Returning from the Piano Bench

Yes, it’s true that I haven’t posted in a very long time. I’ll tell you another time what all I’ve been up to.

One thing I’ve done is take Joan Hawley’s “Zip It Up: Easy Techniques for Zippered Bags” class on Craftsy. If you’re just getting interested in crafting cool bags for yourself, friends, and craft shows, I highly recommend this class.

The fabric is hand dyed using Shibori techniques by my friend, MaryLou Alexander. You can see the beautiful art quilts she makes with her hand-dyed fabrics on her website. Aren’t I lucky that she calls me when she’s overloaded with scraps? This bag is one of the results.

The bag will be a holiday gift to my travel pal, Marilyn, when we go to dinner with MaryLou and our guys tonight.

Happiest of Holidays to you and yours, whatever you celebrate. May you make wonderful memories.

And thanks for reading.

A T-shirt Fit for a Gala

While we in the opera program at YSU’s Dana School of Music were preparing for our spring opera weekend, the program director, my boss Dr. Yun, asked if I would accompany the trio from Mozart’s “The Impresario” for an upcoming gala. The event was sponsored by YSU’s College of Creative Arts & Communication, of which Dana School of Music is a part. I put it on my calendar and promptly forgot about it.

The three weeks leading up to opera weekend are the busiest of the year for me. I don’t see my guy except when he’s sleeping and for five minutes in the morning before he leaves for work; I don’t do anything but make music and drive my high school carpool. I certainly don’t have time to sew. I asked Dr. Yun what we should wear for the gala performance, and her response scared me: “As fancy as possible.” Hmmm. I’m the epitome of simple—at least in my mind. I own a few dresses, street length, that I’ve worn before to a gala and to weddings, but I think I was five pounds lighter at each of those wearings. I couldn’t picture wearing them and being comfortable sitting on a piano bench. And I certainly didn’t have time to either shop or make anything.

What to do? What to do?

And I remembered a sequined piece of stretch lace that I bought at Fabrix in San Francisco while on a shopping jaunt with my fiberfriend, Shams, who blogs at “Communing with Fabric.” That trip was in September of 2014, and this fabric has been languishing in my stash ever since, calling “Make me, make me” everytime I opened its resting place. When Dr. Yun said “fancy,” I immediately thought of those sequins.

My TnT (Tried-and-True) t-shirt pattern has been getting a lot of attention from me lately. I could just grab that, cut, sew, and be done without taking too much time away from the piano.

Round 1 for this pattern happened several years ago in a poly medium-weight jersey also from the 2014 trip to Fabrix. I made this and promptly forgot about it, never showing it on this blog. It’s very comfortable, but I prefer looser fitting tunics, as I’m in an unhappy-about-my-weight period. I try to disguise my belly as much as possible. I know what you’re saying: “Get over yourself!” During this weather-crazy spring, I’ve come to love this tee with black ponte elastic-waist EF slacks and a black Talbot’s no-close cardigan.

Round 2 went to a lightweight cotton knit with little stretch, made before my Interlochen summer of 2015. This version, without the hem and sleeve bands, has disappeared from my closet. I must have given it to someone who liked it more than I, or to a charity bin. I believe this pattern needs good stretch to look good on a body. This fabric wasn’t the answer.

My attempt to hack this tee pattern began when I fell in love with two Garnet Hill tees I ordered for my aborted trip to Bali. I fell in love with everything about these tees. The fit was me. Folding my new tee at the center front, I laid it on the cutting table and laid the body front Renfrow pattern piece on top of it. I figured out that if I put the center front neckline point on the tee center front neckline, then pivoted the bottom side seam about to match the side seam of the tee, my bottom center front point was 1″ from the foldline of the tee. So that would be my hack. Pin the neck to the folded fabric, then pivot an inch out at the bottom, determine how long I wanted it to be and add that many inches all along the bottom and extending the side seam down that number of inches.

