Favorite Travel Jacket

NikkoDoesn’t everyone have a favorite travel garment? This is mine. Every time I wear it, I receive compliments.

It’s the Nikko jacket from The Sewing Workshop. The fabric is a home dec linen that I found at a store near the university in Tucson. From my googling, I believe the store no longer exists. I can picture it and about where it was, but can no longer remember the name of the street. I lived in Tucson from 2000-2008—eight years. I’ve now been gone from there for six years. I’ve forgotten many of the places, but still remember all the good friends.

I took this picture Monday morning a week ago (Sept. 8) at 4:15 a.m. as we were heading for the airport shuttle for a nonstop flight to San Francisco. I was going to quickly post it to explain why I wouldn’t be sewing and posting at all. You see how well that went!

Now I’m home and busy posting the travel blog—wine tasting in Sonoma and Napa; a long drive down the coast for lunch with a fiber friend; SF fabric shopping with a cyberfiberfriend who can now drop “cyber” from her title; and lots of walking and sightseeing around SF. Great fall vacation!!!

And the Nikko jacket? The only thing I would have done differently is put in a faux bound buttonhole rather than a regular buttonhole with black thread. Other than that, it’s perfect. Great weight for sitting on a plane for hours. And I believe it’s visited every foreign country I have visited.

(If you want to read about our travels, click the Travel tab at the top of the screen. My account will be complete in a few days.)

And How Do You Feel About That?

barcelona_cover_medI’m currently having my first experience with on-demand sewing. The Bernina store owner came to me one afternoon about three weeks ago, carrying a pattern and three bolts of fabric. She said, “Why don’t you make this skirt and overskirt (referred to in the pattern as an ‘apron overlay’) so we can display it at the store to help sell some of these patterns.”

I’m not going to try to convince you that I have a definite style. My style is all over the place! But if you look at my Pinterest boards or if you’ve read a lot of my blog posts and examined the garments I’ve made for myself, you know I’m all about soft, flattering tops, leggings or slim pants, and hiding that excess ten [cough! cough!] pounds.

The fabrics I love have movement and are usually knits or silks. Think drape-y fabrics. This pattern and its recommended fabrics are nothing like that! The fabrics are quilting cottons. The skirt’s layers have frayed edges. It’s “shabby chic.” I may attempt to be chic, but shabby I ain’t!

Okay, but this project was not about me. It was not designed to be something I would want to wear. It was designed to be something to draw in store visitors who might think, “I/my daughter/my granddaughter would look cute in that. I think I’ll buy that pattern and, oh, maybe $50 worth of fabric.”

And I’m always up to a challenge.

I have finished the skirt. I have washed and dried it twice and pressed it. With its layers of frayed edges, it’s ready to go back to the store for display. The skirt overlay—designed to be worn over the skirt or over a pair of jeans (!) is 20 minutes from completion. And that’s where we come to today’s post.

barcskirts_collageLast night I was clearing things off TiVo while pinning the overlay skirt panels to the waistband. I had sewn one edge, finished the ends, and was down to the final step of pinning the folded edge of the waistband facing to the inside for stitching. Things were not going well.

Even though the waistband was a rectangle, and the outside edge had sewn cleanly onto the gathered edge of the skirt overlay, the facing was acting like it was too small. I spent probably close to half-an-hour pushing and pinching and easing, trying to get the waistband facing to a point where I could handsew it into place before topstitching.

Let’s be clear here. The pattern says nothing about handsewing. It says nothing about basting. It says to pin the folded edge of the facing in place and then topstitch an ⅛” from the waistband seam on the front side.

Are you kidding me?!

That instruction, my friends, is a catastrophe and a lot of seam-ripping waiting to happen!

Soooo, I coaxed the facing into place, pinned to within an inch of its life, and this morning I will handsew the edge into place, after which I will topstitch it ⅛” from the edge. And then I’ll be done.

I sat on the couch, after finishing the half-hour of coaxing and pinning, and I realized I was feeling something. I just wasn’t sure of the name of that something. Depression? Sadness? Frustration? Failure?

And I realized I had felt that feeling—I think its name is frustration—many times before.

I’ve never recognized or tried to identify that feeling before. But here’s what it’s all about.

