Sunday, March 29, 2020

Weekend Review: The Poison Thread

The Poison Thread / Laura Purcell
NY: Penguin, c2018
351 p.
This chilling book was a captivating read -- set in Victorian England it features seamstresses, gothic terror, poverty, phrenology, single daughters trying to break out of their bounds, and everything Victorian that I love.

Dorothea Truelove is a young woman who is wealthy, lovely, single, and obsessed with phrenology.  She is convinced that the shape of one's head will predict characteristics, particularly criminal tendencies. (I feel like Dorothea would be a true crime podcast fan in our own days) She's not much interested in the men that her father keeps inviting to dinner in order to meet her, being far more focused on her own research. 

Ruth Butterham is poor; her father is an artist and her mother takes in sewing. Ruth helps her with sewing, since she seems to have an unnaturally precocious talent for embroidery. In Ruth's exhaustion and bitterness, she focuses on her detail work with great emotional turmoil. And because of this, she comes to believe that her needlework can affect the person wearing it -- that she can injure and even kill from a distance, stitching her intentions into the item she is creating. This kind of sympathetic magic is believable in this Victorian setting, and is unsettling and creepy. 

Ruth's life is a miserable one; after her father dies (early on in the book) she is apprenticed out to a dressmaker who turns out to be totally off her rocker. The abuse and terror in this household takes up much of Ruth's story, and is quite visceral and violent -- beware of that if you are not keen on situations of abuse. 

But when Ruth ends up in Oakgate Prison, her case interests Dorothea, and their stories begin to converge. Dorothea adds Ruth to the roster of female criminals she is interviewing and examining for head shape. Is Ruth delusional, mad? Or is there something to her story? And do Dorothea's criminal theories hold up? Or are they each simply saying what the other one wants to hear?

For sewists, this story will fascinate for its details on the stitching, embroidering and dressmaking. Ruth makes herself a protective corset (the English title of this book is actually The Corset), and then makes another for her nemesis later on in the book, which is not intended to be protective at all, quite the opposite. The sewing and the precision of description is strong in this book, and the way that Purcell weaves together all the stories is convincing, and creepingly evil. 

If you are in the mood for a Victorian gothic replete with fabric and thread, featuring women, betrayal, and mystery, this is the book for you. You should have a higher tolerance for terrible events, though. Definitely a terrifyingly dark read! 

Friday, March 27, 2020

Literary Sewing Circle: Inspiration Post



It's time for another inspiration post, and this one will focus more on specific, sentence level inspiration that we can find in this book! (our last post looked more at the characters, if you missed it)

As I was reading, I was thinking about some of the imagery that stuck out for me, and also some of smaller characters and elements of the story.

If you look at it this way, there really are infinite directions you might go in with a project!




First, I'm looking at some of the places that this story takes place.

The obvious main setting is Long Island. That's where the Wilde House is and where most of both stories are set.

To reflect this setting, you could make the Long Island kids tee.



Of course, a larger focus on New York is possible, since both Charley and Lydia travel across the harbour to New York for their own reasons. There are various neighbourhoods in New York to work with

The Manhattan Peplum Dress by New Horizons could fit this setting well.


Or you might also like to try out the Brooklyn Knit Top from Style Arc 


The Soho Shorts & Skirt by Liesl & Co may also work! 




And Sam goes home to Rochester for Christmas, leaving Charley and Rachel snowbound in Millbank . This location definitely recalls the Rochester Dress by Maven Patterns for me.



Charley's family lives up in Toronto, so if you want to go that way, you could quickly make up a free pattern, the Toronto Tee by Rebecca Page


Then there are some pretty strong images to work with. One of these, at least for me, is the recurring image of Lydia in her bright yellow dress. The dress that immediately came to mind for me is the new and popular Vogue 1671. 


If you're inspired to make some costume related creations by the descriptions of Jean-Philippe or De Brassart's fine woolen uniforms, you could use the 1760s Frock Coat by Reconstructing History,  or even their entire Mid 18th Century Gentleman Package of patterns. 


Or of course you might go in the direction of using fabrics inspired by the book, maybe directly by the Bellewether itself.

Sailboats at Funky Monkey Fabrics

Liberty Sail at Fabric.com
Or perhaps you'll choose something more unexpected, inspired by Sam's beagle Bandit, or Don's dachshund.

Dachshund Scuba at Lindybob.co.uk
Or maybe Sam's occupation has you thinking of something in a different direction!

Alexander Henry "Heavy Equipment" print
Maybe you'll just let the idea of all those ocean voyages that the Bellewether makes down to the Caribbean influence your make. 

