My 2023 Sewing Pattern Challenge

I’d like to begin this post by saying I love trying new sewing patterns, especially in recent years with the plethora of various Indie patterns being released with each passing month.

As of this writing, beyond the “Big Four” American pattern companies (Butterick/McCalls/Simplicity/Vogue) and long-established International pattern companies such as Burda, Lutterloh, Marfy, New Look and Style to name a few, to my astonishment, I counted a total of almost 1000 Indie pattern companies on this morning! I knew their were a lot of pattern companies in the world at this point, but not this vast amount of choices.

With the ever-increasing wealth of digital content currently available to the public, it’s not surprising to find some of us garment sewing enthusiasts feeling just a tad overwhelmed with different pattern options at the present time. It reminds me of what video streaming content has become within the last decade. So many choices….so little time.

On to the topic of today’s post. Earlier this Fall, I made a quest to organize all my digital patterns by company and category. I had amassed quite a collection of both copy shop pattern rolls and several print at home, cut and tape digital patterns to sort though. Although some people prefer to store their copy shop rolls in tact, due to space limitations, my preferred method is to cut out the pattern pieces (outside the cutting lines), fold and place in well-labeled, gallon size ziplock bags.

Though definitely a time saver when compared with print at home, cut and tape pdf pattern printing methods, I was, nonetheless, struck by the sometimes extreme amount of wasted surplus paper the copy shop pattern printing method yielded. Of course the amount of wasted paper varies with each pattern company’s copy shop option, but for those with the most excess paper waste, I was able to salvage large sections of blank paper to use for duplicating my more permanent, tried-and-true altered pattern pieces. Even with my intentional paper-saving efforts, when all was said and done, I still managed to fill almost our entire recycling bin with the excess paper scraps accumulated during the week of my mass pattern organization efforts.

One of my many PDF patterns.

Back to pattern storage options, I have a couple of plastic file boxes into which my digital patterns fit efficiently. I created pattern company markers out of card stock paper for easier reference. This organization effort admittedly took more time than anticipated but ultimately yielded a lot of clarification in identifying the patterns I own, while also promoting a sense of forward action in my sewing planning, utilizing what I have on hand and finally making some dreamed-about muslins at long last.

One of my PDF pattern storage boxes.

Lastly, for my personal sewing sanity and realistic prospect of productivity in the new year, I’ve decided to exclusively sew my present pattern stash for 2023 with no new pattern investments until January, 2024. I may attempt to do the same with my fabric stash as well, I haven’t decided yet.

In the meantime, I will mostly likely continue to “shop” and “favorite” various patterns online with the assumption of reassessing “must haves” at the end of the year. On to the 2023 challenge….

“It’s Time For Dodger Baseball!”

The world of Baseball lost one of it’s most treasured voices and truly special human beings last week, long-time Dodgers Sportcaster, Vin Scully.

Vin Scully’s quilt block

The above block is part of a L.A. Dodgers-themed quilted throw I recently completed for my husband’s 70th birthday last June. The pattern is a tee-shirt quilt designed by Angela Walters. In addition to the various Dodgers tee-shirts I collected and made into blocks, I also included several custom machine-embroidered blocks with lists of player rosters, quotes and historical milestones.

Angela Walters’ (AKA “Midnight Quilter”) Tee Shirt Quilt Pattern

What drew me to this particular pattern were the floating (baseball) diamond lines and the various blocks that resemble baseball bases.

For quilting the layers together I decided to underline stitch the lettering and echo stitch around the main images and figures of featured players. The remainder of the quilt employs a free-motion loop meander design with baseballs appearing throughout.

The back of the quilt features a whimsical nod to my husband’s love for Peanuts characters. When I found three Dodgers/Peanut tee-shirts I couldn’t resist including these as well.

It was very rewarding to see the look on my husband’s face when he opened his one-of-kind gift. Suffice to say, the birthday quilt was a hit!

Circling back to my Circle Skirt Dress

After much procrastination I’m happy to report I finally made my first post-muslin version of the Susan Khalje Couture Circle Skirt Dress pattern I started late last Summer.

