Tuesday, September 18, 2018

FO: Acid Agnes Top Refashion

This feels like a miracle, but I actually have a finished object to post! lol I've missed having something to share, so it's nice to have something to talk about on the ole blog. First up is the first finished - my new Acid Green Agnes Top. Believe it or not, this came to me looking quite different originally:
Yep - this is a refashion, and one I'm pretty proud of. I bought this New York & Co size XS cotton/modal dress at a thrift store well over a year ago (maybe a few years now, to be honest). I bought it for the express purpose of refashioning since it had a lot of fabric to work with (thank you full length) and it was an interesting color. Honestly I think I bought this thinking I would dye it, lol. But time changes our minds on certain things. I had recently finished my Quill Peggy Skirt and I've worn my Lotta Sailor Top with it out of sheer stubbornness. I really don't care for the two items together (though I've worn the Lotta top loads with other skirts). This means my lovely skirt has hung up unworn. Imagine my thrill when I came across this thrifted dress again and discovered it was the exact color of the acid green accents on the Quill print linen :) I immediately set to work to make this into a top specifically for this skirt.
The only interesting aspect of the original dress was the pull string ruching on the sides. There were channels stitched almost the entire length of the dress, so technically you could pull this up to be knee length if you wanted to. The original owner had the ties knotted at a certain length (as you can see). Seeing this ruching ignited my love of a good puffed sleeve. I wanted to make this as part of the The Refashioners 2018 and the prompt this year is just that it needs to be inspired by an image - this is a bit of a different method for me with refashions since I usually just let the available fabric tell me what it needs to be. But since I knew I wanted to use the pull ties on the sleeves and that I wanted a puffed sleeve look, I started searching for inspiration photos and I came away with this top:
photo c/o Miss Selfridge
I love the sleeves on this top - they are puffed and near elbow length, but the rest of the top is very simple and a solid color. Perfect! The only real change I wanted to make was the neckline -  I just don't care for V necks on me - just personal preference. I decided to use the Agnes Top pattern by Tilly and the Buttons to recreate this look but with my preferred scoop neck. Since I was limited on fabric, I just had the little added suspense to find out if I could make the pattern pieces fit. It took some serious pattern Tetris, but I managed to just squeeze out the pieces.
To maximize my fabric, I cut the front and back pattern pieces from the upper front and back of the dress - since the dress was an XS, there wasn't enough width for my body to complete these pieces though. I just cut as wide as possible and then set them aside. Next I decided to cut my sleeves using the ruched side sections instead of adding the elastic ruching of the pattern. I used the existing skirt hem and lined the ruching up with the center of the sleeve the whole way down.
I seriously love these sleeves and I'm pretty smug about it, lol. I still gathered the top of the sleeve like usual because I love me a puffed sleeve. After cutting those out, I chopped the ties much shorter. I used the original sleeve bands to cut my neckband piece. That is all the pattern pieces, so once I had everything cut out, I laid out all my remaining bits. I had just enough width to make 2 triangular gusset-like pieces to make up the difference on the body pieces.
I sewed the extra piece to the front and back, spanning the area that would usually have a side seam. This was a total gamble - meaning I suspected I would have enough but it might be a bit snug - and it totally paid off. The shirt fits just fine :) Things were a little complicated under the arms when it came time to set in the sleeves, but I got there in the end.
And here's a blurry view of the back - whoops. Confession - there was a small spot on the front of the dress that I could not get completely out (and believe me, I tried - it must have been very old). So I decided to cut the back piece on the front of the dress, making that spot somewhere on my upper back. It's very faint and now it's on my back so I doubt anyone will notice.
So after I assembled the whole shirt, I had to decide on a sleeve ruching length. I pulled the sleeve ties up to how I liked it, then tied a double knot and a bow, cutting off the excess of the ties. I hand sewed the bow and knots down to avoid any issues. This left me with several decent sized tie pieces left over. Earlier in the project,  I decided to try sewing this entire shirt with my serger (aside from the hemming and whatnot), and while I was setting in my neckband I didn't notice that the body of the shirt had wrinkled under my foot and I sewed in a pucker :/ Luckily it didn't reach the knife so I was able to unpick the serging, but this fabric is a bit temperamental with unpicking and I accidentally pulled a small hole just off center on the front. Ugh. I had originally planned to leave the front of the shirt plain like the inspiration photo, but now I had a small hole that I repaired but would drive me crazy to see every time I wore this top. So I started playing with the scrap ties. I rolled them into rosettes and tried out some placement, asking opinions on Instagram. In the end I decided to use all the tie pieces to make the rosettes as big as possible and to go with a configuration of three.
I deliberately made the center one a little bigger just because it looked a bit off when they were the same size. My hole is up by the stitching line under the left rosette in this photo - totally covered :) These rosettes were a pain in the butt - not gonna lie. I just rolled them as I went, hand stitching them to the previous row to secure it neatly the whole way around. Once they were totally sewn as a rosette, then I secured them to the shirt with large stitches to keep them in place. I spent about as much time sewing them as I did on the entire rest of the shirt, but I like the added detail and I love that the hole is not visible. Project saved!
Here's a look at my crazy under arm area. Press as I might, I could not get the old stitching lines to disappear where the old channels were for the ties. I'm hoping this fades after a wash. It's not a huge deal in the meantime though since it's under my arms.
In the end, this was all that remained of the dress - talk about almost zero waste! I was pretty proud of this result, lol.
And I even saved the original tag, sewing it into the side seam - after I unpicked the XS and Made in Indonesia on the label, of course. Since those things weren't true anymore :)
And now I have a shirt to wear with my awesome skirt! I'm glad to finally have an outfit for this skirt - it's so cute and it deserves to be worn! Here's hoping my shirt holds out. I think the first washing will tell a great deal (I'm just concerned about those previous stitching lines). This turned out to be a super cheap make, but really I would've paid more to make this skirt more wearable :)
And in spite of my minor issues and on-the-fly changes I had to make, I think this is a pretty good representation of the inspiration top :) Yay for refashioning!

