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The Sew Frosting Challenge: Self-Drafted Satin Dress

This is a special dress.

When I saw the floral satin for sale on the Club Tissus website, I knew I had to have it. I generally hate polyester, and I’ve never worked with satin. I was so in love with the print, though, that I ordered almost 5 yards of it and decided that I would make something incredibly special for the Sew Frosting Challenge happening on Instagram. I went on about the challenge and its merits in my vintage coat post a few weeks back, but I didn’t make that coat specifically for the challenge, and I wanted to take the challenge as an opportunity to go out of my comfort zone and make something I wouldn’t normally make.

I knew exactly what dress I wanted to make from it – the Cassie dress from Wear Lemonade. Wear Lemonade makes beautiful sewing patterns that I am really hoping to try some day, and they also make some beautiful ready-to-wear garments. I was kind of sad that the Cassie dress didn’t have a pattern, and the ready-made dress is very much out of my budget. So I guess I had no choice but to make it myself!

I dug out the sloper that I very meticulously made in fourth-year university, when I drafted and embroidered a dress from scratch for my thesis. I don’t know why I haven’t used my sloper since then – it’s a basic block that I perfectly tailored to fit me! It was so easy to use it to make a bodice that would fit me exactly how I wanted. All I had to do was follow the instructions in my copy of Patternmaking for Fashion Design, and it was done! I had put aside a whole day for it and it took me about half an hour. I made a blouson bodice, which basically just has some extra ease in the waist that gets gathered into a waistband. I also made a boat-neckline, and drafted bishop sleeves and a cuff.

To support the very drapey (and static-y) poly satin, I underlined the bodice pieces with a lightweight cotton/silk fabric I had in my collection of lining fabrics. I left the rest of the dress unlined because I didn’t want it to feel weighed down.

The skirt was a very exciting and new process that I tried – professional pleating! There is so little information about profession pleating out there! I consider myself a research fiend, and I spent a few days figuring out how to prepare my fabric for pleating. I knew the fabric had to be polyester, and thanks to a new friend of mine from the Toronto sewing community, I found a place nearby called Sterling Button that has an in-house pleating service. I never would have found it if not for the Toronto Sewcialists Facebook group – Sterling Button doesn’t have a website and nowhere online does it say they do pleating!

From what I found, hemming pleated fabric is tricky. If you turn up already-pleated fabric, the pleats head in the opposite direction and don’t fold up neatly. If you machine-hem the fabric before pleating, you might shift the grain of the fabric and the pleats will come out wonky. I didn’t know what I should do.

Then I turned to my trusty Kindle copy of Claire Shaeffer’s Fabric Sewing Guide. That book is like the bible of how to sew with every fabric, and in the “special occasion fabric” section, she tells you that hemming should be done before having your fabric professionally pleated. Thank goodness for Claire Shaeffer!

Still, I didn’t want to serge the bottom and throw off the grain, so I hemmed the selvedge edge which I knew wouldn’t need finishing, and I stitched the whole thing by hand. I threw in 5 extra inches of width to the rectangle, just in case. I must’ve done my calculations wrong, though, because 2 days and $25 later, the pleated fabric came back about 3 inches too narrow (albeit beautifully pleated)!

I panicked for a few minutes, and then I decided to slightly ease each pleat apart until the width of the skirt matched my waistband. It worked! I was so pleased. I wasn’t able to match up the pleat folds by the zipper, but it was more important to me that the skirt fit around my body.

After stitching the skirt to the bodice waistband, I basted a grosgrain ribbon into the waistband for added support (I don’t want the waistband to go slouchy with time). I enclosed it with a waistband facing so the inside looks nice and neat.

To insert the zipper, I used pick stitches sewn by hand, since I had carefully matched the floral pattern on the back pieces and I didn’t want to mess it up by sewing it on the machine.

Really, the whole thing wasn’t too tricky a process, but with all the outsourcing and hand-stitching, it took me more than a week to complete this dress. I really enjoyed the creative process of drafting and took a lot of pleasure in all the hand-stitched touches. I also cannot get over the sleeve cuffs and the beautiful pearly shank buttons that Jenny at Sterling Button helped me choose. They just look so elegant!

I don’t know when I’ll get to wear this very special dress – I’m already waiting for the perfect special occasion to wear it! Still, the #sewfrosting challenge isn’t about practicality – it’s about making something extravagant just for the sake of it. I think this dress fits the bill.

My First Wool Coat: Burda 6462 Review

A wool coat has been on my “to-sew” list for a while now. Not only had I always wanted the challenge of constructing a coat, but after donating the wool peacoat I had had since I was 15, I didn’t have a coat well-suited to the cool fall weather. I had been trying to get by for a few weeks of 5-degree weather with a raincoat (with no insulation other than it being made of plastic), so the need was becoming dire.

I scoured the Indie pattern scene, and didn’t really find any coats that I loved (with the exception of the By Hand London Rumana coat, which I am absolutely in love with, but has too many seams for the heavy boiled wool I had bought). There are a lot of indie designers making coat patterns now that have been insanely popular, and it’s becoming the norm for home sewists to venture into the coat-making world. Still, I found many of them a bit too boxy for my liking. I had originally planned to make a wool coat from my Vintage Butterick 3007, but I found the fit of it way too oversized to fit practically into my wardrobe.

I eventually found the Burda 6462, but I couldn’t find any pattern reviews. I’m big on reading reviews before I buy something, but I’ve heard good things about Burda’s drafting, so I ordered it anyways.

