Sunday, April 18, 2021

Weekend Review: You and Your Sewing Machine


You and Your Sewing Machine / Bernie Tobisch
Lafayette, CA: C&T Publishing, c2018.
144 p.

This month my local Garment Guild was fortunate enough to have author Bernie Tobisch speak to us via Zoom all about working with our machines to our best ability. His humour and knowledge (and great props!) are all found in his excellent book on building a better relationship with your sewing machine. 

This book is comprehensive, based in his nearly 50 years of maintaining and servicing sewing machines of every brand. It's well laid out, easy for the reader to follow and to find what you're looking for. It's broken up into three sections; Getting to Know Your Sewing Machine (features, all the various parts and how they work and why), Maintaining Your Good Relationship (using the right foot, cleaning, lubricating, updates and other little bits), and Problems and How to Fix Them (tension, needles, threads, specific common issues). It ends with a quick reference Troubleshooting Guide that's 5 pages long and gives quick possible solutions to various common issues - and where to find more info in the book.

Laid out this way, there's a logical progression, and one thing I especially liked is that in the beginning he describes the different kinds of bobbin cases found in various machines so that you can be sure you're looking at the one that is in your machine when you're looking up the problem solving bits. I found the section of getting the tension right in your machine to start with really useful; then it's just little adjustments for the particular project as you need it, and very little bobbin adjustments are ever required. While we often think first of tension as the root of most problems, he notes "it's hardly ever the tension".

There are tons of large clear photos for everything, which include his oversize props that make needle threaders or tension disks, for example, extremely understandable. There's a lightness in the writing which makes it both informative and entertaining. He's very straightforward and is clear about what you can do yourself, and what kind of things require you to take your machine in to a technician. I learned a lot from his presentation to our Guild, and this book is a super addition to that knowledge. I feel like it's the class handouts from a very informative discussion! I think that I'll be more inclined to fiddle with a few of the issues I might encounter before deciding that it's up to the shop to fix it. Also, I feel more informed about why problems might be occurring, so I can avoid easy errors such as buying cheap needles or bobbins that aren't made for my machine. 

Definitely recommended if you are interested in keeping your machine running smoothly and getting the most out of it for as long as you can. 

Friday, April 16, 2021

Literary Sewing Circle: Interview with Karin Tidbeck

This week we have a special feature: an interview with the author! Karin Tidbeck is both a writer and a sewist, and has shared some of both of those worlds with us. Read on for more!

Credit: Patrik Ã…kervinda 2020

1. Welcome Karin, and thank you for taking the time to do this interview for the Literary Sewing Circle! Can you tell us a bit about how you came to write Amatka? What was the genesis of this novel?

Thanks for having me! So, Amatka took a very long time to write because the process was very meandering. It started out as a series of dream notes that took place in specific environments, and I realized the notes could be organized into a continent of sorts. I found that it could best be expressed through poetry, so eventually I ended up with a poetry collection. It didn't sell. I then decided to write short prose based on some of the poems, and a story eventually took shape. I think the whole process from first dream note to final manuscript was about eight years. I didn't work on it all the time - it had a lot of shelf time between attempts - but that's about the time it took. 

2. The ending of Amatka is ambiguous, and because of that it really stayed in my mind. Did you intend this kind of unsettling conclusion, or did it arise naturally from the writing and the themes of the novel?

The ending came organically, like most other parts of the novel. In order to figure out the ending, I had to rely on the characters - everything that ever happens in the book is a direct result of who the characters are. To me, the ending isn't ambiguous at all, but then the readers don't live in my brain. I think it might seem ambiguous because by then, the story is told by an unreliable narrator. Or maybe it's because it doesn't end with tying everything up in a neat package. It was the only way it could end, though. 

3. You translate your own works from Swedish to English -- is the experience of writing/rewriting in each language different for you? Does it change the way you create or perceive your own work?

It's not as big an issue as it was when I first started translating my work into English. These days I write almost exclusively in English. Amatka is a translation from Swedish, though, and the first major translation I made. It was difficult, because my feel for English isn't as instinctive as my Swedish is. At first it was kind of like writing with mittens on; there's a barrier between you and really feeling the language. These days I would say when writing in English, I do it with surgical gloves on. So things have definitely improved, but I don't think I will ever have the same primal connection to English. As for how it changes my creative process, I'm not sure. I'm standing in the middle of it, and it's hard to take a step outside since I live in my own brain. Maybe someday some linguist will come along and explain it to me.  

