Monthly Archives: June 2014

Staples dress – part 2


Week 2 was all about sewing. Once I figured out how to wind the bobbin and thread the machine, (a Bernina), I started sewing the pockets onto the dress. I hadn’t been very careful about transferring the markings on the pattern piece onto the fabric, so I checked the paper pattern and stuck a pin to indicate the start and end to my stitching line. I was carefully tying off all my threads but Megan told me that if you back-stitch over your seam, you don’t to have to do this. Good tip.


Then the shoulder seams. The pattern calls french seams which I always thought were hard. Megan walked us through the steps and they were much easier than I expected. A french seam gives you a flat, finished edge and probably adds a bit of shaping to the shoulder.


The next step was to pin the dress together and sew the side seams together. Here’s my laissez-faire attitude towards transferring the pattern markings cam back to bite me: my pockets didn’t line up. Rather than ripping out the seams and re-sewing the pockets to the dress, I decided to make the pockets smaller. No big deal, but a good reminder that the pattern markings are there for a reason. Smaller pockets means I’ll only be able to keep a single kleenex is each pocket, instead of stuffing them full (a necessity for me, given allergy season is in full swing).

I discovered that even when you’re taking an instructor-led class, reading the pattern directions is a must. I was blithely following the verbal directions, only to discover I was supposed to sew the pockets together separately, rather than in a continuous seam from neck to hem. With the help of my stitch-ripper, I fixed the problem and the pockets look pretty good.


However, it a good thing the seams of the pockets are hidden inside the dress because the stitching is ugly.


Despite some minor challenges, I enjoyed the sewing. Some of this is likely attributable to the machines I was using; I have a very basic Kenmore, so sewing with the Bernina was like driving an Audi when you’re used to a Kia. I tried my best to focus on enjoying the process of making a dress on my own, rather that worrying about whether my seams were straight. I recognize perfection is my default setting, especially when I’m not 100% comfortable with what I’m doing. I did have to remind myself more than once that my goal was to learn to sew. All the better if my dress is wearable but that’s a secondary objective. I will say having an instructor coach me through the various stages of the construction of the dress helped enormously. Not just in terms of the technical aspects of sewing from a pattern but also in terms of keeping me from getting frustrated.

My Staples dress is taking shape.


One more class to go – I need to iron it out and finish the neckline and armholes, shirr the waist and finish the hem. Once more into the breach!



Blooming beauty


An unexpected surprise this week – my Amaryllis is in full bloom. A wee bit out of season. but lovely nonetheless.


I planted several Amaryllis bulbs last November, with the intention of giving them as gifts. I’ve done this before, but this time, the bulbs only sprouted foliage.  Nary a bloom. I’ve kept the pots in a sunny window and checked on them from time to time to see if the foliage had died back; then I’d pull the bulbs out of the soil and store them in a closet under the stairs (warm and dark). I figured I could try forcing them again next fall.

Apparently, one of the bulbs didn’t get the memo. When I checked last week, it had grown a stalk with four large blooms.


It lives up to its name – Neon. Each flower is a vivid pink, with white striations on the petals and a bright green centre.

I have no idea how long the blooms will last, but I’m going to enjoy every minute.


The Staples dress – week 1 and a revelation


Week 1 of sewing class. To recap, we’re making April Rhodes’ Staples dress:

The Staple Dress - PDF Download

I forgot my camera so no “in-progress” photos. By the end of the class, I had cut out the pattern pieces from the fabric, which puts me substantially further ahead than I ever got with the Crepe dress. Interestingly, Megan, the instructor, isn’t a big fan of the Crepe dress. She’s an experienced seamstress and agrees with me about the fit of the top (or lack of it).  She’s going to bring her dress to class next week, so I can see the finished product.

About the Staples dress: it’s a relatively easy pattern. It has 2 main pieces, plus a pocket and the bias tape pieces (for neck and armholes). The pattern pieces for the front and back of the skirt and top are cut separately and then taped together before cutting the fabric – saves paper, which I appreciate. The dress has a relaxed fit, which means that I don’t need to make a muslin (loud cheering). The only adjustment I made to the pattern was to go a from an extra small to a small at the waist. Easy peasy.

Here’s what went right: I chose to trace the pattern onto tissue paper, rather than cutting up the paper pattern. Since I opted to pin the pattern to the fabric, as opposed to tracing it with tailor’s chalk, cutting out the tissue pattern was easy. Since you cut one front and one back, it’s easy to see what the finished dress will look like.


Having cut out the fabric, I can say that the colour and design really suit the pattern.


The challenges:  getting the selvedge lined up on both sides. It looked easy when Megan did it. Being the perfectionist that I am, I wanted the edges to match exactly – I carefully pinned both edges together, which created a large wrinkle along the folded edge. After a couple of attempts to straighten my fabric, I asked Megan for help. She promptly took out all the pins, gave the material a good shake and declared it good enough.

The second challenge was entirely of my own making. When I signed up for the class, I asked how much fabric I needed for the dress. According to my recollection, it was between 2 and 3 metres. Using my mother’s tried and true method, I measured the fabric length between my nose and the end of my arm – not quite 3 metres. After pinning the pattern for the front of the dress to the fabric, I realized that I didn’t have enough material to also cut out the back along the folded edge. In actual fact, I barely had 2 metres of fabric. Megan saved the day with some fancy folding and I was able to cut out both pieces, as well as the pockets and pieces to finish the armholes and neckline. I lost an inch or two on the length, but not enough to make a big difference (I’m already contemplating adding a ribbon hem to add another inch or so).