I thought about the fabric I would use for a very long time. I knew I’d be spending a lot on it, so I wanted to make the right choice. I originally really wanted a teal coat, and I found the perfect fabric at The Fabric Room, but since they sell fabric leftover from fashion designer Lida Baday, what they have is what they have – and they didn’t have enough to make a coat. I headed over to The Wool House on Queen St, and they had a big selection of boiled coating wools, but no teal. Still, when I saw the charcoal grey, I knew it’d make a versatile coat, and I could have a lot of fun with the lining. I chose a fun contrast lining (from The Workroom) because, honestly, how can you not if you make your own coat? I love the lining fabric so much that I was actually sad to only use it as a lining – luckily, there was about a metre leftover, and I think I can squeeze a skirt out of it!

I made a very basic muslin before starting, and it was pretty big – I didn’t really care about it being a loose-fitting coat, but the shoulders were clearly much too big. I went down a size and a half (from size 14), but didn’t make a new muslin of the smaller size because I felt rather confident about the fit. I also did a forward shoulder adjustment.

It was my first time working with boiled wool. Several online guides and tutorials warned me that boiled wool doesn’t press well. The one I got was a coating wool, so it’s also pretty thick. I had to cut out all the pieces one by one (rather than from the fabric folded), and I had to make all the marks with thread. Cutting out the pieces and interfacing them took two days.

The boiled wool was surprisingly pleasant to work with, and I’m glad I kind of just dove in. I finally got to use up my size 90 needles (I think I broke two though), and my machine and I braved through it. My main struggle was with the pattern instructions. If I hadn’t made my vintage Butterick coat pattern beforehand, I would have been totally lost with the construction. The Burda diagrams had a lot of zoomed in views that didn’t show context of the rest of the garment, and some of the instructions weren’t quite English. It’s really important to mark all the dots and notches, because that’s really your only guide as to how things fit together. I suppose if you’ve sewn many coats or garments with lapels it’s easy enough to figure out, but having only done it once I had a lot of trouble only going on the pattern’s vague instructions.

The lining was pretty easy to set in, and I followed the instructions in my Vogue Sewing Book on how to hem the lining in a coat. Turns out a coat lining needs a bit of ease so everything fits nicely, and it should be a bit “baggy” compared to the coat. The Vogue Sewing Book’s guide was fantastic, and I don’t know what I would have done without it.

The last step was the buttonholes and buttons. I didn’t think my machine could handle buttonholes on the boiled wool, so I made them by hand using matching embroidery thread (a tip I saw somewhere on Instagram). I found some really cute buttons at Eweknit, and I worried that maybe they might be too small. I liked them too much to find something larger, so I used them anyways, and I don’t think they look too out of place. I think I also sewed the buttons on too tightly, because I have a bit of difficulty buttoning up the coat. I’m hoping they’ll loosen up a bit as I wear it!

All in all, I’m very pleased with the fit and style of this coat! The A-line makes it flattering, but it’s loose enough that I feel like I can wear a few layers underneath without feeling too squishy. Hopefully winter won’t come too soon and I’ll get some wear out of it before the weather dips below zero. After planning this coat for a few months now, I’m really excited that it’s finally done and is exactly what I was looking for.

Hinterland Sew-Off and Pattern Review

Several weeks ago, when Tori of The Doing Things Blog and Sara of The Sara Project announced the Hinterland Sew-Off, honestly, I wasn’t super-pumped. I was feeling kind of overwhelmed by the projects I had lined up for the fall, and wasn’t interested in buying any new patterns. They were hosting a giveaway of the pattern (by Sew Liberated) on Instagram, so I entered, because I thought it was a pattern I would want to make at some point in time.

I forgot about the sew-off, until I won the pattern giveaway (yay!). Still, I didn’t think I’d get to be a part of the Instagram challenge, as the pattern was being mailed to me from the States and I didn’t expect it to arrive with enough time for me to meet the challenge deadline. Spoiler: It did. It arrived by courier 4 days before the challenge was scheduled to end.

Once I had that pattern in my hands, I knew I had to make one.

I am not exaggerating here – I got started immediately. Within 6 hours of opening the package, I had the fabric cut out and ready to go (luckily I had this lovely Cotton+Steel rayon in my stash already washed and it just needed a quick press). I didn’t even bother with a muslin – I did a hasty tissue fit to make sure everything seemed to be in order and moved right along.

I made a few changes to the pattern that used up more fabric than I would have normally used. It was actually very satisfying to see a small pile of cut bits remain after moving away all the pattern pieces. It was tight, fitting it all in to 3.5 yards of 44″-wide rayon. I opted for a facing rather than a bias-bound neckline, and even squeezing that out was tight. But I did it.

I followed Sara’s instructions for hacking the sleeve to make a bishop-style sleeve, but I reduced the fullness quite a bit. I wanted more of a subtle “poof” in the sleeve, since my fabric already has quite a detailed pattern. As Sara did, I also raised the neckline (by 2″) and made the bodice without a button placket. In an effort to copy the style of a RTW dress I own and love, I added a 1″ waistband along the bottom of the bodice – I sewed the waist ties into the waistband, rather than into the main bodice pieces.

I was a little concerned when I tried on the bodice (I like to try on after every step of sewing – I’m impatient to see how it’ll look before it’s finished) – the darts didn’t look right at all. I hoped the fabric print would hide it and I could still get away with wearing it. Once the skirt was sewn on, it added some weight to the dress and the darts “grew” – and they ended up looking fantastic! I do think that if I make this dress again in something stiffer like a cotton (which I already have in mind), I would have to do some sort of bust dart adjustment. Also, like some people commented on Instagram, this dress needs a major forward-shoulder adjustment for me. This is a change I always need with Big Four patterns and only with some indie patterns, so when I sew indie patterns I always wrongly assume this isn’t change I always need to make. So next time, I definitely need to make that fix.

