Tuesday, April 30, 2013

I've Been Using My Sewing Machine ALL WRONG

A few weeks ago in preparation for Me-Made-May, I brought both my sewing machine and serger into my sewing machine dealer's (Sew Right in Queens) for a tune-up/repair. They'd both been making me cry and swear, and they hadn't been tuned up in over three years (mostly because the shop is an hour and a half trip each way by bus/subway combo for a carless woman such as myself.)

When I picked them up Sunday, I was overjoyed to see that they were both stitching perfectly and without complaint. The shop told me that there indeed had been multiple issues and adjustments needed on my old, low-end Kenmore 385.16644 serger (left to me by my wonderful grandmother)... but that my Platimum 730 (bought used from Sew Right nearly 10 years ago) had barely had any needed adjustments.

I just could NOT believe this, despite the neat little stitching sample they'd made with a variety of stitch patterns. I told them that one thing I had NEVER been able to get my machine to do was shir with elastic thread in the bobbin (long-time readers may remember my series of agonized blog posts over this before I decided to just do it the really hard and slow way).

I had recently watched the Great British Sewing Bee Episode 3 where one of the challenges was an adorable shirred-top little girl's dress, and I once again had the earning to SHIR. (Though I was surprised to hear the judges on GBSB refer to it as a "couture" technique, since it mainly seems to be a feature of casual, children's or "easy-to-sew" items.)

So the good folks at Sew Right suggested I sit down and show them what I had been doing... and immediately noticed that I'd been:

  • Hand-winding the elastic thread on the bobbin BACKWARD.
  • Threading the bobbin thread through the tension area WRONG.

Once I fixed these two things, I sat down with a light scrap of cotton and some elastic thread and SHIRRED THE EASY WAY. In a STRAIGHT LINE. With NO WOBBLING. I nearly cried in joy (and embarassment).

Seriously, it's a wonder that all the garments I've made in the past few years on my machine haven't just fallen apart while I walk around wearing them. (Good thing most of them were serged, actually).

I think this is a hazard of taking really long breaks from sewing and then trying to just get back at the machine and pick things up all over again. I've been sewing clothes for myself for over 10 years, but only in sporadic spurts of inspiration — I'll get really intensely into it, pick up some serious skills and practice my finishing and fitting techniques... and then life gets in the way and the sewing machine goes back in the closet for a while. And then I have to relearn anything that hasn't truly stuck all over again.

Threading the machine is just easy muscle memory, but somehow along the way I must have forgotten the proper way to load the bobbin (it's a little plastic bobbin, not like the metal ones on most machines that I grew up sewing on).

Yeah. So... what's your most embarrassing sewing foul-up?

Friday, April 26, 2013

Novel stash busting tip: Just let the bugs eat it!

Seamsters, is your fabric and yarn getting you down? 

Are you sick and tired of those perky polka dot prints, wool doubleknits, hand-dyed merino hanks and sassy silk crepes hiding in the backs of your stash drawers, muttering and mocking you, whispering evilly "Why haven't you just sewn or knit me into something fantastically amazing and perfectly fitting already?" 

Are you worried that Me Made May '13 is going to be JUST TOO EASY?

What would you say if you knew there was a fast, efficient—and, best of all, 100% FREE—solution?

Try our new and improved.... 

Vicious Little Moth Larvae™!

They creep, they crawl, they chomp, they squiggle, they squirm! You'll have empty drawers in no time—your wools reduced to cheesecloth, your yarn reduced to bits, your handmades more ventilated than EVER before!

"But Mikhaela, how do I get some Vicious Little Moth Larvae™, you ask?" 

That's easy! Just take home a mysteriously holey thrift store cashmere sweater and assume that a gentle hand washing and a good darn will have it right as rain ... Let some woolen items fall to the ground in the deep dark recesses of your closet... ignore your stash for months ... and VOILA!

... er.

But seriously, folks. It's true. My husband and I have spent the past week battling the Moth Infestation of Doom, and I just cannot believe how far the little monsters have managed to spread. Our bedroom closet was the worst—all our suits and my wool skirts eaten, including my Sew Grateful Challenge Colorblock skirt.

