Category Archives: Sewing

A dress for grandma’s funeral

As mentioned in an earlier post, my grandma passed away this winter. January 31st was her last day, and as I was ill when she got her second bout of pneumonia in as many months, I wasn’t with her when she went. I had visited her just weeks before, and my brother and I had a happy time with her then. In a way it’s nice to have that as my last memory of that grand and impossibly stubborn old lady.

I loved my gran. My whole life we were very close – perhaps too much so. She was a Hostess with a big H, always catering for guests and urging us to eat for four (my family still employs the term “grandma-full” as a term to describe the feeling of being especially over-stuffed). She was part of the resistance movement during WWII, and after my grandfather passed away years before I was born, she lived alone in her big house. She filled it with people and activity up to the time she went blind from glaucoma. The blindness was a slow process, and almost my whole life she needed some assistance. I was always her eyes when we were outside the house. This May she would have been 100 years old.

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Me and gran at my 20th birthday

My grandma, always the queen of drama. It’s a wonder she survived the war, what with all the episodes of coming face to face with a German gun, daring the soldiers to shoot. Despite all her anxiety in her later years, I doubt she had it in her to be truly afraid. Life was a play and the world her stage. Being part of the audience wasn’t always easy, but it was never dull.

At gran’s request, my brother and I played a Duet by Mozart, her favorite composer, at the funeral. I play the flute, my brother the French horn, and we hadn’t really played anything together before this. It was no easy task to play at grans funeral. I’m glad we did, but I’m never doing anything like this again. On top of the duet, I volunteered to play Bach’s Air at the beginning of the funeral.

Back when I’d just started to make teddy bears, I made one for gran. To this date this is  the only bear I’ve made who has an open mouth. Binna (she-bear in Norwegian) became gran’s companion, and gran slept alongside her for many years in addition to bringing her with her around in the house. Some years ago gran requested that Binna should accompany her when she died. During the week between gran’s death and me taking possession over my fabric shop, I went to the funeral home and brought Binna with me for a last farewell with my gran. My brother made an ice bear from pipe cleaners years ago, and this went into the casket with Binna.

Binna with a little pipe cleaner ice bear made by my brother

Binna with the little pipe cleaner ice bear sitting in her waistband

As my grandma was prone to depression, always expecting the worst and making a scene if nothing else was happening , I could never wear anything other than black at her funeral. When my other Grandma died two years ago, I opted for pale yellow silk, as I wanted to celebrate her long life, rather than mourn her death. She was a half-full-glass kind of a person. This time around, I was saying goodbye to a person who could be the poster girl for the half-empty glass most of the time.

Still, I wanted to do something special, not just make any LBD and run with it. I decided to use wool gabardine and wool crepe. My inspiration was in large part a dress made by one of my classmates back when we were all making landscape dresses. I remembered her making these softly folded bias strip inserts in her dress, and thought it would be interesting to try. I designed a dress with a folded bias strip running through the whole dress, starting and ending in the back hem. It also features wool crepe inserts in the sides and a double inverted kick pleat in the back. This was not an easy project, and the finished dress feature wool crepe bias strips sewn on top of pattern pieces made from wool gabardine, as the strips by themselves had too little structure. I also discovered that corners are impossible to make with this technique, and the dress is a bit tighter than it started out to be, as I had to cut all the corners, turning them into curves as I went along. Still, I’m pleased with the end result, I really love this dress. I think gran would have loved it too, as all the bias strip details give a lot of structure to “see” with ones hands.

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The necklace is a gold watch. This and the bracelets are all heirlooms from my grandma.

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It was a lovely service, and on the days after the funeral, all I wanted to do was to call gran and tell her all about it. She would have loved to hear about all the stories that were told, the details of the service, the people present, the lovely priest. It was a fond farewell with a real special old lady.

Goodbye my impossible grandma, and thank you for being part of my life all these years. I miss you.

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A shirt for Andrea

Last year I went to London with one of my closest friends, Andrea. While I was looking for just the right fabric to take home from Liberty, she found a fabric on her own. As I sew and she doesn’t, we agreed that I’d make her a shirt as a belated birthday present (her original birthday wish was to get something from London while we were there). As last year wasn’t a quiet one either, the shirt ended up closer to her next birthday than the one before, but she was happy with the end result.

