Fancy strap for my fancy camera

I have been working on lots of different stuff lately, including a couple of finished knitting projects I need to post about, but thought I’d show you my latest sewing project:

  

I hated the strap that came with my camera – it had SONY SONY SONY SONY all over it, plus it was flimsy and had scratchy edges. So I decided to make one. 

It ended up being a comedy of errors: I originally intended to use cotton webbing (for durability), but once I stitched on the ribbon and tried to attach the connectors, I realized the webbing I’d bought was way too stiff to hang comfortably as a strap. So then I made a strap out of leftover black canvas and some fusible fleece. That worked much better, but I absolutely mangled the vinyl patches at the ends. I ended up gluing them for function’s sake, and they work, but are ugly.

And of course after I did this I found a much better guide for how to make a strap that would have avoided all these problems – oh well.

I don’t know whether I’ve forgotten how hard it was to learn to knit well enough to produce usable finished objects, but sewing seems to have a much steeper learning curve. In part it’s because I seem to sew in fits and starts, because the lighting in our loft, where the sewing machine lives, isn’t good enough to get much done in the evening. It’s also that depending where you are in a project, it’s harder to pick up and put down sewing in the middle of something. 

But it was fun to get back to the sewing machine, even if the project just required cutting and sewing straight lines, and swearing a bit at some vinyl. 

Sewing fail

Somehow I never got into Project Runway before now. Recently I was looking for knitting-on-the-weekends TV, and decided to rectify that deficiency. I started with the most recent season on Hulu, Season 9, and am hooked.

For one challenge, the contestants are paired with kids from the Harlem School of the Arts (?) to collaborate on a painting, which will be the inspiration for the garment the contestant makes later in the challenge. Laura Kathleen was paired with this incredibly articulate 11-year-old, Kai. Laura was telling Kai about being on the bottom the previous week, and how hard it was to get the negative feedback. Without missing a beat, Kai says, “Failure is just an opportunity to learn in disguise.”

Which is to say, I have been learning this weekend!

One of my wardrobe holes is nice short-sleeved tops I can wear under suit jackets and cardigans, so I decided to try making Fancy Tailor Crafts‘ Sailor Top, which looked like a good convergence of my clothing wants and sewing skills.

So here it is, almost entirely finished (absent only the hem, though you can’t see that in this picture).  

It actually looks pretty decent here, doesn’t it? (Barring the terrible nighttime lighting turning everything drab.) The fabric is Cotton + Steel Mochi Lawn in Speckled Navy, and I like it – it’s light, hangs nicely, and has a slight sheen. It’s not something super drapey, but it’s not quite as sturdy as quilting cotton. It was also easy to work with.

And I tried really hard to do everything properly. I even used French seams on the side seams, which worked really well with the weight of the fabric.  

The one bit that looks decidedly amateurish is the yoke facing – you sew the facing to the yoke, then you sew the yoke to the neckline, fold the facing over, press the bottom of the facing under 1/4″ and pin, then stitch in the ditch from the front. It worked pretty well, but my “press the facing under 1/4” was eyeballed and while I managed to catch the edge of the facing all the way around, the seam looks kind of drunken in the interior. But no one but me would see that, of course.

So what’s the failure, then?

It’s too small – I made the wrong size! Such a newbie mistake, right?

I can actually get it on and off (though the latter was a little dodgy), because it’s a loose-fitting shape without closures, with a lot of built-in ease. But it pulls across my back. Some of that may be because my “gather fabric evenly” around the yoke isn’t the most even – the yoke feels like it sits just a little bit skewed – but really it’s because I need the next size up.

With respect to the learning, though, this was a useful reminder of the difference between knits and wovens, and the importance of ease. I chose the size based on the measurements I use for knitting, but knits are obviously much more forgiving than wovens. Also, I tend to use a high bust measurement for knits (based on Amy Herzog‘s advice that what you really want is to have the sweater fit your shoulders), but I’m realizing that’s probably not what I should be using for wovens, especially when I compare my high bust and bra measurements.

(If I’m being brutally honest, there’s also the little matter of working off measurements that are about 5-7 pounds ago. Again, for knits this isn’t that big a deal, because stretch, and because I tend to wear slouchy knits anyway. Alas, for wovens I probably shouldn’t rely on them right now.)

So anyway. I’m disappointed that I haven’t yet finished a “wear outside the house” garment (my fantabulous pajama pants are going strong, and in fact I want to make more in flannel, but they don’t go outside the house, except maybe to the courtyard to feed the feral cats), especially because I think if this one had fit, it would have been outside-the-house-worthy. And while I got the fabric pretty cheap, I like it a lot and am disappointed that it’s been sacrificed on the altar of failure learning. (But speaking of “learning,” I just realized tonight that I had completely misread the fabric requirements and this top was supposed to take 2 1/2 yards, so I’m fairly happy I managed to cut it out of 2.)

