Sunday, March 26, 2017

Shams' Emails

It's the middle of the night, and I've been answering some emails. I don't always have time to respond to emails, or I might respond after many months. I ignore some of my blog emails, mostly those from folks who want me to hawk their wares. Seriously, I get some ridiculous requests that show they've never ever read my blog. For example, I once received a request to advertise prom tuxedos! Most recently I was asked to post my 2017 bucket list experiences for an event website.

I recently received a few emails that I want to share. I'm sharing these now because they contain useful information, and it's been awhile since I talked about fitting. Because I didn't ask permission, I won't include the original emails or names, but I'll summarize them. My responses have also been edited, 'cause that's how I roll. ;)

But first, I want your opinion on two tops.


Which Looks Better?

I was recently shopping in one of my favorite San Francisco boutiques, Simply Bella. Bella, the owner, knows me quite well and we had a friendly argument on my last visit. I purchased an Alembika top from her—an Israeli designer that I like very much. Bella noticed how flattering this top was on my figure and, in particular, how it minimizes my bust. This top is similar to the Presto, which I've made many times. Her opinion is that the Alembika is more flattering, because it's more fitted through the bust and more roomy through the hips. It has more of a swing shape, though the Presto has hip flare. The Alembika also has a curved hem and 3/4-length sleeves. It would be easy to alter the Presto to fit more like the Alembika, but I don't really want a top that is so fitted through the bust, and I think a swing shape can overwhelm my much-smaller hips.

I don't usually ask your opinion (because I typically trust my instincts), but I am today! When I visited her store, I was wearing one of my printed Prestos but, to make the comparison more fair, I'm wearing a dark solid teal Presto in this photo. (Sorry it's a bit wrinkled, but I wore it Friday and pulled it from the hamper.)

Which do you think fits better?

Left: Presto, right: Alembika

If you are in San Francisco, consider visiting Bella's store! It is small, but she has a great eye, and shops carefully. I bought four items when I visited recently, including a white mesh jacket by Alembika that I will probably take to Florence, and a pair of Spring Step shoes. The store is open 7 days a week, but Bella is usually there in person from Monday through Saturday, unless she's traveling.

Edited to add (4/2/2017 @ 11:40pm):

Wow, I appreciate your opinions! I have read each comment and am glad to see that I wasn't totally off base. I can make the black Alembika work when properly accessorized and layered. ;) Thanks again!

Email from N from Chicago: Having Trouble with a Full Bust Adjustment (FBA)

N, who lives in Chicago, had some questions about FBAs. She followed the Palmer Pletsch directions for an FBA and still ended up with a tent. She also asked how it's possible to ease 1-1/2" into the side seam, which I've described in this post. What might she be doing wrong? Finally, she asked which pattern I used for my green, Tried 'n True (TnT) sheath dress.

My edited response:

Hi N!

I'm sorry to hear you've been having trouble adjusting for your bust! It can be tricky until you learn what you need to do, then you can just do the same thing on most of your patterns.

The easing that you describe is only used for knit fabrics when I do a vertical-only FBA. It's quite easy to ease 1-1/2" in a knit fabric. It would not work for wovens.

I'm pretty sure that the green TnT dress shown in this post started from the Style Arc Adele, modified to a tee-shirt dress. It's a great pattern—I like how the neckline uses facings, rather than binding. Note that Style Arc patterns tend to fit in the chest/shoulder area more naturally than American patterns, so consult their chart when choosing patterns, but expect less ease.

Are you familiar with the "best patterns of 20xx" articles on Pattern Review? Written by Diane E (a friend of mine) each year, this year's article includes a McCalls pattern that people are loving. McCalls 6886, a sheath dress very similar to my TnT pattern, currently has 150 reviews on PR.

While I'm thinking about it, I also love the Sewaholic Renfrew, also mentioned in that article, and another TnT for me.

On my blog you said:

I purchased Palmer/Pletsch Bust Fitting DVD and other classes you recommended, studied your post, but still made a tent like tunic.

I'm not sure what is going wrong, but I suspect that you are starting with a too-large pattern. American patterns are known to be overly large in the upper chest/shoulder area, even though they are designed for a B-cup bust. So you need to measure above the bust to find your size. My upper bust is 40", so I start with a size 18. My full bust is 47" so I add approximately 7" at the bustline in my FBA, though I might add less if the pattern includes more finished ease than I need through the bust.