Fabric: Size XS New York & Co acid green cotton/modal knit dress - $1.00 (thrifted)
Pattern: Agnes Top by Tilly and the Buttons
Notions: thread - $1.00, knit stay tape - $0.25
Time: 4 hours
Total Cost: $ 2.25

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

New Knitting Calculator - How Long Will This Take To Knit?

Wow! I can't believe it's been so long since I last posted here. Life has become pretty interesting and much more time consuming lately, plus i did some pattern testing so the few things I've sewn I am not able to show yet. In the meantime while I work on pieces to show here, I have a neat little tool to help us get a jump on our Christmas gift making (also how on earth is it already time to be talking about Christmas?!)
The folks over at Love Knitting have created a fun website to help in our planning. It's a Knitting Calculator designed to estimate how long it will take you to make what you want to. Neat, right? Go here to try it out for yourself, or read through this post to learn how it works.
The nice thing about this calculator is that it is adjustable depending not only on the type of project you want to make (meaning a hat, blanket, sweater, etc) but also your personal level of knitting ability. You choose if you are an eager beginner, a pretty knifty knitter, or a knitting whizz first, then you input how many hours per week you will be able to knit, then you choose the type of project. The site suggests their own free patterns, but most projects in each category will be similar in how long they take so it will give you a good idea even if you choose a different pattern.
Once you click that project, the site will pop up a conclusion for you :) For example, I said I was a "Pretty knifty knitter" (I consider myself intermediate) and said I had 3 hours a week to make a pair of booties and the site told me it would take just over 1 week to make the pair. That really does sound about right :) I love the added fun of it taking 100 listens of Abba's Waterloo on repeat, lol.

So while this is a simple idea, it really can come in handy for making gifts in particular. For the past several years, I've made at least 80% off my family's Christmas gifts. It's not very hard if you're making things for, say, you mom, dad, and brother. But I have my parents, my 4 siblings, their 3 spouses, my nephew, my in-laws, my husband, and then whoever else I want to make something for every single year. That adds up to a ton of knitting and sewing time and it can be hard to plan out when to start to avoid making myself crazy. With this calculator, I can just plug in what I want to make and get a quick idea of how long it will take, and if I do that with all my items I can set up a workable plan that will prevent me from stitching into the wee hours of Christmas Eve.