I had bought a pair of LulaRoe leggings from a friend who was in that biz and wanted a top to go with them for our winter Mexico vacation. I bought a piece of rayon/spandex slub jersey knit in peach from Hart’s Fabric and started the experiment. I decided to add 8″, which would include about a 1½” hem, so 5½” more than the Renfrew front pattern piece.

[Note: The Renfrew has a bottom band on the body and on the sleeves. So the length of the front piece I was using is not the actual length of the shirt. It’s the length less seam allowances less the band. If you’re attempting this hack, measure that pattern piece and compare it to your body or your favorite tee. How much longer do you want it be? How deep a hem do you want? Add the total of those two numbers to the bottom of the pattern piece when cutting. And also remember than your hem will not be a straight line perpendicular to the center front point. Let’s say you’re adding 8″, as I did. You’re going to lay your ruler along the side seam and continue that angled line down 8″. Then every couple of inches from that point across to the center front, you’re going to lay your ruler with the 8″ mark on the pattern bottom and make a mark. Once you’ve marked all the way along the bottom, you’ll cut along those marks from center front to side seam. That will give you a gently curved line which will result in a straight hem once the garment is on your body.]

While cutting out the top, I started thinking about how to wear it. Lace is seethrough and I’d need either a lining or something underneath it. I thought of lining the body, but not the sleeves, with a lightweight silk and cotton knit that I had just enough of. But if two fabrics don’t have exactly the same amount of stretch in them, the garment is never going to lie flat and smooth. So I turned to the email group I’m a part of; these sewists are all alumnae of the “Design Outside the Lines” retreats that Diane Ericson (formerly along with Marcy Tilton) leads. We’ve all studied with the same teachers and are all fearless when it comes to trying out techniques and learning as much as we can about fiber and fabrics. When I asked these women how they might approach this problem, several said I should make two separate garments—the sequined lace tee and an identical sleeveless tee from the black silk/cotton jersey to wear underneath. Grateful for their advice, I forged ahead with the lace, ignoring the lining need for the moment.

Sneaking fifteen minutes here and thirty minutes there, by Thursday afternoon of gala day, I had the long sleeves sewn to the armhole but hadn’t sewn the body and sleeve side seams or hemmed either. I threw the half-finished garment into my music bag and took it along to Dr. Yun’s 4:00 seminar, where I had to accompany my singer Olivia in her performance. I pulled the unfinished tee out of the bag and showed it to the two sopranos who would be performing that night. I felt it was way too bright and sparkly and would overshadow the singers—something one never wants to do. But they both said I should go for it. And then I showed it to Dr. Yun. She said I should finish it and let her wear it! So still skeptical, I raced home after seminar and finished the top at 6:00. I had to be at the hall where the gala was being held at 7:30. I had just enough time to wolf down some supper, changes clothes, add some make-up, and drive downtown.

I own numerous black tanks, many in a silk knit, that I wear under sweaters all winter long. Sorting through several of these, I picked one that was about the same length as the lace tee, and slipped an above-knee EF knit skirt under it, along with black sheer stockings and microfiber peep-toe slingbacks. For jewelry, I wore a pair of rhinestone drops that I bought along with a matching bracelet at a yard sale five years ago for $2.00.

From the moment I walked through the performers’ entrance to the hall, I started receiving compliments. And always I replied, “Thank you. I made it.” One of the servers said she’d like one. When I got home and told that to the Jazzman, he said I should offer to make her one for $275.

I’m writing this post on Sunday morning after the Thursday evening event, and I still smile every time I look at that picture.

I took a chance. I went wayyyyyyy outside my comfort zone. And I felt stunningly beautiful. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced that feeling before in my life.

Yea, me. And yea, Shams, for encouraging me to buy the fabric. And yea, Francesca, Becca, and Dr. Yun, for encouraging me to wear it even when every fiber of my being was saying, “Don’t you dare outshine the soprani.”


Three-Quarter Patch Tote from Craftsy

Shall we admit that I’m a pushover for a clearance sale? Even when I have a lot of fabric that is perfect for making a cute bag, I still follow the links in the Craftsy emails I get. Must get help to beat this addiction!