I honestly didn’t have high expectations for this dress. I always feel unsure about boxier dresses, and even though the Hinterland looks great on so many other sewists on Instagram, I wasn’t sure it would suit on me. Once I added those waist ties and cinched everything in the back – I was in love. The bishop sleeves were the clincher for me. I am crazy about this dress. I stared at it and stared at it when I finished it.

I love how many variations of this dress can be made and the hacking possibilities it has (I’ve already considered trying a version with a gathered waist or elastic-cinched waist). I would love to make one with a button-placket when summer rolls around again. Once I get the right alterations down, oh baby, the possibilities are endless!

The Art of Taking it Slow and Vintage Patterns: Butterick 3007

I’ve been noticing lately, that I’ve been getting more and more impatient. It’s not a totally new flaw of mine (my Dad would tell me when I was young, “you have a lot of virtues, but patience isn’t one of them). I want things done immediately – especially if it’s me doing them. The library book I finished is due in a week? I need to return it today. The store has a 30-day exchange policy on the thing I bought yesterday? I need to exchange it tomorrow. I don’t really know where this is coming from. I’m sure someone in the psychology field would pin it on this generation’s need for instant gratification and smart phones or something like that. It’s there, though. And it’s hard to overcome.

It’s really, really starting to influence my sewing and sewing purchases. If I see fabric that I like, I don’t want to buy it immediately because “I NEED IT NOW”, but because I worry if I put off buying it, it’ll get sold out, or magically disappear, or SOMETHING will keep me from being able to buy it when I’m ready. This has been leading to several impulse fabric purchases. Even worse, though, is feeling this rush to finish my projects. My brain acts like I have a month to live and if I don’t sew all the things I had been hoping to, then it’s game over. Obviously, this isn’t rational. There’s an urge always to finish quickly, and it’s getting to the point where I don’t always feel like I’m sewing for enjoyment.

I miss when I would hem yards of skirt by hand. I miss hand-picked zippers. I miss when I would carefully fit a new pattern. Now, I try to avoid new patterns so I don’t have to make a muslin. I try to choose fabrics that don’t need a lining. I pick the easier projects. Projects that used to take me a week to finish now take me a day or two – you can call it efficiency. I call it rushing. And I don’t like it.

Butterick 3007 / Vintage 60s Sewing Pattern / Raglan Sleeve Coat Jacket / Size 14 Bust 34

Pattern from StudioGPatterns on Etsy

Along came this coat. I splurged on a crazy, carpet-y, floral fabric from The Workroom (a different colourway of one I had already used) and decided to just make a coat out of it! I chose a 60s vintage pattern on Etsy, and I put off sewing it for at least 6 months (I had been hoping to start the muslin in JULY).

It was bugging me that the fabric was just sitting there. It was getting to the point where I worried Fall would pass by and I wouldn’t have a use for the coat ’till Spring.

So I picked up the pattern, made a muslin, and just rushed through making the coat shell. I was annoyed with myself. Vintage patterns were always the ones where I would take things slow, finish seams without my serger (the old-fashioned way!), and use lots of hand-stitching. Where was the care that I used to put into my projects?

Then things had to come to a halt. I didn’t have lining yet. I had put off buying it, and shipping wasn’t instant. I had to stop working on the coat. I was like the Tasmanian Devil whirling through piles of fabric and then hitting a brick wall.

I am bad at taking breathers. I don’t like taking breathers. But I had to stop.

When the lining came, I got back to work on it right away. This time, though, I took my time. The vintage sewing instructions told me to hand-stitch the lining to the coat. I didn’t know how to attach it any other way – I had never made a coat. So I followed the instructions and spent a solid day getting the lining into the coat. By hand-stitching, I had so much more control of the fabric and the stitches. I enjoyed myself a lot more than I would have if I finished it on the machine in 20 minutes. And now I have a coat that I love. A totally impractical floral coat.

Two challenges are going on on Instagram right now and they couldn’t have come at a better time. One is #slowfashionoctober – which is all about wearing clothes that are the opposite of fast fashion. On a few podcasts I’ve been hearing talk of the sewing world becoming like fast fashion, in the sense that many people are going for quantity over quality, trying to churn out as many projects as possible. After my most recent Instagram post, I read my blog tagline on my profile again – “creating a wardrobe worth cherishing”. What was happening to me? How is it that I was becoming the exact opposite of what my blog is supposed to be about? I hadn’t even been posting the things I made since there seemed to be so little substance to the work I put into them. #slowfashionoctober has really had me rethinking where I am in terms of my creative output.

The second challenge is #sewfrosting – which is all about sewing things that we don’t necessarily need, that are creative and over-the-top and exciting to make (frosting) rather than always sewing practical pieces (cake). We need the “cake”, but sometimes we focus so much on making the “cake” that we don’t let ourselves let loose and make “frosting”. It is such a timely challenge, because I have been talking so much to Eitan about how I haven’t stretched my sewing skills or made something that excites me in ages, and really, I think I’ve gotten bored. I miss when I used to make extravagant projects.

This coat feels like a step in the right direction. It’s certainly on the over-the-top and frosting-y side of things. I honestly wondered if I’d ever wear it in public. I mean, it’s a bit…much – at least for me. But as soon as I had finished photographing it, I had to head out to an appointment, and I looked at it and thought, “Screw it. I’m going downtown in frosting.” So I did.

Here’s to creating a wardrobe worth cherishing – filled with lots of cake and loads of frosting.

