Life sometimes takes a difficult turn.

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I haven’t posted in some time, but I wanted to say that I’m okay, or I will be.  In the last few months I’ve buried my father and institutionalized my mother.  It was unexpected.  It started with a phone call last January from my sister – who never calls – to say they had been in a car accident, but were okay.  But they weren’t.  The trauma pushed my (unharmed) mother into late-stage Alzheimer’s.  My dad cracked his sternum, but was okay and recovering.

But then, March 4, my dad called to say he wasn’t doing so well, and was headed back to the ER.  I flew up to visit, pay bills for him, clean house etc. While he seemed well, I froze.  Everything stopped.  My dad seemed so fragile.  My mom was so happy in her new situation – chatting away about all the old days (I got lucky and saw her on good days).  She talked about her husband, and how proud she was of her children (even though she didn’t know who I was).  But I froze.  Every day – phone calls.  Then my dad got better, though he still hadn’t gone home.  Then last month, he contracted pneumonia in the nursing facility, and died three days later.  None of us expected it.

I told my sister-in-law, who lost her father nineteen years ago,  that I finally understood her pain.  I told my students that you cannot understand and that no one prepares you for the loss of a parent.

It’s been almost a month now, and I’m not nearly as frozen anymore.  I’m partaking in things I enjoy again for the first time since my dad called March 4.  I’m still writing letters to my parent’s friends, and that helps work through the grief.

My mom was the artistic one, the one who taught me to sew.  My dad was the introvert, and he was the parent I was closest too, the parent I am most like.  He was the one I called and emailed.  He encouraged me to learn, study hard and pursue my degree.  He is with me always.  I’m reminded of him everywhere.

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Fitting via Text (3 more McCalls 7079)

Last fall my niece asked kindly for some new skirts and a dress for her bunny.  She lives several states away, so I asked my sister for some new measurements.  I also asked her what my niece wore in RTW for her favorite dress.  Comparing the measurements, I determined that a size 14 (girls) would be the right size, so started on McCalls 7079.

Well, the dress hangs on her and the bunny dress would not button shut.  Fortunately, the dress fit her American Girl doll.  We’re doing this fitting via text message.

I cut out another dress for each and made some adjustments.  A size 12, plus raising the neckline another 1/2 inch (it’s far larger than the envelop shows).  And I added 4 inches to the bunny dress.  I got them there in time for Christmas, and voila!  Perfect.  I immediately cut out two more dresses, thinking I could send them in time for Christmas, but only made them this weekend.

The black and pink floral is a poly ponte from Gorgeous Fabrics.  The brown floral is poly ITY from Gorgeous Fabrics.   The green velvet (Marcy Tilton) is the same velvet I used for my shirt. I didn’t get a new picture of the bunny dress.

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Hope she likes them. I’m partial to the brown floral.

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First sewing of the year… is not for me.

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That’s right, I’m sewing patches onto a BSA uniform.  My husband became den leader of our little tiger scout’s den this year.  I remember getting all my sewing-related badges for Girl Scouts… wonder if they do this for the boys?  I hope so!

Next on the agenda is Kwik Sew 3123 (navy wool short coat) for my husband.  Almost finished with the muslin; next will be to customize it for what he wants.  Not sure exactly what I will sew after that.  The fabrics that just arrived from Emma One Sock will likely be stitched up quickly:  a winter white 8 gore skirt and a teal ponte dress.  I might squeeze that dress in later this week while cutting out the jacket proper…

It’s cold out everyone (even here in Florida)… stay warm.

The list is long and ever changing…

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Sewing for my niece: McCalls 7079 & 7583, Little Hip Skirt

Everything is crazy here.  And sewing for myself hasn’t been going well… fit, design, motivation.  But, my sweet 4th grade niece recently asked me to make some dresses for her stuffed bunny… “and maybe, while you’re at it another skirt for me?”  Of course!  It’s been two years since I sewed for her, and I got excited choosing fabrics and trims.

Because she’s grown, and wants to pass the “finger-tip” test at school, I made up a sample dress for her (and one for bunny) and a sample skirt for her.  I used the size chart based on her favorite Lands End dress, but I’m pretty sure they’ll be too big.  I also used fabrics I had on hand, saving the pretty prints and cottons for when I have a better sense of her fit.  She’s a two day drive away, so I’ll have to re-estimate her size based on a FaceTime chat in a week or so.

