When I’m not sewing, one of my favorite pastimes is reading about sewing. It’s also my favorite way to procrastinate when facing a sewing dilemma! I have a large sewing library and I want to share a few of my favorites with you.
General Sewing Tips
Power Sewing and More Power Sewing, by Sandra Betzina
These books, published in the mid to late 80’s, are oldies, but goodies. They cover a wide range of topics from pattern/fabric selection to fitting and tailoring tips. If you are looking for photo illustration of techniques, look elsewhere. Illustrations are hand drawn and I think some sewing knowledge is required to understand the instructions. The books are full of valuable tips and techniques, though, which make them worth my reading time.
Couture: The Art of Fine Sewing, by Roberta Carr.
This is my bible. Period.
Sewing with Knits
Sewing Knits from Fit to Finish, by Linda Lee.
I have always preferred to sew with woven fabrics. I know most sewists think sewing with knits is easy, but I wasn’t convinced until this book caught my attention. Filled with clear color photos guiding through you through every step of every technique, the book begins with descriptions/photos of each type of knit fabric. From there, Linda leads the reader through a discussion of ease and fit, equipment and stitches. Step by step construction details follow, with activewear and lingerie covered in the final chapters. I refer to this book often and sew knits with much greater confidence these days.
The Palmer/Pletsch Complete Guide to Fitting and Pants for Real People, by Pati Palmer and Marta Alto.
I own many books on this subject, but these are comprehensive, have easy to follow illustrations and photos of actual women with a variety of body types and fitting issues. They cover tools, body analysis, step by step tissue fitting and solutions for fitting each part of the body.
Sewing Book with Patterns Included
Breaking the Pattern: A Modern Way to Sew, by Saara and Laura Huhta, founders of indie pattern company Named.
One of our customers recently brought this book to my attention, telling me that she was “sewing her way through it” and sharing with me her favorite patterns of those she’s made so far. I have not made a garment from the book yet, but I particularly like the Knot Dress shown on page 84 and the Utu Wrap Skirt on page 58. The patterns are modern, versatile and would suit a variety of body shapes. Ten patterns are included in the book, with instructions for twenty variations – great value!
Favorite Sewing Magazine
“The Maker’s Atelier”
This magazine is published in the UK and not widely available yet in the U.S. I was lucky to find it at a local newsstand and you can subscribe by visiting their website themakersatelier.com/magazine. Published quarterly by Frances Tobin, designer of The Maker’s Atelier patterns and author of the book The Maker’s Atelier, each issue includes a free pattern. The articles cover a range of topics from denim to tailoring to tools. The patterns are classic, the photography is elegant and I wait impatiently for every new issue. If you would like to know more about Frances Tobin, here is a link to an interview with her on the blog “That’s Not My Age”.
December 10, 2019
by Karen Griffin
November 26, 2019
I recently returned from my second Design Outside the Lines (DOL) workshop with Diane Ericson. This second experience was very different from my first, but just as magical and creatively energizing. I realized this time that I am in a different place creatively than I was at my first DOL. My 2017 DOL launched a craving for, and journey toward, mastering new techniques, experimenting with surface design and meeting more like-minded sewists. I came to this DOL with more confidence, an openness to wherever this week would lead, and the comfort of knowing what to expect.
Diane is one of those special people who can coax her attendees to push their creative boundaries. She encouraged us to work differently during the week and this time I was open to her suggestion. I brought several works in progress that I had hoped to finish, but put them aside for another time. Instead, Diane encouraged us to experiment with making pieces for our “parts department.” These are scraps that are stitched together in straight or curvy lines, embroidered, or otherwise embellished and will eventually become components of garments. I ruched, overlaid and couched my way to some new “parts.” Along the way, Diane reminds us that there are often 4 or 5 solutions to a sewing problem – some more creative than others!
Hand stitching a sheer stripe over a dotted taffeta Diane wearing a coat made with some of her "parts"
One of Diane's "parts" becomes a unique collar
Diane’s guest instructor was Caro Lee Shanks, a talented clothing designer and textile artist. I had seen her garments at trunk shows and long been an admirer of her ability to layer and play with textures. She professes she is not a teacher, but I would disagree! She shared her design philosophy with us, showing us how she cuts geometric shapes from fabric, following a “zero waste” philosophy. She uses the scraps as pockets and other creative embellishments. I enjoyed seeing what she wore each day – how she combined fabrics, layers, and added visual interest with the scraps most of us would throw away.
Can you find the hanky pocket in Carol Lee's garment above?
Diane was assisted throughout the week by her “angel”, Gwen Spencer. When she wasn’t teaching us proper pressing techniques, or how to make a perfect collar and stand, Gwen’s hands were always busy stitching. We all loved the tunic she made from scraps she spotted in the garbage can at Marcy Tilton’s studio (below, left). She stitched them together without changing any of their shapes! Then there was the purse she made and embellished with washers inherited from her father’s large collection and the shawl with pebbles captured in stitches at one end.