After pre-washing and ironing the rayon viscose fashion fabric, rayon lining and cotton voile for the bodice underlining, I decided to cut out the front and back skirt pieces first. The pieces were so large that I had to spread everything out on the floor. When it came to cutting out the bodice pieces on my cutting table, I found the rayon fashion fabric to be so wiggly and unpredictable that I finally discovered basting the cotton voile underlining pieces directly onto the reverse side of the rayon first yielded a much more accurate result.

Center front pieces cut out separately then basting.
Basting two layers together first then cutting proved a more accurate method.
Sewing bodice pieces together, a slow-going labor of love.

Since I’d already fine-tuned the fitting of the dress bodice during the muslin fitting stage, sewing all the pieces together went very quickly. I then cut out and sewed the bodice lining pieces together and attached per the pattern instructions. My one obvious diversion from pure couture methods came with my decision to use an invisible zipper rather that the hand-sewn zipper application Susan K. recommends.

Now I was ready to put my dress on my dress form and let it hang out for a few days. It’s a good thing I did too because the stretchy nature of rayon viscose fabric combined with much of the skirt being on the bias yielded an extreme serpentine effect:

Dress during the hangout phase.

As mentioned in a previous post, I spent a good deal of time padding out my dress form to more accurately reflect my true proportions. With that step, I was confident that the hemming process would go smoothly and facilitate my ability to mark the hem while the dress was on the mannequin.

I really wanted to employ the machine- sewn narrow hem Susan Khalje recommended for this dress, but found that sewing a straight stitch on the skirt hem yielded yet another serpentine effect. Marking a chalk line, pinning, hand-basting, then ultimately hand-sewing the hem (all five plus yards of it) ended up being the best solution. Thank goodness for podcasts and audio books during this labor of love step.

A true labor of love, the hand-sewn hem.

Making the belt was fairly straightforward but my efforts at making a fabric covered buckle proved laughably unsuccessful. Thankfully I was able to source a beautiful leather-covered coordinating buckle on Etsy.

The first time I wore my wonderfully comfortable new Circle Skirt dress was at Valparaiso University in Indiana where I was teaching and performing with the Lutheran Summer Music Academy and Festival last month. I felt so elegant wearing it and it was fun to walk in too. I look forward to making another one of these soon.

The Value of a Trusted Sewing Friend

This month I met up again with my trusted sewing friend, Tina, for a couple of intense but ultimately fulfilling days spent fitting garment muslins, analyzing various patterns and comparison of our respective ongoing trial and error processes. We met initially at one of Peggy Sagers’ (Silhouette Patterns) fitting workshops back in 2017 and quickly realized we were on the same page where sewing is concerned. Happily we have kept in touch ever since.

For this particular trip, our chosen destination was Santa Cruz, CA which is almost equidistant between our respective homes. An added bonus; as luck would have it, the weather was perfect.

Each of us brought several works in progress to examine and compare. We also brought books and articles to share. One of the many things things I appreciate about Tina is that she is supportive and respectful of my personal taste and inspiration. She is also honest (and kind) about telling me what is working and what isn’t. It isn’t a matter of “her way or the highway”, I trust her judgement. We are both petite in stature, but with different proportions and body shapes. I also feel I can be honest with her as well. These valued components of our relationship are what seem to make our now two sewing get-togethers successful.

When we weren’t fitting, tweaking muslins and patterns, sharing YouTube tutorials etc.. we enjoyed several tasty meals complete with long conversations about what’s going on in the world, our families and what we’re observing about this particular stage in our lives. We also made time to clear our heads by walking out on the pier, along the boardwalk or exploring the little shops in nearby Capitola where our hotel was located.

On our last day we visited Hart’s fabric store in Santa Cruz which was nothing short of WONDERFUL! From the website: “Buy fabric from people who actually sew.” This description was immediately obvious not only by the online fabric selection choices found on their website, but also the minute I set foot into the Hart’s “bricks and mortar” premises. It was my first time there and was astounded by how much beautiful fabric there was to see, touch and feel. One side of the store is devoted to upholstery, home dec and notions. The other side is organized for apparel and quilting fabric. I was amazed to discover one wall near the cutting tables featured a large selection of Liberty of London fabrics. A definite “kid in a candy store” moment for me.

