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.

The Rosie Dress

A young woman standing with her arms gently crossed across her waist wearing a white dress with a floral print.

A couple of weeks ago, we hosted a small backyard wedding to celebrate our marriage. In attendance were my parents, sister (+ her husband and my niece) and my grandparents. My husband’s is spread out across the world, everyone wished that things were different and there is an end is sight for travel restrictions.

Covid and my mother in law not being able to travel to the states without a quarantine fee aside, I don’t think we would have done things any other way. Neither one of us wanted a big wedding and we strongly believe that we made the right choice for our little family. Although, if I’m being completely honest with myself, if covid hadn’t been a limiting factor in our decisions we probably would have gotten married on a beach in New Zealand.

Since my family came in with expectations that I would be wearing a white dress, I dutifully searched the internet for something that would suit my personality and our wedding venue. The goal was to feel like a wood elf or a fairy, I wanted to be able to move rather than feel encumbered by layers of lace.

The “problem” is I didn’t want to compromise on what I wanted. I wanted something that screamed wild flower meadow and it didn’t seem to exist. A couple hours after scanning Spoonflower and a few other places later, I hopped over to my former local yarn store to look at their sewing patterns (because they’re also a fabric store!) and committed to the Rosie Dress.

In terms of fabric, I ended up deciding to use Spoonflower’s Linen Cotton Canvas. While the fabric is heavier than one of their cottons, I like the stiffer drape and the over all feel of the fabric. It feels like something that could holdup over time and seems to get softer every time I wash it.

Now I would like to think of someone who follows directions, after all I don’t have a problem following knitting patterns and I certainly didn’t have a problem working through lab procedures while getting my Biology. With this in mind, it’s “easy” to conquer new sewing patterns because it’s “just a matter of following the directions”. Except I totally missed the seam allowance requirements and ended up with a bodice that was 4 inches too big! (Note: The pattern was very beginner friendly, I simply made the dress at a time when I didn’t really understand how much seam allowance matters. Never fear friends, I totally get it now xD). Between adjusting the fit to accommodate this and needing to further shorten the straps, the back is not as clean and crisp as it was when I started.

Another learning opportunity for me occurred during the gathering stage. While I’m slowly becoming more confident with my gathers, I didn’t realize that I should have begun my basting stitches as close to the seams as possible. To compensate for this error, I manually bunched areas instead of redoing the basting stitches.

Mistakes were made and there’s a little bit of Frankensteining to make it work, but it’s the third dress I’ve ever made and I’m thrilled with how it came together. I haven’t decided whether or not I will ever make a second dress out of this pattern (in the end I’m not sure I like the pleating of the skirt, perhaps I would do a full father next time?), but I am confident that I will be reaching for another Sew Over It pattern again in the future.

A young woman twirling with her arms stretched wide wearing a white dress with a floral print.

Geranium Dress(s?)

I still remember the first time that I sat down at a sew machine (7th grade home economics if anyone is curious) and have made a couple of things over the last couple of years (a dice dress, a dog bed, some catnip toys, a pillow, a gnome bag and a chili peppers dress to name a few), but the last couple of months I’ve been revisiting sewing as a way to learn new things and hone existing skills. Some of this may be because I finally caved and bought my own sewing machine after working on a vintage one and a hand-me-down for so long. It’s fun to sew on a machine with settings and features that you’ve purposely selected for yourself.

During our winter break, I found myself taking a break from knitting to make an everyday bag out of some purposefully selected gnome fabric. Working with leather and rivets for the first time, I realized that sewing has the ability to provide me with something that knitting doesn’t anymore: feeling like a beginner.

It’s fun to be a beginner at something because you get the thrill of completing something while also needing to patiently work through mistakes and mishaps. You get to smile at your imperfection as opposed to thinking: I’ve been doing this so long it should be better. I’m more patient with myself as a beginner, something that feels good as we reach the final stretch of this pandemic.

When my coworker mentioned a local fabric store was offering virtual classes, the timing felt right. It was time to learn the whys around things and maybe be pushed into trying a few skills I didn’t think I was ready for. So I signed up for “Sewing for Baby” and ordered fabric to make a bib, burp cloth and a little dress.

Let me just start by saying, I think baby clothes are the perfect way to learn new skills if I haven’t said that on this blog before. The projects are small enough that you’re finished quickly, while being complex enough that you can learn some new skills. The burp cloth and bib force me to practice smooth (and tight!) round edges, while also diving into the land of hammer in snaps (which I’m still not 100% sure I’ve secured properly). I’m currently waiting on 3 fat quarters to make 3 more of each because practice practice practice. These simple projects have helped me get to know my machine and have shown me that slow is all well and good, but some speed can actually give you more control.

The baby dress, however, has been so fun to make that I want to make like eight more. Geranium, by Made By Rae, is considered an intermediate sewing pattern and is the cutest little dress. This pattern is so beginner friendly, while also having different options so that you’re not making the same thing over and over. Between the detailed instructions and Mary Margaret from Notion’s videos, I learned so many things while making my niece a little dress for her birthday. Sleeve ruffles, finishing seams, making button holes with my machine, sewing on buttons with my machine, correctly gathering a skirt — so many new skills leading to so many new what about this questions.

Isn’t that the best part about learning a new skill though? Discovering what you can do and learning all the things you didn’t know you didn’t know? I’ve signed up for a dress making class via notion that starts later this month and am looking forward to learning more about what I don’t know. I’m also already plotting my next Geranium dress, it’s safe to say that this “sewing thing” is going to start competing with my “knitting thing”!

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