Friday, June 3, 2011

Friday Open Thread

Happy Friday, readers! I thought it was time for another open thread. Think of this as your virtual sewing circle. Topics discussed could include, but are not limited to:
  • First, eye candy. We'll begin once again with a foxy, charming actor. I'm sorely missing Parks and Rec and the adorable Adam Scott. Is there anything good on TV these days? Anything to Netflix? Maybe it's time to rewatch Party Down.
  • As I've begun another session of sewing classes for beginners, I've been pondering the art of teaching sewing. Is there one piece of advice that really helped you when you first learned? On the flip side, was there anything that just made no sense to you no matter how many times it was explained?
  • As fellow sewing nerds, is there a particular topic you've been reading up on lately? I've been knee-deep in bustier construction research.
  • Why do people use "vanilla" as a synonym for bland? I mean, it's actually made from orchids. Can you think of anything more exotic? Vanilla rocks. (Especially from the gelato stand on 7th Avenue and 28th Street. Mmmm.)
Happy Friday!


  1. Vanilla is my absolute favorite flavor - nothing bland about it in my universe. I am teaching beginner sewing on my website, and I have started a series of posts about seams and seam finishes - really basic. These are the posts I've gotten the most positive comments on. Sometimes we, as experienced sewists, don't realize that people need to learn the ridiculously (to us) basic. I find it difficult to even think in such basic sewing terms, but I am trying.
    As for TV - Criminal Minds, but I guess it depends on what you like.
    Have a great day, Gertie!

  2. As a still very much a beginner sewer I don't have much to say on the sewing front. And as for TV there is very little good on through the summer if you aren't into reality TV :) DH and I have a few shows we like and since life is kind of crazy we save them all up and only watch one at a time. That way in the summer we can watch a whole season of a show.

    Right now we have Stargate Universe, Dr. Who, Fringe and No Ordinary Family. DH is obviously a bit of a sci-fi geek and I like them enough to watch with him!

  3. I never use the term vanilla as a synonym for bland! I like to use terms beige or homogeneous (a property of a mixture showing no variation in properties) for bland.

  4. Here's my best sewing advice. Pick up your pattern instructions, throw them over your shoulder and make whatever you're making the right way, not how the pattern says.

    On the sewing front, I'm a proud, if somewhat hesitant, owner of a Husqvarna Viking H-200S serger. Still figuring everything out because, after all, it's a learning curve. But I was extremely proud of myself for figuring out not only how to change the needle, but how to do some rethreading, too.

  5. I think it's sad vanilla gets used that way, it's such a wonderful spice! I appreciate it even more now that I'm baking with pure, black vanilla powder. And it's organic too! =)

    Re sewing for beginners: one thing I've noticed I tend to forget to teach new sewists (I sometimes help friends get started) is how to pin a seam. It's so natural to me that I forget it's not obvious if one hasn't handled a needle before, and it does make a difference when it's time for the sewing machine. Just my little tip =)

  6. Lower your presser foot. The number one source of beginner frustration is forgetting this

  7. My advice for beginners is to spend as much time at the iron as at the sewing machine - it can make your finished garment look professional, even if your sewing is a little bit shakey.

    This weekend, I'm going to be making a maxi dress in a gorgeous cornflower blue knit with orange poppies printed on it.

  8. I'm still not terribly advanced myself so the previous comments about sewing and finishing seams are striking a chord with me. It's one of those things where patterns leave you to your own devices, which for me generally means... not really finishing them at all! Ha. It's just one of those tasks that I know is probably worth it at the end of the finished garment but which seems tedious when you don't have the benefit of owning a serger (or even pinking shears!) and you have to find an alternate method for doing it.

  9. What I struggled with the most when starting out in sewing was how to find the straight of grain when the fabric is without selvages. If you can teach your students how to tear the fabric along the grain or pull a single thread, I think that will help them immensely and give them confidence to use fabric scraps.


  10. I've been sewing for just over a year and have only now got my head around understitching - I just could not get how it worked!
    When taking a sewing class, a main source of frustration for me was that after it was finished I was none the wiser about how to follow pattern instructions as the teacher instructed me to make the pattern I had chosen her own way. Whilst making the skirt, I had to keep asking her what to do next as I found it hard to fathom from the instructions, as she did things in a different order. It's good to get a balanace between being able to read instructions and also having the confidence and knowledge to be able to put together a piece of clothing without feeling you have to slavishly stick to instructions.