4. I know that you are also a sewist. Can you tell us a little more about your sewing life - how long have you sewn, and what are some of your favourite creations? 

I made my first dress out of an old sheet when I was about 13. I come from a family of sewists; my maternal grandmother made the clothes for the entire family, and she usually didn't use patterns. She was some kind of sewing savant: she would spread out the fabric on the floor, look at it for a while, then start cutting. I don't know how she did it. My mother is a sewist and a knitter. She has made two folk costumes from scratch, and knitted countless sweaters, mittens and socks. She also does embroidery in a way that I have never learned - flat stitching and stuff. So, it was natural for me to get into crafts. I got my first sewing machine when I was 15, a Husqvarna that I still own and use. We work very well together. On it, I have made gothic dresses (in my teens), an enormous amount of LARP costumes, and everyday wear. Some of my favorite garments are a pencil skirt that looks fabulous but was hell to sew (stretchy wool mix!), a crane-patterned kimono that I finished recently, and a pair of absolutely enormous balloon pants in bright orange chiffon that I made for a futuristic LARP. Maybe also the jacket that went with it, which had a pink fur bodice and sleeves cut from a yellow raincoat. 

photo © Karin Tidbeck

5. You've shared some of your cross-stitch projects on your blog as well. What drew you to cross-stitch? It can be so subversive in the ways that it's used now, and I feel like your projects really capitalize on this ability.

Cross-stitching requires so little effort and the results are great. It's meditative and all I have to think about is counting stitches. So I do that for relaxation, while listening to audiobooks or podcasts. I learned cross-stitch in crafts class when I was about 10, but I only returned to it maybe five years ago. It's just a nice kind of art to do with your hands. I'm currently working on a small linen doily that I got from a friend. I'm filling it with creative insults in Swedish, embroidered in all directions, so that everyone around the table can feel offended.

photo © Karin Tidbeck

6. Do you see a connection between the way that the world needs continuous remaking through language in Amatka, and your own habits of making, both as a writer and a sewist?

This is a great question! I haven't thought about things in quite that way. But it's true that I'm obsessed with the processes of making and unmaking, be it words or music or things. My basic idea for Amatka came from dreams, as I've previously said - and that's where the idea mainly came from. That the world of Amatka is at its core mutable and ephemeral, and what it would do to a society that tried to survive in such a world. 

7. Your new book has just been released in North America - do you want to tell us a little bit about The Memory Theater? Are you working on anything else that you'd like to share right now? 

The Memory Theater starts out in a place called The Gardens, where time has no meaning and a group of nobles throw endless parties, served by stolen children. One of these nobles will leave, and two children will chase her through the multiverse. There are witches and librarians and a theater troupe; there's love, chosen family and grief. And some cows. More than I intended to put in there, I think. 


Thank you for sharing some of your writing and sewing journeys with us, Karin! We hope you'll enjoy seeing the projects we make inspired by your writing. 

You can find more about Karin here:

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Staycationing with the Penrose Top

This month my local Garment Guild set ourselves a challenge, in recognition of one year since the first lockdown, to make something we would have worn on vacation if we'd been able to take one.

My vacation choice would have been to visit my sister in Singapore, and with that in mind, I cast about for a lightweight summery top that would have helped me in the heat there! I decided on the Penrose Peasant Blouse by Sew News Magazine, which was their current free sewalong (pattern still available to download free until April 30). It's a loose and floaty design, and I paired it with a very lightweight cotton blend that I'd thrifted a while back -- it had been made into a curtain but was clearly a garment fabric.

This was a fairly quick sew. I wasn't enamoured of the separated over-boob gathers so I simply gathered the entire front in between the outer notches. It's a looser gather but I like it. If I made it again, I'd shorten the shoulder length somewhat so that the neckline is a bit higher, but it is definitely wearable and not scandalous as is ;) 

The neckline is a yoke in front but a solid back, so it's not a lined yoke - it has front and back facings. If you take care to sew evenly when attaching the facing, and reinforce the corners with a few extra stitches, you can clip right down into the corners and thus get a nice sharp edge when the facing is turned. There are no tricky bits to this one, it's a quick sew and an easy wearing toss-over-the-head top.