Apparel section at Hart’s Fabrics in Santa Cruz, CA

Tina and I are already planning our next meet-up, this time in the Bay Area where Britex Fabrics in Union Square, San Francisco will be the main event. More posts on that trip to follow.

A sense of gratitude and my latest sewing adventures

How is it that it’s the end of November already? With the Thanksgiving holiday happening here in the U.S. next week, I find I’m presently reflecting on things in life I feel most grateful for. The list is long, but what presently comes to mind are loving, personal connections, the gifts of creativity, a sense of purpose and joy, not only with completing projects, but also in the discovery and problem-solving process inherent in learning through trial and error.

Soon on the heels of my “More Free Motion Fun” post last May, I flew to the Midwest for a month away, teaching singing and performing in faculty recitals at the wonderful music academy I’ve had the privilege to be a part of since the summer of 2004.

Upon my arrival back home, I embroidered twelve canvas tote bags for a local non-profit here in town.

Next up was making a trial muslin for Susan Khalje Couture‘s Circle Skirt Dress pattern. But before that happened, I finally padded out my dress form to better resemble my actual body proportions. It only took three years since acquiring this new mannequin! Turns out this process is harder than it looks!

My dress form cover is made from #4200 “Princess Sheath Dress” by Silhouette Patterns

I must say, Susan Khalje’s Patterns are beautifully drafted and I look forward to exploring more of the same.

Inspiration photo from Threads Magazine

Here are the front and back of my Circle Skirt Dress muslin. I’m guessing the fit model for this particular pattern must have been somewhere around 5’8 or taller. For my 5’3 figure, I ended cutting off 4” from the hem.

Great length if making a maxi-dress.
Here is my Circle Skirt Dress muslin with the new length
and modeled by my newly-customized dress form. Hooray!

After this initial attempt, I am pleased with the fit and looking forward to making my first “real” Circle Skirt Dress using a pretty Rayon print. (see below)

Chosen fabric for my first SKC Circle Skirt Dress.
A gorgeous Rayon Viscose woven print found at the newly-launched Closet Core Fabrics

After the Circle Skirt Dress muslin was completed, I then entered the ClosetCore “Pietra” pant-fitting muslin vortex. Four (yes four) muslins later, I believe I’ve finally arrived at a flattering overall fit. (Photos of same to follow in a future post)

Length and circumference adjustments for this particular pant pattern were easy enough to do, but the main challenge for me was achieving the correct proportional balance with crotch-curve angles and length of same between front and back. What finally made the most difference was transferring shaping and dimensions from a well-fitting simple pant block I already had in my pattern stash. Why didn’t I do this first? I was curious to see how this pants pattern would fit right out of the gate. A “blank canvas” if you will.

Judging by the multiple customer reviews I’ve read, even though many people reported the overall rise tended to be a bit on the long side, (it is intended to be a high-waisted style) most reviewers concluded that the “Pietra” pants pattern fit them wonderfully from the get-go. I wanted to see if this applied in my case too. Well, no. The fit model for this pattern is definitely taller, has a longer torso/different crotch-curve shaping and of course, longer legs, no surprise there. (I’m 5’3 with with 28-29” inseam, depending on the style, shoes to be worn etc.) Interestingly enough, most Ready To Wear Petite pants sizes have average inseams of 27”, another example of why one size (petite RTW) doesn’t necessarily fit all.

While the above photo does not feature the “Pietra” pants pattern, this tissue overlay example illustrates what has now become a typical crotch curve adjustment for me. I typically place the well-fitting trouser “block” pattern on the lower layer as this helps me to see what I need to do to alter the new pattern. First I line up the horizontal crotch depth and vertical straight of grain guidelines on each and then I can gauge where and how much I need to extend or subtract at the crotch length area. This pattern reference step tends to save a lot of time for me in the initial muslin making process.