  11. Rebekah,
    Can't help but comment on your commnet:)

    I most definately AM a newbie sewer. Just how do you pull a thread to check out the grainline?

  12. It is ALWAYS time to re-watch Party Down. Seriously, that series never leaves my Netflix Instant queue.

    Have you seen Veronica Mars? You probably have, but you really should if you haven't.

  13. I've taught myself to sew almost 100% through books and the internet and one thing that I have never been able to get right is straightening the grain of fabric that's pulled off square. However much I pull at opposing corners, it just doesn't seem to work! If someone could reveal to me (and many other beginning stichers!), I would be so pleased! I suspect it's one of those things where there's a knack to it that has to be taught in-person rather than through books ... or maybe there's a secret I don't know!

  14. There's a wrong way to pin a seam?! I just pin perpendicular to the stitching line, unless it's a zip and then just make sure the points point to the presser foot so I can remove them easily...
    The ironing thing is something I've always done, I can't remember where but I saw a picture of a shirt made with no pressing, and one with pressing after each seam. The difference was AMAZING!
    Biggest thing I learnt, and I'm sure is repeated constantly, is that you will stuff up and that using a seam ripper does not make you a bad sewist.
    Have a fab weekend! I need to hem a skirt and start on a top, plus it's my baby sister's birthday on Sunday so we'll have some family fun - we've planned a surprise picnic!

  15. I don't watch a lot of quality tv but I've been watching Ally Mcbeal lately. I loved it when it first came out and its neat to see how differently I feel about the characters now as a married adult. We also watched Easy A which is a silly tween movie but also pretty funny and not what I expected.

    I wish I had known a bit more about using the right needle and foot for a given job sooner. Also seem allowances matter and you can grade between sizes on a pattern. Not really difficult concepts but if you sew with 1/4 and its supposed to be 5/8 its not going to go super well.

    I've been reading up on jeans making lately. I've got the Jalie pattern and plan to jump in but I'm working my way through some fun summer dresses first.

    I don't know but I do tease my son bc Vanilla is is go to fro yo flavor.

  16. As for sewing, I can't say there's just *one* good tip for a beginner sewer. There are so many. For example:

    - if your thread clumps up in your machine as you sew, the problem is with your upper threading and not your bobbin
    - Learn correct thread tension or you will be sorry later...
    - Tip for lining up seams (where they cross X) - using a pin to align it, and then I like to run a few stitches at the crossing point (and making sure the cross is aligned) before running the whole stitch to help my chances
    - don't pull on the fabric, let the machine do that
    - don't sew faster than you can control
    - I could just go on and on...

    The one thing I had trouble grasping at first was understanding how to look at the pattern pieces and understand in my mind how they come together to become a garment. Of course I get it now :-) but the whole center front - center back thing was confusing at first.

    Another thing that I think is a tricky and important issue, that I don't think I was taught correctly (and since I've taught myself what I find to be better techniques) - how to choose the right size and adjust the pattern to your size - when you are multi-sized (bust/waist/hip all different sizes).

    And one last thing... You know one thing I really hated that my teacher used to do? Toot her own horn and say how she knows everything about sewing. I found tips on the internet that were really helpful, and techniques that I found superior to hers. She was not really open to that and that's a shame. Anyone can learn from anyone.

    Good luck with the new class!

  17. Let's see: "You can't sew without an iron," "anything worth doing well is worth doing crappy at first" (don't get caught up in perfectionism--your skills will improve!) "measure twice (or 3x) and cut once--you can't cut something longer" and my own personal mantra, "you can't have too much fabric!"

  18. If you like Party Down and Parks & Rec, I highly recommend these:

    curb your enthusiasm
    it's always sunny in philadelphia
    arrested development
    modern family

  19. Yep, love vanilla, specially vanilla bean ice cream with those bits of intense flavor.

    TV wise, DS and I are watching Castle on netflix and really enjoying it. We found it because we liked Nathan Fillion in Firefly.

    Also a newer sewer. I actually had to ask on one of the sewing boards what it meant to 'finish the edges.' I find it very frustrating when I don't understand the terms and can't move forward until I've found the explanation. So I agree with others that going over the basics well will greatly increase the students enjoyment of the process.

    Happy Friday!