Vintage Patterns: Butterick 6796

Every once in a while, I like to treat myself to vintage patterns from Etsy. I bought a couple from SewUniqueClassique a few months ago, but as is usually the case when I buy vintage patterns, I don’t have something specific in mind to make. I’m always tempted by the envelope illustrations, but I try to look past them for something I might actually make or wear, and for something that’s a bit more unique than the standard darted bodice with a gathered rectangle skirt.

Vintage 1953 Butterick 6796 Sewing Pattern Misses' One-Piece Dress - Wide V-Neckline Size 14 Bust 32

Butterick 6796 is one of those patterns. It looks relatively simple, but I loved the charming, vintage vibe it has. (I was also really pulled in by that lace version. One day.) Also, any vintage pattern I find needs to have a neckline I’m comfortable with (or seems easily adjustable), and sleeves that cover the upper arms. This pattern fit the bill.

When I was at Fancy Tiger Crafts in Denver, Colorado, I picked up the last of an incredible charming Japanese cotton lawn with little houses on it. Thinking of many vintage dresses with novelty patterns, I thought the cotton lawn would be a perfect match. The pattern is cut on the bias, and I thought the horizontal print would emphasize the bias cut nicely.

When you’re sewing a vintage pattern a muslin is pretty important – especially since my Japanese fabric was expensive, and, thanks to yours truly, sold out. I bounced back and forth between two muslins. I tried the pattern with no adjustments other than making the waist a bit bigger – even though the pattern is a size 32 (in vintage patterns, a 34 usually works perfectly for me), as when I measured the pattern piece, there seemed to be plenty of ease. So I kept the bust as-is. I raised the neckline just a bit and added a fifth button. The original pattern had a huge pleated circle skirt, and since I didn’t have loads of fabric for that, I decided to sew together a few a-line skirt pieces and gather them.

As is pretty standard with vintage patterns, the bust dart was high and pointy. When I tried lowering it, it just lowered the pointiness (not a charming look). So I decided to try using my Butterick 6318 (a vintage repro that I’ve made before), and I had the same issue, plus it was much less fitted than the original. I realized that perhaps since the fabric was cut on the bias, the dart was just coming out more pointy. I went back to the original muslin, lowered the dart, and decided to work out a solution on the real deal.

To try and “soften” the dart, I underlined the bodice with a white silk/cotton blend fabric, and then stitched the bust darts by hand. I figured the machine was stretching out the already-stretchy bias fabric, and was making the darts pointier. It was a nice little “slow sewing” project. I also used basting stitches to mark in all the other darts (two back darts, and three by each elbow – a vintage touch I really love).

I liked working on this dress because the construction was a bit different than I’m used to (which is why I usually like vintage patterns). The v-neckline is self-faced, and it all came together very neatly. It was supposed to have a side zipper, but I really hate side zippers, so I put a 14-inch zipper in the center back (I didn’t want a zipper at the top of the back ruining that lovely V shape). I sewed binding onto the sleeve hems before folding them in and hemmed them by hand. The sleeves are kimono sleeves, so I also like to stitch a small piece of seam binding along the curve for extra reinforcement. I also stitched binding along the waist seam as a sort of waist stay.

The short-sleeve version of the pattern is supposed to have bias-bound edges (around the neck and button placket edges), and I specifically hunted down some mango-coloured Robert Kaufman cotton lawn for the purpose. It was supposed to bring out the pink-y coloured houses in the fabric print, but when I sewed it on I realized it was a touch too orange. I tore it out and topstitched according to the long-sleeve version’s instructions instead.

I really didn’t feel like setting up my sewing machine for the buttonholes, so I followed the instructions that came with the pattern and sewed all five by hand (yes, my laziness has no logic). I flipped back and forth about which buttons to use (I’ve never sewn buttons on one of my own garments. Fun fact: I had a phobia of buttons when I was 5. I cried when I learned my school uniform would have buttons). I wanted to cover my own buttons, but I couldn’t find the right size button kit online, and when I tried a (non-matching) fabric-covered button from my stash, I really struggled to get it through the buttonhole. I had some vintage buttons from a Fibre Share package, and those worked perfectly.

Like many vintage dresses I’ve sewn, this dress is tough to get on and off (I have very prominent shoulder blades and it makes it hard to get the dress past my shoulders). Wearing it makes me feel very 50s house-wifey (especially if I have my crinoline on), but the fabric isn’t too retro-looking for real life and it makes a pretty spiffy semi-casual-dressy dress (does that make sense? No?). I’m not sure the skirt I made up really works for it – a plain ol’ gathered rectangle would probably work better. I do have some real vintage fabric that I think would be perfect for the dress – so I would like to make it again. It’s a light, yellow floral fabric, so it’ll have to wait for the spring. Oh, and I’ll have to make that lace version too…

The Siri Pullover: Review and Real Talk

This year hasn’t been incredibly easy for me. I spent last summer going crazy with all the free time I had on my hands, and ended up knitting about 12 hours a day. Knitting is a wonderful thing, but there’s such a thing as overdoing it.

In November 2017, I started noticing my fingers going numb – not just when I was knitting, but when I was doing any other sort of task that required hands. I had been experiencing arm pain, mainly in my left arm, but I ignored it. When I noticed numbness, I regretfully put away my knitting and called my chiropractor.

I spent several weeks going to many sessions of treatment, and completely avoiding knitting. I noticed that both my arms were starting to hurt more, and I hadn’t been knitting at all. I told my chiropractor this, and he ignored it, saying my body was just overcompensating. Frustrated, I stopped going to him. My mom (she’s a doctor so she knows some things) told me I may be in pain from a lack of exercise (I believe it’s called deconditioning, in technical speak) – so as the new year came in, I got a gym membership. At first it felt like a relief to give my arms some real exercise, but as my workout class got tougher, I noticed I was in pain all the time. Alarm bells in my head were ringing, and I decided to go to a physiotherapist my friend had recommended.

