Sunday, March 22, 2020

Some of my favorite sewing tools

Who wants to talk about sewing tools? Staying home has meant doing some home organizing and closet cleanup as well as sewing. I was tidying up yesterday and thought I could share some of my favorite sewing tools that aren't the usual, such as measuring tapes or scissors which we all have.

I think I'll do a separate post about pressing tools as they are in a category of their own, and absolutely vital for a good sewing result. In fact I waver back and forth as to what is my personal sewing mantra (and what I say a lot in my classes). It's either 1) more interfacing or 2) press it before you go on. Two necessities for sewing success.

Let's dive in. The first item is something that I started using about 4 years ago? At first I used the regular Frixon pens with the fine point, which worked well but seemed to run out of ink and you had to press quite hard on some fabrics to get them to mark. Then I happened upon the Frixon highlighter pens and now I buy them by the dozen. They are like a typical marker in that you can use the wide or narrow side of the tip, they come in all the typical highlighter colors and they do seem to come out fine on most all fabrics. As with any marking on fabric I am selective in use.  They are great for marking stitching lines such as on corners or curves. I tend to use them a lot on insides of garments on the interfacing as they are visible when stitching. I am less inclined to use on the outside of garments but sometimes do. I've read that markings can reappear in cold weather but that's not a concern of mine 🌞.

Frixon highlighter pens


Next are my favorite chalk markers. Without question my most treasured sewing tool is the yellow Chakoner marker which I have had for maybe 30 years? Older than many of your sewing machines and older than some who might be reading right now!  I bought it when I first started taking classes at The Sewing Workshop which was in San Franciso, out in the avenues and owned by Marcy Tilton. I took so many great classes there and when I think of it now it's quite similar to Hello Stitch - same warm and welcoming atmosphere, storefront location, great natural light and a place to commune with fellow stitchers instead of sewing as a solitary pursuit.

Anyway - back to the markers. The Chakoner markers make the finest chalk line and unlike some other of this type of chalk marker the little wheel rolls smoothly. Not sure when I got the blue one but they are both used a lot. And you can refill (carefully) the little stopper at the top comes off and you make a paper funnel and gently tip the chalk into it. I think I had the yellow one for years before I refilled it. I see them on Amazon now, (note the spelling, no "L" in the name) and I've ordered the refill chalks. Only use the Chakoner chalk in them as it is super fine chalk. The Clover chalk markers in that pen shape are also good, and I use them for some items like denim or other fabrics where I don't want to waste my nice Chakoner :).  Any other wheeled chalk markers I have found to be crap but perhaps you've had better luck with them. The wheel on the Dritz ones seems to get bent or stuck almost immediately.

chalk markers

This is another item that I cannot sew without. I think magnetic pincushions are a bit controversial, but I love them. As evidenced by the one in the front, which is the oldest one. No idea why it is so ragged but it still works. And yes I do separate my pin types, the finer silk pins go on the pink and blue magnets and then the less fine pearlized pins go on the red ones. I love to be able to sweep across the floor and pick up any pins that drop. When sewing I keep one next to the machine and one on my work surface, then when the one by the machine gets full I swap them. Note I don't know if it matters but I'm kind of fanatical about keeping these away from my laptop, phone or iPad. Read one time that could could harm, don't know if it's true but why chance it. Note the tape on the red one - it hit the ground and a piece broke off - a bit of tape and it's fine. (that's my answer to a lot of fix it, a bit of tape - and who hasn't used tape in place of a band-aid when sewing. Only me?

Magnetic pincushions


Next up are the Fiskars snips. Are you sensing a theme here? Multiples? I'm a bit scatterbrained when sewing and instead of looking for the one item I just have several and then there is always one to hand. These Fiskars snips are very sharp and I like that spring action, as opposed to putting your fingers in the holes of small scissors. I keep a pair at the studio and people in my classes are always "ooo I need to get one of those". You can find at sewing stores but if searching online they may be listed as pruning snips. It's the same product.

fiskars snips


This is kind of an oddball item, the name molded into the plastic is "Button Elevator" which is exactly what it does. It's used to sew on buttons and give the space needed to create the thread shank. Jackets, coats, any fabric that is a bit bulky, you need to have some breathing room between the button and the fabric so that the button can rest in the buttonhole when closed and not pull and pucker. It does take a bit of practice to get the hang of it, and of course you could use a toothpick, pencil, or knitting needle. I'm sure I bought this at a garage sale or something like that, so if you see one for a few cents give it a try.