It’s opera season at the university where I work as a collaborative pianist. So my time is not my own. But last week we had a day off between final dress rehearsal and first performance. I grabbed that time, preceded by a couple of stolen hours on Easter weekend, to make the opportunity to sew. And waiting in the wings was the Three Quarter Patch Tote Kit I had snagged off Craftsy for a mere $13.20, plus shipping. I could not have bought the Kaffe Fassett fabric for that little, much less the fabric and a pattern.

I’ve made a lot of bags in the past couple of years, and once starting on this bag, I was glad I had the experience. With apologies to designer Pamela Hastings (with whose work I am unfamiliar), the instructions for this bag are not well written. The pattern is marked Intermediate experience level. But it’s a simple bag and could easily be a beginner bag if the instructions were clearer.

Before beginning the bag, I searched online for comments by other sewists. I read Sandra Walker’s pattern review on her blog, “Musings of a Menopausal Melon,” and was glad I did. Based on my skillset going into the project, Sandra’s notes, and my experience making this bag, here’s what I would amend in the instructions and in the sewing.

  1. The fabic is beautiful but thin. It seems not to be the standard quilting-weight cotton I’m used to, which surprised me. I enjoy Kaffe Fassett-designed fabrics and have since first seeing an exhibition of his work outside Stockholm in 2000. But this fabric needs interfacing if you’re making a bag that will be stuffed with your stuff and toted around. Pellon SF101 needs to be a staple in a bagmaker’s stash. I interfaced the lining pieces and the straps with SF101.
  2. The step about stitching the strips together wasn’t clear. If you look at Sandra Walker’s blog post, her picture makes it appear she sewed each set of two strips together on the short end so she had five long strips, then sewed those together on the long edges. I just made two sets of five strips sewing along the long edges. Then I cut one exterior panel on the diagonal from each of those. When I cut, I positioned the rectangles so one was at a 45° angle this way “/” and the other mirrored this way “\”. Looking at Sandra’s picture, she cut hers both the same way (which may have been necessitated by her sewing all the strips into one piece rather than my two pieces).
  3. After assembling the front and back exterior panels, I stitched-in-the-ditch on the diagonal strips, topstitched a couple of lines down the polka dot stripe, and then quilted the floral side strip, following Sandra Walker’s suggestion in her blog post. Honestly, that was my least favorite part. I remembered why I have a local long-arm quilter do the “dirty work” on any quilts I make: she enjoys that; I do not. If you enjoy the quilting process, knock ourself out. If not, just stitch a couple of vertical lines on that section to give the bag exterior more body.
  4. Do not cut out your lining pieces until completing the quilting step. “Square up” (Carefully measure the finished quilted front and back and use your plastic ruler and rotary cutter to make it a perfect rectangle. Then stack them right sides together and, if necessary, trim to make ensure they’re the same size.) your front and back, then use one as the pattern for the lining pieces. Sandra Walker had mentioned the lining was a little big for the bag, but I forgot that when making this bag. The lining is, indeed, big. Alas, I’m not going back to fix that!
  5. For the straps, I was glad I had read Sandra Walker’s post. As stated before, I interfaced with SF101. Then, after folding the straps as instructed, I cut two ¾” strips of a lightweight cotton batting and slipped in inside the folds. (To be clear: To make the strap, you fold the straps in half lengthwise and press, then open the strip and fold each long edge inward to meet the fold and press again. I then opened it and placed my batting strips next to the center fold on each strip, then refolding, pressing very well, and topstitching close to each long edge.
  6. Strap placement. The instructions tell you to measure 5″ in from either side on the top (long edge) of the exterior panels. But they don’t say where to position the straps on that—butt it to the right, butt it to the left, or center? Taking a clue from the polka dot stripe on the panel, I centered the straps on the 5″ mark. It’s a nit, but it makes the difference between a beginner level bag (as this should be) and an intermediate bag.
  7. I skipped the tab closure part. Years ago I started using elastic ponytail bands instead of fabric straps to hold tote bags closed. I like the give of the elastic when I’ve got an overstuffed bag (as mine always are). They come in a variety of colors at your corner drugstore.
  8. In steps 18 and 19 of the “Tote Assembly” section, the instructions tell you to box the corners of the bag. But they don’t tell you to trim off the excess. That’s a whole lot of excess fabric to have hanging around inside the bag. Step 19A should be to align the ¼” line on your plastic ruler with the stitching line from step 19, trimming off the excess triangle of fabric. Then zigzag the ¼” seam allowance. Do this also when boxing the lining. If you only have a straight-stitch machine, the zigzag finishing is not absolutely necessary, but it just gives you a nicer finish inside the bag and keeps the seam allowance from fraying.
  9. I had cut out all the pieces on Easter weekend and done the exterior panel stitching. When I got to my free sewing day on Thursday, I realized I hadn’t cut out the pocket pieces. If there was enough fabric left after cutting the lining pieces, I have no idea where I put it. So I took the scraps of the stitched strips and cut a diagonal rectangle and a vertical-pieced rectangle. There were not the prescribed size of the pocket, but I think they actually made a larger pocket than the pattern calls for. And they’re cute against the lining fabric. ☺
  10. My last modification would be to trim all the ½” seam allowances down to about ¼”. I didn’t do this. When I was topstitching the edge as the final step before applying Scotchgard®, I was wishing I had.
  11. Sometimes I make a reinforcement for the bottom to help it stand up. I measure the boxed bottom and cut a piece of plastic canvas to those dimensions. Then I take some of the excess fabric for the bag and make a little “pillowcase” for the plastic canvas rectangle, slipping the plastic inside the “pillowcase” and then edgestitching it closed. If I were going to use this bag on a regular basis, I would include that step. But I’m not in love with the bag, and am not sure how much I’m going to use it. Plus I just wanted to get it done and off my list. #badattitude