Before I started going to her, I cast on my Siri pullover, just to squeeze in some knitting before I was banned from it by a professional. The physiotherapist at first told me to hold off knitting for three weeks, but soon weeks became months, and she wasn’t seeing the progress we had hoped for. I was in a lot of pain. Some days I couldn’t even hold a book – I had to lie on the couch and do nothing. My physiotherapist was amazing, and she was honest with me, and told me that she wasn’t accomplishing what she had hoped to, and that until I could get more of a diagnosis, she didn’t need me to come in for sessions. I went to a neurologist who found nothing wrong. I have gotten multiple blood tests. And the pain continued to exist whether I was knitting or not.

It was when I realized this that I felt I could start knitting again. I am waiting for my MRI appointment in the fall, which is about 6 months after I booked it in April. It doesn’t feel like there’s much else to be done. And knitting makes me incredibly happy. So I knit.

I don’t knit if it hurts too much. I don’t knit 12 hours a day. I don’t think I ever should again. I knit between one to three hours a day, and that’s plenty to feel like I make significant progress on my projects.

I picked up my cast on Siri again in June, and I finished it in August. Since November, I never thought I would finish a sweater within a year, let alone 3 months. I thought it was no longer possible.

I wish I could say I knit because everything is better now. I wish I wasn’t always in pain. I’ve been learning to cope, though. I’ve been learning what my limits are. I’ve been learning what I can and can’t do. Some days, I’ll be honest, I break down and feel hopeless, because I feel sure that I’ll feel this way the rest of my life. Other days, like today, I feel good knowing what I can accomplish despite the pain. I can still sew. I can still bake. I can still go for long walks. And some of the time, I can still knit.

So this sweater isn’t just a sweater for me – it’s a symbol of what I’m still capable of. I still have my hands and arms and fingersI can walk and run and sit and stand. I can make something beautiful.

The Siri pattern is a wonderful knit. It looks incredibly complex, but is actually relatively quick and easy (assuming you’ve had knitting experience). I adjusted the pattern to be knit as a pullover rather than a cardigan (a pretty popular adjustment). I used Julie Asselin Leizu DK yarn, which twisted quite a bit and made the stitching sort of bumpy in places, but it all pretty much balanced out with blocking. I thought it was more flattering before blocking, but before blocking the armholes were also a bit snug, so the extra ease is a good thing in terms of comfort (isn’t it always?). I also shortened the sleeves, because I find a 3/4 sleeve more flattering on me. It’s an incredibly cozy knit and I’m so eager to wear it, but the forecast shows more 40 degree heat in the coming week. Luckily it was beautifully cool this morning when I modelled it.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait for fall. And I’ve already got something new on my needles.

Adventures in Shoemaking: Desert Boots at Art & Sole Academy

I haven’t been sewing much over the last month – between travelling to Prince Edward Island and Boulder, Colorado, I’ve really only had time to work on some gifts I had put off making. I did get in some great shoemaking, though – and it was the real deal this time.

For a long time, I had been wanting to take a class at the Art and Sole Academy in East Toronto. Eitan and I started by taking the Shoemaking 101 class, a quick 2-hour intro to the process of making shoes. It isn’t a class where you get to make anything, but you learn all about the materials and tools that make a shoe. I knew during that class that I HAD to take a proper workshop and make something. After a bit of nudging, Eitan agreed to take the Intermediate class with me starting at the end of June.

At Art & Sole, the classes are pretty small, and each student works on their desired “intermediate level” shoe – we had one student working on heels, three working on Oxfords, and I was working on desert boots. Jen, our wonderful instructor, would spend the class guiding each of us along individually, depending on what we were working on. The class was 5 sessions, but all but one of us needed to come back for several hours (fortunately, Jen includes this time in the tuition). That leaves you with a total of 35+ hours of shoemaking. Phew!

These are Eitan’s lasts – I forgot to take a picture of mine!

We all started off the same way – by making our pattern. This process actually took almost two sessions. You tape up your last (the wooden form on which the shoe is built) with masking tape, and then peel it all off and put it on card stock. You divide that into pattern pieces, and those are the pieces you use to cut out your leather.

I bought some lovely kid suede at Perfect Leather on King St., and lovely magenta lamb skin for a contrast lining. I had to cut pattern pieces from both of these, and then sew them together on the sewing machine.

Then came a process called lasting, which is basically stretching the leather over the last, and hammering it down on the bottom. Then you glue it all down where you nailed it (shoemaking involves a LOT of glue). Since all the leather gets built up and lumpy on the bottom, you have to do something called skiving. This involves taking a knife and shaving away the leather so the bottom is nice and flat. I struggled with this a bit, and my knife slipped and made a nice little slice in my arm. Luckily Jen had a first aid kit on hand, and she and Eitan bandaged me up.

My uppers before lasting

Anyways, I wasn’t letting a cut stop me! After lasting the lining and a layer of toe and heel stiffeners (a small piece of vegetable-tanned leather that helps keep the toe and heel of the shoe nice and strong), I had to glue on the midsole, which for a desert boot, you cut out extra large and cut away the excess after stitching is done. After glueing on the midsole, I had to glue the upper leather (the suede) to the midsole, and then I had to stitch it down. I did this stitching by hand, using a handy little stitching tool and waxed thread.

 

 

Hehe – they look like they’re being served up on platters.

Then I had to glue on the heel and the rubber treads. Using a belt sander, I sanded all the edges of the sole smooth, did a little cleaning up, added foam insoles, and they were done!