But to look on the bright side, the pattern was great and easy to follow, and I think if I made this in the right size it would be a great top I’d wear all the time. I made sleeves for the first time (okay, they’re raglan so not that complicated, but still, sleeves), and I made a yoke facing for the first time. I got French seams to work on a garment (rather than practice scraps). And I gathered a neckline for the first time (second time ever gathering anything). So that’s all pretty positive, right?

So sometime soon I will buy some new fabric and try again. I think this would be great (for my wardrobe) in something a little flowier, like a nice rayon twill, and I’d also really like to try making this in a knit (and then I think this size might actually work well). In the meantime, maybe I will cannibalize the fabric to line a zippered pouch or project bag. Or maybe I’ll leave the top as it is, to remind me of those opportunities in disguise.

It’s almost starting to look like a bag

Sewing continues. Here’s a peek:

IMG_1475This is – or will be, if all goes well – the Super Tote by noodlehead (Anna Graham), in progress. I kind of wanted a lightweight bag for when I’m schlepping things that don’t fit in my purse, and I fell in love with this cat patterned canvas, so thought this would be a fun project to combine the two. (I say “if all goes well” to cover both my fledging skills, and general randomness, since I already had something of a tragic incident involving some of this bag’s pieces and a puking cat.)

Planning this made clear how difficult it is to match colors and patterns – that is, putting together fabric colors and patterns, and figuring out if they’ll work for the project itself. Here, I originally thought I might make the Metro Hipster, but once I got the fabric I realized the scale was too large and I’d be cutting apart all the charming black cats.  So the Super Tote it was.

So far, I’m fairly happy with my choices, but looking at the photo, I’m not sure if I love the cream topstitching. That said, the lighting was terrible – the background is actually a deep blue, rather than charcoal – so I probably shouldn’t rely on the photo. And the white line down the center is just chalk, which will go away eventually, which I think will make the topstitching look better? I felt like black topstitching would be a little severe, and red would be a little too matchy-matchy.

(The funny thing is that noodlehead just posted a picture of a new Super Tote she made recently, and it’s clear that she made the strap a little differently from the directions in the pattern. The pattern directs you to topstitch the strap at 1/4″ and 3/8″, but the one she just posted is clearly edgestitched and then topstitched. Kind of wish I’d realized that before doing mine, as I like the look of the edgestitching better. But I am way too lazy to redo it, as that would require not only unpicking the seams to remove the strap, but either unpicking all. that. topstitching, or cutting and sewing new straps. Oh well.)

So. My great hope is to finish by the end of the weekend. We will see! And then we’ll see if it turns out well enough to carry in public.

Anticipaaaaaaaation, part II

The other day I wrote about going to yarn shops in Portland. But to be honest, I think in many ways I’m more excited about going to the fabric stores there. I’m still such a newbie to sewing, I have tons to learn, particularly about fabric.

With yarn, I have a pretty decent sense now of the different weights, and the qualities of the different fibers. I know merino is soft, that cashmere is softer, that nylon is good for strength in small quantities but not pleasant in large ones. I know that plant fibers are cool but inelastic and likely to stretch, that cotton in particular can get really heavy, and that alpaca (no, not a plant fiber) has a lovely drape but can get very heavy and hot. I know that there are a wide range of other, crispier, woolier wools that can be light, crispy, bouncy, springy, tightly spun or loosely spun. I’m not going to claim I know how to pick the best yarn for the every project, or that I know how every yarn out there knits up on every needle, the way that I knit. But I know enough to pick something fairly reasonable from a website, or to know where to look in a yarn store. At the very least, I’ve used enough different yarns that I know which ones I could repurchase happily.

In fabrics, I’m way more lost. The fiber basics of cotton, wool, linen, etc. I know from knitting. But there seems to be way more variation in how different fabrics are made, and if I’m online shopping I’m terrible at figuring out what I’m going to get.

Some wovens I feel okay about. Take quilting cottons. I pretty much basically know what I’m going to get with those (even though some are nicer quality than others). And I know that they tend to be a stiffer, firmer kind of fabric, which doesn’t work very well for drapey/flowy garments. I have some kind of a clue about, say, rayon challis or twill, or things like denim or velveteen or canvas. I don’t know how best to match weight and project, but I have a slight clue of where to start.