This fabric is smooth and airy, and so fits this pattern well. It's definitely a holiday worthy top that would have got me through some hot days. I hope that I'll be able to wear it on some local excursions this summer once our current stay-at-home orders are lifted. I think this could easily be lengthened into a swimsuit coverup or even a caftan-ish dress. Nice simple pattern!

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Weekend Review: Encyclopedia of Sewing Machine Techniques


Encyclopedia of Sewing Machine Techniques /
Nancy Bednar & Jo-Ann Pugh-Gannon 
NY: Sterling, c2007.
336 p.

Another book off my shelf that I sourced at a thrift store, and another looking at the potential of your sewing machine. This one is aimed at experienced sewists, who know the basics - those aren't covered here. 

It's a collection of tips on how to use your sewing machine for all sorts of unusual or advanced techniques, arranged alphabetically and with lots of clear photos to accompany each technique. It covers applique (a variety of approaches) and quilting related ideas fairly extensively, but also has interesting ideas for dressmaking. There are tips on counted cross-stitch and drawn thread style stitching, using machines. And it covers some of the more expected things like bias binding, hem and seam finishes, buttonholes, top-stitching, zippers, eyelets, tucks, etc. 

Each one gives the required machine set up, and recommends the best fabrics, needles, threads, and the necessary presser foot to accomplish the project or technique. There are some lovely effects available with these techniques -- once again my attention was drawn to the fringe foot, and how it can be used in combination with other feet & stitches to create a very heirloom looking insertion. 

There is a newer edition of this book out there, from 2011 I think, and I'm sure it would be more up to date with newer presser feet and options available. If I ever see it I'll take a look, but for now, this one is sufficient to start me off of some more experimentation with my lower-end machine to see what I can do with it. 

I'm having fun looking at these books with their examination of sewing feet and the potential of simple stitches. And of course, adding to my sewing room wish list!

Friday, April 9, 2021

Literary Sewing Circle: Amatka Inspiration!


It's the first week of our Literary Sewing Circle featuring Amatka! Have you found a copy yet? Have you started reading? If so, how are you finding the opening chapters? 

This week we'll be looking at some of the characters to inspire a project. This story has a wide cast of characters to draw from, and luckily for us, some of their names even match right up with patterns.

We'll start with our main character, Brilars' Vanja Essre Two -- or more simply, Vanja. There's a Vanja Hoodie/Sweatshirt Dress pattern on Makerist, and the cozy warmth of it is just what Vanja might have appreciated when she first arrived in the chilly environs of Amatka. Note: the pattern is in German but looks pretty straightforward. 

Next we'll look at Vanja's new housemate Nina. Being more adjusted to the weather in Amatka, Nina might have already been prepared with this Women's Nina Coat from Shwin Designs. It's a stylish but warm option!

Upstairs in Nina's house we find their older tenant, Ulla. She's a bit of an iconoclast, and very interested in what happened to Berol's Anna and the other residents of Amatka who are said to have died in a fire... She might have worn something unexpected by Amatka's residents, just as she's willing to think unexpected things too. This fluid Ulla Dress by Fibremood could reflect the fluidity of reality in Amatka. 

And speaking of Berol's Anna, how about making this classic Anna dress from By Hand London in honour of this great poet and author of the book Vanja discovers in the library, PlantHouse Seven? 

If you're thinking of something a little smaller to work on, you might consider making something for a child. Nina's daughter Ida could inspire this cute little Ida blouse & dress from Atelier Brunette. 

Or maybe you'll just let Ida inspire you to make a dress for yourself -- like this comfy t-shirt Ida Dress from DG Patterns

Looking outside Vanja's household to some of her coworkers gives us a couple more options. These are especially handy if you prefer to knit rather than sew. First, Vanja works with Anders once she gets a job in the administrative offices in Amatka. The Anders Gilet might be the perfect project, using Swedish yarn as found at LoveCraft! 

And finally, Vanja heads to Amatka on her work assignment in the first place, all because of her supervisor Oydis, who thinks she needs a change. If you're a knitter, you could make this Oydis Sweater by Lina Marveng, and top it off with the Oydis cowl. Both beautiful! 

If you tried, I'm sure you could find more patterns inspired by the names of people or places in this novel. I hope some of these are catching your fancy, but if not, stay tuned for another inspiration post in a few weeks that will be looking at the book from a different angle. 

Happy reading!