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I even found blue buttons to match the blue print 🙂

Andrea had a fairly basic shirt which she got from her grandma. This shirt was a bit on the long side, with a back yoke and bust darts. She wanted something close to this in look, and we opted for an old BurdaStyle pattern (#105 in the #9/09 issue of the magazine). I shortened the pattern a bit and made a muslin from old sheets. Based on the fit of this, we decided to add a bit more width to the sleeves, as she liked the roomy sleeves on her original shirt best. Then I made the shirt and requested her to show it off in my blog, which I’m happy she agreed to do.

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Sewing machines as a religion

This is the story of how I came to own four sewing machines, and how I sometimes want to throw one of them out through the window.

My first sewing machine was a Pfaff Select 3.0. This machine has served me well and has been completely hassle free except for user-induced malfunctions every now and then (for which this machine holds no responsibility). It’s been sewing through everything from flimsy chiffons and silks to eight layers of heavy denim (this was the number of layers I managed to fit under the presser foot). I loved my Pfaff and became a Pfaff convert the day the salesperson in the sewing machine store introduced us.

I read about basic mechanical sewing machines before entering the shop. At the time I only made teddy bears, and I needed a sturdy machine that would handle thick fabrics. The only stitch I planned on using was a straight stitch. Computerized machines scared me, and price was definitely a factor. The Internet told me that Janome Easy Jeans fit the bill. So I went into the shop and asked to see the Janome. What I didn’t know at the time was that the salesperson was a Pfaffist, a Pfaff missionary. He told me politely that the Pfaff was a better machine, praising the integrated dual feed system (IDT), which certainly comes in handy. He then demonstrated the Pfaff and then the Janome with a walking foot attached to show me how quiet the Pfaff was compared to the Janome (it also cost about 40 % more than the Janome). Then he told me about how the Pfaff was used by professionals and was German made (my machine says “made in China”) and that Janome was a lesser brand, made in Taiwan from what sounded like less solid parts. I ended up with the Pfaff and didn’t look back.

Pfaff Select 3.0

Pfaff Select 3.0

I was a happy Pfaff convert and missionary, mentioning the machine and praising the brand whenever I could. And recommending people to stay clear of anything Janome. Whenever I saw someone recommending Janome I considered this to be because they weren’t familiar with the much better Pfaff machines.

When I started sewing clothes, I quicly found my four-step buttonhole lacking. This was especially true when I made one-step buttonholes on the school machines I worked on the year I attended a sewing course. In this course I also discovered a need for having a serger in my sewing room.

I started to look at different sergers. At school we used Janome sergers, which I didn’t care for, as the stitch quality was not the best and I never seemed to manage the threading of these machines. I didn’t consider the fact that these machines had sustained heavy use from users unfamiliar with sergers for many years before I entered the classroom, and just figured that the salesperson who told me to go with Pfaff was right – Janome clearly did not build quality machines. This is the reason why I never considered Janome when I bought my serger. I read about the Pfaff sergers, finding that many reviewers did not care much for them.

I read a bit about coverstitch machines, deciding I wanted this feature as well despite never having coverstitched anything before. The annoying four-step buttonhole and the feeling that I’d somehow outgrown my Pfaff made me scared to buy anything without as many features as possible crammed into one serger. Then I set out to try sergers, having decided I wanted to look at Juki and Viking Husqvarna. I never considered Pfaff, Janome or Elna (Elna being Janome made). The Brother dealer was too far away, and what did a printer company know about sewing anyway? Besides I’d read some dreadful stories about cheap computerized Brother sewing machines. Singer never entered the equation because of their history of making cheap plastic machines in the 80’s and 90’s (my mother owned one of those, and sewing on it was never a pleasure). Bernina and Babylock were out of my price range, and Juki made their overlock machines anyway. They also made the higher end Viking Husqvarnas.

I didn’t like the stitch quality on the Husqvarna combo machine, and frankly, I find the computerized thread tension settings on every Husqvarna I’ve tried is a bit off. Thread tension is something I don’t want my machine to choose on my behalf. Then I met the Juki MO735 and fell in love (or so I thought). I could get a discount if I bought a machine previously displayed in the shop (but never used), and I jumped on this deal way too soon, without trying all the other sergers I wish I’d played with before buying my Juki. It serges beautifully, making lovely rolled hems and even stitches on anything woven. And the shop where I bought it is a missionary site for Juki as they import the machines themselves.