I’m quick to try new things. New techniques, new patterns, new fabrics. And I always think I’ll be successful. It never occurs to me that I might proceed with caution. It never occurs to me that the finished product will be anything other than a fabulous garment which I’ll immediately don and feel like a million bucks. So when something happens to twist my universe—something between opening out the pattern and laying it on the fabric and the final stitch and press—I am at first shocked, which is quickly followed by a feeling of sadness that I’ve put so much time, energy, and money into something that was nothing like I’d expected. (Here’s a good example of just such a colossal failure.) At times I feel like such a failure I want to completely give up on sewing and just spend my days reading books.

I think it just doesn’t fit into my view of myself: I’ve been sewing for over 50 years. How could I make that colossal an error/goof/misjudgment?

Maybe with years of experience comes the knowledge of what works and what doesn’t work. But in the case of this waistband, that’s a fabric failure or a pattern failure, over which I have no control.

I have no clever sum-it-all-up paragraph to pen (pixel?) here. And actually, I’m quite surprised I only just recognized that I have had this feeling over and over again. I never thought of myself as a slow learner, but on this issue, I guess I am.

Better [very] late than never, right?

In a couple of weeks (post much-needed vaction), I’ll right a review of this pattern. It’s actually a decent pattern. It’s cute if shabby chic is your style. It’s just not mine.

But this is not about me.

It’s in the Details!

Liberty frontOne of the things that led to my employment at the local Bernina store was the owner’s seeing me in the store wearing garments I had made. She is also a garment sewist, so she knew just by looking that quality had gone into the construction of these garments. She told me she had picked up some apparel fabrics at the Pittsburgh quilt market, and within a few days I stopped at the Twinsburg store on my way to a Cleveland rehearsal to see these fabrics. The owner was there and we talked a bit more, culminating in her asking if I’d be interested in teaching any garment construction classes at that store. (Of course I said “yes.”) Three pieces of fabric called my name, and a couple of weeks later I stopped again to pick up two of the Sewing Workshop patterns she stocks there—the Liberty Shirt and Ann’s Cardigan and Tank.

batiklibertybackWith an eye towards teaching the Liberty Shirt pattern, I made up the first piece of fabric, a batik marked “100% cotton.” It is a lightweight weave, and actually feels more like linen to me than cotton. I’ve been in love with batiks for years, and really enjoyed sewing this fabric.

One of my intentions in making the shirt was to follow the instructions as if I were just beginning to learn to sew. In other words, I read every step in the instruction sheet and didn’t think, “I know a better way to do that.”

Here’s my review, then I’ll give some more of the details afterwards:

Pattern Description: Shirt or jacket has diagonal side seams angled to the front, soft stand-up collar, and set-in sleeves with vent openings. Asymmetric front and back deep hems with mitered corners. Front topstitching detail and five-button closure.

Pattern Sizing: XS, S, M, L, XL, XXL
Based on the measurement chart, I cut a Large. I’m 5’8″ and plan to wear the shirt over skinny pants, so I added 2″ at the “Lengthen/Shorten” lines.

Did it look like the photo/drawing on the pattern envelope once you were done sewing with it? Yes.

Were the instructions easy to follow? Very detailed instructions with clear photos. Easy to follow.
However, as a former technical writer, I noted a couple of what appeared to me to be omissions. As my goal is to teach this pattern at the local Bernina store, I wanted people learning to sew to be able to follow the instructions satisfactorily.
1) Under Collar and Facings, the second step shows basting the collar edges together, but doesn’t list that action. It only says to edgestitch. (Because I was working with a stable fabric, I was able to sewing the collar in place easily without basting, but new sewists would need this instruction.)
2) Same section, after staystitching neck edges of facings, it says to fold the seam allowances in and press. It does not say to trim afterwards. With that much curve, the seam allowance is not going to lie flat inside unless trimmed.
3) Same section, next step, it says to stitch the front and back facings together. The seam allowances have been folded in and pressed, and the pictures shows sewing the facings together with the seam allowances folded in. This will not give a clean finish. I think it should have said open the seam allowances out, stitch, then press the seam open and press the seam allowance fold again. It also doesn’t instruct how to press that seam (open or to front or back).

What did you particularly like or dislike about the pattern? Love the French seams. What a wonderful shirt to teach new sewists the beauty and elegance of a French seam. And the mitered corners—another great technique for beginners to learn.

