My Makes: Emery + Bettine Frock

August 28, 2015


It's been a hot stretch this summer. First when we were in Paris it was unusually hot, breaking all kinds of records as it hit 100+ for nearly a week straight, one day hitting 104 degrees! Then upon returning home, I was greeted with summer in Los Angeles, with our hottest days coming in August. So needless to say, I've been pretty much living in the most breezy comfy garments in my closet!

When Tilly recently released her new Bettine Dress pattern, I thought it was super cute, but I didn't really consider it for myself because the skirt really won't work on my body type. But then I got to thinking–what if I pair the super cute top half with a fuller a-line skirt? Yes! So thanks to the impulse-friendly PDF pattern option, I had soon bought, printed, and was cutting directly into my Cotton + Steel Frock rayon.


I am short waisted and for tops that blouse like this one does, I know I usually have to take some length out of the top so the blousing doesn't completely overwhelm my waist. I'm already carrying all my weight in my middle section, so creating what looks like additional rolls isn't what I'm after! So first thing I did was shave 1" off the length of the top front and back. This allowed the top to still blouse a bit, but not to the point of adding a new roll to my middle.


I then cut two Emery skirt front pieces to a size 4. The size selection was a pretty arbitrary choice–I just eyeballed it so that it would be bigger than the waist of the Bettine, but not enormously bigger. I then gathered the Emery skirt to match the waist of the Bettine. But, before all of that, I of course also cut out the Emery pockets and added them to the skirt too! I love pockets (don't we all?) and the pockets that come with the Bettine are adorable, but they wouldn't work with the plan to gather an a-line skirt. So I followed the steps on the Emery Dress to add the pockets in, and then gathered the skirt and followed the attaching instructions as Tilly had written.


The only other changes I made were in the finishing. I love the big top stitched facing, so I kept that as is, but I added in some understitching to keep it all tidy and in place, which is especially important with the rayon. I also understitched the sleeve cuffs so you don't see any of the wrong side on the outside of the sleeve. I skipped the tabs because I didn't think it suited the drape of the fabric.


And speaking of fabric, this is more of the dreamy rayon Frock collection from Cotton + Steel, which has to be the greatest rayon I've ever worked with. I really love it so much and want to make all the things in it! It's amazing. And it's perfect for swishing around in! I picked up this rayon at Pink Castle Fabrics when I was there teaching at Camp Stitchalot.


So all-in-all, I consider this frock a success! I will absolutely be making more versions of the Bettine, and might try altering the original skirt that comes with the pattern into an a-line like Sally did on her super cute version!

The Closing of Sew L.A. and Thoughts On Future Classes

August 24, 2015


Last week Sunday, Shaerie Mead, the owner of Sew L.A., summoned the teaching staff to the shop for a meeting. I had a hunch I knew what this meeting was going to be about, as Shaerie had been transparent to all of us about the financial strain over the last few years at the shop. My suspicions were right–we were told that she had decided to close Sew L.A. after nearly 9 years of business.

Sew L.A. has been my local home for teaching for the last 5 years or so, and it has become a key player in my business, both emotionally and monetarily. When I started teaching at Sew L.A., I still had a day job, I was also teaching at the now closed Urban Craft Center in Santa Monica, and had just left the newly closed Home Ec. I didn't have any patterns yet, and only had written one book. After teaching for about a year and a half, Shaerie hired me as the shop manager. This was a huge change for me, going from a 9 to 5 office job to a retail schedule. But I quickly fell in love with the students, the community of customers, and loved learning all about this industry. 

I knew little to nothing about the world of fabric, so working with all the independent fabric companies and selling their material was a huge education for me. Shaerie was kind and patient and taught me everything she knew about that world, taking me on buying trips to Quilt Market, where I met lifelong friends like Alexia Abegg and Melody Miller


I was hired at nearly the same time as my amazing friend Haley Glenn, and a little while later, my friend Devon Iott, whom I worked with at the Urban Craft Center, was brought on too, right when the shop was expanding into its big new home in Atwater Village. The three of us learned, grew, became better teachers, better people, great friends, and threw some mighty fine parties (like this book party and this pattern release party for Colette, a prom birthday party for Oona, a retro picnic book release party for Gertie, and this book release party for one of my books). Haley has since left us for Portland and is now the Managing Editor at Seamwork Magazine and has become a key player at Colette Patterns. Devon now lives in Nashville, and works for VSP (Viking Singer Pfaff), is in charge of The Sewing Party, and teaches at Anna Maria Horner's shop Craft South. Though I miss both of them everyday, I am so proud of both of these amazing ladies and all they are doing. 