Lastly, I wanted to write about a fun and inspiring thing I did recently; visiting a sewing friend/kindred spirit for a whirlwind couple of days spent fitting patterns and muslins, engaging in great conversations, and enjoying delicious food and drink.

My friend’s wonderfully inviting home is located a five hours drive away, up in the wine country, just North of San Francisco. She and I met in October, 2017 at one of Peggy Sagers’ (Silhouette Patterns) fitting workshops held in the San Jose area. Not only do we share a love and passion for all things sewing, we also love sailing!

As I was packing and preparing for our recent pattern fitting rendezvous, I anticipated we would get much completed, helping each other fit a variety of garments including the hardest of all, pants. While these activities eventually came to fruition, what I hadn’t fully grasped beforehand was the profound sense of personal connection, liberation from ineffective fitting results and ultimate creative renewal such an endeavor would inspire, especially after months of isolation due to our current pandemic. Additionally, it was fun to see all the quilts she’s made, especially those intended for charitable purposes. But the real treat was viewing all the garments she’s created; the bold color combinations, fabric choices, fun buttons, design modifications and her unique take on how to make patterns her own.

During our many conversations, my friend and I shared with each other the realization that while we’d managed to stay productive, making masks, quilts and garments, participating in online sewing classes and contests during this last year and a half, it was also a lonely time in our sewing spaces. We further reflected that we were not unique in this regard and thought about those individuals who lost all motivation for sewing in general. Of course, it goes without saying that many in our world have experienced much worse, personal loss, illness and heartache during this particularly trying period in history.

In light of all expressed above, I continue to remain grateful for the gifts of community, the healing benefits of creativity and personal curiosity, inspiration in unexpected places and the rejuvenating spirit of renewal.

More Free Motion Fun

Here’s the latest project in my free motion quilting journey. Beginning with a beautiful Renoir print fabric panel by Robert Kaufman and stunning coordinating borders from the Northcott “Stonehenge” collection, I decided to get out my Mom’s Featherweight machine to do all of the piecing. What a joy!

After a trip to my local quilt shop, The Cotton Ball in Morro Bay, CA
My Mom’s circa 1953 Singer Featherweight, freshly oiled (all 23 points!) and ready for action.

For this quilted throw, I let the Renoir painting inspire what free-motion patterns I would choose and proceeded from there.

A close up of both the print and borders

For the borders, I chose a meandering wood grain pattern for the golden fabric, a meandering leaf pattern for the teal green fabric and meandering swirl pattern for the royal blue fabric. (Thanks again Angela Walters!)

Love those swirls!

After all the precise grid work I did on several of my past quilts, I was amazed to have finished this exclusively free-motioned quilted throw in about a week. So liberating!

Lastly, I had great fun creating the label for the back:

A glimpse of the backing fabric behind the label.

All Things Bright and Beautiful-Part Two

At the end of a year that has often felt like being under a cloud at times, seeing the delight in our daughter’s face (albeit via FaceTime) when she unwrapped her colorful Moraccan-inspired quilted throw on Christmas Day radiated joy in more ways than one. Her priceless reaction reminded me of the happiness and sense of daily purpose I felt during the weeks and months it took to create this particular project; through the conceptualizing stage, piecing everything together and followed by a sense of profound liberation during the free-motion quilting process, all the while imagining her future enjoyment of something I made for her; providing warmth and comfort in her home so many miles away.

With each colorful “block”, I took inspiration from the design patterns featured in the various batik fabrics. These variants would spark ideas about what to try during the free-motion quilting process. Per Angela Walters’ suggestion in her book, “Free-Motion Meandering, A Beginner’s Guide to Machine Quilting”, I began by practicing the meandering shapes with pencil and paper first. As much as I love swirls, the leaf meandering pattern ended up being my favorite.

Practicing by drawing the meandering shapes first gave me the confidence to do the same with thread.

Once I finished piecing the quilt front and back layers, I secured the batting for the quilt “sandwich” utilizing the spray-adhesive method. I then “stitched-in-the-ditch” around all the “gaslight” colored shapes. Since the curved solid blue borders were not even in width all around the gaslights, I decided to sew a couple of echo-stitch lines 3/4” apart then filled the empty spaces with free-motion designs, improvising these areas as the spirit moved me.