From McCall’s Website, 7079

McCall’s 7079:  This dress almost identical to her favorite dress.   I used an amazing navy Rayon Doubleknit from Gorgeous Fabrics (still available as I type).  I need some for myself.  Yes, the picture shows a plain dress, but for a fitting dress, I think it works.  I made the flared skirt, plain back with sleeves, all to match school dress codes.  The hand-applied pink floral trim is from Farmhouse Fabrics.  This very easy dress comes together quickly.

Little Hip Skirt (OOP):  I have made this skirt before, but she said it’s too short for school now.  This time, I upped the size (for longer wearing) and made a single layer circle skirt (with yoke).  This time I used a woven, instead of a knit.  I chose the Loden Green Cotton Moleskin from Gorgeous Fabrics (still available as I type).  I bought it for another purpose (a lot of it), but it didn’t work for it so I set it aside.  Now I need a skirt made from this yummy fabric – very easy to work with, drapey and soft.  The hand-applied rosette trim is also from Farmhouse Fabrics.

From McCalls Website: 7583

McCalls 7583:  I have no idea how to fit a stuffed bunny.  Best I could guess from photos and measurements her mom sent, the bunny is a little smaller than an American Girl doll.  I used some floral cotton batiste leftover from making a maternity dress for myself 6.5 years ago (also from Gorgeous Fabrics).  The trim her is from Joann’s. I made this one in an hour, and it was pretty easy (except those quarter inch seams).  I’ll do the prettier dresses a little differently than the directions next time for a better finish (especially the neck and armholes).

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My mom used to sew.

Whenever I talk to my mother now about sewing, she says the same thing:  “I used to sew, but I don’t anymore.  It’s easier to buy.”  Every once in awhile she’ll admire something I’ve made, or even offer a bit of advice, but it always ends in the same refrain.

She has dementia, at 76.  She’s too young, but isn’t everyone?  I made my peace with my mother’s condition about a year ago and now I try to call and talk to her and treat her with as much respect and dignity as I can.

But this weekend, when she was returning home from a trip out west with my dad, there was a new development.  During an extended layover at the Atlanta airport, she claimed that the man traveling with her (my dad) was not her husband and she didn’t know him – her husband and life-mate of over fifty years.  For those of you  who have been here, you know what a bitter moment this is.  From what I understand, the Delta personnel, both on the ground and their flight crews, were a god-send to my dad, helping him navigate this new challenge.

My mom and I shared sewing – often making outfits together. She made my high school gowns and many of my sister’s as well.  I wore one of my sister’s gowns to the 1993 Inaugural Ball. She always did the difficult work – I mostly assisted.  But I think sewing was more of a necessity for her, as much as she wanted it to be more.  And I think that’s why she eventually gave it up.

I sifted through old photos and here are some of the outfits she made in no particular order. I wish I had more photos, and probably do somewhere.  Some of the patterns are known, but most I do not know.  My apologies for the poor quality – the photos haven’t been stored well and were meant to capture moments more than anything else.

My mom used to sew.

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Birthday dress.
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Long story behind this dress. I almost didn’t get to go to my senior prom, because I had behaved stupidly (we were stationed overseas and my friends and I went barhopping not long after the Berlin disco bombing). But my mom relented and surprised me with this dress.
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Bridesmaid at my sister’s first wedding. Vogue 2797.
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Mom as mother-of-the groom. I know it’s Vogue, but can’t remember which one.
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Mom and dad, at some event in the 1980s.

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My niece, modeling one of my sister’s prom gowns. I wore this to the 1993 inaugural ball. It also had a bolero jacket.
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My niece modeling another of my sister’s prom gowns (wrinkled from storage). Vogue 1623.

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At my grandmother’s second wedding, around the same time the photo for this site was taken. I can’t be sure who made these dresses. All three were amazing with needle and thread and gave me my love of sewing. Sadly, all three suffered/suffer from dementia.

Connections: Vintage Vogue 1415

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My family.

My in-laws recently celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary.  They asked everyone to dress from the era (1966).  A few months back I ran some ideas on this blog, but in the end settled on a very different, much simpler dress.  Little did I know when I selected it, that it would connect me once again to family – this time my father’s mother.

