Tag Archives: sewing lessons

The January project – a reversible apron


For 2015, I set myself the goal of completing one craft project per month. January’s project was a full-length reversible apron for a friend – a belated Christmas gift.P1050674


[True disclosure: I finished the apron on January 30, but wasn’t able to post about it before the end of the month because I was away for the weekend and then WordPress ate the first several drafts of this post].

I’ve made a couple of half aprons in the past, including a reversible one for my mother a couple of years ago.


However, this was my first time making a full-length one. For the apron itself, I used fabric from my stash, including a red and green holiday print that I bought at a flea market. I love Christmas aprons, but their really only wearable for about a month evry year. Although the fabric isn’t overly christmasy, I wanted my friend to be able to wear her apron any time of the year, so I chose an abstract stripe in bright colours for the other side. I used a contrasting green with tiny white squares for the neck and waist ties that I found at my local fabric store.


I couldn’t find any apron tutorials online to fit my friend, so I drafted my own pattern based on the one of my own aprons, using XL women’s measurements I found on a website: chest = 43 1/2 inches; waist = 35 inches; and hips = 45 1/2 inches.


I used newspaper to make the pattern, as it was all I had on hand. I wasn’t worried about the newsprint leaving marks on the fabric, since both pieces were brightly coloured with lots of pattern. I probably wouldn’t use a newsprint pattern on light fabric, but it worked just fine for my purposes. When I was finished with the pattern, I just tossed it into the paper recycling bin – extra points for being environmentally friendly.


For the ties, I cut out 2 pieces 32 x 4 inches for the waist and one 22 x 4 inches for the neck piece. I was guessing about the length of the ties. The final measurement is about 17 inches, so I ended up cutting an inch or off both ends of the neck piece – 20 inches would have been plenty long enough. I angled the ends of the waist ties, following the “Big Bow and Sash Sewing Tutorial” on The Mother Huddle. Rather than eyeballing the angle, I measured it out with a ruler and marked it with tailor’s chalk, which made cutting a crisp angle a snap.


Since the main fabrics for the apron were fairly busy, I decided to keep the decorative elements to a minimum. I came across a tutorial from Sew4Home for the citrus holiday hostess apron, that used jumbo rick rack, inserted into the top seam of the apron. I found some pale blue jumbo rick rack at my local fabric store that matched the blue in both main fabrics. The instructions in the tutorial are quite clear about how to put the rick rack in the seam and how to position the neck ties behind the rick rack. Except there’s no explanation of how to position the rick rack correctly so it doesn’t bunch up when you sew up the side seams.



I’ve come to the conclusion that there must be some sort of secret rick rack club – none of the other tutorials or resources I consulted provided any directions on how to correctly line up the rick rack so it lies flat in the seam (even my go-to apron resource, A is for Apron only explained how to insert the rick rack into the top of a pocket). I ended up ripping out the rick rack out of the apron 2 times and making 2 samples before I figured  it out. I had to make an emergency trip to the fabric store one Sunday morning to buy more rick rack. Even on my third try, I still had to adjust my seam allowance so the stitching caught the rick rack at the right point. Very happy with the final result.


If this hadn’t been my January project, this is probably the point where I would have tossed the whole thing aside and stuffed it into the recesses of my sewing basket. Once I had conquered the rick rack, I added a red button on the Christmas side, right below the ties, for a bit more visual interest.




I’m not going to lie – rick rack crisis aside, there more than I few moments when I could have cheerfully walked away from the sewing machine and not looked back. A more experienced sewer could have knocked off this project in weekend (or less). It took me several evenings and a good chunk of two weekends to complete the entire project. However, I learned a few important lessons that will hold me in good stead for future projects.

Firstly, tailor’s chalk is my new favourite sewing tool. It allowed me to make much more precise markings than straight pins. After I cut the two main pieces out, I folded them in half together and traced the necessary adjustments directly onto the fabric with the chalk. It rubs off, so making corrections was easy. Tailor’s chalk doesn’t leave any residue on your hands. I was using yellow chalk and it didn’t leave any marks on my fabric.

Secondly, not all online tutorials show you every step of the project. I appreciate that people take the time to post tutorials online and find them incredibly useful. However, in my experience, sewing tutorials often assume the reader has some sewing experience and can fill in the blanks. If you’re a beginner like me, this can create some frustrating moments – when you discover that your seams look wonky because you haven’t pressed them flat or your corners are round instead of square because you didn’t mitre them. I’m still going to keep checking out online tutorials but I’m going to read them very carefully before I start a project. And then re-read them. FYI – I’m working on a step-by-step tutorial on decorating a seam with rick rack.

