Finished object backlog – winter coats

Well, while I haven’t been blogging, I’ve certainly been sewing. Before the end of August I completed two coats – one for me, and another for my husband. Hobart weather is flaky through springtime so they are still getting worn.

Mine is from Patrones Joven #10 (early 2012) pattern #22

Back in March 2012 we visited Melbourne and as part of our swimming pool length of fabric bought several coat candidates. I wanted to practice coat techniques before diving into Robin’s more complex construction so I made this coat for me using Sherry’s wonderful RTW jacket tutorials. I’ve still been wearing it over the past fortnight thanks to our ‘lovely’ spring weather. The alterations to the pattern were about decreasing both bodice and sleeve length and the collar height.

I feel well dressed when I put this on, I didn’t have a nice coat last winter and I really missed it. I can see myself wearing this for years to come.

Robin’s coat was more complex due to the thicker, wool/poly blend flannel fabric (and the standards I set myself). It is from a Japanese Pattern book – A Book Of Men’s Coats by Ryuichiro Shimazaki, and apart from some extra width across the upper back and shorter sleeves, the pattern needed very little tweaking to suit.nI added a calico back stay, hair canvas pad stitched to the collar and front facings and shoulder pads and sleeve heads to the pattern to give the coat the structure the design and fabric needed.

Each coat got the same lining a stretch poly satin with lovely drape and slip. I’d ended up with leftovers from my coat. A trip to Spotlight didn’t reveal anything better (Robin dug through the copious piles of poly satin and other lining candidates), so we bought enough to cut lining for Robin’s coat too.

Buttons were sourced at Jimmy’s Buttons on the same day as the Melbourne Sewist’s meet up after LotsofButtons were out of stock of the one’s we’d selected. Buttonholes were done using my vintage Singer buttonholer with a keyhole shape template using topstitching thread. I did a sample buttonhole on a scrap and took that to Melbourne with me to make sure they would fit.

Top stitching was done on SuperNellie, my Elna Supermatic machine. It was lovely to have a second machine set up just for top stitching, no rethreading for just a moment’s work. Also her narrow presser foot, adjustable presser foot pressure, and narrow feed dogs made precision easier.

It’s been so satisfying to have tackled this project and I’m happy with the finish I achieved on them both.

Green Elnas

Meet the trio:

Green Elna Trio

SuperNellie, my Elna Supermatic, was previously introduced here

SuperNellie opened my eyes to the beauty and simplicity of vintage sewing machines. I fell in love with her clean lines, solid metal mechanical insides and growly tractor sound. I’ve oiled and cleaned her many times, and replaced a rubber friction wheel so she now purrs along cheerfully (the TV volume no longer needs to be cranked right up when she is running). She has been kitted out with some more decorative pattern cams and extra feet. She topstitched through thick woollen coating, and makes beautiful buttonholes.

Of course when we brought SuperNellie home and googled vintage Elnas, we quickly learnt about the Grasshopper, her predecessor.

And the search began.

I don’t know why, but there seem to be a bucketload of Elnas in New Zealand. So I signed up for a TradeMe account and kept my eye out. My Aunt Wendy and Cousin Celia live in Auckland, so when a Grasshopper came up local to them, and was looking like it would go for a reasonable price, I pounced! Much better value than the one listed repeatedly on Ebay Au for $700 that apparently doesn’t have a bobbin.

Elna Grasshopper
Grasshopper from 1951

After a journey across the Tasman sea (and the reverse journey for some KokoBlack Chocolate), Grasshopper took up residence on the workbench. She is only a straight stitch machine; it is beautifully even. I had to replace the drive belt and liberally apply oil in the 17 places indicated in the manual. A rub over with a damp microfibre cloth cleaned off what little grime there was on the exterior.

These two machines are both low shank, meaning their feet are interchangeable with my modern Elna. The different width of feed dogs does make a difference though, so the narrowest feet don’t work so well on the modern machine with its wide feed dog area. I purchased a box of vintage attachments, and have been putting them to good use. I’ll cover them in more detail in other post, as I’ve had a great deal of delight in making my sewing life easier with well thought out tools.