Tory Sevas on Spoonflower

Whatever you choose to make inspired by your reading, just share the idea or phrase that has sparked your plans. The linkup will go live in two weeks, and then there are 3 more weeks to make and post your project. I hope you are enjoying the reading and getting lots of ideas for your project already. 




Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Side Tie Tee, Burda 09-2019-115

I bought this lovely jersey fabric in 2018 at the Stratford PR Weekend, with this fun multicolour print that reminds me of coffee beans! And I know that at least two other PR members bought it at the same time :) But I have finally had time to find a pattern that could use it well. 



I picked up my favourite recent issue of Burda Magazine, the September 2019 issue. There are so many great patterns for me in this one! This easy tee was one I really wanted to try. It's basically a loose fitting, long sleeved tee, with the added detail of a tie attached to front and back left side.



I cut a 42/44 blend for this top, adding on a 1/2" seam allowance when cutting it out. I also ended up added another 1/2" or so to the sides at the hip, just to give myself some leeway, and I am glad I did. I love the fit.


The only issue I had with the fit was that I didn't check the neckline well enough before cutting. And it turns out that this is another wide Burda neckline. It was really wide on me, just at the edges of my shoulders. I thought about adding a little triangle of fill-in fabric to the neck edges, but then I tested an inverted pleat at the front, and liked the way that it pulled in both front and back necklines to sit nice and neatly on me. So I stitched it down -- it's almost perfect, I just have to press it flat so it sits smoothly. 

The neckline is finished with a facing, but I just cut a narrow one and turned into a bias facing. I didn't change the length of the top at all; while it's longer than the magazine image, I prefer my tops to the lower hip, not the high hip, so it works out perfectly for me. Just had to make sure that the waist line & tie were at the right spot before cutting; very little adjustment was needed. 


I am trying to get some more projects done while I am at home for the foreseeable future, because of the Covid-19 outbreak (my library is closed). I traced off four Burda patterns earlier this week, and have now made up one of them.


While I can't go out anywhere, I can get out into the sunshine in my yard. Today was bright and cold (I was a bit chilly here but needs must!) and the air was so fresh -- it was nice to get outside for a while and take photos. Have you been sewing more while you're at home? Projects that have been on your list for a while, or impulse sewing? Whatever you are making, stay happy and healthy, and stay home :)



Sunday, March 22, 2020

Weekend Review: Built by Wendy Dresses

Built by Wendy Dresses / Wendy Mullin with Eviana Hartman
illus. by Beci Orpin
NY: Potter Craft, c2010.
208 p.

This is the final book in the Wendy Mullin series -- and my favourite, since I do love dresses so much! It has the same structure and layout as the other books in the series; opening with basic info on sewing and finishing, tools, tips and so on. Then on to the three basic patterns included as tissue patterns in the back, and a chapter on adaptations and hacks to each one. It also finishes off with a chapter on recycling fabrics, or upcycling. Very timely and cool!



The three basic patterns she includes are Shift Dress, Dirndl Dress, and Sheath Dress. With these 3 silhouettes, she says you can make almost anything.




There are a lot of fun ideas in this book, from colour blocking to optical illusions to additions like collars, sleeves or drawstrings that totally change the look. She is quite ambitious in this book with some of the alterations -- the finished creation looks difficult to see based on the basic pattern at first glance, but the steps to making it are clearly described and illustrated and if followed, the final dress isn't hard to see at all.

Dirndl Base
The sizing in this book goes from XS - XL, or, a 32" - 41" bust and 35"-44" hip. But it is important to note that there are NO seam or hem allowances in these patterns. Feels like working with Burda! Mullin says that this is because it is much easier to alter style lines or size lines without having to adjust for the seam allowances first, which is very true. After you've completely changed your pattern pieces, then you add on the seam & hem allowances before cutting. It does work more efficiently that way.
Shift Base
There are some really lovely designs in the book, with an additional idea at the end of each project, and I think that if you worked through this book thoroughly, you'd be fearless about changing patterns and creating new designs forever.

She shows the variety that can come from each of these silhouettes, and there are even lots of styles that work for those of us older than 21. I have a favourite in each chapter that I'd like to try - showing those picks below!

I am most likely to make some of the pieces in this book before any of the other books in this series. Hopefully I'll get a chance to try at least one soon and let you know about how the patterns actually work in practice!

Sheath Base

Shift Base

Dirndl Base

Friday, March 20, 2020

Literary Sewing Circle: Book Talk


I am shifting around the scheduled posts a bit, so today's the day for some serious book talk! Our author feature will be posted a little later in the sewalong. How are you doing with the book? Have you started it yet? Finished it? Do you have any reactions you'd like to share? 

Here are a few questions to ponder today and for the next while -- whether you have begun reading, or you've only read blurbs & our interview so far and still have something to say, join in! Although there might be a few spoilers in the questions and discussion below so if you haven't got too far yet you might want to come back to this post.

