Ballerina (Cleo) Skirt

A young woman wearing a black fitted t-shirt tucked into a long green skirt with ballerina's practicing at the bar printed on it.

The thing about sewing is that in many ways it’s not that different from knitting. Ok, in many ways it’s very different from knitting. In fact other than using your hands to make something many of the tools and techniques are different. All that aside, in many ways sewing is not that different from knitting. Like knitting, sewing projects have a way of jumping out at me when they’re ready to come to life. Like knitting, I go through phases of zero inspiration, and then suddenly a pattern that I’ve seen a million times needs to be given life immediately. Mostly, there’s a strong desire to grab beautiful materials because you know that at some point you’ll be able to use your hands to turn them into something beautiful.

We don’t make the trek to Notion very often, though a wonderful shop, it’s an hour away. When you combine that with there’s a record shop in town for my husband to patron and a delicious eatery down the street, it’s a trip that very quickly becomes a treat. So you have to understand when I say that this ballerina fabric literally jumped out at me from their clearance section, you have to understand that I typically go in with a budget and a plan. I check the clearance section as a means of sticking to that plan, not necessarily for the “OMGOSH I need this to make this and I’m going to start it tonight” feeling that ensued when my eyes made contact with this green cotton poplin fabric.

In addition to the fabric, I also walked away with a copy of the Cleo Skirt by Made-by-Rae. The plan, as I enthusiastically informed my husband over lunch, was to merge the two different styles so that I’d have a long skirt with visible front pockets. A plan that went into action as soon as I could wash and iron the fabric.

The Cleo skirt came together incredibly fast and I love the stiffness that using poplin brings to the garment. Though slightly more of a summer fabric, I do plan on wearing this with a turtleneck, tights, and boots through winter. Another project that I not only want to make again but honestly fits so well into what I tend to wear day-to-day. Perhaps a woolen version is in my future!

There’s about a yard or so leftover, so stay tuned for another ballerina project! I think I have enough to make a t-shirt using the 100 acts of sewing pattern?

A belated “Happy Halloween”

No matter how you swing it, the best part about re-sewing the same pattern again is that you’ve already assembled the pattern. Like ironing your fabric before cutting, assembling the pattern is one of those steps that always takes longer than you think it should. So when I sat down on Halloween morning to make an Ilsa dress with Jade sleeves part two, I honestly anticipated the project having zero hiccups and only taking a few hours. In my mind, it would receive a lot of compliments while I handed out candy to trick or treaters and would have paired well with the denim jacket that I would throw on to stay warm. My machine, however, had a different plan in mind for the day.

Perhaps it’s my fault, perhaps if I hadn’t waited until the day of to sew the project things would have turned out differently. Even after all the time playing around with my tension settings, I still don’t really know what happened (but am tempted to try a new stretch needle next). This is all to say that no matter what I did, my machine wouldn’t stop eating my ghost fabric and the dress that I thought I was going to make is not the dress I ended up with.

After trying, testing, and failing, to fix the problem after a half-hour, I was left with hole-y fabric and a strong desire to rage quit. Each piece had been carefully cut so that the ghosts lined up playfully along the pieces, I didn’t have fabric left over to recut anything. The situation quickly reminded me of playing a hard challenge in a video game as a child where there was nothing to do but throw the controller down and turn it off. Except I didn’t have the ability to try again later, a few of my pattern pieces were beyond saving.

So instead of rage quitting, I found myself reaching for the 3-6 month Germanium pieces that I cut out this past June. These fit perfectly within the Ilsa pieces that were still intact, so I took a deep breath and prepared to start over.

The final dress is not perfect, in fact, I messed up the bodice construction and had to make a few modifications in order to compensate for it. Technical difficulties aside, I am happy with the final product. In the end, it felt more important to sit down with my machine and sew than it did to wear a ghost dress this year. With all the knitting I’ve been doing for Blue Sky Fibers and Wonderland Yarns, it’s been easy to walk by my sewing machine and let it sit unused. In the end, it felt good to persevere and produce something unique. This little dress may become a romper so that it’s more gender-neutral, however, that’s an adventure for another day!

Baby dress in size 3-6 months made out of blue fabric with large white ghosts on it.

Diving into knit fabrics with the Isla Dress

Several years ago, I took a refresher class at Gather Here where I made a box bag. Although living in a studio apartment with another person and paying my way through graduate school meant that I didn’t have the funds to buy a sewing machine (or collect fabric as well as yarn and fiber) nor the place to work, the class was a fun way to work on skills that I hadn’t used since I was 14.

A few months after finishing school and leaving the city behind, I found a vintage machine for $20 and found myself dipping my toes into the water. Friends graciously accepted felt catnip toys, no one commented on my asymmetrical pleating as I wore my first handmade dress or the pointy corset of my second one and our dog enthusiastically curled up on a fleece dog bed. During the time, I took advantage of my large kitchen table and the fact that I lived alone, which is a nice way of saying that, in addition to yarn, fabric and thread were left everywhere.

I don’t blame my husband (then boyfriend) moving in for changing the pace at which my exploration into sewing occurred, I blame the pandemic and the need to suddenly work from home full time. Overnight, I went from having space to spread out (and a patient partner who doesn’t mind creative chaos) to needing a table and desk for us to work. It was more practical to take on additional knitting projects, I didn’t have to break down a work from home set ups in order to be creative.

Then we bought a fixer-upper and the focus shifted again, this time causing both of our creative minds to pivot towards turning our house into a home. Months of peeling a hundred years worth of wallpaper (literally), plastering and painting later, my husband turned to me and asked if he could build me a craft table now that the first floor was mostly complete. Two days later, he was encouraging me to do my research on a new sewing machine so that we could by a new one on black Friday.

A few more virtual classes later, via Notion Fabric and Craft and Creativebug, and I found myself taking on sewing my wedding dress and buying fabric to attempt to make a button down. My niece received a sewn dress for her birthday and I upcycled a thrifted chair. Despite all this newfound enthusiasm and confidence, I couldn’t help but continue to limit myself to woven fabrics because they were predictable (more or less) and didn’t require me to do anything special to work with them.

An impulse buy of a blue knit fabric with strawberries from Notion forced me out of my comfort zone and into the world of stretch fabrics. Armed with the Isla and Jade patterns from Made by Rae, I worked through the directions and managed to sew an Isla dress with long sleeves (the sleeves came from Jade). The neckline does not lay straight because I didn’t realize I needed to pull the neck binding while attaching it, but the sleeves turned out ok because I learned from that mistake. In the end, I created a cozy dress that fits great and, by working with a knit fabric, I forced myself to realize that my understanding of how sewing works has come a long way.

Not only will I make this dress again, I’ve already purchased fabric to do so! Assuming I find the time to iron and cut fabric, I’ll be sporting a handmade ghost Isla dress with Jade sleeves while handing out candy on Halloween this year!

A young woman taking a photo of herself in a floor length mirror wearing a blue handmade three quarter sleeve dress with a strawberry print.