Based on the criteria of “green Elnas” the search continued, albeit at a slightly slower pace for the remaining part of the collection, an Elna Junior. TradeMe came up trumps again, this time from around Wellington from a seller willing to ship internationally.

Elna Junior
Junior, the toy machine Elna made during the fifties.

Isn’t she too cute??? No rust except on the old needle which I quickly replaced. Some oil has worked it’s wonders on freeing up movement, and she sews a chain stitch – meaning you don’t need a bobbin underneath. This is a hand cranked machine – the handle on the side moves the needle up and down. There’s also a music box built in which plays the Blue Danube waltz.

Tiniest niece Isabelle will be encouraged to learn to sew on Elna Junior, as it will be very tricky for her to sew her fingers to fabric thanks to the shape of the presser foot. The instruction book includes instructions for regular straight seams, and, get this, flat felled seams, quilting and draft it yourself doll clothes. Expectations of young girls in the fifties were very high!

All this playing with old machines also got me cleaning and oiling my modern machines more often. They are happier now too.

Decluttering and a Short History of Zac Designs

The clothing care and size label giveaway was a feeble attempt to reduce the contents of a bursting cupboard.

But why did I have them in the first place?

Swing Tag logo

Years ago (so many in fact that the small children pictured below are finished school) I had a market stall where I sold baby and toddler hats and clothes I’d sewn. This was in the days before the burgeoning ‘babies’ markets full of cute pinafores. I’d found it tricky to find decent boys clothes that were interesting, and also thanks to an inspirational outfit with hat from a dear friend bought in Germany and a subsequent trip to Europe ourselves six months later, I knew it was possible to find nicely designed clothes, just not locally. Another element to that was living on student allowances which covered rent and lentils but certainly not the upper end of nice kids clothes. Looking around, there’s still way more nice clothes for girls than boys.

Thus Zac Designs was born.

Babies from Mother’s group all lined up with hats on, albeit temporarily.

Starting out with baby hats, we enjoyed early success in a Hobart winter which made hats essential. I quickly expanded the line to include clothes like trousers, overalls, jumpers, dresses and long sleeved tshirts, all made from good quality fabric and including room for growth with extra buttons, elastic and adjustable straps. Does anyone else remember the Top Kids (ebay link) magazines? Ottobre Design would be an equivalent now and I eagerly awaited the new issues. I also pored over Studio Bambini magazines for inspiration.

Overalls on our chief model, Zac

Each Saturday we would set up our stall at Salamanca Market, thanks to transport from my parents as we did not have our own car at that stage. We quickly learnt that a cool but sunny day was optimal for sales, Easter was better than Christmas, and that while some patterns and fabrics caught people’s eyes they weren’t necessarily the best sellers. Some hats and clothes languished on the stall for weeks at a time, while others would disappear as soon as I could make them. I learnt to only make a small number up in a new fabric to see how it sold first. I was very excited a month or so ago when I found I still had the pattern for “French Style Cardigans” under the house. Surprisingly similar to a red merino one I made for me this winter!

Each week we’d wait to see what we sold – the first dollars were put aside for fabric, then the next portion for basic veggies, then fruit, then bread and cheese and finally local wine. We’d make our sales then send one of us off with Zac in a backpack to gather food supplies from the other stallholders. In our last summer we were perilously close to the Elsewhere vineyard stall. Some days we’d sit there behind the stall enjoying a nice Chardonnay or Pinot Noir as the market moved past lunchtime.

Back of the market stall.

A graphic design student designed us a rubber stamp to make our own swing tags, and I had woven labels made to sew onto the clothes. Quilting fabrics were a good source of interesting prints and I also bought some basics like cotton drill and fleecy (to line trousers and jackets) in the smallest wholesale quantities I could. I set up a sewing table in our wide hallway of the flat and sewed in the evenings or during the day if Zac slept.

