• Quilty,  Sewing

    QUILTID-19, Part 6: Machine Quilting (on a home machine)

    QUILTID-19: Rainbow HST quilt

    After completing this quilt top in mid-April, I followed what I consider to be a time-honored tradition among quilters: I lovingly folded the completed quilt top and placed it in a drawer to be completed “later”.

    QUILTID-19: Rainbow HST quilt

    In my defense, I had to order batting, and craft supplies have been slow to ship during the pandemic – both because of the generous surge of home mask-making, and because people have been rediscovering the joy of making things with their hands, which are huge things to celebrate! But by the time my batting arrived, I was fully immersed into Me-Made May and excited about garment sewing.

    But finally, after about 6 weeks away, my quilt was calling to me again. I didn’t want the pandemic to end without completing my quarantine quilt! And yes, now I realize that was pretty naive of me, as sadly it seems that COVID-19 is nowhere near over. But any motivation is good motivation. So I cleared out all the flat surfaces in the sewing room and started pin basting.

    QUILTID-19: Rainbow HST quilt

    My big cutting table is about as wide as the quilt, so I was able to work in sections for the pin basting by clamping the backing taut to the table, then smoothing the batting on top, then adding my quilt top.

    For pin basting, I couldn’t bear the thought of opening and closing the hundreds of safety pins that this huge quilt would require. I also don’t own hundreds of safety pins. So I used regular pins. The Clover flower head pins worked best for this because they’re very long, but I only have 100 of those so the remaining 180 or so pins were my normal long glass-head pins. These still worked, of course, but they weren’t as easy to use.

    I put one pin at the center of each of the square blocks, and my blocks are 4.25″ square finished, so my pins were 4.25″ apart in all directions. With a different quilting design I would have wanted more pins, but for my straight lines it worked fine.

    I can’t necessarily recommend this method in good conscience because I pricked myself with pins constantly. It’s a lot of wrestling to get the quilt through the machine, line after line, and with all those open pins it was like wrestling a porcupine. But at the same time, I’m probably never going to buy or deal with that many safety pins. So yeah, I’d do this again, scars and all.

    QUILTID-19: Rainbow HST quilt

    I moved my sewing machine table off the wall and butted it up against my cutting table to give me extra surface to work with while quilting.

    I had toyed with the idea of free motion quilting and watched some videos, but I couldn’t decide on a design and decided that this quilt was not the time to experiment, both because it is enormous and because it is very precious. I also didn’t want to use a dense design because I wanted the quilt to remain soft, pliable, cuddly. So I kept it simple, just diagonal lines running parallel to the corners of each block (45 degrees).

    I didn’t want to run the lines through the corners of the blocks, so I offset them to either side. My biggest reason for this choice was that sewing through the corners would exaggerate any corners that didn’t line up perfectly, or any quilting stitches that weren’t straight. I also think that this offset supports my “gradient” look – it helps to blend the blocks into a cohesive unit, whereas stitching along the edges or corners would emphasize the seams between the blocks.

    QUILTID-19: Rainbow HST quilt

    I laid out my lines with chalk pencil (this Chaco liner is my favorite, the rolling wheel means you always get chalk, it doesn’t soak into the fabric, and it doesn’t get “stuck”). I only laid out 4-5 chalk lines at a time, because the quilt rasslin’ would rub away the chalk eventually. This was also good for my back (and brain) to have alternating activities – wrestle a few rows of stitches through the machine, then lay it out and draw again.

    I wore these quilting gloves, they were a Christmas gift from my wonderful mama that I wouldn’t have thought to buy, but they were hugely helpful. Nice and grippy, and of course they also provided an extra layer of protection from the hundreds of pins that tried to attack me at every moment.

    If you look closely at the quilting stitches, you can see that on every third line I added an extra line about 3/8″ away. No reason for this, I just wanted something a little more different and fun.

    It’s important to note that I sewed every single line in the same direction, from the top left corner of the quilt toward the bottom right. This means that although the quilt back ended up with some wrinkles due to fabric shifting, all those wrinkles are in the same direction. I also used a walking foot – there’s no way I could have done this without one.

    The other key to getting a project this size through the machine – don’t make the machine fight gravity. Hopefully all early sewists are taught to not push or pull the fabric through the machine, it’s all about guiding and steering rather than forcing. This is still true for machine quilting, but it’s important to constantly adjust the bulk of the weight so that the machine can easily and evenly feed the fabric. Here, that meant adjusting after every 10″ or so of stitches, balancing more fabric on the table or in my lap so that the fabric under the machine was never taut or dragging.

    QUILTID-19: Rainbow HST quilt

    Wrestling a quilt of this size through a home machine was no joke. I’m very glad I decided to stick with straight lines. I also don’t think it would have worked to do any sort of grid or diamond pattern – think standard quilting – because every single intersection of stitches would have created a big wrinkle in the backing. It’s certainly possible, but I would have needed a LOT more pins and a more stable backing solution than just my four clamps. As with many projects – the method I used was the right choice because it allowed me to get this project DONE.