Pulled a cool fused-glass button out of my stash for this bag. I picked it up at one of the bead shows at the Tucson Gem & Mineral Show around 2004 and am thrilled to finally be able to use it.

The kit on Craftsy is sold out now. I don’t know if they’ll restock. Hancock’s of Paducah sells the Kaffe 2½” strips or you could make it using batik strips. Ooh, I’d love that even more than the Kaffe fabrics.

The pattern calls for ¼ yard of the large floral fabric for the 6″ side front piece; ¾ yard of the polka dot fabric for the handles and the exterior panel stripe; and ½ yard for the lining, plus two 18″ x 15½” pieces of fusible fleece.

I can’t find the pattern anywhere but Craftsy. But if you’ve made any bags before, you can probably intuit the pattern from this post and use Pamela’s technique for seaming the strips together to make the cool diagonal exterior panels.

Do look at Sandra Walker’s post and drool over her quilting. I wish I had her patience. Oh, and look at the cool travel iron. #want!

You’re only seeing this post this morning because I woke up at 5:30. On a Sunday! Of performance weekend! Argh!! Now I have to go play another opera performance and reclaim my life.

Winter = Resortwear

Let the record show that I wrote the first few sentences of this blog post on January 2, 2017. Today is March 1. Vacation and a Sondheim Revue at the local playhouse and two Saturdays of playing for auditions for incoming freshmen at Youngstown State University and preparations for the April YSU opera performances have kept me very busy.

So let me begin again:

If you’ve read my posts around any vacation, you know that vacation for me means the necessity for new MeMade clothes. Tonight I finished the second piece that will go in my suitcase. So far I’ve done the Liberty top from the Sewing Workshop, and Marcy Tilton’s Vogue 8582, in my third make of that pattern. As soon as I sewed the final stitch, I cut out a third iteration of the Sewaholic Renfrew top.

I won’t write a full review of each of these makes, as that was two months ago. At mid-60s, my brain doesn’t hold details that long. I’m thankful for our ability to snap photos anytime and anywhere nowadays. Pictures are the great memory-jogger.

