Lost Without My Sewing Machine

It has been two weeks since I dropped off my sewing machines to be serviced. Knowing that they haven’t been professionally examined in decades, I suspected that they really needed some TLC, so I wasn’t surprised when, last week, the service man said that he’d had to order parts, and it was going to be another week or so. (Actually, I’m pretty happy that he was able to get parts, still.) But knowing that I will have to survive another few weekends without being able to sew is sort of killing me! I feel a little lost without them.Print Corduroy Skirt_2

I don’t actually sew to relax. I know that many people do, but I don’t really find it relaxing. I enjoy the mental challenge of putting pieces together, but also find it stressful, at the same time. Of course, my mother will tell you that I always pick the most challenging projects, so maybe that’s part of it….  For me, sewing is more like an itch that I must scratch – must sew! Must create! Must make something NOW! I’ve been trying to think of non-sewing machine things I can do while I wait.

I made some iron-on patches with scraps of the reflective material I have. I bought the Heat’n Bond and the templates at JoAnn Fabrics, and tried a few of my favorite shapes. Chances are good I will never use the car template!

I am pretty excited about this, but now I’m not sure what to do with them!  I think need to make a floral print spring skirt and add random reflective figures to the hem.

I’ve also been a bit obsessed with making infinity scarves, so I went to G Street Fabrics, and looked around. Although I didn’t find exactly what I was looking for, I found many other things!

Scarf Fabric_2I ended up buying this pretty poly chiffon remnant, so I will probably make a scarf out of that, and perhaps add some reflective details. I suppose I could attempt a hand rolled hem, eek! That would keep me busy for a while. I’m also eying my pile of reflective grosgrain ribbon and thinking up things I can hand sew with that. Ribbon cockades come to mind. I will probably try these while I wait to get my machines back; it will be good to try something different. Nevertheless, little hand sewing projects don’t necessarily make up for creating a new garment for me.

The “Sewing is Frugal” Myth

Today I bought a dress, and fabric (and notions) to make two other dresses. Want to guess which was the cheapest?

I recently ordered a stack of patterns, since the Vogue/McCalls/Butterick website  was having a big sale – patterns normally $15-20 for $1.88-$3.88! I ordered five for the price of one, yippee! Five Patterns

I decided to focus on the top three. The middle one I’ve been planning on for a while – the reflective sash I made a while back is intended to go with this dress pattern, and the shoulder piece will also be reflective.  Three Patterns

I had planned on biking out to Seven Corners, in Fairfax, this afternoon to go to the JoAnn Fabrics, but when I saw yesterday’s Living Social deal for G Street Fabrics, I immediately jumped on it. I hadn’t yet been to that fabric store, but a New York friend recommended it, so why not? $25 for $50 worth of fabric and notions? Yes please!

Before I headed into the fabric stores, I stopped in the Ross Dress for Less store, and ended up walking out with a super cute, flattering Calvin Klein maxi dress – originally $128, I paid $41.99 including tax. Calvin Klein Maxi Dress

Then I went into JoAnn’s, and ended up with this print silky polyester. Silky Dress 1

It’s different than I had envisioned initially for this dress, but I really like it, and the plummy background will make it stretch through the fall as well. I didn’t have enough purple reflective fabric left, so yesterday I called B&J Fabrics and bought the last yard! It is on it’s way!  I didn’t buy lining material yet, however, just thread.

Then I spent a long time roaming the bolts of fabric in G Street Fabrics. The place was nothing like I expected – it’s in a basement, and huge! Tons of specialty fabrics, the one thing JoAnn’s lacks – silks, linens, suiting wools, leather, sequined fabrics, and I never even made it into the Home Decorating section.

The color block dress pattern suggested double knit as a fabric option, so I decided to try it. I’ve never really worked with that, so we’ll see what happens. The color choices are pretty limited, so although I didn’t really want to copy the style on the pattern cover, I pretty much did. Mine will be cream on top, teal in the middle, and gray on the hem. Color Block Dress 1

I think this will be a comfy business dress that I can still bike in. I’m not sure if I want to add reflective piping to it, however. It’s got the perfect seams, but I don’t know… Thoughts?

Anyway, neither of these dresses are starting off cheap. Here’s a price rundown so far:

Reflective Shoulder Dress:

  • The yard of reflective fabric from New York is $49, and I have no idea what the FedEx Ground will cost.
  • The 4.5 yards of silky fabric was 40% off, thank goodness, making it only $5.99 a yard. Plus thread, and Iron-Off, and another coupon, the JoAnn’s bill was $34.18.
  • I still need to buy 4 yards of lining fabric. G Street has a great selection, so I’ll go there, but it is still $7.99 a yard, so that will be about $32. I’ll probably get another of those Living Social deals.
  • Including the lining fabric I haven’t bought yet, this is already costing me $114.96.