    Click here to see all the posts about my Quarantine Quilt, QUILTID-19.

  • Garment Sewing,  Sewing

    Me-Made May 2020: The Value of Refashions in a Handmade Wardrobe

    Me-Made May: refashioned t-shirts

    As I mentioned in my intro to Me-Made May 2020, the true value in MMM is the opportunity to reflect on my handmade wardrobe. When I’m wearing me-mades every day for a month, I’m able to make better decisions about what I should make next, and what I probably shouldn’t make again.

    When I look at the clothes I’ve sewn, I tend to focus on the exciting pieces: the dresses, the printed tops, the jumpsuit. But when it comes to everyday wear, the basic pieces are the ones I reach for again and again, but never giving them the credit they deserve. And possibly the most overlooked of all are my refashions : the items of clothing that I have modified, slightly or extensively, to better fit my body and my style.

    These are two of my favorite t-shirts, first because of the designs but second because of the way they fit and feel. They are well worn and well loved because I took the time to make them fit me better than the “one shape” t-shirts they were when I bought them.

    The Guster shirt is the softest shirt, but it was a unisex shirt that just fit me like a square. I wanted to wear it because it was so comfy, but whenever I had it on, I just felt like a bum. So I took the sides in very slightly and added a little bit of shaping along the side seam. I also shortened the sleeves. Finally, I removed the neck band and cut a bigger neck hole with a little bit of a V-shape. The new neckband needed to be longer than the original, so I patched the back of the neckband with a piece of the fabric that had come off the sleeves – if you look at the photo you should be able to see the seam.

    (p.s. here’s my favorite Guster song, Come Downstairs and Say Hello. The line “be calm, be brave, it’ll be okay” is pretty perfect for our current uncertain times.)

    This neckline trick is my favorite t-shirt upgrade. It makes a huge difference in the “frumpy factor” of your average tee. I did the same thing after I bought this amazing shirt from Mood. The fit was fine on this one, but the neckline was really high and awkward. I love wearing black, but with the neckline that high, I looked extra ghostly. So I did the same neckline trick: removed the ribbing, cut a new neckline, and lengthened the ribbing with a scrap before reattaching it.

    Because how could I NOT wear this shirt all the time? The only t-shirt I’ve ever seen with a golden yellow sewing machine on it. I love it so much.

    These are straightforward fixes but they do take effort. I am very fast at seam ripping, even overlock stitches, but that doesn’t mean I enjoy it. And you might be reading this and thinking, “wow, that is so not worth it,” and that’s where I disagree. Refashions are just like any other handmade article of clothing for me in that my number one goal is to be happy wearing it. I’m not saying any of my clothes are perfect – they’re certainly not – but when I can make a small change to increase my happiness in a big way every time I wear the garment, that’s hugely worth it to me.

    American Apparel Afrika dress - knit dress with black and white print and 3/4 sleeves
    Even the model looks uncomfortable.

    Another basic refashion is the one I did of this knit dress. I found it at the thrift store and loved the fabric, but the sleeves were just weird. The dress was sized “One Size” – thanks, American Apparel, I won’t go into the obvious exclusion in that move but this dress is a size Small for sure. And the sleeves were more like size XXS. I could wear the tunic just fine, it’s form fitting but comfortable, but the sleeves were not properly sized to the garment (or my chaturanga shoulders).

    Basically it was a poorly drafted series of three tubes – 1 body and 2 arms – but I still loved the fabric so I was willing to experiment. I chopped off the sleeves but left about 1″ of sleeve remaining, so I could turn it under and hem for a little cap-sleeve dolman look. With the sleeves taken care of, the only challenge left was the neckline. With the “all tubes” pattern drafting, the neckline wasn’t really a neckline at all but a straight line, and when I wore it the extra fabric just gapped and flapped. I cut a slightly round neck and added some elastic along my neck hem instead of ribbing to keep the fabric from stretching out.

    Now it’s comfy, wearable, and I kept the most important feature of the original: the pockets!

    Not all me-mades have to be fancy or elaborate. Often it’s the simple things that bring the most joy!

    And if you want more ideas for “real” refashions (beyond a neckline or sleeve chop), Trish has done tons of amazing refashions and her blog is full of inspiration!

    See all my Me-Made May Instagram posts here: #samanthasewsMMM2020, and here are all of the Me-Made May 2020 blog posts.