Finally, my January project underscored the old adage, “practice makes perfect.” The top-stitching on the apron ties is a little crooked. I pulled out the worst sections with my handy seam ripper, but decided not to drive myself crazy trying to sew it in a perfectly straight line. For one thing, the fabric and the thread are almost the same colour and for another thing, you can’t see the top-stitching when the ties are done up. I top-stitched around the entire apron and to my surprise, my stitching was much straighter and more consistent. It was nice to see a noticeable improvement in a short period of time.


So that’s it for January. One project down, 11 to go. Haven’t decided on the February project yet – it’s a short month, so I better get busy.

Special thanks to M for taking time from playing MindCraft to take photos of me modelling both sides of the apron.



The Staples dress – week 3 (say yes to my new dress)


My Staples dress is done! It’s really cute. I will definitely wear it once I cut off  some extra threads and trim/press inside seam (and get my legs waxed).  I was concerned that the dress would be a little too short for me. so I decided to add a solid colour hem. I lucked out at the fabric store and found some green lawn that matched the colour of the dress. After discussing it with Megan, I added about 8 inches of the solid green to the bottom of the dress, to give it a colour block effect. While I like the printed material, the contrast with the solid colour makes a big impact. A little less “sewing project 101” and more “fun summer dress”.   P1040384 My idea was to cut a strip of the green and add it to the bottom of the dress. However, Megan set me straight and walked me through the steps. She also made sure the front and back pieces of the solid colour were the same size – I would have gotten there eventually, but with Megan’s help, I didn’t fall too far behind the rest of the class (having properly calculated the amount of material required for the dress, the other ladies didn’t need to fiddle with the length). Left to my own devices, I would have sewn the two pieces together so the seam was on the inside, but Megan suggested an outside seam to enhance the colour blocking. It was easy to do and a useful technique for future use. I sewed and pinned the bias edgings onto the neck and arm holes without incidence. Once again, I found the Bernina very easy to sew with, particularly in terms of sewing straight(ish). When I’m sewing with my Kenmore, I tend to go slowly to ensure I maintain the requisite seam allowance. Even though I was rushing to keep up with everyone else, my outside seams are straight and tidy. P1040386 Adding the shirring was super simple. The trick to getting it to bunch up nicely is to back-stitch at the beginning and end, so the elastic thread doesn’t slip. I added a second row of shirring to give the waist a bit more definition, which had the added effect of improving the fit of the top of the dress.Since it doesn’t have a zipper or buttons, the top needs to be fairly loose so you can pull the dress over your head. There’s a big difference between “loose” and “baggy” – with only a single row of shirring, the dress looked a bit more “paper bag princess” than I liked. (note to self: in the future, patterns will likely need to be adjusted to take into account my narrow shoulders, slumpy shoulders and small bust).


Taken with an iPhone at the end of the class (a bit blurry)

The dress got a thumbs up from my mother (the Queen of Seams). Ever the sewer, she turned the dress inside out and examined the construction. She pointed out a couple of minor issues, like the fact that I didn’t iron out the side seams before I attached the arm holes binding and my binding isn’t folded the same width all the way around on the inside of the neck. P1040387   The little imperfections don’t bother me – it makes the dress mine (pretty bold talk coming from a perfectionist!). It’s also the first garment I’ve ever made without my mother’s supervision – sad, but also explains why I haven’t sewn much since I left home. Through the process of making the Staples dress, I’ve discovered that my mother’s sewing machine casts a long shadow and I’ve been letting it follow me around for years. I realize now that I’ve learned a lot from watching my mother sew over the years, but there’s no rule that says I have to use her techniques. I was never so taken with sewing that I bothered exploring how I could make it my own. So now, at the age of 55, I’m finally figuring it out. I’m still not sure if I love sewing enough to seriously take it up. I do know that if I want to get better at sewing, I need to practice (i.e. make stuff). To sum up, the Staples dress is an easy beginner project. The pattern directions are well-written and easy to follow. Even better, the pattern is fairly forgiving – witness my pocket mishap. If you’re at all nervous about sewing, I highly recommend taking a class to make the dress. While I probably could have sewn it on my own, having an instructor on hand to explain the pattern and trouble shoot for me, helped boost my confidence level about sewing. I’m already planning on making another Staples dress, using a light-weight purple rayon. P1040430 Megan is teaching another class later this summer, featuring the Wiksten tank.   Image of Wiksten Tank Sewing Pattern Downloadable PDF I’m thinking it would look cute in this pink polka-dot fabric I picked up on sale recently. P1040427The world is my (sewing) oyster.

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!


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.