While we were traveling, I fell hard for the Marfy re-release of their first pattern.  I didn’t feel ready for a Marfy dress, so when I got home, I looked through my pattern collection and found Vogue 1415.  It was perfect, even though it’s a simple shift dress.

 

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Grandma, 1927

I didn’t know my grandmother well, though I wish I did.  This is a picture of her as a young woman.  It’s her senior yearbook photo when she was at Duke University.  She graduated in 1927.  She loved history, and was in the Women’s League of Voters at Duke.  According to the yearbook, “she was the embodiment of dignity and modesty, and hers, too, is that rarest of womanly virtues, silence. When occasion demands, she talks and what she says is well worth listening to. That she will be a success is a foregone conclusion.”

She died when I was just 13, of heart disease.  Most of my early life I lived far from her.  I did get to know her husband, my grandfather.  Even after she had been gone for 20 years, he still spoke of her with respect.  I didn’t really know her, except that I admired her.  She was elegant, sophisticated and an amazing cook.  We took walks together whenever I visited.  But I never knew she sewed.

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Love these directions!

So when I opened Vogue 1415, which was her pattern, I was surprised to see her fitting notes on the pattern pieces.  I made version E, the print dress on the right in the photo, the same one she chose.  I don’t know if she made this dress for herself, or for my Aunt, who would have been in her early 20s at the time.  (I’ll never know as my Aunt and grandfather both passed away in 2003). But I felt connected to her in a way I hadn’t before.

Sewing details:

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Pieces cut, underlining basted in.

I used a silk/wool sharkskin suiting from Emma One Sock.  This fabric can have a fair amount of luster, depending on the light. Because this is a superfine worsted wool, I decided to underline the dress with silk organza.  Though the dress didn’t call for lining, I used black silk crepe de chine to line the dress.  Both lining and underlining came from Gorgeous Fabrics.

My first lesson on this pattern… 1960s sizing with a modern body. I made a muslin first: the pattern envelope had the right measurements for me, but I’ve been having fitting issues of late.  This is bustier than I expected – the darts and princess seaming were difficult to adjust just right.  If the girls weren’t high, the dress itself had all kinds of drag lines.  So, I found a bra that did the trick.  (My grandmother noted that the bust darts seemed high).

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Back princess seam, needing a better press.

Though the muslin fit well otherwise, it was very fitted, so I used 1/2 inch seams.  This gave me a bit more wearing ease, though the fit is still off a bit. In addition, there was a fair amount of easing to do in the princess seams, and I’m glad I discovered this in the muslin first.

The second lesson was the fabric.  Worsted wool requires tailoring skills – and that means proper pressing skills.  I made good use of a press cloth, steam and clapper to get the seams to lie flat.  Still, the final pressing was problematic.  Why?  I didn’t finish sewing in the lining or the hem until after we got to North Carolina.  And the folks at the airBnB had a fantastic collection of movie memorabilia, but only a miniature iron:

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Not angles.  That really is the size of the iron. The stick in the cabinet, directly above the iron, is Hermione’s wand from the Deathly Hollows.

I had better success using my flatiron and press cloth on the hem.

Overall, I was pleased with the dress.  I wore my grandmother’s pearls and an old pair of Betsey Johnson platform heels.

Some parting photos:

 

 

Vintage & Antique Sewing

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This weekend, we traveled.  We went north to a very hot, and very humid Charlotte, NC for my in-laws 50th wedding anniversary. I have a post later this week about the dress I made for it.  On the way back to relatively cool Florida, we stopped at the old family farm in upstate South Carolina to clean out my late grandparents house.  Or try anyway.

In the four-generation picture above, my grandmother Margaret is on the left, and oldest woman is my great-grandmother, Marie, who owned the house before my grandmother.  But the sewing items I found at the house also tell the story of my mother, and of one of my great-great grandmothers.