  • Plush Sewing,  Sewing

    Baby Yoda Plush: Behind the Scenes

    baby yoda custom plush - progress shots

    The construction of Baby Yoda took a lot of trial and error. Making custom plush often looks like pure voodoo magic, so I wanted to show some behind-the-scenes photos of the progress. I always like to remind myself that there’s a midpoint in most projects where it looks like a failure… and that’s not a sign to give up. Garment sewing is the biggest offender. There is a point in the middle of every.single.garment that I make at which I try on said garment and it looks completely, irredeemably awful. But just like any muscle, that creative willpower muscle gets stronger every time we push through that moment.

    The construction of plush Baby Yoda’s face had many of those opportunities to work on my creative willpower muscle. As I said in my first post, it didn’t take much to transform him from super-adorable to weird-and-creepy. I wanted to keep his face proportions accurate, and also adorable, so I started with some sketches and some measurements and MATH.

    I found the biggest safety eyes I have, they’re about .3″ in diameter, and used those as my starting point. I measured Baby Yoda’s eye size and the width of his face, and used that ratio as a starting point for the size of my face and ear pattern pieces. I literally held my calipers up to the computer screen! It was a charming, nerdy moment.

    I made a rough sketch of what I wanted his shape to be so I could start to identify pattern pieces: head, ears, body, arms, collar. Above right, you can see my face sketches: the top face is a direct sketch of what baby yoda “actually” looks like. The lower face is a sketch of what I wanted my softer, cuter baby yoda to look like.

    These sketches are all hugely valuable to me as I move through the process of sewing just about anything. Often my drawings aren’t even very clear, and definitely wouldn’t mean anything to anyone else, but they help me to remember the picture I see in my head of what I want to make.

    baby yoda custom plush - progress shots

    In my first prototype, I used the fuzzy tan fleece of his robe to line his ears, because I love how soft it is and think that fuzzy ears would make him so cuddly. But even from this first glance, it wasn’t right. This looked more like a cutesy version of old-man, regular Yoda. This plush needed to read as BABY Yoda. And babies don’t have hairy old-man ears.

    baby yoda custom plush - progress shots

    The pink lined ears were a big step in the right direction, but right about here was when I started to hate his face. It was clearly baby yoda, because he’s green with big ears, but he just wasn’t very cute.

    baby yoda custom plush - progress shots

    I gave him felt eyes because those could be bigger and any shape I wanted. I added darts to his head to add depth and also imply some of the yoda-style wrinkliness. But these eyes lacked dimension and sparkle – even though they could be huge, they weren’t as cutesy as the 3d eyes, so I went back to the safety eyes.

    My large safety eyes had a clear “iris”, so I painted the back of them brown. This was all guesswork: I used my highly pigmented watercolor paint (the only brown I had) and it managed to stick, and even gave a nice uneven, partly transparent look that was perfect for eyes. I sealed it with a coat of clear nail polish and rubbed at it with some fabric to test and make sure it wouldn’t wear off over time. Not fancy, but for a one-time thing, it was perfect!

    baby yoda custom plush - progress shots

    Already such a huge improvement over the clear eyes. This was when I knew I could move forward and I would love his little face.

    baby yoda custom plush - progress shots

    From there it was back to basic shapes and math to construct his robe and his little arms. That furry fleece sheds like CRAZY – I was waving around the hand vacuum every hour or so, to keep David from finding the secret.

    His body is just a basic tube sewn to a circle base. The collar on his “robe” is also a convenient hiding place for the raw edges of his arm seams. I didn’t take any more pictures of the construction – too busy with the aforementioned constant vacuuming and secret-keeping – but that’s also the boring part.

    baby yoda handmade plush - baby yoda stuffed animal

    If you missed it, here’s a link to the baby yoda plush photoshoot. I hope you enjoyed this peek at my process! My goal is to show that there is no right answer in the creative process – you just have to try things and see what works.

  • Garment Sewing,  Sewing

    Jaipur Jumpsuit

    me-made may 2020: blue jaipur jumpsuit

    This jumpsuit/romper is my first sewing project that was directly influenced by Me-Made May 2020. It’s been so fun to see everyone else’s handmade clothes, and I’ve been spending more time on Instagram than I’d like scrolling through #memademay2020. I’ve seen so many amazing jumpsuits that finally, one day last week, I pulled out the Simplicity 1355 jumpsuit pattern I had purchased a few months ago and started cutting.

