UFO’s: Which to Stick With and Which to Chuck?

The UFO's I found top of hand. I'm sure there are more secreted away in dark corners.

My craft decluttering has unearthed several UFO’s.  Many of them are quilting related as those pieces have stalled.  The Hello Kitty machine suffices for garment sewing, but does not allow me to drop the feed dog for freehand motion quilting, nor is the arm large enough to wad a quilt underneath. 

I have a hard time making decisions on quilting supplies and projects.  The scraps seem eminently useful.  But they tend to add up to behemoth piles of fraying pieces.   Even if I don’t like how a quilt top is turning out I tend to go ahead and finish it because I think to myself all that I am learning.  And I am at least putting that fabric to practical use.

But with baby on the way and all of our spare funds going towards doctor’s bills and home repair, I need to make some hard choices. 

What projects do I stick with and which do I chuck?

Serendipitiously I came across this little book at the library the dip:A little Book That Teaches You When to Quit (And When to Stick) by Seth Godin.

The Dip: A Little Book That Teaches You When to Quit (And When to Quit) by Seth Godin

Seth Godin is a business writer and you might imagine he doesn’t have much to say to crafters.   But it is a cool little book and I found it very apt.  Some of the reviewers on Amazon said that they thought sticking through the rough patches was general knowledge.  It is.  But sometimes you really need to know when to quit.

In the middle of a trying spell it is nice to hear a friendly voice urging you on, and additionally, providing valid criteria for when it is appropriate to quit and move on.

Pages 66-69 gives three questions to ask oneself in regards to quitting.

  1. Am I panicking?

  2. Who am I trying to influence? (As a crafter I think that can read; What is my Goal?)

  3. What sort of measurable progress am I making?

Godin points out that high emotion is not a good reason to quit as it becomes expensive to continue starting projects afresh.  

If the goal of my project is to learn new technique then maybe I want to continue even if the results are wonky.  But if the goal is to give as a gift and it doesn’t look gift-worthy, possibly scrapping and starting again is the better option. 

And what rate of progress am I making?  Is this the kind of project that crawls along, and is that acceptable?  Or do I have to finish in a short time to give as a gift, or to simply keep workflow going on other exciting projects?

One by one, over the next few days I am going to look at each of my UFO’s and run them through the above criteria.  I will fill you in on what I decide.

And I might read through this little volume one more time for emotional support. 🙂

Next Post: Tuesday, April 12.2011: Maternity Wardrobe Woes


Dress Your Dream Bed by Rita Farro:Book Review and First Project

Growing up we always had hand-embroidered pillowcases on the beds.  Hung on the line to dry, then starched and ironed, those pillowcases were wonderful to lay your head upon.   Even before I knew the word luxury I recognized them as something delicious.   Most were done by my Cousin Clara and Aunt Margaret, both young women in the 1930’s, they used the clear bright sunny colors of that era’s quilting and crafting aesthetic.  Since I had not yet matured to the point of appreciation of the subtle, and I particularly deplored the orange and gold palette popular at the time, those little islands of bright color upon my bed suited me to a T.

Dress Your Dream Bed by Rita Farro

Part history, part practical information and part inspiration, Rita Farro’s book “Dress your Dream Bed” articulates those memories for a lot of us who grew up using the stuff now sought out by vintage enthusiasts.  Farro talks about the different kinds of linens and how to clean discolored ones bringing them back into use.  Sometimes books on textiles can be dry reading but I found this one to be engaging and conversational. 

As a teen in the 80’s I had a white and lavender chenille bedspread pulled from an old trunk where it had lain in disuse for years.  I think I was vintage before vintage was cool.  Chenille at the time was seen as very out of date and maybe just a leeettle tacky. The aesthetic of a previous era is often seen that way. 

The reason I mention is to give potential readers a heads up that they might not have seen some of this stuff before.  As the author collects both kitschy and elegant textiles, depending on your age, the photos might trigger some old stereotypes.  All the dry stuff about thread count is handled quickly and through most of the book Farro instructs you on making your own versions using antique themes.  But the majority of her collection photographed in the book is of vintage linen – therefore created in eras with sometimes vastly different aesthetics than our own. 

You might not like certain linen combinations but you might use the idea as a starting place for creating something you do like. I loved it all because I remember the people who made and used similar things. 

Younger crafters, please don’t think OMG and put the book down.  At the time these linens were made they were completely contemporary and fun.  That’s permission for all of us modern-day crafters to do the same.  Take something as mundane as a sheet or towel and put your own imprint on it, making it fun and lovely for your family today.