Juki MO735

Juki MO735

I went home with my Juki and loved having a serger which was quiet, sturdy and had the added option of coverstitching. Then I tried to thread it for coverstitch, and found the manual to be lacking. It certainly wasn’t good at explaining serging either, but here I had some little experience to guide me. Coverstitch was new to me, and this combo machine did not make it easy, I tell you. The result was that I didn’t want to touch the machine again for months, and ended up forgetting how to convert it back to serging before I needed to serge a seam again. Much hassle, and I finally managed to thread it right again, happily serging away once more.

This machine is temperamental, and as I found out, doesn’t want to sew medium weight rib knit cotton. No matter what I do (tension, presser foot pressure, cutting width, differential feed, stitch length), the machine stretches the fabric. It sews wovens perfectly, and also handles bathing suit materials and other thin and/or slippery knits, but my favourite at the moment – the cotton rib – it simply cannot do. An extensive online search found that this is due to a construction fault. The problem originates in part from the combo package with added coverstitch, which means having three feed dogs instead of two, with the left (extra) feed dog pulling the fabric away from the needles. The other part of the problem is the multipurpose foot, which is wider than a regular serger foot and has slits where you can add tape and ribbon as you serge. Good in theory, but not well executed, as Bernina and Juki owners have resorted to installing matchsticks into their serger feet. I tried this as well, but it didn’t solve the problem.

The last couple of weeks I have once more tried my hands at coverstitching, which made me just hate the machine all over again. I never should have bought such an expensive machine, let alone a serge-and-cover-combo. After much hassle, I’ve finally gotten a decent coverstitch out of it, thanks to hours trying different settings, a massive online search and JLX2 needles. I’m on the fence as to whether I’m selling the machine.The coverstitch looper has to be threaded from the back of the machine and along the left side, and the schematics and explanations are just not good enough for someone on my basic level of understanding such a machine. I’ve started reading owner’s manuals on coverstitch machines and see now that a stand-alone coverstitch is so much easier to thread than this combo. Time will show if I buy one or not, but I’m leaning towards a coverstitch with a bias tape binder attachment which looks so fun to use!

Enter my third machine, the Janome MC6300 Pro. This machine moved in with me after my search after a machine that did a good straight stitch and a beautiful automatic buttonhole. After buying the Juki, I was biased toward this brand, and checked out the HZL300 and HZL600 (which are really expensive here in Norway!). Then I started entering sewing machine shops asking to be shown the machine which did the best buttonhole. I read a lot online, and I found that the Janome was on sale. I never expected to be a Janome owner, as I still believed the crap about them being a lesser brand etc,  but this machine and I bonded instantly. I got to play with it and the manual at the shop (if the Juki was not my best buy, I certainly learned my lesson!), and then the machine went home with me the same day. I still love this baby, and just looking at it makes me happy.

Janome MC6300 Pro

Janome MC6300 Pro

My third round of sewing machine gazing really made the concept of sewing machines as a religion hit home. In every shop the salesperson would show me their favorite brand, their religion. Whether it was Juki, Pfaff or Viking Husqvarna, they all praised “their” brand as the highest power to be. Me? I’m a sewing machine geek, I love reading about them, looking at them and playing around with them. I’m certainly biased toward Janome after my last shopping experience, but all the big brands have their strengths and weaknesses. After what I’ve read during the last couple of years, I’m cautious about the PVS (Pfaff, Viking, Singer) company as I’ve read a lot of lemon reviews. Still I try to keep an open mind, as my closed mindset is what led me to the serger-cover-combo fiasko (at the price level of the Juki I want the machine to do everything well!). And I’ve come to understand that I very well could be one of those five-machine-owners, as I really like planning and actually buying new machines. However I recognise that sewing machines, and especially brands, are certainly a widespread religion.

And what of the serger? I mentioned I was living with four machines at the moment, didn’t I? Enter my new Elna 664Pro. I went about and tried sergers in multiple shops, ending up at the same shop where I found my Janome. I tried the Elna and the Janome 644D, which are both made in the same Japanese factory. In the end I went with the Elna, which has all the seam settings built into the machine – just roll a wheel, and the correct setting pops up. I love the simplicity of this machine, and look forward to taking her for a spin. The fact that the machine is quiet and cost about 20 % less than her Janome sister didn’t hurt either.

Elna 664 Pro

Elna 664 Pro

I very much hope I will have an ending to my serger woes, as I didn’t try to get the best serger ever made this time around – I tried to get the best serger for me.

