Bib Overalls Skirt

This is a project I’d had in the back of my mind for… Well, years. My husband had worn out the legs on a pair of bib overalls, but the bib, itself, was in pretty good shape. Thinking about what I could do it with it more or less got me started on my latest “thing,” if you will: remaking new clothes out of old ones.

Michael and I will wear our clothes to rags. Donating the old clothes to charity doesn’t really help the charity because who wants to buy a shirt with ragged collar and cuffs? Yet, all too often, it’s just the collar and cuffs that are frayed and messed up, but the rest of the shirt is fine. Or the really ugly hole in the jeans is just in the one impossible to patch spot, but the rest of the pants are fine.

I have been making bags out of jeans where I’ve cut off the legs (working on turning those bits into yarn) and using old shirts for the linings. But a whole dress or something? Not there yet. Or I wasn’t. Frankly, I just finally got off my keister and put together the skirt I’d been thinking about for so long.

It took seven shirts. I used a pattern piece for a gored skirt from an old Burda magazine (August 2007, French Edition, long story). The piece was too big for the backs of the shirts, so I had to squiggle it around on the front and make each of the skirt gores out of two pieces of fabric. Since I was doing that, I decided to add more color and mix and match the different shirt pieces. I didn’t know if it would save any actual sewing, but since the shirts – mostly Hawaiian and other casual short sleeved ones – had pockets, I used the former shirt pockets for my skirt pockets.

I would have liked a fuller skirt with more body, but it still looks okay and is darned comfy to wear. I don’t know if I’ll try this project again, but I do have another dress that I recently finished that I’ll feature here eventually. And another, more structured, dress project, too. Then there’s the crazy quilt top I’m working on. And so it goes.

Skirting the Design with a Single Seam

So I’d had this piece of fabric in my stash that looked like rip-stop nylon, but wasn’t, for a very long time. It was 60 inches wide but less than a yard long. There was a time when I could have made a pair of shorts from that piece – and such was my intent. Alas, no more.

But the piece wrapped around my backside with plenty of room to spare and it was long enough for a skirt, with some extra for pockets. I could have made a pencil skirt, but the extra space for contours might not have fit on the piece. Plus there was something even easier – just sew up the back seam and add an elasticized waistband, with some patch pockets, and hem.

Which is what I did.

Lesson # 1

It doesn’t matter how much it looks like there’s no difference between the right side and the wrong side, there’s a difference between the right side of a fabric and the wrong side. It doesn’t matter which side you choose as your right side. Just make sure that you lay out, cut and sew with everything facing the right way. Like this pocket didn’t. Sigh.

Lesson # 2

When measuring or cutting elastic for a waistband, make it way tighter than you think you’ll need. It’s a real PITA to overlock on the elastic, stitch the fold-over, then put on the skirt and realize that the skirt is going to fall off your backside the second you take your first step. 

Using the overlock (aka serger) to stretch and sew on your elastic, then folding over the waistband and stitching it down is a massive time saver. Unless you cut the elastic too big. Hence all the threads in the photo. The skirt is still a little loose, but otherwise, it came out pretty nice.

Why I Sew

why I sew, mens shirt pattern, sewingI’m sitting here staring at the cut out pieces of a man’s shirt that are not getting sewn together. Admittedly, it’s been busier than usual on weekends, which is when I generally get my sewing done. But, but, but. I’m also wondering why I sew when, in fact, it’s a hell of a lot easier to just buy clothes. And cheaper, too.

The short answer is that my husband and I like to make the things most sane people buy. And it is true that I do get a kick out of that pioneering spirit and self-sufficient feeling that assures me that when the apocalypse comes, we’ll still be able to fend for ourselves. Then I look at the shirt pieces and think, “Do I really want to do this?”

I’m not sure if it’s because shirts really aren’t that big a novelty for me or if it’s because I’m still not that good at making them. Probably a bit of both. I do get bored easily and the construction phase isn’t all that interesting anymore. And it is more than a little frustrating when I know how things should look and they just don’t.

But I’ll work it out soon. That whole frustration issue is probably why I need to just go ahead and start working on the verdamnt thing. Because getting past stuff is also why I sew. For what it’s worth.

Sewing Men’s Pants

sewing men's pants

Pretty welts on my husband’s new pants

Yeah, I get it. Crazy is one thing, but sewing men’s pants? WTF am I thinking?

I’m thinking my husband needs trousers and I’m not finding any I like and there was this cheap fabric I’d picked up, so what the heck?