Farro has a lot of ideas and instructions but the most accessible to start with are pillowcases.  As part of my stash bash I have looted my quilting cotton chest. 

Bits and Bobs for Bed Linens

 Her instructions are on page 33-35.  These are for standard pillowcases with four inch hems.  As you sew you begin to see more than one way to seam the case and finish the hem.  One yard of 45 inch wide fabric will make one case and I have enjoyed using up spare remnants of trim as an accent on the hems. 

Here is the process I used today in photos.

Lay fabric right side up, take a trim remnant and place inside fold of hem.

My trim lain on my fabric. I am going to flip the hem portion over sandwiching the trim between the fold.

Sew trim sandwiched between fold.

You can see the trim extending beyond the sandwiched fold.

I wanted an enclosed seam so I sewed my first seam edge with the right side of fabric facing out.

For an enclosed, or sometimes called French seam, make your first run with the right side of the fabric facing outward.

Then I ironed, the one part I find tiresome, and enclosed my seam by sewing right sides together.

Ironing flat so I can stitch the final seamline. Sometimes I burn my fingers on this step as the seam edge must be as fully pushed outward as possible.

Consider increasing stitch length for the hem itself as any tension issues are going to show here.

My machine settings for typical topstitching.

The final pillowcase, ironed if not starched.

Old-Time inspired but I've made it my own.

Next Post: Thursday, September 30, 2010: Good Advice from the Blogosphere.

What she [the home sewer] creates must be worthy of close comparison with the work of a professional.”

The all-around, skilful designing hobbyist  . . . soon learns that when she wears her newly made dress into a room filled with her friends, it must seem to mingle confidently with other dresses from the hands of experienced, top-notch designers.  At this moment, comes the acid test.  In her heart she knows that her competitors, the top-notch professionals, are people like herself – just folks who like to “make things” from fabric.  And she knows that they have only two hands, as she has.  What gives that blue dress the beauty it seems to have?  How did the designer get the simple beauty in that seemingly “perfectly plain” plum-colored gown Jacqueline is wearing today?  How did the person who planned the sequin-trimmed cocktail suit decide just where to put that brilliant accent on the side front?  What is that certain something in the dress Annabelle wears – that certain deceiving something- that makers her appear to be the gracious, womanly, genteel person that everyone here knows she is not? Few are the women amateur designers who have not had a similar experience; who will not admit secretly, that most of the afternoon was spent in just such a frustrating comparison of their new dress with masterpieces in ready-to-wear worn by others.

Obviously such comparisons are neither just or fair.  The dabbler in oils can be content achieving a moderate degree of success.  The dabbler in music intends to cultivate her talent for her own pleasure and for her friends’ entertainment.  But not so with the amateur dabbling in dress design.  What she creates must be worthy of close comparison with the work of a professional.  It must be as “smart,” as “clever,” as “distinctive,” as the creations turned out by the nation’s leaders in that certain field.”

(Fundamentals of Apparel Design by Harriet Pepin @1948 Funk & Wagnalls Company, NY, page 7)

I am browsing Fundamentals of Apparel Design by Harriet Pepin, a primer for the home-sewer or beginning fashion design student.  Written in 1948 the work provides a surprisingly still somewhat current overview of the fashion industry along with the timeless artistry behind fashion design.  The illustrations are in simple black and white but drawn with a kind of refreshing joie de vivre that the modern reader is almost jolted, Pepin’s images of easygoing contentment contrasting so vastly from our own contemporary fashion photos of glaring adolescents adopting strange poses in bizarre setting.   The last chapter called “The Middle Twentieth Century Exhibit” is a compilation of photos that will delight any student of vintage fashion. 

So many sewing texts are dry affairs and given the aging yellowing pages and plain binding of my library copy I did not expect much in the way of entertainment. 

Well, this proves you can’t judge a book by its cover

Pepin foregoes an academic tone and writes in a forthright, almost chummy way reminiscent of other popular advice books from this period on manners, taste, clothing, household management,etc. that were directed at women.  Works which today we might find a tad bit condescending, but at the time I don’t believe they were read that way. 

Amidst this friendly encouraging tone Pepin offers a lot to unpack.

When reading the work of Pepin one wonders how the women of her generation, given their propensity for telling it like it is, ever came to be personified as wholly downtrodden and stifled. Raised by my great-aunt, I came into a lot of contact with older generations.  Though their life choices were certainly circumscribed, their tongues, as I remember, were not.  Today we might be excoriated by the Annabelle comment, but it is true – we all have known some Annabelle’s in our lives.  (And they always seem to come with an endless clothing allowance! So frustrating to behold.)