After Shaerie's baby was old enough for her to come back to work, I stepped down as shop manager and returned to just being a teacher, allowing me more time to focus on writing and patterns in addition to the teaching. Everything was so perfect, except for one thing–the shop portion of the business wasn't doing that well financially. And the nail in the coffin was the day that a big new Super Jo-ann Fabric & Craft store opened exactly 1.4 miles down the road, a short 5 minute drive away. 

Shaerie's blog post on the Sew L.A. blog explains more in depth about her decisions to close and how much of it has to do with her debt, family, childcare, and other personal influences (I highly suggest you read it–it's so raw and honest). But I can also tell you that a big change in the shop was the day that Jo-ann's opened. I had students in class ask me if all the things they needed for class could be bought at Jo-ann's, as they were learning about tools from me, in the middle of our shop with scissors and thread for sale directly behind me. There was such a lack of respect for where they were and for keeping the money in the community, and much more focus on using their coupon mailer. Now, I get it. I am not made of money (HA! If only...) and I too try to save a buck when I can. But I will tell you that one of the reasons the shop failed was because of that Jo-ann's. It's not the only reason, but it is a factor. 


Prior to the store opening, I almost never had anyone ask about Jo-ann's in the shop or in classes, except when they needed something that was really best found there, like novelty fleece, or holiday prints. And at the time, the closest Jo-ann's wasn't that close and wasn't that nice. But after they opened the closer and bigger super store, the word Jo-ann's was tossed around so casually in class and in the shop, I found it utterly shocking. I cannot imagine going into a small boutique, checking out the merchandise, then asking if the big super store down the road had something similar, but cheaper. And yet, this happened day after day. I saw it in the shop, and I saw it in class. It was hard not to be really rude to these questions, but now that it has done its damage, I am angry about it. All I could say at the time with a big smile was "well, of course it can be bought there, but we don't mark up our prices any higher than they do, and you shopping here helps keep us in business!" That was always followed by a reply involving the word "coupon." 

If you wonder if your dollars actually help keep small business open, the answer is yes. I recently needed 3 spools of thread for a project I was working on. I could have driven to Jo-ann's to get it, but I didn't. I drove to The Fabric Store, where I found quality items, chatted with the lovely staff, and gave my dollars to real humans that I am helping support. That means something. Is the purchase of 3 spools of thread really going to help manager Brooke pay her rent? No, and yes. Because with each spool of thread that is sold, the shop does well, and she gets to keep her job that she loves. 


Anyway, I think you all get the point I'm trying to make, and I don't want to make this more of a rant than I already have, but I do want to point out the importance of supporting the business you want to see in your community. Without your business, they will fail. Also closing this month on the east side of LA is the sewing shop and workshop space Common Thread Studio. This double whammy is a huge hit to LA's east side sewing scene. And yet the Jo-ann's lives on... 

In a last-ditch Hail Mary effort to save the part of the business that was successful–the workshops–Shaerie closed the retail part of the shop earlier this year, renting out the front of the shop to another local business, and maintained the workshop space in its entirety. This changed the feel of the space dramatically, but at least we could keep doing the part that Jo-ann's couldn't do better than we could, and that is teach. I love that the classes are timed for complete learning and not with just the end project as the main goal, as most places schedule entire garments to be sewn in a class only 3–6 hours long. The only thing you can do in that amount of time is sew the garment at a break neck speed and do as you're told. You will not properly learn techniques to apply to future projects, and I respected Shaerie so much for this model of teaching. But this change in the business wasn't enough to keep the shop afloat, and alas, the end is near. 


So, with all of that said, where does this leave me now? I have a full schedule of classes at Sew L.A. between now and the end of October when the shop is closing its doors forever. So if you want to learn from me at this awesome place, now's your chance! After the doors close, I have no firm plans yet that I'm ready to announce, other than the classes already on the calendar that are out of LA (Fancy Tiger Crafts, Superbuzzy, Camp Workroom Social, and QuiltCon West). 