Color Block Dress:

  • The double knit was $19.98 a yard. I had to buy a total of 4.5 yards, so that’s $69.93 right there.
  • I also bought a bunch of notions and supplies. The total bill, before the Living Social $50, was $97.84.
  • I paid $25 for the Living Social deal, so I actually spent $72.84 at G Street Fabrics.

I haven’t calculated in my time yet:

  • I need to wash, dry, and iron the fabric. With so many yards, the ironing will take a while.
  • I have to cut out and adjust as needed the paper pattern.
  • I have to cut out the fabric.
  • Then I get to sew! No idea how long that will take, although the color block dress should only take a day.
  • If my union rate in New York was about $28 an hour, well, you can do the math…

So basically, its cheaper to NOT sew your own clothes!

This makes me think of the recent tragedy in Bangladesh, where a fire in a garment factory has killed over 1,000 workers (although a woman was just discovered alive after 16 days trapped in the rubble. Amazing will to live.) Events like these always make me reevaluate my relationship with the clothes I buy – is this outfit on sale at Macy’s worth the cost of human lives?Macy's Outfit

I am not going to pontificate on the rights and wrongs of where our clothing comes from; there are so many pieces to that puzzle. I am on a budget, and as much as I wish I could shop companies who make socially responsible garments, or buy handmade products from local designers, the fact is, sometimes I can only afford that $10-on-clearance top from Ann Taylor Loft. I like to think that I will only buy what I really need,  or only shop in consignment stores, thus helping to reduce demand, but I’m not that disciplined. In fact, if I really wanted to stick to my budget, I wouldn’t sew at all! Then there is the simple fact that whatever I make at home still doesn’t look as formal or “done” as store-bought clothing.

I can’t wait to start my new projects, while I wear my new bargain maxi dress, and remind myself that “slow fashion” is acceptable, that fewer, better quality pieces are better than many cheap ones. And try to stay out of the stores, because I just blew my budget on handmade dresses-to-be!

I am still obsessed with the collar of this sleeveless top in Macy's...

I am still obsessed with the collar of this sleeveless top in Macy’s…



Sewing Sunday

I was supposed to go on a group ride this morning, a group of lady roadies all similarly interested in doing a century later this summer or early fall – but I slept through my alarms….

So instead I’m turning my energy into sewing projects! I am still working on this complicated dress pattern; I need to go back and fix some problem spots before moving on.

But… because I do not have a one-track mind, I’ve been haunting the sewing websites for ideas for my next project. I realized that the blue bubbles fabric I initially bought for this dress perfectly matches some of the reflective grosgrain I bought in New York, so I want to find a great pattern for them.

There are several Vogue dress patterns that I like, and I think could work for this fabric, but I’m not sure about the trim.

Vogue 8807 dress and sash

Vogue dress 8810

Vogue wrap dress 8784

As you can see, they are all fairly similar.

I was cruising the Wall Street Journal this morning and found this great article about style in the New York Public Library, which I love for many reasons: It’s fashion (duh), it’s stylish librarians (I worked in a library when I was in high school but decided it was too quiet for my future career), and it’s the NY Public Library (where I spent many hours while writing my Master’s thesis). But… check out the photo of Jessica Pigza, Assistant Curator, Rare Books. She made her dress, which she is wearing as a jumper (too cute, totally love). I hadn’t heard of the Lisette patterns before, so naturally I had to look them up!

I feel sure that I’ve missed out on Lisette while others have embraced the fun fabric and cute styles, but studying the website shows that I’m at least somewhat familiar with it. The patterns are Simplicity, and the fabric is available at Jo-Ann Fabrics.  But everything seems fresher and younger than either of those. I love these dresses too!

Lisette Simplicity 1878

Lisette Simplicity Traveler Dress 2246

Lisette Simplicity Itinerary Dress 2060

Maybe I just like them because of the names – “Traveler” and “Itinerary” speak to my perpetual wanderlust. And I’m kind of in love with the Itinerary dress, and the contrasting yoke and obi sash. It’s not what I’m looking for right now, but I’m definitely going to keep this in mind for later. With the right fabric, it would be cute in the summer, or in the fall or spring with fun tights.  I could always add the reflective piping to the yoke and sash, and if they get covered up by a blazer in the fall, that would be okay too.  Hm…

While I ponder future sewing projects, I will work on my current one today, all while watching the Tour de France for inspiration for my century. If these guys can do that, I can do a mere 100 miles. After all, this CNN article says the success is all in your mind. And right now, I see myself in a series of cute bicycle dresses!

Decisions, Decisions

After all my agonizing over fabric choices, I ordered the first option, and it arrived yesterday. And while I love it, I don’t love it for my dress.

(Are you admiring my Target Liberty of London duvet cover too?)

So after some debating, and a chat with a fellow bike fashion buddy, I looked again at the JoAnn Fabrics website.

The fabric I’d loved from much earlier was on sale! I decided I should just go get it instead, so I met The Mechanic after work, and off we went to JoAnns.