Once I began the quilting process, it was fun and interesting to see what the meandering shapes looked like on the back of the quilt. I used deep teal bobbin thread color which matches the paisley batik fabric backing.

Here are some examples of how I quilted the brightly colored gaslights included in this Moroccan-inspired throw:

Meandering Paisley

Meandering Swirls (like waves in the ocean)
Cherries, Branches and Sunflower Echos
Leaf Meander
Swirling Spirals
“Sea Shell” Swirls
Flower Meander
Close up of Flower Meander
Sunburst Swirls
Meandering Paisley, Bubbles, Swirls and Flowers
The back of the quilted throw turned out so well, it makes it nearly reversible.

As we remember all the brilliant lights that shined during these last twelve months and reflect on those that were extinguished too soon, may the promise of the new year bring brighter days, hope and healing on many levels for us all.

Special thanks to Walt Andrus for his beautiful photography of this special project.

My first attempt at creating a capsule wardrobe-Part Seven “Navy Navigation”

For the last two of my ten coordinating wardrobe pieces, I chose solid navy blue knit fabrics to make both a top and tunic-length “cardi”.

“Patty’s Princess Top” is a relatively new pattern in the Silhouette Pattern line. I’d already made a muslin and was relatively confident the process would be “smooth sailing” getting this piece finished in time for the contest deadline.

I love this pattern’s princess seams and the slight bell-shaped sleeve cuffs at the 3/4 length.

Well, yes and no. The lightweight, navy blue rayon knit I choose for this top had a nice drape but proved a lot more stretchy than I anticipated. Fabric scraps from the border print knit used for the first top I made for this collection were added to create a contrasting flat piping detail on both the front and back princess seams. I also cut out the v-neck collar from the border print and reduced the width from one inch to 3/8”. Good thing I decided to hand-baste the princess seams in place for a final fit-check prior to stitching in the flat piping. The rayon knit turned out to be a lot stretchier than the cotton knit I made my muslin out of; so much so that I ended up taking in the seams an extra 5/8” before achieving a flattering fit.

Given the super-stretchy nature of this knit, hand-basting the flat piping to the center front and back pieces prior to sewing the princess seams proved a worthwhile extra step.
Again, similar to the revelations from my previous posts, the border print infinity scarf really changes the overall look of this basic piece.
Paired with Style Arc “Margaret” pant.

Though a bit brighter in color, the mid-weight Ponte knit I chose for Silhouette Patterns “Hugo’s Favorite Cardigan” ties in well with the other nine pieces in this collection.

Love how the shawl collar also functions as a princess seam this affording better fitting options.

It a recent webcast, the pattern maker, Peggy Sagers, suggested adding front angled pockets set into the front side panels so I decided to add these to my version as well.

Paired with Silhouette Patterns “Giorgio’s Top” (tucked in), “My Basic Jeans Skirt” and border print infinity scarf.

For an extra bit of pizazz, I created contrasting bindings for the interior front seams (quasi “Hong Kong Finish” style) utilizing, you guessed it, more scraps from the border print knit!

In conclusion, creating my first capsule wardrobe has been a remarkably satisfying challenge. I’ve lost count of all the various wardrobe combinations creating this ten piece wardrobe has afforded. Each piece is comfortable and esthetically pleasing and I look forward to wearing all in years to come.

A sampling of some of all the possible wardrobe combinations in this collection:

My first attempt at creating a capsule wardrobe-Part Six, the “Classic Blouse”

When the color palette for my ten piece wardrobe challenge started to take shape, finding this beautiful dusty rose eyelet fabric was a a real coup. Creating a blouse from it seemed a natural choice.

I’ve made this particular “Classic Blouse” pattern from the Silhouette Patterns line a number of times and with each iteration has come further fine-tuning both in length and proportion.