I tried them on, and they were a touch snug, but Jen told me that an easy solution is lightly wetting the insides and walking around in them for a bit. Leather becomes very malleable when wet, and will mould to the shape of your foot quite nicely! The only thing I don’t love about my new shoes is that the soles are a bit thin – I think just one more layer of leather would’ve made them perfect. As is, I can feel the heel through the bottom of the shoe. Still, pretty impressive for a first time shoe-maker!

I am already thinking about which classes to take at Art & Sole next! I would love to make sandals some day (which is easier than making shoes), and I’d also love to make ballet flats. I have the knowledge now to make shoes again on my own, but the tricky thing is that shoemaking involves a lot of tools (I may have a sewing machine and x-acto knife, but I don’t have a belt sander…). Lasts are also pretty tricky to find, and are integral to making structured shoes. But, maybe one day I’ll invest in a pair of lasts and sort out some way to make some shoes at home. Until then, I’ll have to stick to Sneaker Kit or going back to Art & Sole Academy!

Vintage Patterns: McCall’s 5142

love vintage patterns. I have been obsessed with 50s silhouettes since I was a teenager, and when I discovered vintage paper patterns, I couldn’t get enough.

I find that if I follow my high bust measurement and add a bit to the waist, vintage patterns usually fit me to a T. I also love that you can find patterns with special details that you don’t always find in today’s patterns. I tend not to shop (modern) Big Four (Simplicity, McCall’s, Vogue, Butterick) because the huge selection overwhelms me, and they can be expensive in Canada if they’re not on sale. I love Indie patterns, but lately they have been trending towards more relaxed looks. Vintage patterns really hit that fitted and feminine sweet spot for me, and, if you do it right, vintage patterns don’t have to make you look like you stepped out of a pin-up (if that’s not what you’re into) – Allie J. does a great job making vintage patterns look fresh and modern.

Anyways, sometimes I get sucked down a vintage pattern rabbit hole, and last summer I spent FIVE HOURS one day searching for the perfect pattern. I found McCall’s 5142 for sale on Etsy in the LastPixie’s shop, and I fell in love with it. I hadn’t seen a similar dress anywhere else, it was in my size, it had a sleeve length that I loved…but it was a bit pricey, once shipping from the States was included. I tried looking and looking for a pattern that I would love just as much, or another seller that had the same pattern (I found another, not on Etsy, selling it for 50 USD). I couldn’t. Somehow, though, I managed to convince Eitan to let me order it.

A few weeks later, it was mine.

I made some adjustments to get the fit just right, but I needed to find the perfect fabric. I was really in love with the envelope illustrations (I mean, isn’t that half the reason we buy vintage patterns?), and I spent a long time looking for just the right print. I needed a crisp cotton, and it needed a little more heft than cotton lawn. Also, the print needed to have a vintage floral vibe, and finding cottons (non-quilting cottons) with lovely prints on them in general is tough.

I finally found the perfect fabric on Minerva Crafts (uch, why does the UK have such a good selection of fabrics to shop from!) and once my birthday rolled around, I had the casheesh to order it. It is lovely – soft, slightly crisp, opaque, and with a vibrant floral print.

The dress pattern didn’t require lining, and while I almost always line my dresses, I felt that lining this one would add unnecessary bulk in the bodice. Instead, I followed the directions pretty faithfully. People often say about vintage patterns that they have very few instructions, which makes them difficult for beginners to sew. I’ve actually found that, at least with patterns from the late 50s onwards, they have really detailed, helpful instructions.

Without the lining, I felt the seams needed some extra protection. The instructions tell you to stitch some seam binding along the clipped seam of the kimono sleeve, just under the armpit. I actually carefully basted the binding along the entire seam (sleeve hem to waist), and neatly topstitched close to the seam on both sides. It doesn’t look that great on the inside, since I used purple bias binding (I wanted to use what I already had, and it happened to be vintage bias binding).

The only part of the instructions I didn’t follow was the zipper placement, which places the zipper at the middle of the back, with the back seam near the neck closed. I was skeptical that I would actually be able to get the dress on if I did it that way, so I sewed a handpicked zipper (one of my favourite vintage sewing techniques) the “normal” way instead. I also pattern matched the seams in the back, which wasn’t too tricky because the print is on the bigger side.

I finished the all the seams with pinking shears, again because it has a bit more of a vintage look. I hemmed the skirt using a folded hem and took a few hours to stitch it by hand.

Since it wasn’t lined, apart from sewing the hem by hand, it actually didn’t take me very long to finish this dress! I love putting it on with a crinoline underneath and some red lipstick and high heels. I just wish I had some white gloves to complete the look!

Following the Prince Edward Island Fibre Trail

So as you may or may not know, we just got back from a trip to the little island province of Prince Edward Island (aka, PEI). It was our first time there, and I was especially excited about the PEI Fibre Trail, which is pretty much a map of textile-related producers and artisans around the island. There are quite a few stops, and we were only on the Island for a week, so I had to narrow it down to a select few places.

Our first day in PEI was pretty windy and rainy, so it was a perfect day for yarn shopping, in my opinion. We drove out to Belfast, which is conveniently home to both Fleece and Harmony and Belfast Mini-Mills. I follow Fleece and Harmony on Instagram (I love their branding), and I’ve squished a few skeins of their yarn over at The Purple Purl in Toronto, so I was really excited to visit their shop and sheep (hehe). They have a lovely shop, with windows that look into their processing facility. It was really difficult not being able to buy huge sweater quantities of yarn, and it was heartbreaking knowing it might be a while until I get around to knitting what I did end up buying. Still, though my stash output is slow, I couldn’t leave Fleece and Harmony without a skein (or three).