    By mid-morning, I had a full bodice, and by the time I went to bed that night, all that was left was the hem. I don’t like doing important finishing steps like hemming at the end of the day – definitely don’t want to do details like that when I’m tired, and I also wanted to try on the jumpsuit again the next morning, in natural light, to make sure my chosen length was what I wanted.

    me-made may 2020: blue jaipur jumpsuit

    I’m calling this my Jaipur jumpsuit because I bought this fabric on my wonderful trip to Jaipur. It’s one of those fabrics that, when I bought it, I liked it of course… it had great colors and reminds me of Moroccan tiles… but I didn’t know what I would make with it. It wasn’t until I started cutting it that I LOVED this fabric. The more 3D it became, the more this fabric came to life! It’s so fun… fabric is so magical.

    me-made may 2020: blue jaipur jumpsuit

    The pattern calls for facings on all the bodice pieces, but I decided it would be easier and cleaner to just add a full bodice lining. I didn’t want to add bulk with my lining – I was already worried that my Jaipur fabric, which doesn’t have much drape, would be somewhat “poofy”. I found this very soft, very drapey striped cotton in my stash and it made a perfect lining. I think it’s navy and white, but it could be black… I haven’t been able to look at it long enough to figure it out, haha. Ironing this fabric was dizzying!

    To reduce bulk, on the lining I sewed the shoulder pleat into a dart. I also added a tiny amount of the outer fabric to the neckline seams to create a bit of a facing in case they flap open. The back of the pattern called for an overlapped/wrap look, but I knew I wouldn’t feel comfortable with that, so I just sewed the two pieces together along the center seam. Of course, that is how the jumpsuit can be pulled on and off! So I had to add an invisible zipper to the side seam to get into my romper.

    Speaking of – would you call this a jumpsuit or romper? I’ve been confusing the heck out of David because he has no idea what either one is. In my opinion, a romper has shorts – if the legs are long, it’s definitely a jumpsuit and NOT a romper. But a jumpsuit can be shorts OR pants, in my opinion. Yes?

    Regardless, I’m happy to finally join the club with a me-made one-piece in my wardrobe. This is just what my Miami life needed and I can tell I’m going to be wearing it a lot.

  • Garment Sewing,  Sewing

    Blue Poppy Maxi Dress for Lectoring

    me-made may: blue poppy maxi dress

    At the beginning of this year, I became a Lector at my church. This means that on my assigned weeks, I get to read one of the Scripture passages of the Mass from the altar. It’s a great privilege and it’s really special to serve in such an active way.

    me-made may: blue poppy maxi dress

    I only had the opportunity to read on three occasions before the church shifted to virtual Masses due to Covid-19, but those three occasions wiped out the majority of my lector-acceptable wardrobe. When I’m scheduled to read, that means I spend the first ten minutes of Mass sitting on the altar, facing the congregation. None of my skirts are very short, but I don’t have many that go well below my knees, and that’s obviously what I want if I’m sitting facing everyone.

    “Lector Skirts” were high on my sewing list, and “isewlation” is the perfect time to work through my more practical to-do’s. On my recent trip to Japan and Thailand, I bought this gorgeous poppy-printed rayon in Bangkok specifically to make a lectoring skirt. Fortunately, Bangkok fabric prices mean I always buy more than I need, and I had enough fabric to make a full maxi dress.

    I have a much easier time wearing dresses than skirts, because skirts always have the issue of finding a matching top. This dress will be easy to throw on for dinner by the beach (dreaming of someday when we can go out to dinner again!), and it will be perfect for lectoring with a little sweater over my shoulders.

    me-made may: blue poppy maxi dress

    I lined the bodice with a soft knit to add some comfort to an already very comfortable dress. I didn’t use a formal pattern for this dress – a few years ago, my mom bought me a dress in this style and I LOVED the fit but the fabric wasn’t quite right. So I traced the simple shapes of the dress to save the pattern, a la Tabitha Wheelwright, and my mom returned the dress to the store.

    me-made may: blue poppy maxi dress

    I didn’t include pockets as I was sewing the dress because I was eager to just be DONE. And then I realized a dress without pockets is just sad. So I opened the seams back up and added in-seam pockets. I might not use them often but I’m glad they’re there.

    I have fun selecting lining fabrics that coordinate rather than perfectly match. This allows me to work from my stash and worry less about having all the perfect fabrics before I can complete a garment. My bodice lining is a golden yellow that matches the yellow poppies, and again, it’s comfy knit which is more important to me than having it be a perfect match. And the in-seam pockets are a peach that matches the pink flowers. The pockets, especially, are never seen from the outside of the garment, so this fabric was also chosen by weight first – it’s a midweight rayon with enough support for a pocket, but thin enough that it won’t weigh down the dress.

    The back has a little keyhole with a button, which is mostly a design detail, as I don’t need to unbutton it to put on the dress. Choosing buttons is always both very fun and very challenging! Here I debated going for something more “fun”, like a flower shaped button, or something more contrasting, like the handful of yellow buttons I found in my stash. In the end, I went with a flat pink shank button… nothing fancy, but I like its simplicity. I used a thin hairtie for the button loop! I have a whole pack of assorted colored hairties that I keep on hand for occasions like these when I might need a thin, colored elastic.

    I’m looking forward to the day when I can wear this dress farther than around the block to my favorite pink wall! But I can’t complain about days spent inside, they certainly help me cross projects off the endless to-sew list.