Button raiser


More marking tools, this is Wax Chalk. I think I first got some of these way back when at the old Sewing Workshop, which I mentioned above. I ordered a box a few years ago from Atlanta Thread and Supply - which I think was bought out by Wawak? So the box on the right is almost empty but I give them out when I do the jacket tailoring class. One box will last you a while so they are great to share with sewing friends. They are perfect for marking wool, it just melts away with a touch of the iron leaving no trace (but always test first!!!)  I use them on cotton too and so far have no problem. By the way, I really like Wawak - they have great prices and it's so much better to order a variety of zippers or thread from them and have on hand rather than dashing out to Joann's and paying $ 3.50 for an invisible zip.

Wax chalk


This one is kind of a fun treat, when I did a lot of articles for Craftsy (now Bluprint) I color coded pieces in the illustration photos, and one day I needed more colored pencils. I tried these and they are so nice! Since I trace a lot of Burda patterns now they come in very handy. I tend to trace with one color, add fit adjustments with another, and then seam allowances with a 3rd color. In my fitting classes I always recommend using soft colored pencils on any pattern paper, they mark well, are visible and don't tear like a sharp pencil or soak in like a marking pen. I've had this box about two years and it's nowhere near finished. Plus the box is cute and I'm sure it will get reused for storing something else one day.

Prisma pencils

Here's an example of my colored pencil artistry, haha. In this photo I've cut up the jacket front pattern piece to make the side front lining piece which will attach to the facing. More on that detail when I finish and blog about that jacket.

Burda boucle jacket facings

Which I will give you a sneak peek. The fabric is SO unravel-y, I did interface fully but it still wants to shred at the edges. So I just handle carefully. I know some people serge all pieces but for a lined jacket I never do.

Boucle jacket WIP

I have a few topics on my Random Threads notebook page - it's been a while since I did that, and then I do have a few finished items to share. After this jacket I will probably make a top that I can wear with the jacket.

Thanks for all the nice comments on my last post - the top where I decided to try a new shape. This jacket has some interesting sleeves as well. And also for all the love for my red coat - I appreciate it so much.

Stay well everyone and I look forward to seeing everyone's creations in person when we resume socializing in the usual way 🤗

Happy Sewing, Beth

the tulips are definitely making me smile this week.

yellow tulip

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Hello Spring. New season, new style

It's a bit weird to sit down and write a blog post about sewing a new top when the news is so dire. I want to acknowledge that and say I hope everyone is well and doing what's needed. We can all emerge someday (hopefully soon) and show off what we made while stuck at home. I've actually not done all that much sewing since our stay-in-place order was issued. Faced with at least two weeks at home I made a very long list of house, garden, sewing, baking and closet cleaning. Joking with friends I said if I get through all that I will be amazed as it is easy to get distracted by a book or talking on the phone.

That said I will try to provide some sewing content here as we are looking for things to occupy our minds and hands - it keeps us off the news feed, right? News overload doesn't really help and I'm so glad to have the ability to entertain myself with sewing and to share with fellow stitchers all over.

This is my attempt to try a new style or silhouette. I was going for that boho look and not sure if I got there, but I do like this top. The colors are my favorites and it will go with plenty in my wardrobe.

Blue rayon top 4

It's a Burda pattern. What else?  Are you getting tired of reading about mostly Burda magazine patterns? It's just that they are so convenient! and now with two years of magazines I have what seems like a dress, top, jacket for any look or shape I want to sew. Let me know in the comments if there are some other patterns that you would like to see me make and how you feel about my steady stream of Burda magazine sewing. I think it doesn't make any difference as clothes are a collection of collars, closures, pleats, sleeve styles etc and any pattern company is going to mix and match in similar ways (eventually).  This one is Burda August 2018 #103  here it is on their website.

Burda stripe rayon top drawings

I really tried to get the stripes to line up and it's reasonably well matched, one side is a bit better than the other but across the sleeves and body it lines up. It has a separate button band so that needed to match as well. a bit wiggly in places. I didn't really pay attention to what the pattern did with the sleeve cuffs, I just decided to go with the a channel for elastic. Which at least means that when the sleeves are bugging me I can just push them up to the elbow to shorten. (by the way I always think of these sleeves as pirate sleeves - it seems in movies, pirates always have these floppy shirt sleeves)

blue rayon top front

Yeah, this expression says "I'm not really sure about this style on me".

Blue rayon top and jeans

blue rayon top back on form

I bought this woven rayon fabric at Piedmont Fabrics back in October on that beautiful day when I met Yoshimi and Carolyn. So I will wear it and think fondly of them and how great it was to meet in person.

I have a obsession about button sewing, in that I can't stand it when the buttons are not spaced correctly so that one spacing is off and it creates a ripple or makes the hem uneven at the bottom. Although I usually sew on the buttons before I hem and then sew the hem so that it is even at the button band. Told ya, obsession.  So here is a button sewn on, button it, and then mark the spot for the next one.