Truth be told, it’s not any harder than sewing pants for women. The biggest difference is that I have to put belt loops on my husband’s pants because he always wears a belt, and I can leave belt loops off of mine since I seldom wear a belt. Oh, and the center back seam is wider at the waist to make it easier to adjust the fit later as someone’s waist expands or not. Since we women are more likely to expand and deflate, you’d think you’d see that on women’s pants, but no.

Yes, there is a little more tailoring… Well, I wouldn’t call it tailoring, but you can get fancier with your finishes on the inside. But I’m not going to. It’s not going to show and it doesn’t affect the fit. Why bother?

Besides the belt loops, the big lesson here? If you know a better way to do something than what the pattern instructions say, dump the pattern instructions. That being said, it doesn’t hurt to read them first.

Sewing Men’s Pants Photos:

And here they are:

men's pants

There’s the extra wide seam at the back

men's pants

Waistband interfacing – It did make things easier.

Men's pants

Tah-dah! Men’s pants. And they fit him, too.

 

Chalk Ink Makes Marking Easier

Chalk Ink  So it was a few months ago that I received the Chalk Ink marker samples. Come to think of it, it’s been a few months since I did a Sewing Report. Mea culpa. My sewing machine broke down. Life was uncommonly nuts this past spring. I didn’t have any time to sew.

But what got me interested in the press release from the Chalk Ink people was that the ink is opaque and meant to be used on dark surfaces. Which got me thinking…

Chalk Ink

A nice clear line for a dart

One of the problems working with a dark fabric is that it’s really hard to mark the positions of darts and pockets with something you can see. I’ve used the traditional tracing paper, but I often lose the marks because they steam out when the fabric is pressed. Or if I take too long to get around to making the garment. And tracing paper can’t always get to where I need it. Chalk usually makes too thick a line and it also either fades or steams out with pressing.

When I’m using lighter-colored fabrics, I use Flair pens – the old felt-tipped pens. They’re skinny enough that I can get precise marks and the ink is very water soluble, so it almost always washes out (usually with a bit of stain remover). The problem is that with very dark fabric, the pens don’t work because they’re not opaque. Even lighter colors just blend right in.

Chalk Ink

No bleed through

But the Chalk Ink is opaque, so the white pen makes nice, easy to see marks. It didn’t press out and washed out of several samples that I put it on without using any stain remover. The tip I had was a bit thick. But then I discovered that they do make markers with fine points. Nor did I take the time to see how long the marker lasts. The extra fine tip costs $4.99, which isn’t too bad unless the marker won’t last for more than a project or two.

I would test the ink on any potential fabric before using it to make sure it does wash out and that it doesn’t bleed through to the right side. It didn’t on any of the samples I tried, and one of them was fairly light weight fabric. But a nice, easy way to mark a dark fabric? Hey, I’m down with that.

The Sewing Report: Using the Scraps

sewing3The one downside to sewing, and specifically clothing construction, is that there’s a certain amount of waste that gets generated. After all, there’s only so much you can do with the whole rectangle of fabric and most pattern pieces are not rectangles. So you get little bits and pieces of scrap fabric and finding ways of using the scraps can be tricky. You could throw them out and lots of people do. But we’re pretty committed to avoiding waste around here – you know, that saving the planet thing. And, yes, there’s that cheap side of me thinking, “But I could make….”

So I took a class this past weekend at one of our local fabric and quilting stores, New Moon Textiles, in Pasadena, taught by expert quilter Dorine Nieuwenhuijs, that showed me a really fun way to use even the smaller bits of fabric to create another fabric – and that’s without using more fabric as a base. What she does is take the bits of fabric and sew them together to make all kinds of shapes, or just a new piece of fabric. Dorine even cut up some of the larger bits she’d made and sewed them together at different angles. sewing1

There’s a real trick to the process, and you can read about it in the book 15 Minutes of Play, by Victoria Findlay Wolfe.* And, yes, the class and the book are actually about quilting – which I have yet to try. But here’s the thing – you don’t have to make a quilt with your resulting fabric. You can make a dress or a top or a tablecloth or whatever. Some folks have made vests. I can’t quite imagine a whole closet filled with clothes made this way, so I guess somewhere along the line I am going to have to bite the bullet and learn how to quilt. Because I do have a lot of scraps that I’ve been saving for years and years.

Seriously. Going through the one scrap bag I brought was almost like going down memory lane. I even found a scrap from a blouse I’d made when I was an undergrad in college.