I'll add some of my own thoughts and you can reply to them or add your own impressions. If you want to hear other takes on a part of the book that you are curious about, leave your own questions in the comments, too. I hope you are all enjoying it so far!




1. What was the first thing that drew you to this book? Was it the setting? The historical context?

I first picked up this book because I read everything by Susanna Kearsley as soon as it is available. But I was particularly interested in this one because of the time period of the past story. I studied North American history in university, and found the era of Wolfe & Montcalm fascinating, although I studied it mainly from the Canadian perspective and didn't think much about the American involvement. This story fleshes out that time period and I loved all the detail. 

2. There are multiple characters interacting both in the past and present storylines. Did you have any difficulty keeping them straight? Do you like this kind of read?

I love this kind of read, with tons of people involved and side characters who are fully developed, who give you a feeling that they have a full story of their own. I didn't have too much trouble following it, as I usually just go with a story like this and find that it sorts itself out in my head soon enough. The author helps here, though, by not giving characters similar names and by giving them all characteristics that differentiate them. I also like how the two stories are linked in the end. 

3. The romance element in both storylines is a slow build -- did you find it believable? Romantic enough for you?

I loved it! I liked Lydia and Jean-Philippe a little more; their romance felt a bit more true to the time period to have it slow and sedate. Charlie & Sam didn't seem to talk anything over though, they just suddenly became a couple. I can see them fitting well together but might have a liked a little more spark there. Charlie was too busy with everything else to have a grand romance, though! 

4. Both Sam and Jean-Philippe are the strong & silent type. The unappealing men, like Tyler or De Brassart, are both smooth talking charmers. Kearsley's type is clear -- do you also have an identifiable type? Do you agree with her characterizations?

I also prefer a quieter man with character and strength, so always find Kearsley's heroes appealing. The charmers are not so attractive to me. However, I did find that Tyler was very shallow (even perhaps a little one note), and wondered why the clever Charlie didn't see it as soon as everyone else in her life. Sometimes a charming man really is charming though, and can be a hero as well as a villain; perhaps some of Tyler or De Brassart's more redeeming qualities could have been shown as well.

5. Did you enjoy the ghostly elements of the story? Did you guess who the ghost was before it was revealed?

I love the ghostly elements of Kearsley's stories. This kind of slightly paranormal, slightly gothic romance story is one of my favourite kinds of read. This ghost was very homely and not very alarming, though I did not guess who it was before Kearsley revealed it in the end. It makes sense in the context, but wasn't what I'd expected. 


6. The legend of Lydia, her French officer, and the ghost that haunts the Wilde House grounds turns out to be wrong in several respects. Did you see the twists coming?

I really didn't, until close to the end. I was hoping that the tragic tale wouldn't be so tragic, and trusted that Kearsley would be able to find her happy ending. I love the legend though; it feels like something that people would tell about a historic house, and really liked how Charlie and the museum used it for their programming. I'd have definitely done the same as a museum director! I did like the legend as much as the real story of Lydia & Jean-Philippe. 

7. Is there a particular character that you found especially compelling? Any themes or symbols that really resonate with you?

I liked Lydia a lot -- she worked hard, was very efficient, brave, artistic, and had strength of character. And seemed willing to examine her own prejudices as necessary. I thought she was a good character to focus a story on. But I also found Violet very compelling. She seems like a person apart -- almost putting a face on during her parts of the story, but having a deep and complex life outside of this narrative that we can only glimpse. The modern day side characters are intriguing, too -- Frank's bluntness, Malaika's leadership, Charlie's fragile grandmother -- I found so many little bits to think about.

I found that on reading and rereading this one, the setting was very much part of the experience for me. I love the way that Long Island and New York are evoked both past and present, and would have also loved more on Quebec. I really do like the past era, though, and maybe that's another reason why I enjoyed this so much.

8. Is there anything specific  in the book that has sparked an idea for a project yet? Are you mulling over any ideas?

I think there are many, many directions to go in with a project. Past, present, imagery, characters, places, colours... a lot to work with! You could go with an historical recreation, or a modern reinvention, or something just lightly connected in some way. 

I am thinking about something inspired by New York, or maybe some of the imagery early on in the book. I have a great NY print that I might use, or perhaps just some bright yellow like Lydia's gown. There is also the fall imagery of apples and leaves that might appear somewhere...clearly I haven't quite decided! 


Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Sewcial Distancing

By this time I am sure that we are all cognizant of the spread of Covid 19. My library has closed indefinitely, and so all staff asked to stay home and self isolate as much as possible to slow down the spread. I will gladly do so if that means that the outbreak will be minimized as much as possible. And I hope you are all doing the same.

