing. However, if you do wash it, you’ll get a washable garment, and my guess is that the washed product will be significantly easier to sew because it seems much less slippery.

Sewing requires a sharp, new needle. I haven’t done a pin test yet to check if the fabric self-heals from pin holes. Also, because it’s still slippery, I’ll probably cover my table with a cotton sheet when I cut.

ETA: I did the pin test. It’s fine.

Simplicity 7513 — drawstring pants

July 16, 2007

A month or so ago, my friend Grace sent me a bunch of patterns in the mail, including a couple for a drawstring pants. I wouldn’t normally buy a pattern like this for myself, since I don’t generally wear drawstring pants, but pants-sewing is a bit of a personal bugaboo for me. I figured since I had Simplicity 7513 in my stash now, I should go ahead and make it up just as an exercise. Read the rest of this entry »

Sewing tools — Dritz snap setter

July 9, 2007

I bought a snap setter. I nearly took it back to the store.

The directions on this thing are one of the most unintuitive and difficult to process examples of the genre I’ve ever seen.

Snaps have two halves; an innie and an outie. Before they are attached, each one consists of two pieces — the innie (or outie) and the ring-and-prongs. The snap setter is basically a pair of pliers with which one compresses the prongs into the back of the outie (or innie).

First time I tested the device, I successfully attached an innie to a piece of scrap fabric. So far so good. Then I went to attach the outie. Pulled the snap setter away, and all that was on my fabric was a set of prongs sticking out. The outie part had wedged itself into the machine’s innie. I didn’t know the machine had an innie!!!

I tried various removal techniques. Letter opener. Screwdriver. Pliers. Teeth. Dental floss. Verbal abuse. Fishing line. Pliers again. More verbal abuse.

Spouse Phor came home and managed an extraction by jamming a nail into the back end of the thing.

Set it up again, and had luck with the outie parts, but all the innies fell off as soon as you breathed on them. Swore at it. Went to bed.

Next day, I did some internet research. Joann’s has some heinous reviews.

  • Never again will I buy this. I have again resorted to banging in the snaps with a hammer.
  • I finally gave up and donated the plier kit and a large package of snaps and eyelets.
  • This product would have been great for the price had it worked…all the snaps I have are now a crumbled mess from “testing” The instructions are vague and the dritz website is not helpful. I am very disappointed.
  • all it did was ruined the clothes I was sewing for my baby.

But. There are some folks in there that are saying “what?? worked fine for me!!”. (They don’t say “you idiot”, because Sewing World is a politer corner of the internet, I guess.)

  • It worked perfectly the first time and I was very proud of myself and my new friend the snap and eyelet setter.
  • In my opinion, the directions are perfectly clear and the product does what it’s supposed to.

Now, see, I’m taking that as a challenge. Because I refused to let the machine defeat me. Because that would be admitting that I couldn’t understand the directions.

When you insert the innie part into the slot, it tells you to do so “with the raised center exposed”. Problem is, both sides of this piece have a raised center. I googled some more, and I found these directions, which explain that if you feel for it, one side has more of a raise than the other.

After a few practice tries, I figured I had the hang of it. I finally managed to get all of the snaps on to the McCalls 3665 onesie. Took me down to my very last one. I pressed it. I took pictures. Triumph was mine! At last!

Then Spouse Phor came home, looked at the garment and managed to pull off the top snap when he opened it. Oh well. At least it was him, and not someone I’d given it to as a gift.

McCalls 3665: Pattern Analysis

July 6, 2007

Another kid pattern, this time a knit pattern for a newborn.

I’m making view D, the short-sleeved short-legged bodysuit.

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