The bottom line is that it is worthwhile to save those bits and pieces of fabric and even if you get bits so small that you can’t even use them to make more fabric, you can save them, then stuff a doggie or kitty bed with them – one of things that Dorine does with the scraps generated from her classes. The trick is finding new and creative ways of using what we used to consider trash. It’s not always easy, but it can be fun. For example, I use the top parts of old jeans and pants to make bags, then cut up the legs to make yarn. I even did that with an old dust ruffle that I couldn’t sew back onto its base. It’s now a very nice seat cover.sewing4

And I have two and a half lovely panels of bits and pieces that I’m either going to expand or just use as the front part of a shirt. Not sure yet, still thinking.

*Please note that I am a Barnes and Noble affiliate – so if you click on the above link and buy something, I will get a small commission at no cost to you. It’s an easy way to help keep the lights on around here and I truly appreciate the support.

The Sewing Report: Making Bias Tape

clovertapemaker

Clover Bias Tape Maker

Who’da thunk it would be this fun making bias tape? Please note that I bought the Clover Bias Tape Maker on my own and they don’t even know that I have their product, let alone that I liked it.

I don’t remember if I read about the giz-watchy in Threads Magazine or if I just saw it at one of my favorite fabric stores, but I finally bought the one that makes 1/2-inch bias tape. I was tempted to go nuts and buy all the different sizes, but for once prudence won out, and I bought the one to try first.

Which is kind of interesting, because the purchase coincided with a slight problem I was having that has absolutely nothing to do with bias tape. While playing around, looking for sites that showed how to make clothing from the 1920s, I stumbled onto DressmakingResearch.com, and specifically, a page showing instructions from 1924 on how to drape a dress. Now, for those of you who don’t know, most clothes are made from paper patterns that you use to cut out the individual pieces of a dress or pair of pants, then sew together. One of the ways designers use to get that pattern is they drape fabric on a person or dressmaker’s dummy, then cut away what they don’t want. This is called draping. And I’m just crazy enough to want to try it.

Well, I have a perfectly good length of mystery fiber fabric that I’d bought at Michael Levine’s Loft, located spang in the middle of the Los Angeles Garment District. The Loft, itself, is worthy of a whole post on its own, but what they sell there are the end pieces of bolts that the local manufacturers can’t use – and they sell it for $2.50 a pound. So I’d gotten this lovely cotton and something lavender fabric with a nifty design woven in and I thought it would be perfect for my draping experiment, especially since I’d gotten it for dirt cheap.

The instruction call out several yards of ribbon, but I couldn’t find one that worked well with the fabric – and I have several pieces of purple and mauve ribbons to prove it. So I’m trying to figure out what to do and at the same time, was wondering what to use to test out my bias tape maker and bing, bing, bing! I can make bias tape from the fabric I want to drape with. So I did.

Bias1

Close up of the bias on a piece of fabric

The bias tape maker (giz-watchy) is only part of the process. You have to make the bias strips, first, which is actually pretty easy if you have a pre-made pattern piece – some outfits ask you to make your own bias binding. I have a couple patterns with the piece, but they’re buried somewhere in all my patterns. I found this tutorial from Dread Pirate Roberts (obviously a Princess Bride fan), which made things even easier. What you do is you layout a block on the fabric’s bias. Almost all fabric is woven with the threads crossing each other at 90-degree angles. So the straight grain is parallel to the length-wise threads, crosswise is parallel to the width-wise threads, and bias is the 45-degree angle that bisects those 90-degree intersections. You sew two ends of that bias block together, with the ends staggered, so that you can cut along the long edge of the tube you just made in an ongoing loop that will turn into yards of bias stripping.

Bias2Here’s the fun part. Once you’ve got your stripping made, you get your iron ready, and you poke your strip through the wide end of the bias tape maker, pull the fabric through the giz-watchy, which folds the long edges over, pressing it with the iron as you go. And then you have perfectly folded bias tape to attach to whatever you want. It’s not a lead-pipe cinch – I did have to fiddle with my first couple feet. The trick, I discovered, was keeping the iron as close to the nose of the giz-watchy as possible. The other trick was finding a way to spool my stripping so it didn’t get all tangled, as well as improvising a take-up reel for the finished tape.

So I now have all this tape I can use instead of ribbon on my dress. When I get around to draping it. Eventually. Really.

The Sewing Report: It’s Not Been Going Well

SeamPinnedI didn’t mean to sound snarky. My husband was, after all, offering to bring my lunch to the easy chair where he thought I was doing some hand-sewing.

“I’m unsewing,” I grumbled. As in taking apart a seam. Actually, three of them – two side seams and part of the inseam.

Some of you may remember a couple months ago, I did a perfect install of two gorgeous patch pockets onto the back of some new pants. Problem was, the pants didn’t fit. And, yes, it did take me a couple months to get around to picking apart the side seams in the hopes of making them smaller.