Mother’s Group baby

This time taught me a lot about production line techniques through trial and error, customer service and sales, and managing being self employed with a young baby. It also made me realise that I wanted to try work outside the home – not knowing how much we’d earn each week was tricky to manage for cash flow as any small business operator will tell you. But we earnt enough to help get us to Europe for 3-4 weeks on a student budget (babies got you a room to yourself in youth hostels back then!) and then enough to buy my own sewing machine and an overlocker. Mum’s Elna Lotus sewing machine really did a lot of work for Zac Designs. Poor thing. It is still going strong, and one day I’d like one of my own to add to the Elna retirement home I seem to be establishing.

Summer Hat

I’ve had a ball looking back through boxes of photos to find the images for this post. Occasionally I see a ZacHat with one of myfabrics out and about and want to mug the poor parents to say “I made that” and when people see something I’ve sewn and say ‘you could make these for money’ I simply reply, ‘been there, done that, I’d rather sew for fun not full-time’. And, it’s still a time I look back on with great fondness.

My BA Graduation and Zac’s Inspirational Outfit (PS I made that purple jacket too!)

umm, how did we get to June 11th?

So much has been happening, that I’m going to try and catch up on some of it today here and spread the rest of the posts through the week. Thank goodness for an extra weekend day. We will be celebrating the official birthday later today. With cake. And cups of tea. And all the grandparents, one of whom emigrated from the UK. Reason enough for cake I think!

So, this weekend has had three sewing related projects so far. None of which were on my list on Friday night.

Niece/Nephew-to-be (hereafter to be known as NNTB until the little thing gets a name) now has a tiny onesie in it’s box in the hallway. It joins the last couple of rugs from CreativeCamp which now have their quilting stitiching. Thanks to Jenny for deciding on what sort of designs to do. And who took the remnants of B&W dalmatian spots off to make a bag.

I used a free tutorial and pattern from Nefertari  for a wrap around style onesie. To be honest, it was the opportunity to get more confident with my coverstitch machine that really attracted me. The practicality of a wrap around rather than pullover for a small baby seemed nice too.The instructions are clear and well thought out.

I learnt that you need to be aware of your thread quality with the coverstitch. On Saturday night I was having all sorts of trouble with thread breaking and looking generally horrid. I had planned to test out my bindings and fabric layers so was prepared to do some samples, but not so much for this. I switched back out to better thread and changed the colour of the binding I would use to match the thread I had and all was well. After Melissa of Fehrtrade’s summary of what she learnt I’d mistakenly pysched myself up for having to change the fabric I was using! I am sure when I sew something more complicated than cotton jersey I will need to keep her post in mind.

An emergency make yesterday afternoon was a single slipper for the stressed (exams) and tired university student. My son could find one slipper but not another. So, from the remains of a conference bag for the sole, and an old polar fleece jacket for the inner sole and upper, Zac now has two warm feet.

Still on the dining table is a vest for Zac too. Made out of a too-light-for-Tasmania-really sleeping bag and some merino knit. We harvested the zip off the polar fleece jacket which gave us the slipper so that can move forward without going shopping. I am going to try binding the edges to sandwich the layers together.

PJ Party!

The big reveal for Karen’s Pyjama Party!

I made two pairs of PJ bottoms and 2 tops in preparation for Me-Made-May and also so I could discard the PJ tops that now seem to be wider than they are long as they have shrunk and stretched in the wash.  The paler green stripe is a brushed cotton, the brighter green are snuggly flannellette. I had some green and pink rabbit fabric to use as highlights. The tops I made out of left over cream marle cotton ribbing from when I used to make baby and toddler clothes and sell them at a local market. So that is about 19 years old – and I still have another metre or so left. I know from past experience it will relax widthways so I made sure I put stay tape in the shoulders, and might need to add some to the back neckline. And be prepared to take in the side seams in a couple of months.

Update: I forgot to add that the pattern for the PJ bottoms was traced off a pair of shortie pjs, and the top is a Renfrew cut with extra 1 inch added at each side seam and down the arms. Is there nothing the Renfrew is not useful for???