Fabric Used: Picked up by store owner from jobber. No info available on the origin of this fabric. Marked 100% cotton, a batik that feels more linen-y to me.

Pattern alterations or any design changes you made:
Added 2″ in length along “Shorten/Lengthen” lines.
Added a 3.5″ piece of self ½”-wide binding to the inside of the sleeve, along the hemline, centered on the seam. Inserted ¼” elastic to pull in the sleeves somewhat.
Added patch pocket to right front as first wearing will be on vacation. :)
I strongly suggested basting the hems and facings in place before topstitching. This is not mentioned. I sewed the back hem without basting and—as a result—took the time to hand baste the front and facings from the inside along the very edge. Loved the beautiful straight topstitching lines that resulted. (Should take the back out and redo, but not gonna do it!)

Would you sew it again? Would you recommend it to others? Yes and yes. Will be sewing many more of these in preparation for teaching.

Conclusion: Crisp, clean, neat – great with dress slacks or jeans, in many different fabrics. I’m interested to see the suggestion to make it in a knit as a t-shirt. Hmmm ….


When I started, I set the timer on my phone so I could have an idea of how long this shirt takes to construct. When I stopped last night, I had about 4.5 hours on the timer. All that was left to do was topstitch the facing and hems, set in the sleeves, and sew the buttonholes and buttons. Snip snap, right?

Oh, you’re so wrong. I was in the sewing room all day today, finishing at 5:00. When I went to make the buttonholes on my Bernina, the test/programming buttonhole with the automatic foot went in perfectly. But then when I ran the second test to make sure it remembered, it wouldn’t reverse after the first side. Tried again. Nope. Tried with regular buttonhole foot (#3) and when I pressed the Reverse button to start the second leg, it wouldn’t reverse. I’ve had the machine since 1996, and this has never happened before.

libertybuttonbackI had to pull out my Viking Husqvarna Designer 1 and relearn how to do buttonholes with it. That entire debacle easily ate up 1.5-2 hours and caused great annoyance.

I dug through my stash to find buttons and I love these. I had no idea where they came from, but they’re shell with a blue cast to them. Look at the button backs—very cool!

Inside of sleeve elastic insertion.

Inside of sleeve elastic insertion.

The sleeves are somewhat full. I tend to like to shove my sleeves midway up my forearm, and these are not tight enough to do that.
Outside of sleeve elastic insertion.

Outside of sleeve elastic insertion.

So I added a 3-4″ strip of ½” self binding to the inside of the sleeve seam, parallel to the hem. I will always wear it with the sleeve hems folded up just enough so the stitching doesn’t show, and then push up at will.

The final touch was to add a patch pocket to the right front with the one little scrap I had left. This new shirt is going to visit California next week and I want to be able to stash a Kleenex or an airline ticket in the pocket.

Patch pocket

Patch pocket

The final impediment to a quick finish was the photo shoot. I loaned the camera to the Spousal Equivalent when he went to a family party a month ago. Let’s just say it came back with some things out of order. Like: where is my remote?!! where is my tripod?!! So probably 20 minutes of the shoot was spent figuring out how to balance the camera in a coffee cup and lean it against the porch column. The back is not exactly in focus, but I think you get the idea.

If not, wait until I make the next iteration of this shirt, which I definitely will do.

(Top is worn with Eileen Fisher Washable Stretch Crepe Slim Ankle Pant with Yoke Waistband and Naot Afrodita sandals.)

That is the State of the Art

sondheim… as Mr. Sondheim wrote in “Sunday in the Park with George.” If you are a Facebook friend of mine, you know I’m preparing for a Sondheim revue to take place on September 4, 6, and 7 at the Area Community Theatre of Sharpsville (ACTS) in a neighboring Pennsylvania county. As part of ACTS’ publicity, I was interviewed by a reporter from the Sharon Herald by phone yesterday.

Let me preface this account by saying I’ve been sick as a dog since Sunday night. __As. A. Dog.!!!__ Three days of coughing and respiratory troubles and sinus pain and zero oomph. (“Zero oomph” is a medical term, you understand.) I had been in my pajamas since returning from urgent care and the pharmacy at 8:30 a.m. The first dose of Z-Pak was making me the tiniest bit better, but my voice was still gravelly, and my brain wasn’t clicking too well.