But after we cleaned out the closet—washing, cleaning, throwing out or eco-friendly-dry-cleaning EVERYTHING that had survived... I began to inspect all the other drawers in the house. I'm still not done, as I'm going through them all very carefully, opening and shaking out each piece of fabric or item of clothing onto a sheet ...

I got all the way down to the bottom of my first fabric drawer and was loudly proclaiming in excitement to my husband "They didn't eat my fabric!!!!" ... when I unfolded a beautiful piece of cotton shirting and there they were, squirming away (though not eating—they don't eat cotton, they just live on it).

Yeah. So I've had to be incredibly ruthless. Handwashing doesn't kill the pests and I don't have the budget to eco-dryclean every piece of dry-clean-only fabric I had. ALL scraps are gone now—those leftover wool or silk fabric scraps that I'd been keeping for I don't know what—quilts? Stuffed animals?

And I've really made some hard decisions about my clothes as well. On the plus side, this leaves plenty of room for new me-mades. On the minus side, well... THEY ATE MY STUFF AND THEY ARE SO GROSS. (Though mysteriously, they were in my sock drawer but did not TOUCH any of my large collection of wool socks... phew! Probably because I am always opening that drawer and shuffling the socks around, the monsters hate light and disturbance.)

I still am not sure how the nasties got in, but I do suspect it was a beautiful thrifted wool sweater with a few little holes that I'd been meaning to darn... I put it in a hot dry dryer for 60 minutes the minute I got home (to kill potential bedbugs) but maybe that wasn't enough to knock out the moths. Or maybe it was a vintage handbag I bought on Etsy, or a piece of wool fabric from a bargain bin in a dusty old fabric store... Who knows!


P.S. Knitters, take heart. I'd always been in the habit of keeping all my wool yarn in plastic sweater bags for protection... and I didn't find a single little wool-chomper in those drawers. Too bad I hadn't treated my wool fabrics the same!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Spring Sewing Sketch (With Lots of Cake!)

Spring Sewing Sketch 2013 — Cake Patterns Edition

I've had so much fun doing the cover illustrations for StephC's Cake Patterns, and now that I'm feeling better, I can't wait to actually sew them for myself! Shown are Pavlova wrap top & circle skirt, Hummingbird peplum knit top and pencil skirt with back flounce, Tiramisu surplice knit dress with chevron stripes.

(Edited to add note: As I may have mentioned, my husband and I are from Massachusetts—he's from Boston proper. So people of Boston—friends, family and otherwise—you are in our thoughts and our non-religious equivalent of prayers.)

This past weekend I woke up and realized that for the first time since my daughter and I got sick (her with severe asthma/eczema/severe allergies, me with a never-ending serious sinus infection) back in August, I no longer felt overwhelmingly tired and ill and miserable. Wow! I felt like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, stepping out of her black & white farmhouse into the Technicolor land of Oz.

Instead of every little thing being an effort, I was buzzing with thoughts and ideas and excitement and imagination and just, well, JOY. I had a lovely time at the Colette Patterns party at Brooklyn General (pictures later, I need to get to bed!) on Saturday, and on Sunday I dug through my pattern and fabric stash for inspiration.

So now I am really itching to SEW full steam ahead ... but:

I've been busy dealing with a closet moth infestation of epic proportions AND I have had to send both my sewing machine and serger to the shop for a tune-up. BOTH of them! Ugh!

So in the meantime I am comforting myself with my second-favorite sewing-related pasttime, sketching! I whipped up a little sketch using my croquis of how I might look in the three Cake Patterns out so far, and I'm hoping to get Tiramisu cut out while my machines are at the sewing doctor.

The Hummingbird and Tiramisu sketches are based on stash fabric... I'm going to try and sew Pavlova from the stash as well but I have to make sure I have the right fabric for the job.

I do have a huge sewing queue of so many different patterns, but I really want to start with Cake as I really want to bring my drawings to life... plus, have you seen the delicious Tiramisus and Pavlovas other people have been sewing? Seriously.