Anyway, I thought this was a useful site that others could benefit from, so I hope you are able to use it for this year's planning. Head over here to try this out for yourself, and may none of us have to give IOUs this year!

*I was asked by LoveKnitting to post about this calculator, but I was not compensated or obligated in anyway for this post. These are my own opinions about a tool that I plan to use myself. 

Friday, August 17, 2018

Serger Thread Catcher Tutorial

When getting my serger set up and getting all the accessories I would need to use it properly, one of the first things I looked into was a thread catcher. My mom's 90s model Janome serger came with a plastic bucket that all your cut off edges fall into so you can dump it in the trash, but my new/old Babylock did not have this feature. Turns out that most modern machines don't have a thread catcher either, including my mom's new $1500 Babylock Imagine - craziness! Why would you want to pick all your waste up off the floor all the time? So I set out to find a solution to this madness.

When you search online for serger thread catchers, the main one that shows up is a long plastic tray you set the serger on that has a small opening and a fabric bag hangs from that opening. All the reviews said it was difficult to get the bag hung right on the small hole, plus since the serger sits on this plastic tray instead of your table, many people complained that their machine would rattle off their tables as they worked. Also this thing is about $20. I decided that I could make something myself instead of spending the money on something plastic I might not like, so I started searching for tutorials. By the time I went to pick up my serger from the repair shop I had decided on making the style that has a quilted place mat that a bag hung from (the most common solution I found on Pinterest with lots of tutorials). My repairman suggested an easier and better solution - making a bag that has ribbon straps to hook around the feet of the machine. This way when you need to dump the bag, you just unhook it from the feet and dump it into the trash - no need to pick up your whole machine to remove the placemat and then dump before putting it back (too much hassle!). I loved the idea, so I went home and looked for a similar tutorial online only to come up empty handed. Really? No one had posted about this before? So I decided to make one of these up to my own specifications and take pictures so that others could make a bucket of their own :) Welcome to my thread catcher tutorial.
I started off with this (super basic) schematic. The area from my knife to the edge of the machine is a little over 6" wide, so I decided to make the bag fill that space. I wanted my bag to be 6" across and 3" deep, so I just drew up a box and added 1/2" seam allowances to all the pieces. 