Then we drove over to Belfast Mini-Mills, which is only about a 5-minute drive away. We parked by a little flock of shy and surprised sheep (and a donkey), which we later learned are more for show (not used for wool or meat). There are also some funny looking chickens (that run around loose), bunnies, and dogs on the property. Linda, one of the owners and our guide, also introduced us to their crow (whose name escapes me), who they had rescued and has become their pet. He likes hamburger meat and shiny things, as I assume all crows do.

We also had a tour of the facility where all the magic happens, and got to see all the wonderful things that go into making wool products (including their industrial felter!). I was too excited about the dogs saying hello to me during the tour, and failed to get photos of the machinery.

The shop at Belfast Mini-Mills is amazing. They stock a great selection of yarn and roving milled on-site, including exotic varieties such as qiviut (a type of yak, I believe), samoyed (the dog breed), angora, and more. Their superwash merino comes in beautiful colours and is very reasonably priced. I didn’t buy any yarn, as last year my FibreShare partner visited Belfast Mini-Mills and mailed me a skein as part of my package. I loved it so much that I called up Belfast Mini-Mills and ordered 4 more skeins, and made a Rock Creek pullover out of it. They also have all sorts of wonderful gifts – sheepskin rugs, mittens, slippers, children’s books and toys, even jewelry. I didn’t walk out of there empty-handed – I bought a sweet little felted sheep made in Peru, and some sheepskin teddy bears as baby gifts for my future nieces/nephews.

Our next stop was in Montague, where we visited Artisans on Main, which was a lovely gift shop in the small town of Montague. It’s stocked with beautiful items all made by artisans local to the island. While it was a lovely shop, I’m not sure it warranted a trip to Montague, as in the rainy weather we couldn’t walk around and find much else to do there. We did drop in Stitches & Crafts, which was just up the road, but as it stocked the same sort of things you might find at a Michaels, we didn’t find much reason to stick around.

The next day we visited Green Gable Alpacas, because I love alpacas and just had to see some up close. At Belfast Mini-Mills our tour of the place was free, so I kind of assumed Green Gable Alpacas was as well (I guess I didn’t quite do my research, because rates are on the website). The owner kind of mumbled something about taking care of admission when we went back to the shop, and then brought us inside the pen. We visited the pregnant female alpacas, who had been sheared just days before, and were showing off their new haircuts. To my disappointment, we were told that alpacas like their personal space, and we didn’t get to touch them much. We learned about the alpacas for about 10 minutes, and then we were brought to the pen where the males were kept, and we got to feed an apple to the one llama, and that was our tour. Both Eitan and I were both kind of surprised to be charged for it, but we didn’t mind supporting a Canadian farm. I didn’t buy any yarn, as, like I mentioned earlier, my yarn stash isn’t moving very quickly these days, and truth be told, I don’t especially love alpaca yarn. I was drawn to a skein that was made to match the incredible rusty red earth of the island, but when I learned it would cost about $60 I decided against it. $60 just isn’t worth the cost of a mere yarn squoosh, so I settled on a sweet little felted alpaca to go with my little felted sheep.

We also stopped at MacAusland’s Woolen Mill, though I didn’t really feel it was worth the stop for us. We had visited the Potato Museum, which is nearby, so I thought we might as well drop by, but it’s quite far from central PEI where we were staying. It must be worth the trip to some people, though, because it was quite busy, even though we only got there an hour before closing.

I think MacAusland’s is famous for their woolen blankets (which I’m not especially in need of), and their yarn was being sold at Belfast Mini-Mills, so there wasn’t much to see. I was hoping to see all the production and machinery at work, but when you walk in you’re brought right into it without any real explanation of guidance (the shop is up the stairs). It’s very dusty and noisy, and I kept worrying I would walk into some dangerous machine by accident. Upstairs they have piles of their woven blankets, and huge white sacks of their yarn. Their yarn could best be described as “woolly wool”, and is the sort of wool that makes you think of itchy wool sweaters you hated as a kid. One of the folks we met earlier on the Fibre Trail told us that they don’t use any “special” sort of sheep for their wool (pretty much the sheep used mostly for their meat).

An unplanned stop on the Fibre Trail that we made was at Ewe and Dye Weavery, and we popped in for just a second. We hadn’t intended to go, but we had some spare time on our last touring day on the Island, and decided to drive down to Victoria-by-the-Sea. It was an absolutely lovely little town – very picturesque – and we saw Ewe and Dye Weavery on the main street, so we popped in. It’s a sweet, tiny little shop (much like the town it’s in), but didn’t find that much caught our eye.

One of my FAVOURITE stops actually wasn’t “on” the Fibre Trail. I found Five Arrows Fabrics on Instagram months ago, and got in touch with owner Natasha just before our trip. I had assumed Five Arrows was a bricks-and-mortar store, but Natasha actually sells fabric from her own home to garment sewists on the island (as well as online). She began selling fabric because there was a real lack of garment fabric for sale on the island (though there are a few quilting fabric stores). There isn’t even a Fabricland/Fabricville, which you can find pretty much anywhere else in Canada. Anyways, I just HAD to go to the only garment fabric shop on the Island! Thing is, Natasha didn’t treat me like a customer, she treated me like a guest, and welcomed me and my husband into her home. She offered us tea and introduced us to her husband and boys, and we had a really lovely chat about sewing and life on the island. While she told me there was no expectation to buy anything, I knew that once I had seen the Nani Iro she had in stock, I wasn’t leaving without it (I bought some lovely blush pink bamboo french terry as well). Natasha is starting small, she says, but I definitely think it’s worth checking her out 🙂

Are you hoping to visit PEI soon? If so, I would be happy to share tips and must-see places that really made our time on the Island special.