Fortunately for sewists in this situation we have a hobby that can give us weeks of occupation while staying home. I could spend a whole week just on cleaning and organizing my sewing room and varied stashes.

I've started making plans for some sewing during this time, and here's what I've come up with.

A couple of new items added to the stack.


Traced off 5 Burda patterns yesterday and am now matching them up with fabrics

A "back up" stack of potential makes ;)
Plus I have to finish a dress for a pattern test that I'm doing, so will have to share that one in future. I think that will keep me busy!



Of course, I also have tons of reading to do; my Goodreads TBR is currently sitting at 1705 titles, and I probably have 30 books I could pick up immediately on my shelves already.

If I start feeling a little too isolated, there are great challenges popping up on Instagram to keep us connected during this quarantine period. I love the idea of #SewcialDistancingChallenge. I have a vintage housedress pattern that might be perfect for this!






With my son’s respiratory issues, we’ve been moderately social distancing ourselves for the past couple of weeks. Even with my family around, it’s a pretty lonely experience. And with my family around, it is a crazy-making experience. I have had no desire to dress up, sew (be it costumes or vintage clothing) because, well, there’s nowhere to go and it just seems so trivial.⁣ ⁣⁣ ⁣I decided this morning that enough was enough and I’m going to focus on not dressing for going out, but staying in. And who else knew how to look good stuck in the home but our foremothers? So… I went into my sewing room and picked a house dress pattern and some vintage rayon that I’ve had for forever. ⁣ ⁣⁣ ⁣If you want to join in and share what you’re making for our shared confinement, join the #sewcialdistancingchallenge. Be it, a robe, nightgown, lounging clothes, or a housedress — just make something and strut it around the house!⁣ Please share this post with anyone in your life who needs a distraction right now! ⁣⁣ ⁣#vintagesewing #vintageclothing #sewing @memade #1940sstyle #1940sfashion #vintagepattern #vintagefabric #vintagestyle #sewcialistsofinstagram #sewersofinstagram #sewcialdistancing
A post shared by Mena Lazar (@makethislook) on

There is also a hashtag started by the Sewcialists, #SewStayHome, which will have ideas on how to manage your time alone, if that idea alarms you.




How are you doing? Do you have lots of plans to keep you busy?

I hope you are able to self isolate as much as possible and take care of yourselves and others. Let's stick together!


Sunday, March 15, 2020

Weekend Review: Built by Wendy Coats & Jackets

Built by Wendy: Coats & Jackets / Wendy Mullin
with Eviana Hartman; illus. by Beci Orpin
NY: Potter Craft, c2010
224 p.
Book Three in my look at Wendy Mullin's series on patternmaking is her look at making coats and jackets. Outerwear is an area that many people (me included) are hesitant about approaching. But this book is low-key and encouraging, so much so that I might even try a coat at some point. 

Just like her other books, this one includes 3 tissue patterns in the back for the 3 standard designs she is working with: the Fitted Jacket, the Basic Jacket, and the Straight Coat. Each of these basics has a chapter of its own in which she shows the pattern mods needed to change the standard pattern into a variety of designs. The pattern changes are described and illustrated so that they are easy to understand, and the designs turn out differently enough that you could have a closet of coats by the end of this book. 


The sizing in this book runs from XS - XL, which means 32 - 41" bust and 35-44" hip. In this book she also has you measure your shoulder width to make sure that your coat is going to fit you and hang properly, and talks a little about grading between sizes as well. 

But before it gets to the patterns and designs themselves, the first half of the book goes over basics like understanding the patterns in the book, choosing designs and fabrics, details, choosing your size and transferring patterns. There is also a look at necessary tools, and then a full chapter on techniques like adding linings, finishing the seams and edges, bias bindings, facings, attaching collars, hoods & so on, and even more. There is a lot of info here, perfect for dipping your toes into coat or jacket making. 


The patterns themselves feel modern and classic -- from a bomber to a kimono style jacket, from a wool coat with attached scarf to a Paddington coat, there are tons of ideas for very different kinds of toppers. Ponchos, vests, denim jackets, boleros, peacoats -- it just keeps going. And none of the alterations seem overly daunting or impossible; the illustrations are really clear and like always, Mullin's tone is encouraging and practical.  




I found this book more dense with pattern ideas than the first two general sewing books, as it is focused on a type of garment rather than a more general overview. I feel that she was really getting into her stride with this book and the design choices and illustrations are really inspiring. There is plenty to try here, and I'd recommend the book for the ideas, even if I haven't yet made a coat from it, so can't speak to the exact proficiency of the patterns as yet.




Definitely a fun book to browse through and a way to discover new techniques or ideas you could use with any basic pattern already in your stash.