Fabric choice considerations:
The outer fabric can really be any type as long as you like the look since you will be using this for a long time :) I picked a cute rose gold metallic printed floral quilting cotton from Hobby Lobby that I had in my stash because it went well with my sewing room. The lining fabric is the only one that I would recommend a specific type: anything slick. Technically you could use anything for the lining fabric and what I usually see in thread catchers is cotton muslin and the like, but I find that 1) the threads will stick to the cotton and not fall all the way into the bag and 2) the threads stick in the bag when you are trying to dump them out. This is just annoying to me, so I made sure to pick a slick lining fabric that would not have these issues. My lining is just a cheap white acetate left over from a garment project, but it can be anything - just think slick!
To Make This You Will Need:
  • Main fabric (I used quilting cotton) 
  • Medium Weight Fusible Interfacing (I used Pellon SF101)
  • Slick Lining Fabric
  • Thin Ribbon or Elastic
Cut the fabric, interfacing, and lining pieces all the same. You need 2 squares that measure 7" x 7" of all 3 fabric as well as 3 rectangles that measure 4" x 7" of all 3 fabrics. Iron your fusible pieces to the main fabric pieces before you begin. All of my pictures will show that I serged my entire bag, but you could do the same thing with a sewing machine. Since the seams will all be closed in the bag, there is no need to do any extra finishing.
1. With the lining pieces, sew one rectangle piece to one square piece, then sew the second square piece to the opposite side of the rectangle piece, making one large rectangle. Press seam allowances in toward rectangle piece - it should look like the above photo.
2. With 2 remaining rectangles of lining material, pin one to each side of the long rectangle you just made. At the seams in the large piece you've already sewn, pin the corner of the rectangle - this will make the piece look like a box. Sew around these rectangles, picking up your presser foot and pivoting at each corner.
3. Repeat steps 1 and 2 with the main fabric, always sewing with right sides together.
4. Press all seams of your bag - I just folded the fabric along each seam and pressed flat. This will give your bag a nice square shape and it get much harder to get a nice press after this step so go ahead and do it now.
Once the pieces are pressed, your bag should stand nice and square like the photo above.
5. With right sides together, insert the lining box into the main fabric box.
6. Pin each corner of the lining and main fabric together. If using ribbon: Go to your serger and wrap a piece of ribbon around the foot, pulling the ribbon to where the bag will sit when it is finished. Add 1" to the length of your ribbon and cut. If using elastic: Cut 2 pieces of elastic that are 5" long. For ribbon or elastic, continue the same way: Fold each ribbon/elastic in half and slide between the lining and main fabric. Pin each just in from the corner seams on the back square (mine were about 5/8" in from the seam).
7. Sew around the top edge of your bag leaving about a 2" opening, making sure to back stitch at the beginning and end if using a sewing machine. Your elastic/ribbon will be trapped between the two fabrics like the above photo.
8. Flip you bag right-side out through the hole. It should look like the above photo.
9. Push the lining into the main fabric bag. Press the lining along the edge of the bag so that the lining is just slightly below the main fabric. Fold the edges of the opening you left to the inside, making sure it is level with the rest of the edge and press well.
Your bag is looking like a real bag now!
10. On a sewing machine, top stitch your opening all the way around. I kept mine as close to the edge as I could to make sure the space I left from flipping the bag right-side out was sufficiently closed with this step, but it's up to you how far in you top stitch as long as it's within the 1/2" seam allowance.
After a nice press to the top stitched edge, your bag is finished!
I love that the lining is not only slick but light - I can easily see in there at any time. This may seem silly since it's just going to be filled with trash, but imagine the pain if you used a dark fabric and something you don't want to throw out falls in. Just one of the little perks of making something yourself - you can accommodate all your quirky desires, lol.
Now you just hook the ribbon/elastic pieces over your machine feet and pull the machine to the edge of your table and it's ready to use! Now my feet are firmly planted on the table - mine are suction cups, so it is very secure and not going to slide around - and I can easily pull the elastic off to dump my bag :) It's so fuss free!

This whole project (even with taking pictures for this tutorial) only took about 20 minutes and I love this little thing - it's even handy when I'm cleaning off my desk from snipped threads since now I can just put them in here until I dump it again. So convenient. Now I have to make one for my mom's machine too :)

 So if you, too, find yourself in need of one of these guys, I hope this tutorial helps! And please send me a picture - I'd love to see what you make with it!