I don’t usually have problems measuring and cutting, so I was rather peeved when I couldn’t get the pants on, not to mention the back being way too low. I like low waistbands, but this was a bit much. Here’s the interesting thing – the pants still didn’t fit even after I made them bigger. Best I can figure is that it’s the crotch seam that’s too tight. Now I just have to figure out how to add a gusset to make it all bigger without it showing too much and calling attention to my crotch.

Which means I may be finding other things to do with my sewing time. Kind of like I’ve been doing for the past two months. Okay, not really. It has been busy. But playing games with gussets is not my idea of a good time. But the pants are so cute. But what if it shows? But, but, but…..

The Sewing Report – Repair Cafe

Not much to report on this month because I haven’t had a chance to do any sewing, except at our local Repair Café. It’s a monthly event that’s all about cooperative economics and keeping things out of landfills by repairing them. We usually have it once a month or so at varying locations in the Pasadena area. I just show up and sew, which I did this past Saturday. And so I have a few random thoughts, but not much else.RepairCafe

1.) Repairing other people’s stuff is way more interesting than fixing your own. Like many folks, I have a huge pile of clothes that need new buttons, holes patched and various other mends. I’ll get around to them. Really. I will. But shortening the sleeves on someone else’s shirt and patching it? No problem. Done in minutes with a grin.

2.) If your sewing machine won’t sew right, more often than not it’s because you have it threaded wrong. Had that one reinforced by not one, but two sewing machine repairs that our other seamstress, Mary Gothard, had to help our tinker Scoops deal with. Especially if the darned thing was working before, get out your manual and try re-threading it.

3.) It’s surprising how far you can get by just diving in and doing it. I pulled a zipper replacement that would have gone a lot more smoothly if I’d actually paid more attention to what I was doing. That being said, two other seamstresses didn’t even attempt it. Granted, zipper replacements are a massive nuisance. And this one was on a vintage dress with great sentimental value. And the replacement zipper provided was an invisible one. And I hadn’t slept well the night before. And, yes, I turned the air blue while working on it. Oy. It got done and the rip I tore got fixed. Moving on.

Our next Repair Café will be at Villa Park in Pasadena, California, and I will be there with my sewing machine and serger. At least, that’s the plan. If you’re in the area, feel free to bring all those items that just need a patch or a button or other stuff. We have all kinds of workers, including tinkers, who can repair clocks, toasters, vacuum cleaners, you name it.

And finally, a big shout out to fellow seamstresses Mary Gothard, Jennifer Michaud, Shelley and Bya, all of whom made it even more fun by sharing resources and ideas.

The Sewing Report: Beautiful Patch Pockets

If only the damn pants fit.

It was so aggravating. Here, I’d done it. I’d taken the time to really think about and carefully cut out two patch pockets to go on a pair of corduroy semi-dress slacks. Actually, they were kind of on the casual side because of the inset on the inner leg seams. Instead of using a contrasting fabric – I thought I was being so clever – I cut the corduroy out with the nap running in the opposite direction.Well, I was being clever, dummit. Beautiful Patch Pockets

I was going to skip back pockets, then decided I wanted them after all and went several rounds of what if, debating whether to do dressier welt pockets or more casual patch pockets. Both have their downsides. Welts are more complicated to install and harder to fix if you mess something up. Patch pockets are easier to mess up, period. And they require that most noir of my bêtes: top stitching.

Beautiful Patch PocketsBut I nailed it. I did. You can’t see it in the photo, but the top stitching, carefully applied is almost perfectly straight. At least, straight enough for the three-foot rule. Let me explain that one – it’s my standard for do I fix it or let it go? If you’re not going to notice it’s off unless you’re standing closer to me than three feet, then I’ll let it go. The reasoning is simple. If you’re within three feet of me, then we’d better be on the kinds of terms you’re not going to give a rat’s patootie if something isn’t perfect. If we’re not on those kinds of terms, you’d better not be within three feet of me. I have my boundaries.

I was so pleased with my patch pockets. So I happily went on installing the zipper, putting bias-binding on my front waist (the plan was to elasticize the back waistband), basting the side seams together. Then I tried the pants on. Now, thanks to a gimpy foot, I haven’t been able to exercise that much lately, so I’ve probably put an extra ounce or two since I cut the project out. And I do tend to prefer lower-riding waistlines because I don’t have a waist, per se. Except that the top of the back of the pants barely covered my butt crack and that’s a lot lower than I prefer. Damn!

I can let out the side seams a bit and start walking again, which should help. The legs look gorgeous. I just have to figure out what to do about the low waist. I’m thinking a yoke. Well, maybe that’s next month’s Sewing Report.