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I’m not sure who these thimbles belonged to, but most likely my great-grandmother.  I found them in a jar in the kitchen, and I think the jar had been in the attic. I’d love to ask my mother, but sadly, her memory is being robbed of her. I put them in my pocket and fidgeted with them the rest of the day.  They are bent, as if shaped to great-grandma Marie’s finger.  I’ve never mastered using a thimble, but these felt good on my fingers.  I loved her dearly.  She was my earliest sewing teacher.  (“Those stitches are beautiful, but these are not.  Keep your focus all the way through a project, don’t be lazy.”)  She also taught me crewel embroidery. Sadly, I never learned tatting, her specialty, but I have some of her  pieces.  Of all the things I brought home, these thimbles have the most sentimental value.

We also cleaned out the patterns.  Well, this occurred before I got there – my sister saved them from the trash. My sister said they found them in a suitcase in the attic. They’ve probably been there since the mid 70s, when the house was renovated.  She said they did have to throw out more than half the patterns because they were in such bad shape. Many of these envelopes are tattered and disintegrating.  Almost all of these were used – my grandmother actually used her patterns.

I only had one in my collection – the Balmain, which I got from my other grandmother.  Judging from the dates on the McCalls patterns and the styles/sizes, I think my grandmother was sewing mostly for my mother who would have been in high school/college.  My mother’s handwriting is on a few.  Still, my grandmother married very young, and the styles would have been fashionable for someone in their late 30s, early 40s.  I think my grandmother liked McCall’s best, given how many there were.

IMG_2440My grandmother clearly liked Spadea patterns. These are in pristine (but used) condition.  These patterns, and the catalogues above,  were still in the mailing envelopes.  The patterns were all mailed to Loring Air Force base, which dates them to the early 60s (I think 1961).  The catalogues were mailed to her at the farm, after she remarried, so it’s from the early 70s.  (My first grandfather died in his 40s, when I was 2.) I think she bought these designs for herself, as they were a bit more sophisticated and elegant than the many mod patterns from McCalls.

I knew this existed, and I had requested to have it when my grandfather passed away:

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But I didn’t know this still existed (terrible pix, no lighting, nor AC for that matter):

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Both are still at the farm.  My brother is going to get both (and all those parts to the left) and bring them to me, as our car was full.  I remember them being together and even using the treadle when I was very, very young.  But I thought the machine was lost.

The machine itself is in terrible condition.  Perhaps it’s just aesthetics, I won’t know til I get it out of the house. I think it may have been in the attic for the last 40 years.  The cabinet/treadle is in great shape, as it had been used as furniture since the mid 70s.  The drawers were still filled with acorns – my doing from when I was little.

I’m not sure who owned it.  My grandmother obviously got it from her mother, Marie.  But Marie’s life span doesn’t really overlap when these machines were made. Still, the house didn’t have plumbing til the 70s, so perhaps it had limited electricity as well.  Looking at when my great-grandmother lived (1861-1964), I’m thinking it was hers.  She also lived in that house in her gloriously long life.  It could have been my great-grandfather’s mother’s machine though (1872-1937).  I’ll never know.

I don’t have the faintest idea how to restore it or preserve the old patterns, but if anyone knows anything, please comment!  Likewise, if you know of any restorers in the north Florida area (or east Tennessee, where the machine will live with my brother for a while), please let me know!

 

 

 

Sewing for Others

IMG_1854I’ve got [too] many projects cut out for myself, half started, nearly finished, planned. Some are easy, others quite challenging.  I’ve gotten myself in the situation of not knowing where to start to finish.  Well, not quite true.  I know I’m going to finish the Marfy top next, in a beautiful print silk chiffon.  But it’s going to require patience and focus… and I’ve been working on overcoming a nasty cold. Or will it be the Marcy Tilton raincoat?

So, how to keep sewing when your have a nasty cold and are super exhausted?  Say yes when your niece politely asks for a new apron.  Her mom and I selected a pattern via texting and then I was off to JoAnns, where I bought cotton prints for not one, not two, but three aprons for McCall’s 5720.  Oh, and some new Star Wars Force Awakens flannel for pajama bottoms for my son.

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From the McCall’s website.

McCall’s 5720, view B:  I decided to surprise my sister and niece by making coordinating aprons for them. This is a simple pattern, and goes together fairly quickly.  The fabric is okay – lots of body which is fine for this view (and loads of sizing, that washing didn’t eliminate).    I have a very strong aversion to rick-rack, and an aversion to most trims I find at JoAnn’s, so I ordered some 1/4″ rayon braid in orchid from MJ Trimming.  The buttons are JoAnn’s. The most challenging elements were the patch pockets and attaching the braid neatly.