For most patterns, I do the FBA after cutting the bottom of the pattern off, because I don't want to widen the pattern at the waist or hip. After the FBA, I add the bottom back, and then merge the side seams together. In the classic approach, you leave the pattern intact, perform the FBA, and then remove the extra fabric below the bust using fisheye darts. I am not a huge fan of the front fisheye dart because I have a belly, but it might work well for you. (I do like fisheye darts in the back of some garments!)

If you continue to have problems with pattern alterations, do you live near a community college that offers Fashion or Home Ec classes? You can learn a lot about fitting that way and you don't have to get an AA degree. You mention living in Chicago. Are you aware of the Haute Couture Club? I know several women in that club who are amazing sewers! There is Cennetta and Rhonda, for example, but I know of others, too. I bet if you join you can find help, or at least pointers to help.

Finally, the Selfish Seamstress (who no longer blogs) highly recommends Tchad, a Chicago-based sewing teacher. She credits much of her skill to Tchad's classes. He seems to teach drafting patterns from scratch, rather than pattern alterations, but this is a wonderful skill to learn.

Good luck! I have no doubt you can figure this out, but my suspicion is that you are starting with the wrong size pattern.


Email from T: Do You Have a Custom Dressform?

T sent me a recent email, asking if I have a custom dressform. She has a challenging figure (she describes having a large bust and a bootie) and wonders how I fit my clothes as well as I do. I actually sent her several replies, mushed together here.

My edited response:

Hi T!

No, I don't have a custom dressform. It would be handy, but I have never had any interest. For one thing, my figure changes too frequently. For another, it would be too unsettling. I inherited my mother's dressform after she passed, and I sometimes use it as a 3D hangar, but never for fitting as it's much too small and features a high, perky bust.

I often sew in my underwear because it's easier to try a garment on over and over, as I tweak the fit. I apologize if that's TMI. :)

I learned sewing from a very young age (my mother was an amazing seamstress), so I made lovely clothes that rarely fit me. I learned fitting when I took classes at Cañada College in Redwood City, CA. I highly recommend taking Fashion or Home Ec classes at a local community college, if you have one nearby. I don't think you'll learn as much if you take, say, a Craftsy class, or a quick class from someone, because fitting can require iteration under expert guidance. The semester long classes I took really gave me a chance to learn how to fit my body. For example, I was shocked back in 1985 to learn that I need to narrow the shoulders on my garments.almost.every.time.

Since you read my blog, you know that I am busty, but I have a flat butt and don't need to alter for a small waist or sway back (many women with a bootie need both of those alterations). These are my normal alterations:

  • Forward shoulder (common on older women)
  • Widen back (I don't yet alter for a round back, but that may be coming)
  • FBA (I do my own version of an FBA where I don't widen the garment from bust to hem
  • Narrow shoulder
  • Narrow hip/remove hip curve (when appropriate)
  • Shorten sleeves (my mother had to always lengthen sleeves, but she was also an A cup with a long torso and small waist)

I do get tired of all the alterations I must do, but I often use a pattern over and over, just changing the details. This makes it much easier to sew if I don't have to do all those alterations over and over. It lets me get right to the fun part.

I was just shopping for patterns on the BMV site (they are having a pattern and shipping sale that ends at the end of Sunday) and I just bought this pant, Vogue 9155.

I think it would be good for someone with a bootie because of all the back seams. You could use those seams to take larger darts at the back waist. Most women with a bootie need more darting at the back waist. At least I think so—it's never been a body type I've sewn for. In fact, it wouldn't surprise me if sewing for a bootie might be similar to sewing for a big bust. Not the same, but it seems like a similar issue. You need more fabric to go over and around the butt, but not more fabric at the back waist. Many women with a bootie have a small waist which increases the need for a back yoke or extra darting.

Good luck! Once you learn to fit yourself, sewing is SO much fun!


By the way, T actually described herself as "very petite and curvy (big boobs and big butt) :)", but I found that it was hard for me to say "big butt" in my response, as it felt so judgmental! Clearly, that's my issue! I don't mind saying "big boobs", since I have them, too. In fact, I usually describe mine as "uber boobs". ;) )

Email from The Doctor's Show: Want to be on our show?

This email arrived in December, 2016. Normally I ignore this sort of thing, but I checked it out and it was legit.


My name is <redacted> and I work with The Doctors TV Show. I stumbled across your blog,, and thought you might be perfect for an upcoming beauty segment I’m working on! Are you located in the LA area? I’d love to schedule a call or meeting with you.

If you’re not familiar with our show, please feel free to browse our website and get to know us!


My response:

Hey, <redacted>!

Thanks for your interest, and you actually look legit (I get lots of spam requests), but I politely decline. :)

All the best!