Note to self: double-check the amount of fabric required on the pattern envelope and measure the length of the fabric with a proper measuring device (sorry mom!).

The real take-home from Lesson 1 is that in order to pursue sewing, I’m going to have to dial back my perfectionist tendencies. In addition to fussing with the selvedges before I laid down the pattern, I spent a good 10 minutes trying to get the grain line arrow on the pattern piece for one of the armhole piece perfectly lined up against the edge. Megan wandered by and saw me compulsively checking that the distance between each edge of the one inch grain line arrow and the edges and told me not too worry so much. Apparently a difference of less than half a millimetre won’t throw the pattern off. Left to my own devices, I’d probably would have spent an hour or so trying to get the pattern pieces lined up perfectly against the edges and then given up in frustration.

Loosening the reins on my perfectionism isn’t easy for me. I’ve gradually come to accept that when I make a piece of jewelry, every wire wrap doesn’t need to be identical; however, I’ve gone through a lot of headpins and wire to get to this point. I took a card-making course with my sister-in-law last year and she made 3 cards in the time it took me to make one. Yes, every piece of paper and the embellishments on my card was perfectly lined up. However, no one else looking at my sister-in-law’s cards would have noticed any differences. The odd crooked edge or wonky bow adds, rather than detracts, from the fact that it’s a hand-made card. I still like to take my time with my cards, but I try not to sweat the small stuff.

While there’s nothing wrong with striving to do your best, making a “perfect” dress or bracelet is a pretty hard to achieve. The more rational among us would say it’s impossible. Practice certainly gets you closer – the more wrapped links I make, the better they look. Although I want my sewing to look as good as my mother’s, the rationale part of my brain acknowledges that this isn’t a fair comparison. The fact that my mother has been sewing for over 70 years explains why her stitches are so straight and why she can whip up a well-fitting garment from a Vogue pattern without making a muslin. Her pattern adjustments aren’t obvious to me because they’re so routine for her.

In cutting out my Staples dress, I realized the extent to which my perfectionism has pretty much killed any enjoyment I might have derived from sewing over the years. It’s also been a barrier to improving my skills – why do something I don’t enjoy? Whether I actually like to sew is still an open question. I have a limited amount of spare time and lots of hobbies. I’m not prepared to give up jewelry and card making. I spend most of my weekends during the summer in the garden and I’ve always got a stack of trashy novels next to my bed. Sewing may not be for me. However, I’m going to use my Staples dress as an opportunity to explore the pleasure of sewing and not get too caught up in whether or not my stitches are perfectly straight.

The real test will be Lesson 2, when we start sewing the dress together. I’ve got my pockets pinned and I’m ready to go.


I’m optimistic that I can keep my bliss. Luckily for me, I’m handy with a stitch ripper.


Sew it again


One of my goals for 2013 was to improve my sewing skills. We’re now well into 2014 and I can honestly say that I haven’t made much, if any progress, in this area. My one serious foray into sewing, ended in futility and frustration, when I took a class to make the Colette Crepe dress. Despite making 3 muslins under the direction of a sewing instructor, I couldn’t get the top of the dress to fit. I later discovered that Colette patterns tend to be generous in the bust area. Since I’m barely a 32B, it may not have been a good choice for me. I didn’t even get as far as cutting into the fabric.

Needless to say, the experience put a bit of a damper on my enthusiasm for sewing. Since then, I’ve had my sewing machine out a few times, but I haven’t finished anything. I even stopped visiting fabric stores.

The fact that I was so easily discouraged by one pattern mishap may be a sign that sewing is not for me. However, I’n not ready to give up quite yet. I’ve decided to give sewing lessons another chance. Another dress, but a much simpler pattern – the Staples dress by April Rhodes.

The Staple Dress - PDF Download

According to reviews on Pattern Review, the Staples dress is a good pattern for beginners. It has no darts (the Crepe dress has 6) or zippers. It’s loose-fitting, with a shirred waist. Thanks to ShannonSews, I already know that since I’m long-waisted, I’ll need to lower the waist line. Relatively easy to do with a shirred waist – just a matter of moving the sewing line for the elastic down a couple of inches.

The dress takes about 2-1/2 metres of fabric. Before buying new fabric, I decided to check my stash. Voile seems to be a popular choice for the Staples dress. I knew I didn’t have a piece of voile that was big enough – for reasons I haven’t figured out, it’s a hard fabric to find in my local fabric shops. After consulting with a friend who’s an experienced sewer, I choose a light-weight cotton with a funky print.


I have no idea where the fabric came from – it’s probably a fabric flea market find. I doubt I paid more than $10 for the entire piece (there’s about 3 metres). That would be on the high side, as I tend to be quite cheap when it comes to flea market purchases, fabric or otherwise. Even though it’s woven, the fabric has a nice drape. I like the geometric print – it’s vaguely reminiscent of the late sixties/early seventies.

Sewing the dress will take place over 3 classes, starting next week. I’m optimistic that this time, I’ll actually cut into the fabric and sew the dress. In the meantime, I’m taking my inspiration from Kristen, who wrote a great blog post about sticking with a sewing project. She’s made 6 muslins for her current project and she hasn’t chucked it in the garbage bin. Sewing, it seems, doesn’t always come easy.