Adventures in Shoemaking: SneakerKit Review

Lately I’ve been really into the idea of making my own shoes. When I looked up at-home shoemaking, I had a lot of trouble finding any resources. I found a few other bloggers who make their own shoes and have shared their experiences, but I’ve learned that shoemaking is generally a pretty guarded secret. What I did manage to find was a small brand called SneakerKit, which began on Kickstarter just a few years ago. They sell at-home sneaker-making kits, which include a sole, insole, thread, needle, and pattern. The shoes don’t need lasts or glue – they’re entirely stitched together. Their website is not terribly informative, and I found it hard to navigate. I also couldn’t find any reviews on the product (I love reviews) – but I convinced Eitan to just jump into it with me.

We each ordered a kit, but found it a bit stressful to choose a size – the website has no sizing guide and every European conversion guide we found online was different. We couldn’t find any information anywhere on the website on how to choose a size right for you, or what the difference is between their “slim” soles and their “regular” (or “Publico” soles). I managed to find this Kickstarter page (scroll far down), which had a conversion chart – we went with our Japanese size, which is really just based on the cm length of your foot from toe to heel (so straightforward!). In US sizes I’m generally a 9.5-10, and I ordered a 41.5. Eitan is a US 11, and he got the 44.5. I’d say both of our soles were the right size for us in the end.

Shopping for leather was a more frustrating endeavour than I had anticipated. SneakerKit does give you the option to order from their selection of leather, but I wanted to shop for it in person and know the feel of what I was getting. I had never shopped for leather before, and headed downtown to Perfect Leather on King St W. I don’t know if this is the case at all leather stores, but at Perfect Leather they only sell by the piece. I needed cowhide, which I thought would be the sturdiest and most flexible option for making sneakers – but that would mean I had to buy an entire cow’s worth – about 20 sq ft (leather is often sold by the square foot – Sneakerkit only requires 2 sq ft). A man working there showed me a selection of goat skins (which are smaller as the animal is smaller), and insisted it was perfect for shoe making. It wasn’t – it was much too thin and would’ve had my toes poking through the top of the shoe. He said they will not cut leather, so I could choose between the small goat skins and the gigantic rolls of cowhide.

Well.

Being the fabric hunting madwoman that I can be, I rummaged through the shelves of goat skin and found a few smaller pieces of cowhide (when I pulled them out and placed them on the table to measure them, the man would scratch his head and tell me “This is cowhide”. Duh.) I found a textured piece of seafoam blue leather that was absolutely what I was looking for, and I also managed to find gray leather for Eitan. While I was frustrated that I didn’t have the rest of the store available to me as an option, I was pretty pleased that I didn’t have to settle.

While I was on the streetcar I had a grand, ambitious idea to cross stitch my shoes. I knew it was too ambitious, but that didn’t stop me. I thought that if I pre-poked a grid of holes in the leather, it would be a cinch. It was NOT a cinch.

Leather is, well, skin. It kind of has this self-healing quality, and shortly after I hammered all the holes in with my awl, the holes slowly closed up. This made it incredibly difficult to get a needle through. Also leather is “sticky” (which is why you need a specialty leather needle for a sewing machine), and the needle often got stuck going through (granted, I was using a regular sewing needle. There may exist needles intended for this specific task). Many times I questioned if I should stop and start over with the leftover leather I had. Many. Many. Times.

But I’m stubborn, so I persisted. I decided it would be best to have asymmetrical shoes and have a smaller bud on the other shoe, so that I wouldn’t have to endure the same pain twice. After three days, my hands were cramped and I had blisters on my fingers, but I was pretty dang pleased with myself. As Poison sings, “every rose has its thorn” (or in this case, needle).  I Mod Podge-d the stitching on the inside because I didn’t want my foot to wear away at it too much.

Smaller, less painful rose bud.

Then came the construction. I was kind of lucky since I took so long to cross-stitch my shoes that Eitan finished his pair before me, so I kind of learned from him, rather than from SneakerKit’s vague online instructions.

The instructions are kind of hard to understand, and the videos don’t have any commentary. The trickiest parts were hard to see. Also, even when you get the gist of it, sewing the leather to the sole is kind of finicky. Both of us had to redo one of our shoes once. It’s pretty much all about getting the tension right. It’s easy enough to pull the stitches and adjust the tension, except that on both of my shoes, at some point the needle split the thread in one of the stitches and it became impossible to pull the stitches tight. I had to kind of bring the loose parts into the inside of the shoe and hope the insole hid them.

Eitan was so excited to wear his shoes the first day – and for good reason, they look great! He wore them for a day at work and when he came home he took the insoles out – the bottoms had completely crumbled. We are waiting for a response from SneakerKit to find out what’s going on, but in the meantime I cut a second pair of insoles out of scrap leather and placed them underneath the ones included in the kit, just in case.

Otherwise the shoes are pretty comfortable, but they don’t seem to be incredibly practical. When I bend my toe I can see the stitches and the holes in the leather, and I feel like anything could seep inside my shoes with ease. Anyways, I spent so much time on the cross-stitching that I wouldn’t want to wear them anywhere they’d get dirty, so for that reason alone they’re not very practical. Eitan is worried that the stitching will come undone, and I get that (we kept joking about his shoes spontaneously falling apart at the office).

In the end, I wasn’t really expecting that I would spend many days strolling for hours in the first sneakers I had ever made. I’m going to call these my art sneakers, more for show than for wear, but I do still hope to wear them once in a while. It is awfully satisfying to make the things you wear on your feet.