First make – Liberty

I love to pick up unique fabric when I travel—fabric that I’ve never seen in the States. On a trip to Rome in the early 2000s, maybe 2002, I quickly visited a fabric store on our last day in the city and was delighted with the shoe-print silk charmeuse I saw. The shoes look like little Persian slippers, what Anna and the King of Siam might have worn. The shades of rust and mustard and blue were wonderful together, and I grabbed a couple of metres. Fifteen years later, when digging through my stash, it called out for me to let it out of the stash so it could go on vacation with me. And to cut into a fabric so precious, I needed a tried-and-true (TNT) pattern—the Liberty Shirt from The Sewing Workshop.

A little over two years ago I made my first Liberty and loved it. Here’s that post. As I prepared the pattern for this make, there were two changes I wanted to make.

  1. Length. As I wear skinny pants most of the time (the years have been kind to my legs), I prefer longer tops. I had added 2″ to the length of Liberty the first time around. This time I added two more inches. I am very happy with the resulting look.
  2. Sleeve finish. The sleeves on this top are about full length with about a 2″ opening at the hem along the seam (the inside, toward the body), with no cuff. Meaning, if you reach across your dinner plate to pick up your roll from the bread plate, your sleeve opening picks up some marinara sauce to then drip across your shirt front and onto your pants. Everytime I have bought or made a shirt with such a sleeve finish, it has been faced and the opening was opposite the seam—on the outside of the sleeve, not the inside. I made a separate facing for the sleeve hem, made that design change, and I love it. I interfaced the facing and roll it up once. Perfect!

What do I wish I would have done? The silk is slippery to cut. I knew this. And I knew pinning it to tissue paper or examining table paper would resolve the problem. I didn’t pin. Learned my lesson!

Picked up a nice pair of slim navy ponte pants at Chico’s that work very well with this top and several others. The look is finished with my Naot Sara sandals in Silver Threads leather. If you don’t know Naot shoes, your feet will thank you to try a pair on. No break-in period. Put them on and walk across Europe without a single blister. Love. And even better, if the cork insole wears out, you can order a new insole for $30 or so. Makes their original price much more reasonable.

Second make – Vogue 8582

If you’ve read many of my sewing posts, you know I think the world of Marcy Tilton, as a teacher and mentor, as a designer, and as a friend. The garments and accessories she and her sister, Katherine, design are innovative and creative, and a joy to sew.

I usually buy a piece of fabric to coordinate with something that’s already in my wardrobe. I cannot now remember why I bought this piece. I love Art Gallery fabrics, and I loved the colors of this piece. It was on Cyber Monday sale at Hart’s Fabric in Santa Cruz, CA, a store with a great online presence. When it arrived and I pretreated the fabric by washing and drying, I was swooning over the hand of the fabric. Buttah! Soft as buttah! What better pattern to use? Another TNT: Marcy Tilton’s Vogue 8582. (First make; Second make; Third make; Fourth make; and Fifth make. So this is the sixth time I’ve made this top.)

The fabric is out of stock at Hart’s but you can find it at Fabric .com or on Etsy, or with a little skilled googling. Here’s how Fabric .com describes it: “Designed for Art Gallery Fabrics, this lightweight stretch cotton jersey knit is perfect for making t-shirts, loungewear, leggings, children’s apparel, knit dresses and more! It features a soft hand and about a 50% four way stretch for added comfort and ease. Colors include white, beige, gold, mint, coral and shades of blue.” Ooh, leggings out of this? Yes, please.

The pattern is out of print, but you can probably find a second-hand copy on Etsy or eBay. On this pattern, I never make the “waterfall” side. I am not a fan, so I choose the side of the front and back that doesn’t have the extension and just cut on the fold. With most Vogue patterns, I add 2″ to the length. They seem to be designed for ladies who are 5’6″, so my 5’8″ height makes me want a little more length.

Styled with a pair of cropped navy ponte leggings I got on sale at Talbot’s two summers ago, just before leaving for my summer as a collaborative pianist at Interlochen Arts Camp. The shoes are my the same Naot Saras as with the previous garment.