I had wonderful, generous and very creative companions for the week. We came from as close as Ashland and as far as Tennessee and Hawaii. Some had been coming regularly for years and others were here for the first time. Whatever our backgrounds, our shared love of sewing, textiles and creating made us fast friends. The magic of DOL comes from these connections and the learning from each other.
Marta, one of the attendees, introduced us to the book, The Intentional Thread, by Susan Brandeis. It’s a comprehensive guide to mark making and drawing with thread. By the end of our week together, we were all hand stitching, a visual reminder of the way our lives had been stitched together at DOL.
November 9, 2019
Sewing is such a personal, solitary, therapeutic and enlightening experience. The reasons a person may begin to create are hard to pinpoint – in a new series we plan to ask our friends and colleagues why they began their journey down the rabbit hole that is sewing! I’ll start…..
I sew to feel alive, to heal, to escape, to remember, to honor my past, as a reward, as a gift, as necessary – often I feel I was born to sew. Like most of us, I had creative grandmothers – both sewed – one professionally the other out of necessity. I spent a lot of time with both. Leota would show me the sparkles and her fancy machines; Judith would let me sort through scraps to make Barbie outfits and embellish my plain clothes into the coolest things I could imagine. My earliest stitching memory is sliding that fat yarn through the holes on the Holly Hobby cards, you know the ones. Their influence provided the balance of form and function at a young age.
As I grew up, I made requests for certain costumes and outfits. I wore them constantly even though most of my peers heckled me. Didn’t matter, I was proud, proud of the design, fabric choice and execution. As cheesy as it may be, it was like Dolly Parton and the coat of many colors, my handmades were worth more than all their clothes. I still get misty when I hear it.
My sewing interest waned in my early teens but I was a clothes hound and loved the challenge of creating multiple outfits out of minimal pieces. Back-to-School shopping memories are etched in my mind. My senior year I got a job at Disney World, I worked at the Sci-Fi Drive In. All Disney employees wear costumes and have to check them out at the beginning of their shifts. It was so inspiring to see the behind the scenes and it kept the creative fire burning.
In college, I started sewing again, making hippie patchwork pants and tops. The creative bug bit hard but I struggled with ‘can you make a living sewing?’ so I floundered. Eventually, I landed in Portland where I attended the Art Institute and studied apparel design. My favorite classes were the Couture series. The attention to detail and ability to conjure magic with my hands had me entranced. From that moment on I knew I didn’t want to mass produce garments or be a cog in a design wheel. If I was going to sew it would be ‘one of a kind’ pieces, things that inspired me.
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Next time, I’ll tell you how Josephine's Dry Goods changed my life!
What We Wear Has Meaning
By Karen Griffin
October 8, 2019
I recently read this blog post by Lyn Slater, of “The Accidental Icon”, about our relationship with clothes. In my case, that relationship is getting more complicated due to the ethical and environmental issues associated with the fashion industry. Do I stop buying fabric, use up my stash and start upcycling? Do I only buy clothes from companies that produce clothing with sustainable and ethical practices? I’m grappling with these questions, but in the meantime, I took a hard look at the garments I own to see what they tell me about where I am now. I found meaning in my most loved and worn garments, meaning derived from several sources.
Lyn mentions a collaboration she has begun with some design students at Parsons School of Design. Well, some of my favorite garments are ones that were created at sewing retreats or workshops where the input of creative sewing friends elevated my garment in progress. This kind of side by side, hands on collaboration is one of the joys of attending these workshops and retreats. Below are two examples of garments created in this collaborative way.
“Tuxedo” dress made from 2 upcycled men’s tuxedo shirts in a draping workshop with Christine Mayer, of Berlin, Germany
In London, I spent hours, between two visits, at Joel and Sons Fabrics. I remember the rolls and rolls of printed silks, the helpful, patient man who brought down fabrics I couldn’t reach and swatched them for me. My first purchase from Joel’s was the tweed for this Chanel style jacket.
There is one more way our clothing can have personal meaning and even convey that meaning to others. These are the garments that visually convey a message. One of my favorite sewists on Instagram, @blakandblanca, is a pro at incorporating meaningful messages in the garments she makes. Here is just one example.
Chanel inspired Kalle shirt
(Closet Case pattern)
This is common practice among many fashion designers and is an area of fashion that I find intriguing. I am currently working on an upcycled jacket/top that incorporates a message I like on the pocket of a men’s Espirit de Corps shirt.
I know I want each garment I make or wear to have personal meaning, as those are the clothing items that make me happiest when I wear them. I will continue to give more thought to how I can be a more mindful creator and consumer. In the meantime, we are always happy to collaborate with you here at Josephine’s!