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Stitching in the ditch

Lately I’ve played around a lot with ideas for different sewing projects. I think in part this has kept me somewhat sane during my first two months at work, and I really look forward to do some sewing again 🙂

One of my ideas includes my whole stash of fabric scraps and a stitch-in-the-ditch foot. I think this whole scrap project was born when I saw how the scrappy teddy bears turned out. Plus I have one of those large blue Ikea bags filled with various scraps that I haven’t managed to throw out – I hate to waste good fabrics, though most of these scraps have been sitting around for ages.

Enter the ditch-stitch-foot and the decorative seams on my lovely Janome, and multiple ideas about decorating garments were born.

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Obviously I need to practice and play around with this some more, but that’s what scraps are for 🙂

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Sorbettos – I needed a job interview blouse

I am currently applying for what feels like almost every job that’s remotely connected to my field of education (I’m a bioengeneer with a master’s degree in microbiology), and I desperately needed to up my game for some heavy-weight interviews this week.
Enter a shopping spree where my lovely hubby bought me a suit and a weekend of two sorbettos, and this lovely lady emerged from my otherwise somewhat casual everyday looks:

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I first tuned in to Colettes lovely freebie, the Sorbetto when reading about a botched Sorbetto at Creative Satursays.  Being years late to the Sorbetto party, inspirarion was everywhere, and some googling led me to Sew Weekly’s Seven days of Sorbettos , and realised I had to try this pattern myself. 

My first Sorbetto was made from synthetic chiffon and store bought bias tape. This was just a test run to see how it fit me and giving French seams another go. The second one is made from a beautiful coral sueded silk which is similar to silk charmeuse. Me and a friend from school went shopping the other day, and I simply couldn’t resist its allure what with me being in the shop and all.

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I think it turned out beautifully, and I love how the centre pleat looks a bit like a tie, especially with the suit jacket on top. I think I’ll need to make this in several colours, don’t you?

The changes I made, apart grading between size 14 and 16, was to lower the shoulder seam a smidge to get the darts where they needed to be and have some more ease at the arm openings.

Now I just have to walk around in the world hoping someone will hire me 🙂

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Vogue 1329

A lifetime ago I signed up for Katrina Walker’s Decorative Seams class on Craftsy. I watched through it this spring, and let me tell you, this class is a true gem. I love Katrina Walker’s teaching style and all her inspiring ways to finish the seams on various garments.

The class features Vogue’s dress pattern V1329 free of charge, and I really wanted to have a go at this one after watching the class. My dress turned out as a homage to projects from the sewing course, made from leftover fabrics from the gaucho pants and my scarab dress. I used black raw silk (a wonderful fabric to work with!) for the main parts of the dress and red linen for the yoke and contrasting panel. I made some changes to the yoke lining so that this extended all the way around the sleeve openings and made this from black cotton sateen. Then I used the peach coloured silk lining both to line the dress and to make a bias strip with I folded in half, pleated and sewed into the front dress seam for that wow-factor on the dress. Really love how this one turned out 🙂 I plan to get some wear out of it at some special occasions coming up at the end of this month/beginning of next month.

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This was a great pattern to work with, and I’d love to have it in soft wool come winter. But I’ll have to change the yoke a bit, as it doesn’t quite fit me along the neckline, where it tends to gape a bit. As I ran out of fabric and didn’t fancy putting in a dart or a seam, I left it the way it was on this dress, making notes to change the pattern in the future. If I make it without the screaming peach strip of silk going down the front, this will be more of an everyday dress, I think.

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Fall jacket

I’m in terrible need of some new clothes to go in my wardrobe after giving most of the things I had away due to them being to small/worn/old – all reasons that I didn’t wear them any more. The logical thing to do mid-summer was therefore to make a fall jacket, what with the weather not being warm and summery (Norway sported warmer water temperatures than the air temperatures in Spain this summer …). 

Perhaps the sleeves are a bit long, but that’s way better than too short IMO.

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I didn’t get to wear the jacket except for the morning we woke up in a freezing hotel room with a hyperactive A/C (we got a new room which was a lot nicer to stay in for the rest of our stay). So at least I needed it on my summer vacation 🙂

I fell in love with this pattern (my teacher The Great Saviour of Jackets designed it) when most of my class mates (the ones who didn’t opt to make the tailored suit jacket) made this in time for Easter. It’s such a versatile pattern and so comfortable to wear. I’m already planning a winter version from the same pattern. I added inner pockets to the lining and the upper breast pockets concealed in the seam under the flap.

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The shell fabric is cotton bough in the home dec department and the lining is viscose satin. I love the bright colours and have my fingers crossed for some fall days without rain where I get to wear this beauty. 

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