Not gonna happen. No way. No how.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Paisley Blue Silk Chiffon Duster & more

Hola, mi amiga!

I hope you've been well, up to all sorts of hijinks, creative or otherwise!

It's been pointed out to me that I haven't blogged in more than 60 days. That must be some sort of record for me!

I've been working weekends and long hours since sometime in January. I've been on loan to another team, which is developing a framework for writing mobile apps—you write the app once and you can run it on iOS and Android (revolutionary!)—it's been a mix of fun and stressful. I finished two tutorials for a March 8th event. (If you are so inclined, you can see my new tutorials, Building Layouts in Flutter and Adding Interactivity to your Flutter App. For those looking at that first tutorial: if you scroll waaaaay down, you'll see pics from my travels in the last year, including a cute pic of DD1, taken in the abundant Tahoe snow recently, and a pic of Swatch from Mood.)

I've also had some quick getaways! I had a team-building trip to Whistler again this year, exactly at the same time as Puyallup Sew Expo. I also recently attended a 4-day sewing retreat where I sewed a silk chiffon duster. (It took the entire retreat!)

Finally, I had a great 2-day jewelry workshop at Eccentric Designs. This was scheduled months ago for the weekend of January 21st (the day of the Women's March) which is probably why it ended up being a private class, and it was phenomenal!

Oh, for those of you who worry when I haven't blogged for awhile, remember you can always check my Instagram feed to see if I've been posting. You don't have to be a member of Instagram unless you want to leave comments, though of course, if you do sign up and follow me, my posts will automatically appear in your feed. I don't view Instagram as a replacement for my blog, but it is much quicker and easier to make posts there, so I am more likely to throw a quick picture or two on IG even when I don't have time or energy to blog.


Paisley Blue Silk Chiffon Duster

I have a thing for chiffon. I don't know why, but I am easily seduced by a beautiful chiffon, though it can be difficult to find wonderful chiffon fabrics in silk or poly. (I like each for different reasons.)

I bought this silk chiffon maybe a year ago on eBay. It is a tremendously wiggly, hard-to-control fabric, so I stabilized it using Perfect Sew. (I've blogged about it before.)

At home I applied Perfect Sew to the chiffon

I hung it over the shower curtain rod to dry. I then pressed it with a dry iron. (Steam and water can dissolve the product.)

I wanted to make a silk duster. I started with Butterick 6376 and made some changes:

  • Lengthened about 7 inches
  • Forward shoulder adjustment
  • Full bust adjustment
  • Omitted the pocket
  • Modified the sleeve band. The original band, cut on the bias, was doubled. Doubling the bias band would have affected the fluttery movement I envisioned. I slashed and spread the band by 1-3/4" to increase the flutter factor and made it single layer.
  • Narrowed the shoulder by about 1/2"
  • I finished the top with tiny hems
  • I interfaced the collar, collar stand, and front bands with stiff black tulle. I would have used navy, but it wasn't available at the local fabric store. I hand basted the tulle to each piece, and machine quilted the outer collar to stiffen it for when I want to pop the collar. The tulle is invisible in the finished collar (bottom pic).
  • Ellen graciously allowed me to make the buttonholes on her Singer Featherweight. I've never used my own Featherweight for this, but I will be more comfortable about it in future. It's hard to see the buttonhole in the following pic, but it's gorgeous! Can you see it?
  • (I didn't widen the back but I should have. Note to self: remember that the next time I use this pattern.)

After I had finished all the sewing, I rinsed the duster in hot water and let it air dry to remove the Perfect Sew. I finished up with a press to remove the wrinkles.

Am I happy with it? I think so. We'll see how I like wearing it when the weather gets warm. I was freezing when I took these pics!


and sheer!

New Arche Elexor sandals, purchased for Florence

Butterick 6376, View D

Retreat Opportunities

I recently attended a sewing retreat. Some have asked about it: can I come? tell me more! etc. Sorry, but this is a private group of friends who have been sewing together for more than 20 years. (My first retreat with them was in 1992, when I was pregnant with my first child.)

But this put me in mind of creating a list of retreats for those of you looking for a similar experience.