However… once in the fabric store… I saw a million different prints I loved! Well, maybe not a million, but several. It’s all so pretty! And I ended up with something totally different.

It’s an Indonesian batik print, full of blues and some gray, and some olive-brown-bronze color that is really great. It just “speaks” to me as a fabric appropriate to this dress pattern. It is so much more interesting, yet muted, complex, and seems like it will be very versatile. I can wear either my grey Merrell Bicycling heels or my bronze heeled sandals! Love having options.

It’s being washed now so I can iron it and take it to work tomorrow, to take advantage of the lovely large cutting table, I mean, work room table. Since I won’t be watching Germany play Spain for Sunday’s Euro Cup 2012 finale (%$#@@$*), I will have time to get started on this dress.

PS – this did end up being a pricey design choice though. The fabric I’d seen on the website was on sale, but naturally the one I wanted was not, at $12.99 a yard. Four yards, plus lining, interfacing, thread, and a zipper, means that this dress so far costs me $72, plus the cost of the pattern. I won’t include the first fabric – hopefully I’ll find something to do with that next!


Fabric Shopping Online

The Mechanic is away for the weekend, and today was my compressed Friday off, so I dedicated the entire day to fashion, rather than transportation. Except for walking to the market, I haven’t gone anywhere – kind of  a treat!

I’m anxious to get started on my next bicycle fashion project, this Cynthia Rowley dress. I’m doing the sleeveless version. I love everything trimmed in piping or edged in contrasting trim, so I’m excited that this dress actually calls for piping in the seams! You might be able to guess where I’m going with this – yes, reflective piping! But I can’t decide what fabric to pick!

Cynthia Rowley Dress

I know what I want – blue or gray, since the piping is silvery; a small, non-directional pattern (or something that won’t look dumb if it’s cut in different directions); and sophisticated enough that I can wear it to meet clients. But since I’m limited to a small JoAnn Fabrics near me, or the internet, I’m having some trouble. If only I’d had this pattern when I was in New York!

I spent what seemed like hours trolling website for fabrics, and I’ve narrowed it down to three so far. But I can’t decide which I like the best.

Option 1 – Expressions Circles

I love this Expression Circles print because I love this sort of “bubbles” design, and anything with circles. I think it will work well with the shapes of the pattern pieces, and the trim should go well with the pale blue.

Option 2 – Imperial Medallions

Option 2, the Imperial Medallions, is the kind of print I really love – symmetrical, circles, and historic. It would look great with the trim, but I’m not sure if it would be too busy as a full dress. But I really love it.

Timeless Treasures

But I love the clouds print too. I really wanted something blue, since my bike skirt is black and white, but this is so great. I’m mildly obsessed with Shadowplay NYC and their NASA imagery fabric and clothing – if I could find a starscape fabric that isn’t too childish, I’d consider that.

Shadowplay NYC Retro Galaxy dress

I decided to think on it and feed my design brain by catching up on my fashion scrapbook.


As old-fashioned as it now is, thanks to Pinterest, I cut out pictures of my favorite things from fashion magazines, and collage them into books. I’ve been doing this since the mid-80s (oops, did I just age myself?!), and love to look through them over and over again, when I need inspiration. It’s funny how I always seem to like the same things.

I still can’t decide which fabric I like! I’ll probably cruise through JoAnn’s again, before I commit. So what do you think? Which print would you recommend?

Sewing Project, Part 1

It’s been several years since I’ve pulled out the sewing machine and the serger, but I’ve publicly sworn to make a bicycling skirt to wear on Bike to Work Day, so I guess I’d better get to it!

Because I believe in bicycle-friendly clothing that can be worn in an office (business casual, not a casual office where everyone wears jeans every day), I’ve thought of several items that can cover both categories. Some of them are highly complicated, and I won’t be tackling any time soon. But a knee-length, half-circle skirt in a subtle print and color, with some coordinated trim that happens to be reflective, seems like an easy place to start.

I mentally designed something, then went to the local JoAnn Fabrics to buy what I needed. Alas, the print I wanted wasn’t in the store, so I bought something else. Fabric, the pattern (Vogue 8295), thread, a zipper, interfacing, and a fourth of the trim I need came to almost $70! That is more than I would pay for a ready-made skirt, and I haven’t even begun to calculate the time it takes me to make it. Today I had to order the rest of the trim, which was another $38 with shipping and tax – yikes! So my $100 (so far) skirt had better be cool when it is done! This is always the problem with sewing – whatever I’ve made frequently does not turn out the way it looks in my head.

I cut out the fabric at work tonight, because the work table in our resource area is the perfect cutting table – tall and wide.  The big boss walked past me on her way out and laughed – “I knew I’d find you here cutting something out one day!” At least she’s supportive!

Stay tuned – I only have a few days to get this skirt made. It seems fairly easy, but I know from experience that “easy” never is. But I really want to wear it on Bike to Work Day, so I have my work cut out for me. Literally.