Tuesday, April 1, 2008

you too can sew clothes

I am so trying to become a sewing expert. My mom sewed us all adorable outfits when we were young. Also for herself. She's the raven-haired beauty in the hat print shirt above, sandwiched between my aunt and cousins (that's my big sister Leigh in the back). I just love the simple lines of the shirt, as well as the adorable fabric.

My big sis Leigh also sewed for all her kids, and I'm talking stuff like matching boy/girl velvet church outfits with smocking and everything. And later, banquet dresses. All very impressive.

I'm not exactly up to all that, but I do so love the idea of my girls one day opening a cedar chest and showing their daughters my handmade clothes that they cherished through the years. So I've been trying out patterns and doing my best to make them one of a kind.

I got a bunch of sewing books for Christmas and birthday. I love to pore through them and imagine all the cool stuff I could be making. They have been great resources on basic sewing knowledge, which is one thing I'm woefully short on, having never been taught and having never taken home economics.

Above is an example of my mom's sewing from waaay back. The two girlies in dark blue velvet are two of my older sisters, sporting two adorable dresses Mom made (among the many many she churned out, despite having 5 children, ages 9 and under. Oof). The other light blue cuties are more of my cousins, who no doubt, also have on handmade dresses.

So I've started my sewing odyssey. My wonderful husband bought me a sewing machine years ago, and I've created curtains and pillows, but never clothes. Recently I've sewn several items for both daughters, always entering into the project with a) grand visions, excitement and high hopes, then somewhere in the middle b) bewilderment, disillusionment and sorrow, then toward the end c) it usually degrades into a red anger and complete frustration. But always I learn something I can use in the next project.

Something I have learned so far: all commercial patterns for my girls are too wide. I must need to fatten them up some. That would sure be easier than figuring out how to alter the patterns.

McCall's M5370
The first dress I made for Thing 1, my oldest (above). Mushrooms are just big with me right now, so I tried to make a simple pattern unique by adding some felt appliqué to the pockets. That was the most fun I had on the whole thing. Reading the sewing directions was like trying to figure out a foreign language. I also ran out of fabric (rookie mistake) so I made it up with the band of red at the bottom.

Simplicity 4927 (so faded from many washings!)

closeup of (faded) applique

Next I tried another 'simple' dress (above). I never realized that set in sleeves were so...EXCRUCIATINGLY HARD! I'll never wear another blouse without profound relief that I didn't have to sew in the sleeves. There was much weeping and gnashing of teeth before the finished product, which came out looking fine because the extra fabric I couldn't 'ease' into the sleeve hole is bunched up in the armpit. ha. Once again, the most fun offered by this project was coming up with the owl appliqué and sewing it on.

Lesson one learned from an experienced sewing friend: don't sew up the side seams until you sew in the sleeves.

Lesson two learned from online sewers: sewing set in sleeves is much easier if you cut off about half of the huge 5/8" seam allowance in most commercial patterns.

my own pattern

Next project was to make a wrap dress. I looked and looked for a wrap dress I liked for the girls. Having no success there, in an overly enthusiastic moment I decided to draft my own pattern based on one the girls already had that was slightly too small. Ha.

I was still too dumb to make it out of muslin first, so I pulled out a lot of stitching and ended up with a pretty jumper (despite myself) in brown corduroy. Of course by the time this was completed, winter was subsiding.

I was a lot more ambitious with the appliqué this time, dreaming this design up after a new obsession with the work of Charley Harper (that is your fault, Jessica). Also, Jessica, thanks for your post about appliqué - Heat n Bond TOTALLY ROCKS.

Simplicity 3857

So, now we come to Easter, and my crazy desire to make both the girls coordinating dresses. In one week. Another pattern, and more insane alteration of the pattern (simply can't sew it as intended, oh, no, that'd be too easy) and voila. I think I'm starting to get this stuff. Wait, does that flower look like a boob? hmm.

Thanks to WiseCraft for the fabric flower tutorial, it's fabulous! I made this one from felt so it wouldn't ravel. After taking the picture of the dress above, I added two ribbon petals to the flower stem. I'm too lazy to take another photo, sorry.

The amount of swing a dress has is really important to a girl. Below is the coordinating dress for younger sis, same pattern.

As you can see from the dresses, I have a crazy love for Denyse Schmidt's Flea Market Fancy fabric line. I cannot find much out there. I am so afraid it is out of print now. What a disappointment! Denyse, PRINT MORE!


  1. LOVE, LOVE, LOVE the new blog!!! Anytime you feel the need to have something extra on and outfit, you can now come over and use the new sewing machine!

  2. (kevin really didn't post, but that looks funny!)

  3. I totally thought that was Erin before I realized it was a picture of Leigh from way back! How cute!

  4. Fantastic dresses. I'm also starting to enter the world of sewing and things handmade. www.dashandverve.tumblr.com

  5. You are my inspiration... I have told my husband that I want to sew as well as you do.

  6. Beautiful dresses! I liked the owl appliqué!!!

  7. Beautiful, Happy New Year 2011. I am Learning How to Sew. From Caracas Venezuela

  8. And look, only four years later she must have read this post and answered your plea. Yep, I'm absolutely 100% positive this post triggered the whole FMF reprint ;)


Hello. Enough about me. Let's hear from you! If you have a question, I answer with a reply comment, so be sure to click the 'subscribe by email' link as you post your question to receive the answer via email. Thanks!