My real confusion comes with knits – there are so. many. different. kinds and weights. Each time I’ve ordered a knit online, I’ve ended up with something completely different from what I expected (once in a happy way, once in an unhappy way). I don’t know how to read their descriptions at all.

This is particularly depressing because I really really want to sew with knits. In part this is because I’m lazy about fitting, and a big knit t-shirt is way more forgiving than, say, a structured buttoned blouse. Heck, a big knit t-shirt is just much easier to sew than a structured buttoned blouse, and could be made with just two pieces. But I also just like wearing knits – they’re comfortable and forgiving and versatile. Forgiving might not be such a big thing if I could make a structured blouse that actually fit my measurements, but I also like wearing soft drapey fabrics better than crisp ones.

Also, I have a ponte knit dress from Target which I’m wearing to death – it’s starting to pill horribly – and I really really really want to reproduce it – if I could figure out which ponte fabric would be a suitable replacement.

So, I’m really hoping that when I go to Portland, I can hit up some fabric stores as well as yarn stores – and that I can get the chance to fondle all kinds of different knits, to get to know them better.

And I might have to take some of them home with me, as well.

More adventures in sewing things to hold other things

In further sewing chronicles, I have made a stab at making lined bento bags, for carrying lunches to work. I started with one for the husband (I feel a bit guilty because I should have made mine first, to work out the kinks, but I wanted to surprise him and do his first, so he got what is essentially the practice version), then made one for me. I also made myself an unlined one.

The husband’s, not pictured, is made from appropriately manly gray chambray with a gray/white lining. Mine, however, has a cute desert-themed lining:
IMG_1077 IMG_1079 IMG_1125 IMG_1126

As the above pictures may suggest, the geometry on this didn’t turn out quite right. These bags’ success depends on straight lines and correct angles, which seems a lot easier on the page than it turns out to be in practice. I think there are a couple of issues (for my sewing skills at this point): first, I need more practice cutting. For my husband’s bag, I marked all the lines and cut with shears, but for mine, I used a rotary cutter and marked only a few places as a guide for the ruler. I think I do a better job getting the angles correct when I draw all the lines and cut by hand, but I don’t get the cutting line perfectly straight, so it’s harder to sew a straight seam when everything’s assembled. When I use the rotary cutter, my cutting line ends up beautifully straight, but I suspect the ruler slips just enough that my angles end up a tiny bit wonky. (It doesn’t help that there’s a nick in my rotary cutter blade that requires me to go over everything twice.)

The second issue is bulky seams. You start by sewing two big triangles wrong-side together, leaving an opening to turn the triangle inside out to have an exterior and a lining. (I was following this pattern, if you want a visual of what I mean.) The pattern uses 1/4″ seams, and I’m not very good at pressing them open in any way that makes them lie smoothly after the pieces are turned right-side out. So I end up with bulky seams, and then I layer two of these triangles on top of each other and sew through the seams again, and it’s a bit raggedy, and makes the handles sort of hard to tie.

On the other hand, I’m very pleased with my turned hems on the single-layer bag, which you can see below:
IMG_1130 IMG_1133

There, the issue was folding the fabric and getting the angles lined up exactly – again probably partly due to imprecision in cutting the fabric.

(I also suspect that part of the issue is that these bags originally developed to carry bento boxes, which tend to be wider than they are tall, and most of what I want to carry in the bags is not shaped like a bento box – so some of what seems like failure of execution is actually a design flaw, on my part.)

I’d kind of like to futz with the measurements, to see if I can come up with a version of these that fits our lunch containers (or yarn) a little better. But I have also been having great fun figuring out how to make a lined skirt (more on that later), and want to try another one of those, as well as make some more zippered project boxes/pouches. So we’ll see when/if I get back to bento bags.

In the meantime, let me show you Stripey helpfully ensconced on the not-yet-assembled-at-the-time pieces of said lined skirt (there are lining pieces pinned to the pattern under there, too, but Stripey is not exactly the princess with the pea, so was happy as a clam).

IMG_1086

What I’ve been doing lately

Did you ever have pets who did that thing where you’d open the door to let them out, and it was bad weather, and they’d look at you in dismay, then go to another door of the house, hoping that the weather outside that door would magically be better? I feel kind of like that these days. I keep looking out the window thinking, “I’m sure it’s cooled down by now,” and then I walk outside and go, “Nope, still hot.”

So the focus is still on indoor activities over here. Work has been busy, so I have been spending the free time I have on making things, rather than blogging about making things.