Which would you sew first? The dress or the peplum top? Or one of the skirts? I really need some summery skirts right now... but I LIVE in dresses...

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Finished: Polka Dot Scarf Top (Jalie 2921 Knit Top, Take 2)

Polka Dot Scarf Collar Knit Top (Jalie 2921, take 2)
 My second Jalie 2921 Scarf-Collar Knit Top. Pros: It fits great! Also: Polka dots. Cons: The fabric is flimsy, see-through and not really all that stretchy. Also: My serger and my sewing machine hate me. Also: I forgot to match the dot pattern at the center seam.
A few months ago between bouts of illness, my parents took little Z out on a Saturday and I vowed that I would actually sew—something fun, something simple, a quick tried and true pattern requiring no adjustments.

Yeah, so, that didn't work out. I don't know about you, but every time I get my serger and sewing machine out of storage after a long hiatus, they grump and crank and sulk and refuse to do a single thing I ask of them, toddler-style. So I spent five minutes adjusting the pattern (I wanted to make the three-quarter version this time), three hours swearing and crying over my serger as I rethreaded it twenty times and it kept eating needles... and maybe an hour or two actually constructing the top.

Jalie 2921 Knit Top, Take 2

When I finally made my way over to the sewing machine, the revolt had spread—the cheapo flimsy fabric (a discount Fabric.com rayon-spandex blend) refused to take a twin-needle hem, and I just gave up. I wore the top unhemmed to the Brooklyn BurdaStyle Sewing Club the next day, but I didn't feel good about it and I certainly wasn't going to show YOU all.

Last night I was finally feeling perky enough to wrestle with the machine again, and I finally managed to get the thing hemmed—it's just a narrow zig-zag stitch, but it's barely visible and it works fine.

Sadly it is rather see-through, so while I'm showing it here untucked, I'll probably need to tuck it in and wear it with a cardigan at work so you can't see my skirt or pants or bra straps through it. 

Polka Dot Scarf Collar Knit Top (Jalie 2921, take 2)

Here are the details again—a bit abbreviated, since I've already made it (blogged here).

The pattern: Jalie 2921, the ever-popular scarf collar top.

Pattern Description: Close-fitting (negative ease, baby!) v-neck knit top with various sleeve length and scarf collar options. Front is 2-piece.

Pattern Sizing: Includes wide range of sizes, from toddler girls to plus-size adult woman. I made the S (34" bust) overall, but as per Katie's tips traced the size V (37") for the bust and front sleeve armhole. (I have a 38.5" bust, so I maybe should have gone up a bit more here given the not-so-stretchy fabric.)

I took it in at the waist a bit as well to remove the positive ease that bugs me on my other version, but I may have overdone it... From the back I feel like it looks a bit too snug (also, my waist looks way smaller in the back than the front? Weird):

Jalie 2921 Scarf-Collar Knit Top

Fabric: A cream and red polka dot rayon/poly/spandex blend from Fabric.com that I probably should have just returned when I received it but didn't bother. Flimsy, thin, see-through, not much stretch and wrinkly and rumply. The original description read "This stretch jersey knit fabric has an ultra soft hand, a beautiful drape and about 40% stretch across the grain for added comfort and ease." Um, no. It does NOT have 40% stretch... and it's not all that soft compared to other rayons I have know and loved. Whatever.

Pattern alterations or any design changes you made: Did a cheater width FBA (see above link in sizing), took in the waist by an inch and added half an inch to the length, too.

Construction notes: All seams done on serger, and the hem and sleeve hems narrow zig-zagged on my conventional sewing machine with a ballpoint needle. Shoulder seams stabilized with 1-inch strips of self fabric.

Polka Dot Scarf Collar Knit Top (Jalie 2921, take 2)

  • I actually sewed something I can wear for the first time in MONTHS.
Lessons learned:
  • Don't forget about pattern matching.
  • Cheap fabric just isn't worth the trouble. I have so little precious sewing time, and I have many nicer fabrics in my stash—I just need to get over my fear of destroying them. I learned this with knits a while back—if I'm going to spend a year knitting a sweater, I'm not going to use cheap plasticky acrylic yarn.
Would you sew it again? Would you recommend it to others? Yeah, done and done!