Not only has fashion changed, but also fashion modeling.  All of the models gracing the pages of Pepin’s work look as if they are enjoying life and are about to make pleasant conversation with the reader.  So unlike leafing through a contemporary fashion magazine where the models adopt strange postures in bizarre settings and glare aggressively leaving the reader to wonder if paper could speak would it telling me to f… off!?

And directly relating to the above quote and what spurred my own thinking – something I have felt but not articulated nearly so well as Pepin –  

What she [the home sewer] creates must be worthy of

 close comparison with the work of a professional.”


Do you as a modern home-sewer feel that others have unfairly judged your home-sewn clothes?

 That there is no room for “a moderate degree of success” and if your home-sewn clothes do not rival high-end RTW then your stuff is judged to be substandard? 

Have you endured some criticism or cattiness from other women about your sewing? 

That people who would accept wonkiness in say a hand-crocheted gift, become downright fierce in their judgment of your much more technically-difficult-to-achieve home-sewn garment? 

Have you spent endless amounts of time comparing your own garments with RTW and come up short in your own estimation, even if others made no comments?

I know that I have felt unfairly judged, and that I have unfairly judged myself.  I am wondering about the experience of other home-sewers.  Can you relate to any of this?

Next Post: Saturday, June 19, 2010; Simplicity 9825 Yoked Straight or A-Line Skirt: Pattern Review

Finally It Fits:The no-scare Home Patternmaking System, for everyone, every size:Book Review

Slopers are renown in sewing circles as tools for achieving great fit.  More than once in the past I have tried to use Adele Margolis Design your Own Dress Patterns.  Margolis advises using a commercial sloper pattern, fitting it to your figure and then making that your base pattern to alter for the various stylistic options she illustrates.    

Margolis’ book is now rightly revered as a sewing classic and a source of creative inspiration.  However, there is a gap in the text in that it gives run of the mill fitting advice when sewing your own personal sloper.   Often with commercial patterns fixing one problem, created another problem, and fixing that second problem created a third, and so on.  I felt like I was essentially redrafting the pattern, making several muslins and still not getting a great result.  The labor was intensive and I began to surmise that I was trying to customize a pattern that was originally created for measurements wholly different from my own.  

What if I Started Out with a Pattern Cut for My Measurements?

Trial and error mainly resulting in error was a condition especially true for pants.  I have never gotten anywhere near a decent fit from a commercial pants pattern.  After years of disappointment I came to the conclusion that, though potentially time-intensive, learning to draft my own personal pattern might ultimately save me both time and tears.    

Now, where to find such a book since most of the famous sewing classics from mid-twentieth century adroitly choose to ignore the “women in trousers” phenomena by giving little or no advice on sewing or fitting said garments.

So I did some title research on both Amazon and the local library website and came up with Finally it Fits: The no-scare Home Patternmaking System for everyone, every size by Ruth Amiel and Happy Gerhard.  That one of the authors was so brightly named worked to quench any lingering trepidation I might have.  (As they say – what’s in a name?  But so hard to live up to I thought.)

Also the book was published in 1973 so I assumed that the authors would offer at least minimal instructions for drafting pants.    

This is a Terrific Pattern Drafting Text

Amiel and Gerhard offer wonderful advice and complete step-by-step illustrations that walk you through the entire process.  You do have to take a gazillion measurements.  But as a home sewer that shouldn’t scare you.  Numerous design options are offered with hundreds of line drawings, the last illustration numbered 521.  When you first browse the book you think, “Oh, my word, is this too complex?”  But after you begin the process you are thankful for so many illustrations as nothing is left to chance.  There is no complex math involved though a small calculator near will help you in quartering some of the measurements. 

Working with the Measurement Charts

Reminder – if your calculator gives you a number with .33 or .67, that would be 3/8th or 5/8ths approximately.  .5 would be ½ inch, making .2 something near ¼ inch, and .8 about ¾ inch.  Unless you are a mathematical wizard you need not fret yourself silly over these tiny measurements.  Approximate and any minor adjustments will come out in the fitting.

The other point to know is that you sometimes have to work an earlier sloper in order to have the correct measurements for a later sloper.  For example, I had to create a skirt sloper in order to fill in the chart for the pants sloper. 


Most authorities glibly advice the home sewer to add so many inches at only one or at most two points in the pattern, say at the bust or waist.  But this book has a detailed chart for coat, suit, blouse, cape and kaftan style coat,that offers basic ease for several key points on each pattern.  Unfortunately ease for skirts and trousers are not given, which is disappointing since the charts are so complete for the styles cited above.   Also an illustration showing ease added to the basic pattern would be informative, but all in all, the authors provide more extensive information than is typical. 