I can tell you that I fully intend to continue to teach, because I love it. I have been teaching all week at Sew L.A. since the announcement and my students have hit me with a few questions that you might be asking yourself too. So here are some of the FAQ's and answers. And if you have another question I didn't ask and answer below, ask me in the comments! 
  • Q: Will you be doing in-home private lessons?
  • A: Maybe. I used to do this all the time, and sometimes it was fine, and sometimes it was really weird. But, if you were a student of mine at Sew L.A. and you want to hire me to teach you something in your home, ask me! I'd rather not take on new students that I don't know already, as that was the part that was sometimes uncomfortable and weird. You get it, I was going into complete stranger's homes... 
  • Q: Will you be opening your own workshop/shop space?
  • A: No. If I could, I would. But I know that it takes a huge investment to open a space like Sew L.A. (with or without the retail part attached) and I do not have that kind of money, nor do I want to go into debt with a huge loan to make it possible. (Nor do I want to do a crow-funding campaign to fund it either!)
  • Q: Can you just teach at your home/studio?
  • A: Sadly no. I live and work in my apartment and not only is there no space for this in my home, it would disturb by neighbors and potentially be against the terms of my lease, so this is just not an option. If I lived in a live/work loft type space, that'd be a different story, but I don't and I'm not interested in moving. I live in a quiet residential neighborhood and it's just not an option.
  • Q: What about renting a space for classes? i.e.- a warehouse, a church basement, etc...
  • A: I'm not saying no to this per se, but the only way this would work is if I had a guarantee of students lined up to do a specific class. This is because I'd have to rent the space, rent tables/chairs/etc, all without the promise of making that money back in sign ups. If it didn't sell well, I'd be out that money, time, and effort. I understand the idea here, that it's not renting a space on a regular month-to-month basis, but rather renting for special occasions, but it's a gamble and I'm not ready to make that gamble right now. 
  • Q: I have a group that would be interested in a workshop and we could fill a church basement. Would you consider the above scenario then?
  • A: Yes! If you are the leader of a group of adults or kids, or if you and a bunch of friends want to learn to sew or want to make something specific, and you have a place to rent that has enough room, contact me! I am not a shop with space or with machines for everyone to use, etc, so those kinds of details would need to be worked out, but I'm absolutely open to that kind of situation! 
  • Q: Have you considered teaching at another local shop?
  • A: I have, but right now I'm focused on all the commitments I have between now and the end of October, and am mostly considering doing independent classes from that point on. However, I love all the other indie sewing shops and would be honored to teach at their places too. For full disclosure, I haven't approached anyone specific yet, nor has anyone approached me yet. If this happens, I will announce it for sure!
  • Q: Will you do more on-line classes?
  • A: Yes! This was in the works anyway, and soon you will hear all about a bunch of new on-line classes coming your way. I am also considering doing more than I had originally planned on because of this change, but I am taking this one day at a time for now. 
So, there's where we are for now. I want to thank Shaerie for all I've learned from her and for all the wonderful opportunities she's given me. I also want to thank all the students I've taught, and all the loyal customers I've met through the years. While this is Shaerie's business and not mine, it is still a huge loss for me and for my fellow teachers, and we will be left with a huge hole in our community and in our hearts. (Sorry, that was cheesy, but it's true.) 

I hope to see all you local LA people for some final classes, and if you're not following Sew L.A. on Instagram, I suggest you do because there will be some mega final sales (including machines and fixtures) and a blow out the jams final hurrah party to go with it. I think this closing calls for a cocktail!

Mad love to you all!
XOXO 

My Makes: The Dottie Angel Frock

August 3, 2015


While I was away on vacation I picked up a handful of patterns and started to develop my post-vacation sewing plans. I have always been a fan of the grannie chic style that Dottie Angel has made her signature, so when I saw that she was releasing her famous Frock as a sewing pattern with Simplicity (Simplicity #1080), I didn't hesitate and jumped to buy it immediately. 

My personal tastes swing from hippie grannie to chic Parisian, depending on the situation and my mood. This garment allowed me to go deep into the one far side of my tastes and satisfy my hippie grannie to the fullest. Is it the most flattering of looks? No, but that's not the point to me with these kinds of frocks. It's about homespun comfort and everyday ease. And for that, it's a huge success in my book. 


If you're not familiar with the garment, the front features two top stitched pleats on the left and right of center, which have a tie sewn into them that wraps around to the back to cinch in the back of the dress. I found my tie was plenty long to wrap around to the front to place the bow in the front if I wanted to, but I liked it best in the back. 

The pleats are quite high on the front of the dress, so I would check to see where they land on your body before sewing them. I am rather short waisted and these hit me right under my bust for an empire fit. If you prefer them at your waist, or if you're more busty than I am (38B) I would suggest lowering them. The original images show them high on the body like an empire fit, but keep in mind they are quite high. 