Wear to: Work (with a cardigan), home, weekend, mommy stuff, whatever. 

Polka Dot Scarf Collar Knit Top (Jalie 2921, take 2)

Full outfit details:
  • Top: me-made, tie-neck knit red and cream polka-dot top (Jalie 2921), rayon/poly/spandex from Fabric.com.
  • Corduroy skirt with flounce: Anthropologie
  • Red Mary Jane heels: Camper, from forever ago
  • Green Cat Eye Glasses: Bevel. 
Side photo note... I originally tried taking all the photos near the window in front of my polka dot couch, but the background was so distracting I gave up. It's the same couch I've always had, but my mom covered it for me (in less than a day!) with some other Fabric.com fabric since I was getting sick of the floral print.

And if you think my apartment looks remarkably clean and organized considering how rough things have been around here, that is because I use the handy crop tool on all my photos. This is probably a much more accurate picture of my life—crap piled everywhere!—complete with a toddler photo bomb:

Polka Dot Scarf Collar Knit Top (Jalie 2921, take 2)

OK, I'm off to the Colette Patterns cocktail party at Brooklyn General that starts in ... half an hour! See some of you there?

Friday, April 12, 2013

When Moths Attack! (What's a Wool Lover to Do?)


A few months ago while my daughter and I were both in the deepest depths of constant illness, my husband attended a funeral, one of the very rare occasions on which he has need to dig his gray suit out of our bedroom closet. Except when he put on said suit, it was a little more... ventilated than we remembered. He had to wear it anyway, but when we dug deeper...

They'd eaten EVERYTHING. EVERYTHING. Every one of my husband's suits and all three of my suits, my lovely, well-fitting soft wool skirt suits. All of my wool skirts—my favorite long plaid skirt, my high-waisted wool pencil skirt, my houndstooth A-line wool skirt, my pink wool skirt... EVERYTHING.

Well, everything in that closet. (Luckily my me-made wool skirts, my wool sweaters, my wool socks, wool fabric and wool yarn are stored in drawers elsewhere.)

Readers, you know how I feel about wool. It is my main fiber from September to March, and sometimes in-between. Also: I don't have a budget to replace any of that stuff now, so will have to very slowly rebuild my wool wardrobe through thrifting and sewing. (Though we will just have to suck it up and get my husband a suit, as we have been invited to a few events this summer that require it).

Now, the intelligent thing to do once this moth tragedy struck would have been to immediately clean out the closet, throw out all the holey stuff, wash the non-woolens in hot water, vacuum and wipe down the walls and floor... and protect all the other woolens in the house.

But I was really ill (still am, but getting SO much better!) and my daughter was ill and my husband was already doing all of the housework and much of the childcare... so I just SHUT THE DOOR and tried not to think about it until I had time to really attack it. It became the closet DMZ. Since then, I have just tried to make do with clothes from my dresser drawers, but I am much more rumpled than usual as a result.

Anyway... last night we heard some fluttering and other scary noises coming from the closet, like some moths had just hatched and were TRYING TO GET OUT. So I jumped up in terror and ran to protect my newly hand-knit sweater, bagging it up in a giant Ziploc and putting it in a drawer with some cedar balls.

So... yeah. Er. Once I'm feeling better physically, I think I had better tackle that closet before I actually try and sew anything. Especially anything wool.

Any tips and advice or experiences on de-moth-ifying are very welcome. Have you ever had to deal with these hungry little terrors?

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Me Made Maybe YES 2013!


Tell me: is this skirt I made for my daughter's mermaid-themed birthday party last year office appropriate?

BurdaStyle "Melissa" knit mermaid skirt

So last year I toyed with the idea of participating in Zoe's awesome annual me-made challenge, but quickly gave up once I did an inventory of the pitiful few options available. I've sewn and knit many items over the years... but most were maternity clothes or Halloween costumes, or are now too small or too big or too warm (I wear wool socks and sweaters all through the winter, but they aren't such a great fit for May weather in NYC).