Blue rayon top button sewing

A closer look at the neckline, it has a very narrow shaped band and a couple of pleats on either side. I would make this again in a cotton voile maybe, or a silk crepe de chine. But for now it will go in the pattern binder as I have plenty of other new patterns to get to.

blue rayon top close up front

Blue rayon top back view

Back view and wearing with my most recent version of the Ash jeans. I think that pattern is great. They aren't hemmed yet. Maybe when they are they will get their own blog post.

Blue rayon top 6

There I was trying to show of those sleeves. Still  not sure about them. In fact now that I look at it the whole thing looks a bit "old-fashioned nightgown" in shape. But I do like the fabric!

We finally have had some rain after not a single drop in February, so the plants are doing better. The pink jasmine on the fence behind me is about to burst into bloom.

Blue rayon top 3

Up next, I'm making a boucle jacket with some interesting sleeves. I'm only a year behind with the year of the sleeve, right? I think this is the year of the ruffle based on what I've seen with the latest spring patterns (was their a McCalls pattern without a ruffle?) I stopped into Stone Mountain Fabrics on my way home from teaching what turned out to by my last class for a while and got a couple of great fabrics for tops that go with the jacket. So my stay at home sewing is at the ready.

I hope you are doing well, staying safe and I'm so appreciative of our online sewing community. Seeing everyone's blog and Instagram posts is cheering and inspirational.

Happy Spring Sewing,

Yes, it's the first day of spring and the garden is starting to look that way. I hope this beautiful tulip is another bit of cheer for you.

ruffle pink tulip

Monday, March 9, 2020

Red plaid wool coat Part 3, completed

It seems to me this is the third time since I began blogging that I have done a very similar thing, which is to finish sewing a wool coat just when spring is arriving here in N. California. While our coat wearing season is fairly short compared to other places, back in the second week in February when I started this I thought I would get a few chances to wear it. On the day these photos were taken the temperature had been almost 80 ℉ here so that is not very likely. However I will be ready for the Christmas holidays in December!

Red coat 16

The light was just going in the evening so I did lighten up some shadows, and in some of these pictures the colors look not quite right.

Red coat 11a

There are two blog posts previous to this one that talk about construction, the first one is about fit and shows the pattern drawing (it's a Burda Easy coat that I downloaded about a year ago). The next blog post is about doing bound buttonholes and a few interfacing details.

The fabric is from Mood Fabrics in NY. I ordered in December when I was in a holiday mood and to me the color is just the perfect shade of red. It's definitely a plaid and I treated it as such, with all that involves. Considering some of the changes I made for fit after I cut it out I'm really happy with the plaid matching result (check out that first blog post for the fitting info).


This was the only photo with the front unbuttoned, which is probably the way I will most often wear it. I really searched for some red buttons or something else interesting but now that I see it I really like the black buttons. Which were in my stash :)

Red coat2

Ok my dislike of what I call novelty linings might be know if you have read this blog for a while, I prefer lining to be a solid and matching or coordinating color. But I was stuck at home recuperating from the flu, well enough to sew, wanting to finish this coat, and this pink satin lining was sitting there in my box of lining fabric just saying "pick me, pick me". It's the exact weight and type of lining that I like for a coat so I just let go of my desire for a matching lining and went with it. Maybe it coordinates, instead of matching.

Red coat lining

Red coat pink lining

SO pink! Lining is hand sewn in all around. I used the same pattern pieces as the coat, added a small pleat in center back and then adjusted the front to account for the facing. There's a photo in my previous post showing how I "free-form" the lining.

Red coat front and back

Red coat back view1

You can see I have my hands in the pockets, after all what is the good of a coat with no pockets?
Yet this version didn't have pockets, the front flap things are just decorative.

Red coat side seam pockets

But I took care of that little issue with some side seam pockets. By the way, I almost always put lining instead of fashion fabric on the back of pocket flaps (or even faux pocket flaps). I just think they are less bulky and press nicely that way, of course they are interfaced to maintain the structure.

See, hands in pockets. And what am I looking at? Probably a wasp building a nest under my patio cover, even the wasps think spring is already here.

Red coat 12

To show that this is becoming a habit - by that I mean making a winter coat when winter has all but fled my part of the world here are the previous episodes.
Shawl Collar Coat from March 2015  and Spring Coat from May 2013. Hmm both of those are Burda and so is this coat. AND my best every Tricolor Coat, also Burda. Are we sensing a trend? Burda has some really great coat patterns and I would make even more but I have no possible chance to wear any more!

Time to run, my garden is sadly neglected since I was sick with the flu for the majority of February. I did get some dahlias planted but have a long list of tasks to get to. Plus I have two pairs of jeans about 80% completed which I sewed as examples for my recent jeans class. Now it's onward to spring sewing, both here in my sewing room and at Hello Stitch Studio. Here's the link for all the classes we have coming up in the next few months.

Red coat 19

Stay well everybody!
Happy Spring Sewing,

Today's garden photo - this year's first tulip and it coordinates so well with my new coat.