The front features the signature Dottie Angel pleated pockets that are set on top of the optional contrast band at the bottom. The length is a midi length, meant to hit mid-calf. The sleeves are kimono sleeves that are formed in the shoulder seams, so there are no actual sleeves to put on.

I wanted to play with a mix of retro-inspired fabrics to keep with the original feel of the garment, but also tried to keep it somewhat current. The fabrics I picked were Ghost Saltines in Evergreen by Kim Kight for Cotton + Steel for the top, a scrap of Shot Cotton by Kaffe Fassett for the pockets (pretty sure it's the Pewter color, looking at the color chart), neon bias binding purchased locally at Michael Levine (I didn't see it on their website), and a scrap of floral from my stash that I bought at one of those cheap-o fabric stores in downtown LA. 


As with any garment, I try to follow the instructions the first time around, but this garment proved really tough in that department right from the get go. The end result I love, but I did make a ton of changes and will make a few more in my next go around. 


The first change was how I attached the binding to the pockets. As pictured above, the patch pockets are trimmed in 1/4" double fold bias binding. The instructions have you sandwich the binding on the edge of the pocket, baste it in place, then sew them in place close to the inner edge of the binding. I didn't do them this way for two reasons. First, this would mean that the distance from the inside of the binding to the edge would be like a flap, so if you go this way you might want to do another row of stitching at the actual pocket edge. And second, I prefer to sew my binding around like a wrap instead of a sandwich. 


I did my pocket binding as pictured above. Step 1- sew the binding to the right side of the pocket, stitching in the first fold. Step 2- wrap the binding to the wrong side, pressing it to the edge of the stitching. Step 3- stitch the binding in place at the inner edge. Step 4- then sew the pockets to the dress at the outer edge of the binding. 


The other changes I made to the dress involved the length, the sleeves, and the interior finishing. For the length, I am 5'4" and this hit me really at an unflattering spot. I usually prefer things at my knee, but I wanted to keep the midi skirt feel to this dress, while being as flattering as possible. I took 2" off the lower contrast panel during cutting, and another 1" after finishing the dress. I also did a simple double fold topstitched hem instead of finishing the hem with bias binding. 

The interior of the dress calls for every seam to be sewn, trimmed, covered with bias binding that's basted to the inside, then top stitched on both sides of the seam on the right side. I found this to be a little excessive and potentially bulky, especially where the pockets intersect with the seam of the lower band, so I did just regular straight stitched seams with a trimmed and zigzagged edge. The side seams instructs you to sew them as French seams, which again I found to be a bit unnecessary. I know why they do this, because you've at that point already finished the sleeves and this creates a finished edge in the armpit, but at that point I had already changed my sleeves and so a French seam was no longer necessary. 


Speaking of the sleeves, this seems to be the big point of confusion by those I've seen make this dress, and reading the instructions, I totally understand why. I did one sleeve as instructed and documented it. 

Step 1- the single fold bias tape is pinned to the sleeve opening, tapering to the edge of the fabric at the dots. Step 2- sew the binding to the sleeve in the first fold, then trim the excess away. As a patternmaker, it always confuses me when the garments are to be reshaped this way. Why not just design the sleeve in this shape so the binding can be sewn to the edge? Anyway, moving on...


Step 3- Before you roll the binding to the inside, I marked the fold line on the right side of the dress with water soluble pencil so I could roll that to the inside after I sewed the binding on. Step 4- fold on the fold line, and pin in place. This will taper to the edge of the fabric. 


Step 5- baste the sleeve in place by sewing at the edge of the bias binding. Step 6- top stitch the binding in place by sewing on the right side of the fabric. Then remove the baste stitches. I then pressed it over a ham and basted the side seam to the mark on the pattern to see how the sleeve would fit. And how did it look? 


Terrible! Also, sorry for the late-night mirror selfie, but I wanted to document this moment. Aside from the obvious, which is that the armhole was way too low and totally showing my boobs, I also didn't like the sleeves on my body, which is common for me with this style of sleeve. I am small across my shoulders and this kind of sleeve often looks goofy on me. But to keep with the integrity of the dress, I wanted to give it a go. Needless to say, this had to change! I also saw at this point that the overall size was just too big. I made a medium based on the body and finished measurements, but I ended up trimming 1/2" off both sides of the front and back, so I will sew up a small next time.