By Karen Griffin
August 5, 2019
I was incredibly fortunate to attend Christine Mayer’s workshop in May on a farm in the San Luis Obispo area of California. I have attended a number of workshops, but this one was one was truly special. Christine is a designer from Berlin, Germany who has been at the forefront of re-purposing vintage garments and textiles into new garments for many years. Her garments have been available in many high-end retail shops around the world. Her latest collection, Asha, means “hope” in Nepalese. Christine worked with the women of the Nepalese mountains to develop these garments and each is hand knit by these women, providing them with a source of independence. All the while Christine teaches workshops around the world to encourage and provide necessary skills for sustainability in the fashion industry.
Our hostess, Melinda Forbes, and her dear friend, Julie Frankel, provided a nurturing atmosphere and farm fresh lunches, snacks and desserts for the group all six days we were together. Melinda and her husband live on 1 ¼ acres full of gardens and a grouping of studios. As weather permitted, we ate and worked outside in their glorious gardens.
The first 3 days of the workshop focused on the skills of Japanese draping. This type of draping involves creating a muslin pattern directly on the dress form. Christine taught us the needed skills with step by step demonstrations and attentive, individual hands on help. Each of us draped a jacket and skirt design provided by Christine.
My jacket muslin in progress
Christine’s demo skirt in progress
She also showed us her process for using the patterns we created to place and piece together fabrics to create the final garment.
We learned how to draft one piece and two-piece sleeves! I discovered it isn’t too hard - just a little math and rulers and such a valuable skill to have!
Day 4 of the workshop fell on Memorial Day. Goodwill just happened to offer a discount on all clothing of 50%, so we happily started the day with some shopping for our upcycling projects.
Janice and Shireen with some Goodwill finds
Once Christine wrangled us all back to the farm, she began demonstrating her process for taking vintage and used garments and creating new garments from them. She showed us how to observe what the fabric wants to do, where to cut, how to remove fullness, how to draw in an armhole, then make a sleeve fit the new opening. This whole process was quite a revelation and really made sense to me. I found a men’s large tuxedo shirt at Goodwill, then Shireen (on the right in the above photo) gave me a 2nd tuxedo shirt that had belonged to her husband. From these 2 shirts came this dress in progress:
I had so much fun draping this dress – the whole process was very freeing and at this point, I knew the workshop would be life-changing for me. I found a creative zone within myself that I had never visited before and came away from the workshop with a newfound fearlessness!
Over the next few mornings, Christine continued to demonstrate and drape several more upcycled garments, then sent us off to make more of our own creations. On the final afternoon, we gathered to model our new garments for the entire group. We were so impressed with what each attendee had made and it was with great reluctance that I said goodbye to all my sewing friends.
Michelle Paganini models her upcycled overdress
Leslie Gelber with her hand sewn, pieced denim dress
Christine is in the planning process for a workshop in Portland, OR next spring.
In my recent post, “Closet Refresh”, I admitted to failing miserably at wardrobe planning. I have tried…made lists, prioritized, etc., to no avail. In January I set a goal to declutter my closet, plan a versatile, coordinated wardrobe (me made), and set up a system to track my progress.
Once my closet cleanout was complete, I started my wardrobe planning research. I was overwhelmed by all the information out there for capsule wardrobes, 10 item wardrobes, SWAT (Sewing with a Plan), etc. Here are a few of the resources I found to be most helpful to me:
Next, I chose this color for my accent:
I sat down with pen, paper, my fabric stash and began my planning. I wanted to fill “gaps” in my wardrobe (primarily pants) and keep our summer travel plans in mind as I planned. I started with bottoms:
Next, I choose 6 tops that would coordinate with the three pair of pants:
Finally, I wanted a lightweight topper that I could throw on in the evenings or on cooler days, so chose a taupe linen with a fleur de lis woven pattern to make the Merchant & Mills Strand coat.
I am fortunate to have inherited some chunky turquoise jewelry from my grandmother, who lived in the Southwest a portion of her life. I can wear these pieces with the taupe and white garments. I also have a navy/white Shibori knit wrap and polka dot scarf that will coordinate with many of these wardrobe pieces.
I have to say, this plan totally changed my sewing priorities, or I should say, created sewing priorities. I feel so good having some direction with my sewing. When these garments are finished, I will take the same approach for my fall/winter sewing. Once these basics are added to my wardrobe, I can start adding some fun, more colorful pieces…next year.
In the meantime, I need to finish my current project – a Katherine Tilton tunic, B6491. I’m busy adding some hand stitching in a raspberry hand dyed embroidery floss. Stay tuned to see the finished garment!