The odd looking sample photo is included as this was also my first play with Mum’s coverstitch feature on her overlocker. The cream rib needed a little bit of adjustment on the differential feed but otherwise using the coverstitch to do the hems was easy as pie. I’m looking forward to a loan of her machine shortly.

I didn’t have quite enough of the bright green flannellette to cut the legs in one piece. So I created a ‘design feature’ of huge cuffs going the other way. I rather like it!

Karen, you wanted to know what was on my bedside reading pile?

This is the pile next to the bed, nearly all of which should be put away as I’ve finished them.

On top of the pile my kindle in her cover. On that I’ve been working through some samples of books about uncluttering and getting one’s shit together. (note size of rest of pile and you can see it is needed!)

The Stella Rimington was a re-read when I needed something with a good plot which I couldn’t quite remember. Escapism when sick.

Mollie Makes for eye candy. And sussing out cool crafty stuff in case we *do* get to London later this year.

Ken Follett – another re-read to help me sleep.

Christine McCabe – When it’s horrid out – to reconnect with the joy of gardening. Another re-read. Still part way through this.

A notebook for ideas. I prefer graph paper in my notebooks, it makes me think differently to standard lines.

Simple Chic – Japanese dresses by the bed to choose which ones to make. See sticky notes protruding from the top. I want one of each.

Alice Munro – A book of short stories. Recommended. Soft, gentle but heartwrenching.

Peppermint magazine – eco-cool/fashiony/homey. I bought a subscription for a year. Normally when I buy a subscription to a magazine they go out of business withing two years. Sorry Peppermint, I do like you really.

Squished at the bottom – Creative Serging from the local library. Gee, what some people do with overlockers is scary. But the tips for adjusting tension and turning corners are handy.

Now I’m off to put away most of those in their rightful homes.

Autumn Winter sewing plans

Warning: Long post

These collections were the outcome of a recent fabric cupboard perusal. I’ve been feeling a bit directionless, so staring at a cupboard which, to be honest is a bit too full of fabric has contributed to a sense of overwhelm and erratic sewing activity. I thought about what clothes gaps I might have coming into Me-Made-May and also about which garments I am wearing a lot but bored of. (“of which I am bored” for the grammar nazis?)

Activewear - to encourage me to get moving more

From left to right the blues are making some racer back tank tops, the two blacks are for leggings and the stripey cream and khaki will also become a top. I’ve previously made a couple of tops following the Slapdash Sewist’s lead using Jalie 2563 as a base and extending the bodice pieces to  covering midriff. No need for me to scare people before breakfast at the gym. I am working on a pair of leggings with curved seaming which are drafted, cut out and just waiting to be sewn. I’ll have the opportunity to borrow my mother’s overlocker which has coverstitch capability while she’s enjoying herself elsewhere so these garments will be my practice ones to see if I really need a coverstitich machine or it’s just gadget lust.

Activewear Garment count – as many tops and leggings as I can squeeze out of the fabric, probably 3-4 of each sewn in a production line to make it quick. I need to throw out several older pieces of my gym clothes before they finally self-destruct.

Workwear Autumn Winter 2012

I bought a few RTW pieces of work clothing in the middle of last year and some have already worn out. Based on the OWOP week it would appear I also heavily rely on a very, very old black cardigan and a lot of my clothing is grey or black or similar dark tones. As a replacement and to inject some colour, the red is a thick merino doubleknit which I’ve already made up into a semi-self drafted cardigan (photos and writeup to come). The cardigan has simple lines and is a perfect addition to the work wardrobe. The black is a burnout knit that will be made into a useful wrap top, maybe Burda 01/2011 #131? The green ovals knit will be Vogue 8663 in View B below, partly because I already have the pattern. I bought it last year and then couldn’t find any nice knit fabric and forgot about it.