Working with the Slopers

The authors warn that the initial fitting sloper will fit like a second skin and they are true to their word.  The bodice sloper was rather alarming on first beholding my mirrored image.  Thankfully they do provide an ease chart for your final sloper, but advise you to fit the second skins and then add wearing ease.  After you have fit your basic bodice, skirt and trouser the text offers various collars, sleeves and skirt lines.  Again, these slopers are without designer ease, so you would need to begin your design getting the pattern to fit with wearing ease only, and then adding the currently fashionable design ease and any other stylistic features such as pockets etc. 

I really liked the book and used it recently to create a pants sloper with the best fit I have ever had.   The muslins did require several fine-tunings but I never experienced the frustration of past attempts using commercial patterns.  Given how much I enjoyed the pants drafting experience I am looking forward to drafting a personal bodice, skirt, dress and sleeve sloper. Here is an outline of slopers offered so you can decide for yourself if this book is for you. 


  • Moving Bust Darts
  • Yokes
  • Facings

Basic Unfitted Bodice for Loose Blouse or Jacket

  • Skirts
  • A-Line
  • A-Line Flaried
  • A-Line Gathered
  • Half Circle
  • Full Circle
  • Box Pleats
  • Double Kick Pleats with Inset
  • Gored
  • Wrap Around


  • Chemise Straight
  • Chemise A-Line
  • Princess


  • Center Pleat
  • Other Pleats


  • Straight
  • Flared


  • Flat
  • Rolled
  • Shirt
  • Cowl
  • Cascade Ruffle
  • V-neck
  • U-neck
  • Square neck
  • Boat
  • Funnel (called Stand Up)
  • Nehru (called Military)


  • Basic
  • 2-Piece
  • Skinny with elbow dart
  • Shirt
  • Kimono
  • Dolman
  • Puff Bottom
  • Puff Top
  • Puff Top and Bottom
  • Lantern



Next Post: Thursday, June 17, 2010: Designer Doyenne Harriet Pepin Observes Is it Fair to Compare?

What Not To Wear:Book Review

   What Not to Wear

Trinny Woodall and Susannah Constantine of the famous British show What not to Wear  model all the photos in this pictorial illustration of how different design lines affect various figures.   Divided by “flaws” each chapter highlights one of the ladies wearing clothes that flatter, and most importantly for the home sewer, the authors’ also swallow their feminine pride and allow themselves to be photographed wearing clothes that bring out their worst figure attributes.   

A lot of style books rely on drawings to show right and wrong clothing choices but I always wonder if the drawing has been altered to support that individual stylist’s viewpoint, and actual clothing may not follow the same principles in real life.  I did feel somewhat manipulated that the “worst” choice pictures invariably show each woman slouching and scowling, but most of the time I would have to agree that Trinny and Susannah could be beaming with joy and still those “worst” outfits would be complete horrors on them.   The camera doesn’t lie. 

Let’s Get This Out of the Way First

What May Annoy you

That the camera doesn’t lie is both a strength and an impediment to the book’s message. Trinny and Susannah do appear to be a figure type opposite of the other illustrating a real-life compare and contrast.  But neither is truly plus size and heavier ladies might be annoyed by the complaints about arms that “could feed a family of six”, but just look womanly in the photo, or ankles, though not dainty spindles are not exactly elephantine either.  You may disagree that some of their “flaws” are not flaws at all and want to admonish them to relax a bit.  Additionally, if you are struggling to attractively present a body part that is far from the average you may wonder what these ladies have to complain about as neither’s figure has any extremes.  

Given these flaws this book is still a great browse for the home sewer


Here is Why

As failure can be more educational than success, it is the fashion frights that make this a good book for the home sewer to browse.  When we look at pattern books, sometimes the garment is pictured on a live model, but often it is drawn on the untypically thin and tall figure common to fashion illustration, but not common to the general female population.   As we often focus on the garment as a whole, instead analyzing the seams and edges that define that style, it can be hard for the buyer to correctly translate which of various similar patterns offered will look best on her figure.  

As a home sewer you know can take an average garment and make it outstanding with a custom fit.  However a custom fit will not cure the appearance of a garment when the design lines are truly not suited to our figures.   As a home sewer I know I have wasted time fruitlessly sewing clothes that no amount of perfect technique could make flattering on my figure.  Looking at the photos of Trinny and Susannah giving special attention to the seamlines and edges gave me a much better understanding of how various style details interact with my figure.   Now I am a much more decisive consumer of patterns.  Before I purchase I take a hard look at where the seamlines and edges cross the body, along with the ornamental details.  If a major component of that pattern is a design line that is not flattering to me I don’t buy it.  The result has been less time and money wasted on sewing “maybe-if’s” and fewer wadders.     