My knitting has been fairly monotonous lately, because I am still working on a baby blanket for a friend. Unfortunately I thought I had until September, but the baby decided almost 32 weeks was plenty, and he was coming out NOW. So far he seems to be doing extremely well, and it’s too hot for blankets here anyway, but I need to get it done. One night when I needed to wind a new ball, I cheated with my Talavera, on which I managed to knit 3 rows and then rip back two, so that’s proceeding pretty much as usual.

I tend to be a very selfish knitter and knit only for myself, when it never matters how long the project takes, so sticking to one project till it’s done with a vague deadline in mind is…less fun than my normal knitting. I’m also wondering why I decided I would be all ambitious and knit the “throw” size, when “crib” or “stroller” would have been totally fine. It feels never-ending, and I’m afraid I won’t have enough yarn, but I’m almost halfway done and the only way out is through.

However, while I feel guilty knitting something besides this blanket, somehow other crafts don’t seem to count, because I’ve been spending chunks of the last few weekends sewing. I made a pair of pajama pants in a print I absolutely love:

IMG_0723

Amusingly, if you look at it from far enough away, it looks like the print is actually dark purple alien heads with golden eyes – which I like just as well.

I’ve also cut out the pieces for a skirt in the white fabric below (the bicycles are the right way up on the skirt, I promise):

IMG_0726

It’s really intended as more of a wearable muslin/practice at making a skirt, than as something I would wear regularly; I bought the fabric because I thought it was adorable, and thought I would make another pair of pajama pants (I love pajama pants), but then decided I might as well play around with it.

This weekend I wasn’t feeling focused enough to work more on the skirt, though, so I made what has got to be the jankiest project bag ever:

IMG_0823

It’s a cheap remnant from Jo-Ann Fabrics, I didn’t measure very carefully so I don’t think there are any straight lines/angles, and my seams are terrible, but it’s actually very functional. The baby blanket has got too big for all my other project bags; I also get weird about textures, and the feeling of the soft-but-woolly wool scraping against the cheap cotton I’d used for my other project bags has been sending shivers down my spine. (I can’t bear the feeling of toilet paper or paper towel rolls rubbing against each other, either – it’s like nails on a chalkboard; does anyone else get this feeling?) So I lined this with a polyester lining fabric, and it’s SO much nicer to put the project away/take it out again. The slipperiness of the polyester is a big factor in all the wonkiness, since it slides around so badly, and the edges frayed so quickly, that keeping a consistent seam allowance was beyond my current skills. But again, good practice, since now I want to put a smooth lining in all my project bags.

I have some other, more focused posts I’d like to write, but when I have the free time knitting or sewing always seem to win out. So I guess I’ll get to those later, and end here for now, with a couple of pictures from early morning and twilight in the desert.

IMG_0668

IMG_0813

Fruits of the weekend, the foxy part

My second project from this past weekend is a Lined Drawstring Bag from In Color Order.

More fat quarters from Jo-Ann’s (the husband picked out the foxes); I didn’t like the two fabrics next to each other enough to use them both on the exterior fabric, so instead of a main fabric and accent on the exterior, I used two pieces of the same fabric, and folded over and topstitched bias tape to hide the seam. I realize that without an accent I didn’t need to cut the main fabric in two pieces, but doing so made it easier to orient myself in the pattern, and also to cut the interfacing to fit.

I used bias tape to make the ties, too – kind of a waste of bias tape, I realize, but I had it to hand and didn’t have any ribbon or enough fabric to make other ties, and I wanted to finish the bag. My first choice would have been orange grosgrain (or orange and green striped!), but white was fine as a runner up.

The nice thing about this pattern is that the raw seams are hidden in the lining.

Stripey the friendly local semiferal wanted to see what I was doing. He was disappointed not to find anything exciting.

It’s a decent size for knitting projects – here it is holding my baby blanket project (in its current state, at least; I’m only about 1.5 skeins in), and I think it would be great for lightweight sweaters.I was pretty pleased with how this turned out – especially that my bias-tape-turned-ribbon meets exactly at each side seam, because I’d been careful with my measuring, and it was nice to know I did it right. If (when) I make this again, I think I would run the channel for the drawstring along the top of the bag, rather than 1.5″ down – I don’t love the frilliness of the top of the bag when cinched shut, and it would make the bag a little bigger. I might also use a lighter weight interfacing? But this is a great project bag pattern, if you want one that closes completely. And you could easily add a pocket to the lining, if you wanted something for notions.

So, this was a fun way to kill a weekend, and I’m hooked. Unfortunately for my wallet, that means I’ve already bought more fabric, and have aspirations of clothing…

IMG_0422This is the yellow canvas from my previous post, which also took up a chunk of Saturday; if it gets done/turns out, I’ll post more about it another time.