The grey bubbles fabric will be a simple shell top to sit neatly under a cardigan or jacket. Possibly made into the assymetrical cowl from Pattern Magic vol 2 which I have drafted and tested. Last in that line up is some leftover grey wool/poly blend to make a simple pencil skirt. Workwear – 5 garments

Casual Wear

And when I’m not at work, sleeping or sweating? Then what I need is a green corduroy Crescent skirt with some brocade trim at the hem – Done! and I love it. The green merino knit is the same colour in real life  as the cord but comes out quite different in the photo here. Mysterious. That green and the grey merino next to it will be two long sleeved tops – depending on the material I might get a cowl Renfrew, if not, a boatneck style will be the most useful. Next along the line, is my linen lion dress. I bought the lion fabric first as two slightly larger than fat quarter remnants, then matched some orange linen to coordinate. I’ve rejected a few patterns so far, and am toying with Simplicity Lisette 2209 for the cute pleats on the front bodice. But I wonder if I’m being swayed to it by the ruffle on the jacket – lion/ ruffle? There is a similar bodice pleat design to the Lisette dress in a book I bought – How to Use, Adapt, and Design Sewing Patterns by Lee Hollahan. And I’d want sleeves too, even just cap ones so I’m going to be frankenpatterning anyhow. Yeah, and the elephant dress too, although that is more summery in my mind.

Casual – 5 garments

PS: when I showed these photos to my better half he asked where ‘his stuff’ was. The men of the household have a list too. For my husband – a black wool flannel coat (like on Spooks, using the Japanese men’s coats and jackets book), a purple Negroni with Stand Collar addition shirt and perhaps another gym top. And for the son? Some PJs to replace the holey pair he keeps wearing, a blue striped shirt (also Negroni adapted) and a grey merino cardigan/ jumper (style TBD). I’ve got all the fabric and most of the patterns for these too.

Just need a time machine. Although the insomnia is helping :-)

I’d better get sewing!


I’m in!

Pyjama Party

While I’m a bit late to Karen’s Pyjama Party (deadline of this Saturday!), I’m now making my plans public. A few weeks ago I did some planning to simplify my ‘to-sew’ list. I pulled these particular fabrics out of the cupboard to make some PJs.

Pyjama Party Plans

From left to right I have some rabbit highlight fabric, some green stripey flannelette, some stripey light cotton and some grey knit for tops.

Also I’m committing to Me-Made-May for the first time. Last year when I discovered a bunch of sewing blogs, Self Stitched September had just finished and I loved the idea of focussing my sewing enough to make a wardrobe full of options.

Photobucket I, Kirsty of Rocket Sews, sign up as a participant of Me-Made-May ’12. I endeavour to wear at least 50% me-made clothes each day for the duration of May 2012′

I’m not counting shoes, socks and undergarments, and keep an exception open to wear my RTW suit for job interviews. I *am* going to be counting activewear and PJs as part of my commitment though, so each outfit I wear needs to have 50% me-made.

My plan is to take a photo each day and post weekly including to the Flickr group.

OWOP Day 1 and 2 and 3

Erm, can I play catch up with my photos?

As I flagged earlier, I am using a ‘knot tie top’ as my OWOP garment for Tilly’s fab group idea – One Week One Pattern where we wear versions of the one pattern for a week non-stop.

OWOP Day 1

Saturday was a horrid day weather wise. I buried myself in polar fleece without thinking and at dinner time realised I could ‘dress for dinner’ rather than scuppering my OWOP efforts before I’d even begun.

OWOP Day 2


Sunday started crisp and bright, still with a bit to the air so I wore the same top in a layered approach with a merino tee underneath. I wouldn’t normally layer a top like this so the challenge has already got me thinking more about using my clothes in different ways. The day warmed up enough to discard the merino and enjoy the sunshine later. Looking at these photos I realise how close the living space wall colour is to this top!

OWOP Day 3


Monday Day 3: I wore my newly made grey sheeny knit version with long sleeves to work. Here’s a shot with my office roomie – Ned, he’s lying on the consultation table behind me. I work in a medical training organisation and get to share my space with a full sized simulation mannequin. Normally he’s very quiet, zipped up in his bodybag carry bag. This top feels very different being made out of knit fabric. TBH the knot is a bit heavy and pulls down the front, good thing I raised the neckline on this one!