American Sewing Guild (ASG)
Local chapters of the American Sewing Guild host sewing retreats—I've heard wonderful things about some of those. I believe there is also a national ASG sewing retreat.
Jane Foster Sewing and Clothing Design Retreats
I know Jane and she knows her stuff. She offers a wonderful retreat in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Kathryn Brenne workshops
I am really looking forward to taking a workshop with Kathryn Brenne! When we spent the day together last November, I had a chance to examine her workmanship up close, and it was perfection. She knows her stuff! She has regular workshops in her studio in Canada and occasional workshops in England.
Diane Ericson's Design Outside the Lines
I've attended two Design Outside the Lines (DOL) and it's a wonderful experience. Diane brings in a different co-teacher for each retreat. Carol Lee Shanks was the guest teacher at the last retreat I attended. I recently signed up for another DOL, and am very much looking forward to that!
Loes Hinse Sewing Seminars
Many are familiar with Loes Hinse classic patterns which often feature beautiful drapey rayon fabrics. Loes offers weekend sewing retreats in Carmel, CA. Many of my friends have attended, some have attended many times. In fact, two of my friends took one of her retreats within the last few weeks.
Sewing Workshop Retreats
Linda Lee, of Sewing Workshop, hosts regular retreats at her workshop in Topeka, Kansas. She also hosts traveling retreats, so check her schedule.
Louise Cutting Retreats
Louise Cutting, of Cutting Line Designs, holds regular retreats at her studio in Orlando, Florida.
Sandra Betzina Retreats
For completeness sake, I want to mention that Sandra Betzina has announced that her retreats will end in 2017. She has a few sessions left, but they seem to be full. She is recovering from recent back surgery (she has been posting updates to Facebook). I'm hoping that maybe she'll relent after she's fully recovered, and offer more retreats in 2018. But that's just a hope, I have no idea if she would even consider it.
Susan Khalje Couture Classes
I've seen positive reports of Susan's classes and I have a friend who has attended 2 or 3 of them.
Kenneth King's Sit and Sew
Convenient to those visiting or living in NYC, Kenneth also offers some traveling workshops, particularly in the north west.

Retreats aren't for everyone, but they can be really wonderful. If you are an organizing sort of person, create your own! Look for a space that has a good room for working and reasonably priced rooms. When we started 25 years ago, we would rent a house along the beach in Bodega Bay, north of San Francisco. At the time they had a "get three nights for the price of two" special during the off season in the early Spring. Share the work to make it doable. It can be extremely fun!

Some pics from my recent retreat:

Dorothy wore this Sewing Workshop Madrid top she made using an Ikea duvet cover. (I recognized it because I have the same duvet cover!) She also made the black a-line skirt using a long out-of-print Simplicity pattern.

Misty is wearing one of her Tried 'n True (TnT) patterns, Marcy Tilton Vogue 9174, made from denim colored chambray. There's a clever pocket in the diagonal seam.

Ellen made this fabulous version of Marcy Tilton Vogue 8497, View B. She modified the curved seam to make it angular.

Ellen is showing her adorable pincushion, made by Kim B and won in a holiday gift exchange.

Pincushion detail

Our sewing room

My room

What I packed

Fabric on the left and clothes on the right

My workstation

I think I look weird without glasses, but sometimes I take them off to sew or blog

Luanne S made this gorgeous "illuminated" T

Kim B's quilt, in process

Close up of her freehand quilting

I love the quail

Adorable anenome hats that Heather knitted for her granddaughters. She tells me that the four-year-old uses them as sea creature hand puppets!

Heather made a new wardrobe for her new granddaughter

And a dress for her eldest granddaughter

She also knitted this gorgeous Baby Surprise Sweater by Elizabeth Zimmerman

I think the monkey pants are my favorite :)

I can still hear the bullfrogs

Shadow selfie

Gorgeous oak tree

Necklace Workshop

I had previously reported that I was taking a jewelry workshop from Winnie, of Eccentric Designs, in late January. It was a 2-day workshop and it was FABULOUS! I had so much fun! It ended up being a private 2-day class, so I was lucky lucky lucky.

I had collected many goodies, treasures, and some trash in the months before this class: I'd purchased items in Paris flea markets. I'd collected bits of trash here and there on the ground. (This is something that Winnie does all the time - it's recycling 101! I found myself staring at the ground rather obsessively in Seattle, Mountain View, and San Francisco.) I purchased special beads and findings on Etsy, and resin beads at Artistry in Fashion. I went through my jewelry stash and set aside broken jewelry, or items I no longer loved and was willing to cannibalize. When I showed up at Winnie's studio with my large bag of goodies and my bag of fabric scraps, it was TOO MUCH. My goodies COVERED her table.

With her help, I organized some of my treasures into 4 potential necklaces (adding in elements from her stash that she generously shared) and, because I was the only student in the class, we changed the structure of the workshop a bit so I could hunker down and make 2 of my 4 necklaces. I sacrificed learning some of her techniques in order to finish a second necklace. Some day I'll return to her drop-in sessions to finish my other necklaces.