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Like many McCall’s patterns for crafts/costumes, it uses 1/2 inch seam allowances. Still, on several pattern pieces, like the ties, it calls for 5/8 inch seam allowances. If you follow the pattern pieces, the ties won’t align with the dots.  It doesn’t always call for the best techniques for good results. I especially disliked the idea of the narrow, essentially shirt-tail, hem on those deep curves.  On my niece’s apron, I did the hems using Claire Schaeffer’s way. While they are very stiff, you do get a better result than when you use the pattern directions, which I used on my sister’s version. You can see the puckering at the waist – that’s from the finishing, not from how I tied it.

There is an error in the placement of the notches on pieces 7 & 8 of the girl’s pattern.  they don’t align at all (not even close).

This came together quickly, and it was off to the post office.  My niece was very happy that her mother got one too!.  On the other hand, I made the largest girl size (7-8), and it looks mighty small (though it works).

McCall’s 5720, view C: Since I was there, and I had the pattern, I thought I would make view C for myself.  I was curious to see how the layered flounces would look on an adult, and I needed a “pretty” apron for when I have company (or I will wipe on my good clothes without thinking – I’m a messy cook).

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I made a mistake!  I meant to make the bottom layer the dark blue, not the middle.  I didn’t catch it until I cut it out.  I think I would like it marginally better if the base color was the darker blue.  The pictures are washed out, but the three prints are meant to work together in a quilt, I guess.  Aesthetically, in the end, I don’t really like this for me.  And, the fabric has a lot of body, so it adds weight to the bottom half of the figure.

This view went together much more professionally than the other one – a simpler design, no real issues. There is an error in the directions however, between steps 12 and 13. You need to fold the waistband down, right sides together, stitch, and trim.  Again, watch the seam allowances and hems, which differ on the pattern pieces, specific directions and general directions.

Blank Slate PJ Bottoms: I said I wasn’t going to use this pattern again. Then it got cold (yes, it gets below freezing in my part of Florida).  My son also decided he liked his pjs styled like his dads: bottoms with a t-shirt. Most of the problems I have with the pattern are with the top, and the fit on the bottoms is spot on right now.

IMG_1857I let my son help me.  This upped the difficulty level.  He wanted to randomly mix the two prints; I convinced him of this more subtle variation.  He was a good helper – he really wants to learn how to sew, and is taking sewing lessons after school.  He just wasn’t always patient or wanted in my lap to see better.

A couple of notes about this flannel:  it’s not intended for children’s sleepwear.  It’s also pretty low quality.  What I bought was very much off grain, and I wasn’t able to straighten the grain. The red Republic emblem bleeds, even on cold, even after multiple washings.

Note to self: When purchasing fabric from a place like JoAnns, buy extra.  Every single piece was cut poorly, sometimes resulting in several lost inches.  When I order online, I almost always order extra, because I often change my mind about how I will use the fabric, and figure extra is good. Need to do the same in person, too.

 

 

The Force PJs: Blank Slate, try two

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I haven’t been sewing much lately.  The usual reasons… too tired, too unmotivated, etc.  It’s not that I haven’t planned projects, but… In any case, two days before Christmas, I decided to make the little guy new PJs. I’d already purchased the fabric from JoAnns – the new Star Wars cottons for The Force Awakens (heroes, of course). Note: the fabric states “not for sleepwear.”

I’d used the Blank Slate Lazy Day Pajamas pattern before (about 8 months ago, but can’t link to the blog post).  This time I went up two sizes (how he grows), made the long sleeve/pant combo and added piping.  Unfortunately, I had the same problems with this pattern as the last time. Nonetheless, he loves them, even if it is still too warm for long PJs.

I love the style.  I didn’t bother to match the pattern, which means that Rey’s head is on Chewbacca’s body. It really bothers me, but a 4.5 year old boy finds that hysterical.  The piping turned out to be really easy.

The real problems with the pattern are:  lack of grain lines, lack of match points, and the facing does not fit properly, so it does not lie flat.  I was anticipating it this time, so I made doubly sure that I cut the right pieces/sizes from the pdf and constructed it properly.