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

My Local Repair Shop: The Value of Old vs. New Machines

As I get older, it becomes harder and harder to tell my family what I would like as a birthday gift. Every year I get asked by everyone, "What would you like this year?" and I find myself having no idea what to tell them. I think we can all relate to this. First off, the things we really want become bigger and bigger, so they really aren't things you would tell a kind family member of friend without sounding very rude. Second, at least in my case, I realize there are fewer things that I really want around me. This is compounded by the fact that I recently moved, which always leaves me amazed at how much stuff comes with me. One of the things I was dreading moving was my ever growing collection of old sergers and sewing machines. I think we can also all relate to the fact that the longer you sew, the more people think of you as "the sewing person", so when their aunt's friend's grandma's next door neighbor who loves to sew dies and they are left with a decent but not ~cool looking~ machine, they kindly offer to give the machine to you. I definitely don't want to sound ungrateful to those people as I've been given some wonderful machines, but in my case I just accumulated machines always with the thought of, "One day I will take all of these down to a machine repair shop and ask which ones are worth servicing and donate the rest." I had a big house with lots of extra space for last 5 years, so this machine collection just sat in my office and waited. And waited. And waited. A friend of my mom's who sews all the time had recommended a repair shop to me a while back, but still the machines sat as I had no idea how much it might cost to fix anything and my budget was tight. Put all this together this year just before my birthday and when people asked what I wanted, I had something I could tell them: a serger. I wanted a functioning serger in one way or another - my plan was to either to have the best of my lot of 4 older sergers serviced and fixed if any were worth the money OR buy the $200 Brother machine that comes up in every Amazon sale. So one Friday morning I loaded all of my sergers into the back of my car and on my lunch break at work I drove to Jim's Sewing Machine and Vacuum Repair in the Jumping Flea Market in Cocoa.
The machines I had in my car were: an 80s Toyota, a 70s Huckylock, and a mid 90s Babylock (I also had a late 80s Singer in the original box, but couldn't remember where it was in time to leave that morning). I drove up to the little building at the end of the small flea market (it's the only permanent unit after an awning with tables for rent) and talked with Jim. I told him my plan and he happily helped me take the machines out of the car so he could have a look at them. Before we even had the machines out of my car, he told me that the Babylock was the best machine of the lot by far and that was the one I should have fixed. So he looked at that machine first, plugging it in and checking how it ran, opening it up to see the condition of the inside. Then he mentioned that he would be glad to trade the other machines if I didn't want them (which of course I was thrilled about), so he plugged each of those in to check their condition to come up with a price. I told him about the machine I forgot to bring that I could trade, which he wanted as well. After a little investigation, he told me that he would give me an even trade off the cost of servicing my Babylock machine (usually $90 - $120) for the other machines. I was elated! I also brought along my main machine - a Singer Quantum Stylist 9960 - to see if he could also get my button holer working. He said he could do that as well, which I was thrilled about all over again. I've been borrowing my mom's machine to make button holes for over a year now as my machine would malfunction each time I tried to make a button hole. I asked if he wanted any of my other sewing machines in trade toward that service, which he did :) So to make my machine make button holes again as well as a full service and cleaning, he charged $50 and told me they would be ready in a few weeks. I left there so completely happy with my experience, I can't even tell you.
The next morning, I pulled out all my other old machines I knew I wouldn't use: the 80s Singer serger, a cast iron 30s model Domestic brand (but not a pretty one and it had mold all over the machine and the box), and a cheapy basic Brother (the one that sells for $79 all the time). I also had my mom's 80s computerized Bernina that had stopped working a month or so ago and she didn't know why - she wanted to see if Jim could fix it for her as well after I told her how happy I was with my experience so far. We had a similar exchange this time with him looking at my mom's machine and unloading the others. He said that because of all the machines I was trading, he would do a full service on my mom's machine for $50, which of course we agreed to. I think I left even happier, shaking Jim's hand and saying, "I am so happy I met you," lol. I now had cleared out ALL of the superfluous sewing machines and sergers I've accumulated (which is worth celebration on its own), I would have all the functions working again on my main machine, I would have not just a serger but a really nice one (Jim said my machine would sell for about $500 even with its age), I would get a lesson on how to use the serger when I picked it up, and my mom's machine would be working again as well - All for $100. I still feel like that was just the best deal ever. Were some of those machines possibly worth a little money? Sure. But have you ever tried sewing an old sewing machine that isn't something like a working tredle or a featherweight or a pretty color? Around here, it's nearly impossible, and if you can sell it you will only get maybe $25 tops. People just aren't as interested in sewing anymore, and if they are they generally want to buy a new machine that they know will be reliable instead of taking a chance on an old machine. So I genuinely hope that Jim makes a nice chunk off the machines I traded him. He provided a great service I couldn't do on my own in servicing my 3 machines, and he was so pleasant to talk to - he told me all about my machines I was keeping as well as lots of other sewing machine company info and much more. He definitely earned the money he will make on those machines, plus I can't tell you how happy he made my husband by taking all those machines out of our house, lol.