It was fun! fun! fun!

My four necklaces are laid out on the squares of cream flannel

Another look at Shams' crazy stash

Some of the elements I made for my necklaces. Two of the three photo beads were made from the business card from a bead store in Paris, the third bead used paper from Winnie's stash. I cut pieces from the papers, glued each to a wooden tile (Winnie has a variety of shapes and sizes), painted the unfinished wood, and decoupaged the images. Winnie had a dremel tool for drilling the holes. The metal washer with mesh in the upper right was a gift from Gwen Spencer—I glued two washers together, back-to-back. The circle and square fabric beads were made from scraps of the brocade I used to make one of my Paris coats. The teal circle bead with the washer was created using a broken vintage button from the same coat (the center had fallen out). The black leather "flower" on the lower right was made from a piece of leather I grabbed from the trash at a factory we visited in Paris.

I first made a "mixed metals" themed necklace.

A good start. All of these elements were from Paris, except for the washers, which I found on the ground

Not done yet! The silver finding in the far right is a zipper pull that Kathryn Brenne sent me from Botani in NYC. I was determined to use this odd zipper pull (I think Kathryn was giving me a challenge), and Winnie suggested hanging some small metal beads from the knob. I used a second pull from Kathryn that was added after this pic was taken. The Eiffel tower was from an inexpensive pair of touristy earrings purchased in the Montmartre. I purchased the tiny jar of even tinier nuts and screws from Winnie's stash. I could have made my own, but she had this one left over from another necklace she had made.

Almost finished! I love the silver thimble, which I purchased inexpensively on Etsy, probably because it already had a hole drilled at the top. The hammered silver-colored metal disk near the center was from one of my daughter's broken necklaces that I found in a junk drawer. The grey necklace to the right was the first piece of jewelry I purchased from Winnie at Artistry in Fashion. You can see that she made the chain for that necklace, but I opted to use purchased chain so I could finish my pieces more quickly.

I then worked on a teal/green/blue necklace.

Getting started. Once again, many of these elements were purchased in Paris flea markets. The green piece of leather on the far right was a laser-cut leather earring purchased in SF—I lost its mate. I found the Howlite, vase-shaped bead on Etsy. The tiny bottle contains shiny, almost iridescent, teal embossing powder. The blue military medal on the left was a gift from Luz Clara that she purchased in a Paris flea market!

My finished necklaces! The finished mixed metal necklace features a tiny-but-working harmonica on the far right. That brass acorn bead in the center unscrews so you can tuck a tiny treasure inside. Because these necklaces are finished with leather strips and handmade hooks, they are very comfy to wear, even though the mixed metal necklace is a tad heavy. ;)

After two focused days of crafting, Winnie took this pic of my finished necklaces.

Another necklace made from two enormous rusty keys I purchased from a flea market in Paris. They are suspended from a cord using leather strips.

Wearing the blue/green necklace at work in Mountain View. Those are my computer monitor glasses, which is why you don't often see them in pics.

The mixed metals necklace, also worn to the office in Mountain View. This building features some bright walls. ;)

Leaving the SF office. This was taken after daylight savings time went into effect!

I highly recommend Winnie's workshop when she offers it again. She is incredibly generous with her knowledge, techniques, and her stash. Expect to finish no more than one necklace, but you'll come away with your head buzzing with ideas and inspiration!

Whistler 2017

This may be our last team trip to Whistler. It's too bad, because I wanted to zip line in the mountains above Whistler, but the weather just wasn't conducive this year with near white-out conditions up on the mountain. Last year we had gorgeous sunny weather, but this year it almost never stopped snowing, which sometimes turned to rain. It was still breathtaking, though!

I'd like to share a few photos.

Whistler Village

The cool, Seuss-like trees. This was taken on March 1st, so it's not exactly a Christmas tree.

I actually brought a second hat!

A snow maiden. No, I don't mean me.

The trees are just so beautiful

This gentleman (I think his name was Doug) runs the entire Whistler Resort. He was heading to a meeting... on skis. He had his laptop in his backpack. He seemed to love his job.

Almost white-out conditions atop Blackcomb Peak

The glass-bottom gondola

At the top with my colleague, Keerti


I hope to get back to more sewing soon. I've started a spring jacket, and I picked up a knit fabric for an upcoming Britex project.

I have another sewing retreat in April and, believe me, I need it!

Taken soon after daylight savings time went into effect. Waiting for the corporate bus at 6am.

Until next time!