As What Not to Wear was written in 2002 it is already a bit dated as the authors make much ado about their hatred of 80’s fashion, but are now probably online shopping for leggings and day-glo ensem’s.   But the principles behind fashion design do not change and this volume offers a good look at some classic designs in relation to common figure attributes.  I haven’t seen the British TV show but have heard that the ladies have a reputation for brutal honesty.  The book does get snarky and uses irreverent terminology for the female form.   Don’t let that deter you.  Thankfully most of the work is in pictures.  I checked my copy out of the library and found it to be one of the few style-how-to books with information I could apply to my home sewing.

Worth at least a look.

Next Post: Saturday, May 8, 2010; The Last, and Easiest, of This Summer’s Simple Skirts

Best Basic Wardrobe List I Have Ever Seen: Harper’s Bazaar “Great Style”

Wardrobe Essentials from Harper’s Bazaar Great Style

A a home sewer I am looking for a guideline to direct my sewing choices since I want to spend my time creating garments that enhance my wardrobe, rather than impulse buying both pattern and fabric then sewing up something that is cute, but doesn’t go with anything else I own.  As I usually try to include some piffle amidst my regular reading I was both surprised and impressed to receive some solid advice in Harper’s Bazaar “Great Style: Best Ways to Update Your Look” Jenny Levin, @ 2010 Hearst Books

Most style how-to’s are never without a list of wardrobe basics.  You know what I am talking about.  If you have heard it once, you have heard it a thousand times.  Countless fashion magazine writers have advised us to use their prescribed list of “necessary” garments in order to create a basic wardrobe for each season.  

These lists usually purport to be the bare minimum which you will mix and match fashionably through a season, never wondering if you have anything to wear, because supposedly you have it covered.  At least that is the usual claim.  But I have never grooved to any of the lists I have read so far.  Most of the time these lists are unrealistically minimal; there just aren’t enough clothes.  

Additionally, the compilers seem to make some assumptions that do not apply to my life.

  • That my business culture was similar to a bank where I would need some killer power suits.
  • That my social life consisted of frequent resort vacations or when at home, cocktail parties.
  • That I would never sweat in any of these items, resigning them to the laundry pile and out of commission for the repeat mix and match the author advises.
  • And, most obviously to any woman going about her business in the real world  filled with wonderful astute fashionable femininity, that I did not work in an office full of women who would comment on how often I had repeated my outfit.  (And they might think it a little strange that I kept changing up the same two pair of pants!)

 Harper’s Bazaar doesn’t exactly promote affordable fashion, and I imagine that much of its content is aimed towards an upper middle class woman with a cosmopolitan lifestyle.  And that is where the editor absolutely surprised me. 

Levin has offered the best, most reasonable basic wardrobe list I have ever read, and it is bereft of a ton of assumptions about what my lifestyle is like. 

Let me give you her list and see what you think.  I am quoting from pages 20-21.

4 Sweaters  

2 workworthy, 2 for weekends

7 tees

short sleeve, long sleeve, tank and turtle

4 coats and jackets

1 dress coat, 1 sporty outerwear, 1 trench, 1 day-to-night


4 pants, 4 skirts equaling 8 bottoms

2 office/evening and 2 informal

2 tops for every pant and skirt

1 dressy top and 1 casual for every pant and skirt equaling 16 tops

1 suit 

1 for every season that you can wear together or as separates


5 dresses

2 daydresses, 1 cocktail, 1 formal, and one “special knock-em dead frock”

4 jeans

1 slim cut, 1 relaxed, 1 ankle length for flats, and 1 longer length for higher heels


What I like about this list how open-ended and adaptable it is.  And it offers a nice amount of clothes, not a hoard or even a walk-in closet worth, but enough items to keep you, and your viewers, from becoming bored.  Additionally, with enough clothes, you won’t wear them to death, meaning you won’t need to replace the entire wardrobe each season.

Using this list I am going to adapt it to my needs and take a look at my closet. 

I am wondering about other home sewers. 

Do you have a guide that they you use every season?  For example, you always make a jacket, or a suit, etc.  


Do you sew hit or miss, and then fill in with purchases?



Next Post: Tuesday, April 20, 1010: Simplicity 2929 Shirtwaist Dress: Pattern Review