This day began with Kathryn leading us through her couture method for setting a sleeve into a jacket or coat. Did you know tailored sleeves are sewn in by hand with a backstitch? There is always more to learn when it comes to sewing and that is one of the big reasons I sew. Kathryn’s sleeve tutorial for Emma One Sock can be found here.
Kathryn sets the sleeve into Shams’ coat
Later in the day, Diane shared her tips for refashioning garments, encouraging us to ask questions as we work that don’t have “yes” or “no” answers. When removing a sleeve from a garment, be sure to mark the sleeve front and back; leave seam allowances attached to the bodice. When designing a garment, she encouraged us to focus design interest on areas of our body we want others to see rather than covering up areas we would rather hide. See two of Diane's refashioned garments below:
This last day was one of packing up and coming together to share what we had gained from our week long time together. None of us wanted the retreat to end and the farewells were reluctant ones. This experience far exceeded my expectations. I learned so much from both Diane and Kathryn. I also learned more about myself, my abilities and the direction I want to take my future sewing. Perhaps, best of all, was meeting some of the sewing bloggers I’ve followed for years and making new sewing friends from across the US and one in Vancouver, BC. I hope to cross paths with many of them again.
I highly recommend trying a sewing retreat or joining our local chapter of the American Sewing Guild, Columbia River Sewing, to experience the camaraderie of sewing with and learning from others.
If you find yourself attending a DOL retreat (and I hope you do) or just visiting Ashland, here are some of my favorite places:
Hopefully I haven’t left anyone off this list!
December 1, 2017
Sewing is normally a solitary pursuit, like many creative endeavors. In the past, women would gather for quilting bees to share their love for sewing, the latest news, and homemaking tips. Today we can gather sew communally by getting away on a sewing retreat. I recently returned from a week in Ashland, Oregon where I attended my first Design Outside the Lines Retreat hosted by Diane Ericson, with guest instructor Kathryn Brenne. The theme for this fall retreat was “It’s all in the Details: Coats & Jackets”.
Diane is a gifted teacher, artist and designer. She is all about expressing your own creative sensibility in the garments you make and wear. She blogs and offers her patterns, stencils etc. on her website, http://www.dianeericson.com. Kathryn teaches couture sewing at her Academy of Fine Sewing and Design near Ontario, Canada, and designs patterns for Vogue Pattern Company. She also writes articles for Vogue Patterns and detailed sewing tutorials for Emma One Sock, an online fabric retailer, which can be found here. The two of them made a complementary and dynamic teaching duo.
Each day of the five day retreat combined demonstrations by Diane and Kathryn, sewing time for our individual projects and time to explore the charms of Ashland. The town offers plenty of shopping, art galleries, restaurants, and, of course, Lithia Park for inspiration.
Vogue 8933 Vogue 9291 McCalls 8933
In the afternoon, Diane talked about making fabric better. How can fabric possibly get any better? Well, she showed us how she fuses or stitches pieces of fabric together, then cuts the resulting fabric into the desired shape or size. This pieced fabric can be used for embellishment or an entire garment as shown below.
Diane dazzled us with shaped seam construction, interesting collars, and ways to add shape to a garment with godets. Her motto is “do more with everything” as you can see from the photos below.
I thought I knew a fair amount about needles and thread until Kathryn shared her tips for matching the right needle and thread to various fabrics and applications. Other couture tips, like knotting, thread tracing and choosing/applying interfacings completed our afternoon session.
This was a full day of learning to make wearable art jewelry from fabric scraps and found objects, as well as working with leather to make “one of a kind” closures.
One of Diane’s scrap & found object pins A leather closure designed by Kathryn
By the end of day three, our own projects were well underway and our heads were so full of ideas that sleep was hard to come by! Stay tuned for DOL, part 2, for the final few days of this wonderful getaway.
It’s my favorite time of year here in the Pacific NW. Trees are putting on their fall finery and so are we! Temperatures are getting cooler and coats are coming out of our closets. Those of us who sew are fortunate to have so many options for making our own fall/winter coat wardrobe. Here are a few of my favorite casual styles:
J Crew is featuring this quilted vest in Liberty of London Catesby Floral,
but I envision the Grainline Tamarack jacket in one of these wool/Liberty of London combinations.
Another favorite is the zip front Minoru jacket with its wide collar, optional hood, raglan sleeves and flattering elastic waist – perfect in our cheerful Liberty Capri canvas.
From Vogue’s new fall patterns, comes the sporty, ¾ length version of the baseball jacket, V9275. This pattern is perfect for one of our Italian wool plaids or checks.
If you are a novice at matching checks/plaids or just want a refresher, this tutorial from Grainline Studio is a great reference and will insure your success.
Do you have a coat project underway? We’d love to see what you are sewing and are here to help whenever we can. You are always welcome to come sew on our Bernina machines and get our assistance. Open Sew time is available by the hour or with a discounted 10-punch card.