So after all that sleeve nonsense, I ended up trimming off the sleeves all together. And yet, as you can see in the photos, they still go beyond my shoulders. I cut off 3 1/2" at the widest point of the shoulder, and turned it more into a tank. At this point I had to selvage the sleeves, so I simply sewed up the side seams of the dress and bound the armholes in bias binding. I thought I'd roll with the neon binding I already had going to give it a little bit of a pop.


In the end, I love this dress. I'm thinking of this as a wearable muslin since I didn't make a real muslin, but it's very wearable indeed. Changes I will make next time in addition to making the small and shortening the length a little bit more will be to just reshape the sleeves to be a proper tank, and raising the back a bit too as the scoop is a little too low for me. But this is just personal taste and nothing about the pattern at all. Next version I will try it without the pockets and in a less grannie fabric, as I can see this being a really great staple for hot summer days, or with a cardigan in the fall and winter, and made up in solid black or navy could be very chic and classic. 

The Guilt of Selfish Sewing

July 31, 2015


My studio is in my home, and for the most part I love that I can go from life to work to life and back and forth as much as I need to. It can be challenging to set boundaries so I'm not working all day and night. And the reverse can happen too–it can be easy to be sucked into non-work things in the middle of the day since my trash and laundry and dishes are right there looking at me.

If I'm guilty of one direction or the other, it's that I end up working all day and all night, rather than the other way around. That's fine on occasion, but it's really a bad habit to get into all the time. What I find happening is that in the evenings, I don't sew for myself for pleasure. Don't get me wrong, I do sew for myself all the time, but rarely for pure pleasure.

My wardrobe is probably 90-95% handmade, but it's really not very diverse at all. I find that if I am going to sew in the evening after "work" hours, I feel tremendously guilty if it isn't work related sewing. I can't be the only sewing professional that feels this way, as I'm sure there's a bit of this in all of us, but this is a really bad habit that I'm trying actively to break.

Why do I have dozens of Shift Dresses from my book, or Emery Dresses, or whatever? Because it feels like it's somehow "okay" to sew these for myself because they are "work" related. And if I'm going to take the time to sew for myself that's not work related, I mostly focus on something quick and easy like the Laurel Dress or the Pearl Shift. Both patterns I love and live in all the time, but I really feel a sense of guilt when I spend time sewing things for myself when I "should" be sewing something for work.

The joy of vacation is breaking from your daily habits, and the hope is that when you return to your life you see the bad habits and actively try to change them, which is exactly what I'm doing right now. Since being home, I am clocking out of my work after dinner, and then returning to my studio to sew for me. Last week I made the Dottie Angel Frock from Simplicity (photos shot and coming to the blog next week!) and now I'm working on the Carolyn Pajamas from Closet Case Files with some fabric I brought home from Paris (pictured above).

I'm hoping that this will result in a more diverse wardrobe and that I will actually use all these patterns I buy from my fellow designers! I buy them because I love them, but then I don't sew them up because somehow I get this guilty thing going on when I sew for pure pleasure. But no more I say!

Do you all feel this way too? I'm guessing many do, even if you don't sew for a living!

Announcing Upcoming Workshops at Fancy Tiger Crafts and Superbuzzy!

July 28, 2015

I am so excited to announce two upcoming in-person workshops!

Sylvie Dress

First up, I am so honored to return to the fabulous Fancy Tiger Crafts for another weekend workshop! Last time we made the Emery Dress, this time I'm coming to teach the new Sylvie Dress! Perfect for an advanced beginner or an intermediate sewer, this class will move quickly as we tackle the entire construction from start to finish in two days flat!

We'll cover darts, gathering, piping, bias finishing, invisible zipper, and so much more. Make either view, your choice!

Saturday and Sunday, September 12–13
10am–6pm with an hour lunch break
$175
Limited to 10 students
Sign up directly at the Fancy Tiger Crafts site here 

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Shift Dress class from Craftcation Conference 2014

Next is an all-day Saturday class at the lovely Superbuzzy in Ventura, CA, where I will be teaching the Shift Dress project from my book Skirts & Dresses For First Time Sewers. Perfect for new sewers or those new to garment construction, with this project you will learn how to measure your body, selecting your size, sewing and finishing basic seams, as well as bias binding the neckline and finishing the sleeves with a gathered cuff.

All of this will wrap up in one day of 6-hour sewing, so you will arrive with raw materials, and leave with a finished dress!

Saturday, September 19
11am–6pm with an hour lunch break
$125
Limited to 10 students
Sign up directly at the Superbuzzy site here