One Week One Pattern

Is it too late to still be considering what to wear/ make? One Week, One Pattern only starts at the end of next week doesn’t it?

One option is the Knot Top which is a copy of a favourite top I wore for years until I put my fingers through the fabric taking it off one day. I’d worn it one too many times. I made the new versions last year as one of the first garments I successfully re-created. The new variations are in white linen and a green and yellow cotton.

White Linen Knot Top

I need to sort out the tight armhole business though. I think I might not have trimmed the seam allowance back on this one sufficiently for the small seam allowance I used putting on the bias binding. I should compare the white and patterned versions to see.
Seam Sealing Tape

During the OWOP week I will have two work trips – a day trip to Melbourne, then a 3 day trip to present at a conference in Alice Springs. I need to make a version that has a higher neckline, and also consider a long or 3/4 sleeve version. I am wondering about what it would be like made in a knit fabric as I have some slightly sheeny grey knit that would be terribly useful for work. If I made a loop to thread the ties through rather than knotting them that would change up the look as well.

I could also wear the multiple pairs of Clovers I have made. Although that almost feels too easy as I wear them a lot of the time for work anyhow. It would prod me into taking in the side seams of the soft black pair which have been loitering near the sewing machine for a month or two now. It would be useful to have them back in rotation. I have a pair of navy cotton stretch capri Clovers I made over summer too in addition to the ones pictured.
3 Clovers

Or I could go choose a completely different pattern… Thursday night is the deadline to decide as the weekend will be my time to do any last minute sewing.

Update: It’s now Sunday and I have cut out two more knot tops – one in the sheeny grey knit with long sleeves, and another in a splodgy navy khaki cream poly chiffon with short sleeves. That chiffon one will be one day of the conference and the white linen the other (35 deg C during the day). I’m already realising a ‘bottom’ such as a skirt or trousers would have meant less washing mid week.

And the Nominations are in!

Excited squeal and Blushing! Thank you to the Curious Kiwi for nominating me for a Liebster Award.  I’ve enjoyed reading all about your sewing creations, your move back home to Wellington, and your reviews of pattern magazines too. Oh, and the Pressing Equipment Mission. I’m going to need at least a proper sleeve board for my overcoat sewing plans this autumn/winter.

“The origins of the Liebster Blog Award are somewhat unclear but the general consensus is that it means favourite or dearest to showcase bloggers with fewer than 200 followers.”

And it comes with the following ‘rules’:

1 – Thank your liebster blog award presenter on your blog.
2 – Link back to the blogger who presented the award to you.
3 – Copy/paste the blog award on your blog.
4 – Present the liebster blog award to 5 blogs (with 200 followers or less).
5 – Let them know they have been chosen by leaving a comment.

So, who to pass this onto? It was tough to narrow this down to 5 – let alone find five of my faves who haven’t already been nominated. At that point I decided that receiving an award twice would be just fine… And, 200 followers – too tricky to tell! All of these blogs deserve more than 200 followers :-)

Bouquets of flowers go to:
1. Lizz of A Good Wardrobe for her self drafted top inspiration and her Spring Wardrobe Challenge planning approach – I likes me a good plan!
2. Leah of Struggle Sews a Straight Seam  for her funny adventures and great writing style. Psst  Leah’s running a giveaway of a super blue skirt – grab your measuring tape and see if it will fit!
3. Rachel of MyMessings for totally derailing my budget for fabric shopping in Melbourne by telling me about Sydney Rd and prompting me to get to Rathdowne Fabrics including public transport directions. Photos coming soon.
4. Lee of The Slow Steady for her lovely dresses and peek inside her world in New York – she seems to be falling comfortably into her new habit of blogging very well. Factoid: We both started our blogs in January this year.
5. Paunnet for her beautiful photos of her new creations and inspiration posts. Her recent purple Chloe from Victory Patterns has got my fingers itching to make one.

Thankyou for being part of my sewing world.