Third make – Sewaholic Renfrew Top

A friend of mine has started selling LuLaRoe clothing, and I try to help out my friends when they begin ventures such as this. So I bought a pair of leggings way out of my normal style comfort zone. I wanted a top to go with it, but was having a hard time finding the exact pale coral shade I wanted. When I received this peach cotton jersey knit from Hart’s Fabric (on Cyber Monday sale), I was thrilled. The color was perfect and the fabric easy to work with. Here’s how Hart’s describes it: “This lightweight jersey knit slub in peach is subtly sheer with a good stretch. It would make excellent infinity scarves or cardigans. Even a light tank top!”

As you can see from the photos, it’s a very sheer fabric. I wear a long off-white tank under it. Honestly, if I were to make a tank top out of this fabric, it would have to be a double layer. A single layer of this fabric without a tank under it would be far too revealing.

I have a favorite t-shirt that I purchased from Garnet Hill before last summer’s vacation, and after my first Sewaholic Renfrew top, I realized that pattern was the perfect design to modify in trying to reproduce the Garnet Hill top. I made my second Renfrew with the changes for that make, but evidently didn’t write a blog post. For this peach top, I used the same pattern modifications and cut it about three inches longer.

I laid the top front pattern piece on the fold, with the neckline center front right on the fabric fold. Then the hem center front was inset 1″ from the fold. For the first one I made, I cut the hem 2″ or 3″ longer. Then this one was cut another 3″ longer than that. Maybe even longer. Remember what I said about not being able to remember the details?! Anyway, it’s a length I like with leggings, so I don’t look like I’m trying to be a teenager again. And it doesn’t reveal any part of my anatomy that I’d rather keep hidden.

All the pictures were taken at the wonderful all-inclusive resort, El Dorado Maroma, in Quintana Roo, Mexico. We loved our vacation, and will go again at the next opportunity. Here’s that blog post, if you’re interested.

Beauty everywhere

Sweetpea Pods

img_3913I’m having a special party on Sunday. My new-to-me sister is coming to Ohio for Christmas with her granddaughter. My children, grandchildren, and our circle of friends are gathering at my home to meet my sister, her eldest daughter, and her younger daughter’s daughter and son-in-law.

When any of our friends has a party, everyone brings food. As I am not a cook, I am filled with gratitude to these friends for making the party doable for me. To thank them for all this work, I wanted to make a little gift for each of the ladies to take home.

Thanksgiving a year ago, I made a bunch of Bendy Bags (designed by Lazy Girl Designs), and then at Christmas last year, a couple more. I love these bags and carry one in my music “toolbag,” but they take a couple of hours to make. I needed something a little quicker to make.

Earlier this year I made two “Tulip” bags, a design from CloBird Designs. The most valuable technique I learned from those bags was the half-zip installation.

img_3914The thing about the Bendy Bag is there’s some waste—like two triangles that, together, would equal a 10″ square of fabric, already bonded to fleece. Hmmm. What does one do with all those valuable triangles? Joan Hawley may be a Lazy Girl, but she’s no dummy girl. She designed the Sweetpea Pod pattern, which deftly uses up all those extra triangles of fabric. And I was happy to see the pattern used the half-zip technique.

img_3912Honestly, these little pods are genius. Think of all the uses! If there are any leftovers after Sunday’s party, I’m going to snag one to hold earbuds in my purse. It could easily be made with a hook to attach to your keyring. Put your driver’s license, a $10 bill, and a lipstick in the pod, and you’re good to go.

I’ve been having lots of fun making pulls for the zipper tab. I bought some furnace glass beads on eBay a while back, and one of those on a headpin is very easy to wire-wrap onto the tab. And in their jewelry-making department, Jo-Ann’s has cute “Handmade” charms which are easy to attach with a jump ring. So even when I make several bags from the same fabric, each one is different. I love that!

I hope my guests on Sunday love these bags as much as I do.