Even though the pattern features a self cuff, full-length sleeve, I find a 3/4 length sleeve more to my liking. Several people who have made this pattern elect to omit the pockets, but I like their angled shape and include them more often than not, especially when choosing a transparent fabric.
Paired here with Style Arc “Margaret” pants, Silhouette Patterns “Sweater Set” tank top and border print infinity scarf. Even though the use of interfacing is not necessarily required for the collar and front placket, I elected to interface these areas with coordinating organza fabric to add more structure and maintain the transparent nature of the eyelet fabric.
With Silhouette Patterns “My Basic Jean Skirt”, “Sweater Set” tank top and border print infinity scarf.
Paired with Silhouette Patterns “Giorgio’s Top” and Style Arc “Margaret” pant.

My first attempt at creating a capsule wardrobe-Part Five (A-line “Hoodie”)

While waiting near the cutting table at one of my favorite fabric shops in the garment district of Manhattan a few years ago, one of the employees and I struck up a conversion while he was cutting the specified yardage from a bolt of fabric I was purchasing that day. As is often the case in fabric establishments, the shop employee asked me what I was planning on making. I shared that I had copied a pair of well-fitting pants from ready-to-wear and planned to make up the pattern I drafted with this particular fabric I’d chosen.

Though he did his best to conceal it, I noticed a slight cringe in his reaction. I asked him if I’d said something to offend and he replied, “sorry, I’m a designer”. (Awkward pause) Then I said something to the effect of looking forward to seeing his unique take on design and fashion and wished him the best success in the future.

Though I could empathize with the fabric shop employee/emerging designer’s reaction, I’ve heard it said from more than one professional source that there are no copyright or design licensing standards in the fashion industry, hence the existence of “knock offs” and copies of current and vintage designers within the vast realms of ready to wear and pattern makers.

When investing in well-made and beautifully-designed garments, I not only enjoy wearing them, but also find great inspiration in learning more about the structure, choice and quality of fabric used, proportion and construction methods employed. The information gleaned from the all of the above often inspires me to create my own custom-drafted pattern. As is often the case, my pattern is further altered to better address my specific figure and proportion specs.; ultimately yielding a more flattering fit when all is said and done.

In the case of the A-line, tunic-length “hoodie” included in my capsule wardrobe contest collection, I used self-drafted pattern I created from a RTW version of the same a couple years back. Since my first attempt at making up this pattern (from a lightweight wool jersey) turned out well, the choice of palette-coordinating dusty rose, lightweight cotton knit fabric (see tank top piece from same in my last post) seemed like it might also fit the bill.

The A-line princess seam design lines and tunic length features of this particular garment are figure-forgiving when it comes to fitting someone with pear-shaped proportions. Additionally, the center front pockets one often finds in a basic “hoodie” design are also present here. As someone who loves pockets, especially interior pockets for storing wallets, phones etc.. it’s no surprise that I found myself wanting to add two deep interior pockets which I elected to set into the inside side front sections of this garment. The available yardage of the dusty rose cotton knit fabric was somewhat limited, so I made the additional interior pockets out of, you guessed it, more scraps from the knit border print. During this whole process, that border print has definitely turned out to be the fabric that keeps on giving! (Look forward to even more usage of same in future posts) I also utilized more border print scraps to create a contrasting binding, concealing the raw edges of both the neck and hood seams.

Lastly, in addressing the wardrobe contest “unique” criteria, I decided to add tone-on-tone machine-embroidered design elements to the front left sleeve and center back of this piece, making it a one-of-a-kind garment that I’ll enjoy wearing for years to come.. ** If the machine embroidery design looks familiar, it is the same Pfaff Feather collection design I used for the jean skirt in this wardrobe collection and on the front and back of the blue and white striped Old Navy shirt from a previous post. Since I seem to like it so much, this particular design is quickly becoming my signature logo. 🙂

Paired with Silhouette Patterns #2017 “My Basic Jean Skirt”, #195 “Sweater Set” (tank top). Right panel: close up of interior front side panel pocket.
Paired with Style Arc “Margaret” pant, Silhouette Patterns #195 “Sweater Set” tank top border knit infinity scarf.
Clearer detail of the border print neckline binding and left sleeve embroidery design.

Next up for part six, Silhouette Patterns #600 “Classic Blouse.