Jim called me less than a week later - he had fixed my sewing machine :) He knew I would want that back first as it was my main machine, so he got it done quickly for me. When I went to pick it up, he sat me down with the machine and had me test it out so that I could see that everything was working well. He had also cleaned it up all over, so while I've only had this machine a few years, I noticed how nice and shiny it all looked. He also told me that my needle threader wasn't working - I just figured I didn't know how to work it, so I gave up and kind of forgot about it to be honest. Turns out the threader was all bent up and probably had come to me that way (which he said the button hole problem was caused in the factory when they tightened a screw so much that he had to use pliers to turn the screw driver to get it out) - looks like it's not always better to buy a new machine, I guess. He replaced my needle threader right then for $10 and showed me how it works. I had the same experience when I picked up my mom's machine a week later - he sat me down to let me test his work and explained what the issue was and how to avoid it in the future. My mom was just happy to have a light on the machine again, lol. He called me a little over a week after that to say that my serger was ready, so I took a lunch and went to his shop. Not only did the machine work great now - it also looked better than I thought it could. He said that the previous owner hadn't been very kind to the machine and the timing was off everywhere. But he worked his magic and told me all about the machine. It's a Babylock BLSE300, which was the Special Edition model and it included the Quick Thread System, which was completely new at the time. He sat me down and showed me a copy of the closest manual he could find to my machine (which he gave me) and then walked me through how to thread it, change needles, change stitch length, etc. All the basics. Then he asked if I had any other questions, and I asked him about how to set up the machine for flat lock, narrow rolled hem, and more. No joke - he sat with me for 2 hours just answering my questions and teaching me how to use my machine. I left there with a huge smile on my face and a fully functioning serger (that I could use) at long last.
I know this is a long post, but I write all this about my experience not only to give huge praise to a great repairman, but also to encourage others to think about a local business before buying new. We live in an world where most people think that things are completely disposable - when something breaks, you throw it away and get a new one. Regardless of our individual feelings about the environmental aspect of this waste, I think we can all agree that it is wasteful of money. A while back we had a flat screen tv that belonged to my grandma years ago. It had red lines all through the display, so I was going to throw it away. My husband decided he could try to fix it. He went to an electronics store and bought 2 new capacitors for $0.75 each, soldered them in, and we now have a larger television in our living room that has worked great ever since. Would it have been "easier" to just toss that tv and buy a new one? Probably. But I would've been $600 poorer. I think we are in an odd mindset right now - we are so attracted to the "convenience" of places like Amazon (not that I don't love them, I shop there too) that we forget about the convenience to our wallets and the help we can give our own community by shopping local, getting things repaired, or making do and mending. I think the sewing community can appreciate this idea more than the average non-sewer, but even in our crowd we are more likely to buy the newest machine with a few cutting edge bells and whistles than pay to fix a solid work horse with a broken piece that will last for decades while that newer plastic filled machine will be overworked and breaking down in a few years. Sure, sometimes things aren't worth fixing, but that's where the expertise of a local expert can really benefit us as the consumer. I didn't just get my machine fixed from Jim - I learned that I had a really good machine and what made it special, I learned who actually made my Singer Quantum Stylist (hint - it's not Singer - they contract it out), and I was told what features are added just to get you to spend the money on a new machine instead of keeping your perfectly fine old one (this was very interesting and he had several machines in his shop that were only a few years old that were sold to him because their owners wanted the latest and greatest). I also gained a new friend and now have a great relationship with a skilled repairman that I can go back to as long as he is in business with any issues I may have on any of my machines. You can't get that kind of relationship from a place like Amazon, you know? Not that I'm vilifying them (Amazon, I love you) - it's just so nice to know that you have a real person to help you and a place you can go back to with questions or concerns and it's even better that the person has delivered on all the promises they made so you know they are trustworthy and can back up their claims. That type of trust is really a wonderful thing and it will keep me going back to him (and therefor purchasing from him - a mutually beneficial relationship) for years to come.

I'm now having a blast using my serger (my first one ever - I'm so excited!). I'll do a review on my machine once I've had it a little longer and get to know it better. This was a really great birthday present and I am so glad it all worked out this way.

If you live in Brevard County, I can highly recommend you go to Jim for your sewing machine service needs. He doesn't have a website and his shop is open air, but he does post on Craigslist every week (here is a link with his address). As a fellow small business person, I know how valuable word of mouth can be, so I just wanted to put that out there if any of you find yourself needing a repair or if you're in the market for a rebuilt older machine. He gives a lesson with every machine and he guarantees his work for a full year. You really can't beat that :)