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Floral for Spring in Butterick 6655

I've been slowly working away on this cheery spring dress for a couple of weeks, in between other things. I've had this floral linen-rayon blend for a while, and have had Butterick 6655 in mind for it. So I finally got moving on this plan!

I loved this pattern as soon as I saw it. I've been meaning to make it ever since it first came out. I like the button band element, it adds something extra to a basic sheath dress. It's actually a faux button band -- the flap is sewn into the front centre seam and buttons are stitched down through all layers at the end. I do love a good button so this one was calling my name.

The pattern is rated as easy, and it is. There are two long darts in front and two in back. There's also a centre seam both front and back, and you attach the button band into the front seam, and then topstitch to keep the seam allowance nice and flat. There's a neck facing and set in sleeves, and a back lapped zip. All good beginner basics to practice if you're just starting. The fitting would be the hardest part. It can be worn with or without the included fabric sash, I think either way works.

As for my fitting issues, I shortened it about 3/4" above the waist but didn't below, since it's pretty short for me as designed (for my tastes anyhow) and I am short! I actually added 2" to the short hem line marking on the pattern, when I cut it out. I graded out from 14 at neck to 16 at bust and 18 at hip. A frequent tweak I make with closer fitting items. And I shortened the length of the front darts by 1/2" at top and bottom to adjust for my figure better; the back darts only needed a smidge of shortening. 

As for design tweaks, I only made one big change -- I changed the back zip to an invisible zip. That's my preferred style, and I had a perfect lightweight invisible zip in moss green in my stash that matched nicely. The only thing I didn't change was the lack of pockets. I just didn't think I could get away with side seam pockets in the fitted shape. So I'll have to learn to live without pockets with this one, argh! 

Otherwise it was a straightforward sew with basic techniques. I really like the fit, and the neckline is high but sits well and doesn't choke at all. I love the fabric and am really happy with this project. I ended up harvesting the perfect buttons for it off of my yellow jumper I made last spring, as I'm planning on refashioning that anyhow. I think they work much better on this project! 

I'm happy to have something so cheery and bright to wear as the weather starts getting lighter and brighter as well. Happy Spring to everyone. 

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Weekend Review: The Complete Sewing Machine Handbook

The Complete Sewing Machine Handbook / Karen Kunkel
NY: Sterling, c1997.
160 p.

I'm going through some of the older books on my shelves this month, and this is one I picked up at the thrift store a while ago. It is a great book even if it is nearly 25 years old! In fact, I'd like to see it updated, since it's really solid apart from the one section on computerized machines. 

It's made up of 8 chapters, starting with buying a machine (points to consider), getting to know your machine, needles and thread, and moving to stitching basics (straight stitch, zigzag, buttonholes, blind hem), decorative stitches, specialty presser feet, then the aforementioned chapter on technology in the sewing room, and finishing off with some tips on care and maintenance of your machine. 

There is a ton of great info in this book, presented clearly and succinctly, perfect for beginners who are just starting out with their machine sewing hobby. There are numerous clear photos to illustrate parts of a machine, stitches, presser feet, techniques, etc. Every time she discusses something there is either a clear list of steps or images to follow. She's a really good communicator. She shares a trick to checking your machine tension that I haven't seen elsewhere -- sew a line on a folded bias square, then pull it evenly from either end. Both threads should break together; if just one breaks the tension isn't balanced on that side. 

Even after sewing for so long myself, I still learned things, especially in the decorative stitching and specialty feet chapter. I now have a couple more specialty feet on my wishlist (fringe foot I'm looking at you!). I found that there were some really basic things I wasn't doing in my sewing, to use my machine to its full capacity. And it gave me a bit of a bug to try out some of the stitches I've never used before -- I don't take advantage of some of the abilities of even my pretty basic machine. 

I got busy with some scraps and various kinds of thread and tested out some of the patchwork stitches. Here's my sampler trying out the feather stitch -- in regular sewing thread (blue) to topstitching thread (pink) and in rayon embroidery thread (gold). I liked all of them. Then I tried bobbinwork using handwound embroidery floss in the bobbin (coral). That didn't work well in the decorative stitch but in a plain zigzag or straight stitch it looked kind of cool. 

So this book has inspired me to try to use elements of my machine I haven't been using, and to be more careful to keep it running well by regular cleaning and by ensuring I'm using the right threads and needles for my projects so there's no extra strain going on there. I think it's a great book!