Since then, due to long-term chronic illness issues for myself and my little girl, I haven't added a huge number of new me-mades... but I'd still like to give it a shot. I have a few UFOs that just need a little help to be wearable, and a long queue of simple things I'd like to sew once I'm all recovered from surgery and feel capable of actually sitting down at the sewing machine. Plus I have several pairs of me-made underthings that I will count for the challenge (but not actually photograph).

'I, Mikhaela Reid of Polka Dot Overload, sign up as a participant of Me-Made-May '13. I endeavour to wear at something handmade at least four times a week for the duration of May 2013.'

In all seriousness, I'll probably end up wearing my polka-dot ombré dress at least once a week:


And the Jalie scarf-collar top too (I have another that's almost finished, but the fabric is so sheer I'm afraid to wear it):

Tie-neck knit blue floral top (Jalie 2921)

So prepare to be bored (or alternatively, AMAZED if I manage to add a number of new items).

Anyone else participating for the first time? Please tell me your list of actual wearables is as pathetic as mine...

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Sweater Girl Success: Finished Chartreuse Georgina Cardigan!

My Spring Green Georgina Cardigan

My spring green Georgina cabled & lace cardigan is finally done, just in time for spring!

My original "Sweater Girl Showdown Sketch":

Sweater Girl Showdown: Shrunken Cardigans!

My original sketch, from... um... a year ago. See my "sweater girl showdown" post for more on each of these patterns. My goal was to make a very fitted, curve-hugging little lacy cardigan with a bit of negative ease—nothing baggy or shapeless like my last cardigan disaster!

The details:

  • The pattern: Georgina Cardigan by Alexis Winslow aka Knit Darling. This pattern is beautifully designed and was a dream to knit: lots of easy-to-memorize but fun and different types of lace and cables and shaping to keep my interest, all knit together or picked up (no after-the-fact seaming). However it was NOT an easy knit (I consider myself relatively advanced and I still made a few mistakes and had to pay very close attention), and I wouldn't recommend it as a first-ever sweater pattern, unless you REALLY like a challenge. I made the smallest size, which was 2-3 inches smaller than my actual full bust measurement—just right to create a fitted look!
  • The yarn: Swans Island Hand-Dyed Merino Organic Worsted in Spring Green (3.5 skeins). Soft as a cloud, with just enough hand-dyed variegation for interest, but not enough to compete with the beautiful lace or eyelet cables. Swans Island is a super-cool little eco-friendly yarn and blanket company based in Maine, and they have excellent customer service: when I realized I was short a skein for my last sleeve, they immediately offered to call around to all their retail shops to help me locate one in the right dye lot (Purl Soho had one left—phew!).
  • The full Ravelry project details. Yes, it took me a year to finish, but whatever. The designer notes it only took her a week and a half—but I knit like a knitting snail (I have to to preserve my wrists from carpal tunnel redux).

It looks cute buttoned:

My Spring Green Georgina Cardigan

Or un-buttoned:

My Spring Green Georgina Cardigan

And from the lacy little back, too:

My Spring Green Georgina Cardigan

And don't you love vintage buttons? I got these "West German Radiant Buttons" at La Casita yarn shop in Brooklyn (one of three yarn shops in walking distance of my apartment... which makes me either spoiled, or just at constant risk of unnecessary yarn adoption):

My Spring Green Georgina Cardigan DETAIL

I finished the sweater while lying in bed recovering from my surgery—all it needed were some ends woven in and the buttons, and... DONE! (No, I haven't blocked it. It fits so well I'm afraid to mess with that. I will at some point). It was the only bright spot in a really rough painful post-surgery week — I'm getting a lot better, but still have some really bad days — and I got lots of compliments on it at work Monday.

And sorry about the goofy "holding the curtain as a backdrop" photos, but I was too weak/ill to go outside last weekend and had to make do in some very low cloudy lighting. BUT WHATEVER. SWEATER LOVE. I think I need to go snuggle with my sweater now...

My Spring Green Georgina Cardigan

What's your latest happy make?


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...