The reporter called about 4:00 p.m. One of the theatre founders gave me a heads-up that he was going to call, but I had no idea the sort of things he would ask. I fear I came off as the biggest doofus in the history of regional theatre! First he asked about Sondheim’s career and music. I’m sorry. I haven’t studied Sondheim’s body of work. I’ve been working my tushy off to organize and learn the music (including transpositions, transcribing the music into composition software where the sheet music wasn’t available in the key the singer needed, cutting and pasting so I’d have sheet music I could actually read, and making recordings of melody or parts or accompaniment to help the singers learn the music) while simultaneously preparing for two Cleveland Orchestra and Chorus performances and beginning a new job in a totally new “career” path. Oh, and trying to have the tiniest smidgen of a personal life.

I tried to talk about the complexity and difficulty of Sondheim’s music, where he changes keys four times per piece, and never into C or F or G major. The changes are always from five sharps to six flats and back again.

The reporter than asked how we chose the pieces on the program. Well, I don’t know. In the original plan, Anthony Ruggiero and I were going to collaborate on this program. He was the musical director, and we would work together, possibly adding another piano or keyboard or synthesizer so we could have full accompaniments without adding extra instrumentalists. But then Anthony got a job offer and moved to Florida. I stepped in as music director. I didn’t choose the music. I chose to learn the music!

There were more questions about the cast, the singers. Again, I’m new to the organization. I first laid eyes and ears on these singers in June. I’m still struggling to match names and faces!

Then he asked the kicker. Have you done lots of musical directing – what’s your experience. By this point, probably six hours into the 15-minute interview, I was struggling to keep words together. I vamp real well on the piano. I don’t vamp so well with words.

My career? I’ve been playing piano since age 3; I’ve been singing in choruses since age 8; I’ve been accompanying since age 10. I’ve got an A.A. in piano performance, a B.S. in computer and information systems, and a J.D. I’ve spent a thousand years sitting on church piano benches. I’ve been a bookkeeper, secretary, programmer, technical writer, legal writer and editor, database application developer, web editor-in-chief, ballet accompanist, staff accompanist at Walt Disney World, maker of beautiful-music-to-shop-by at Nordstrom, cocktail pianist at innumberable bars, …. Oh, and musical director of several musical theatre productions in the early 80s and a show in Tucson in 2006. This is not something I’ve done all my life. This is something I stepped into to help out a friend.

Ugh! Fear of failure!

I’m afraid this poor reporter may have gotten one sentence out of me that he could use.

In taking the Virginia Bar Exam four (or five—who can remember?) times, I learned I don’t really test well. Maybe those who don’t test well also don’t interview well. Could that be?

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

Summery Scarf

coralscarfCatching up on some older projects that haven’t made it to a blog post yet ….

One of Wolf Creek Yarn’s weekly newsletters in March grabbed my attention. In Northeast Ohio, we were still in the depths of a brutal winter, but the scarf shown in the newsletter sang to me of spring. The scarf is made of Berroco Lago yarn, a rayon/linen blend that gives the wearer accessory options for warm-weather outfits.

Wolf CreekI made a road trip over to Grove City to visit Wolf Creek for the first time, where I bought two skeins each of the colors Papaya and Passion Flower.

IMG_7167It’s an easy and fairly mindless knitting project. Cast on very loosely 30 stitches, then increase one stitch in the first and last stitches in every row until you have about 10 yards left, then cast off very loosely.So long as you don’t forget to do the increases, you’re good!

IMG_0780I kept the Papaya scarf for myself and have worn it a couple of times through the summer. The Passion Flower scarf went to our lovely friend, Leslie. She selfied it for me from her cabin at Interlochen Arts Camp, where she teaches in the dance department each summer.

IMG_3107On both of these scarves, I felt the ends would benefit from having a little weight on them. For Leslie’s, I snooped around my jewelry-making and beading supplies and wired some beads onto a lobster claw clasp. For mine, I browsed all the jewelry vendors at YSU’s Summer Festival of the Arts, and found the perfect little pair of earrings that could easily be attached to the ends.

2014-08-11 12.26.23Now if I could only—again—have a neck that didn’t arrange itself in fold upon fold when I try to photograph a scarf, life would be perfect. Or perfecter.

It’s all relative, right?

(Okay, I’ll show you the neck photo. It shows off the scarf well, but not my old neck.)