  20. Thing that always baffles me: Grading a seam allowance. How much should you cut off? Which side is the short side? If you used fusible interfacing should you peel it apart and grade it as a separate seam allowance?

  21. I've been home all day 5 days a week for the last month, so I can say there is honestly nothing on tv. So much so that I'm seriously considering dropping my cable. blah. If you have netflix, get a hold of a series you've never watched but wanted to. My hubby and I watched every season of the office this spring!

    As a beginner (garment) sewer, I wish someone had told me how to pick out the right pattern size! Especially since I started with the big three and they have heaps of ease! I'm going to do a mini sew along with one of my friends and we are going to spend some quality time with a measuring tape!

    And I love vanilla! Whenever a recipe calls for some, I forget the measuring spoon and just pour!

  22. We've been rewatching Arrested Development on NetFlix - it just never stops being funny. Love!

  23. I always use "white-bread" for "bland". Or "beige". Sorry to all you neutrals-lovers out there; I hate beige.

    Not much--not enough--going on on the sewing front. I did get a new sewing machine; my aunt gave me her 1997 Husqvarna Viking 500. I've never used an electronic sewing machine before and I'm a little afraid of all the buttons, but it claims to do buttonholes, which could definitely make my life easier. I haven't had time to set it up and test-drive it yet, though.

    TV? Eh, not so much. I remain a dedicated "MythBusters" fan, and I still love "Law & Order" and "Criminal Intent" reruns, but a lot of my favorite shows seem to have gone belly-up. "Cold Case" was canceled (murder! And vintage clothes!) and "Bones" has jumped the shark. Sigh.

    Reading: I was on a cookbook jag for awhile but a friend gave me the library cat book so I'm about to start that. Seems like a nice, easy, read.

  24. Definitely watch Party Down if you haven't (that's where my Adam Scott loved blossomed) and Buffy fan that you are, watch Veronica Mars as well. As far as TV on dvd goes, Lost is a great choice too.

    Mmmm vanilla.

  25. Vanilla is really very bland, actually. :)

    And... well, I'm trying to draft a peasant blouse pattern, which started with raglan sleeves... and I'm still not sure if I made them right... ha ha ha. So I combed a 40's fashion sewing book. No raglan sleeves. Some more modern books. No raglan sleeves. So I'm doing it myself. I guess that's the closest to what you asked.

    Top piece of advice: cut straight. Sew straight. Iron straight. Presto: perfect garment. Of course, I don't often follow all this advice. In particular I hate ironing, which has ruined a few projects...

    By the way, I was wondering how you finished the seams on your black lace dress...

  26. I love Vanilla! I run a cupcake business and Vanilla Bean is one of, if not the most popular.

    I'm bad about watching TV shows when they're popular. Right now I'm loving Pushing Daisies through Netflix. The cuteness level is intense even with all the dead aspects of it.

  27. When I took my first bag making class, I hadn't sewn in years but when I started and was told "have fun with it" the pressure had gone and I loved it.
    I think some people forget to have fun with it and just remember you can fix your mistakes!

    Love your blog Gertie :o)

  28. I'm self-taught too, mostly from books and the internet. I think the biggest lesson I've learned is to enjoy each step of the process. When I started, the exciting bit for me was sitting at my machine and whizzing through fabric. I was so impatient. The measuring and cutting was a boring job to be endured -- and I didn't even think about pressing! It was all very whack-whack, if you will. ;)

    These days I try to approach each project with a better attitude. If I can spend time being precise in my stitching, then I should do the same for measuring, cutting, fitting, pressing and finishing. I've done a little bagmaking, which isn't my real passion, but it requires great care with all those little shapes and fiddly bits. It forces me to slow down and not be impatient at any stage of the process, but just to enjoy each bit. I think that attitude of pride and enjoyment is a valuable thing to instill in your students -- and who better than you, Gertie? :)

  29. Something it took me ages to figure out was seam allowances or what they're for. Just completely missed them. It was a literal lightbulb moment when I realised!

  30. Here in Italy there's a flavor, fior di latte (milk, essentially) that's blander than vanilla. I happen to love vanilla bean ice cream... and sometimes I do miss my Breyer's terribly =) (On a side note, would it be strange if I named my daughter Vanilla Bean? It just sounds so sweet hehe)

    I've taken sewing classes in the past for the basics, and now I'm mainly learning as I go along thanks to sites like yours! (I've already used the dart rotation in at least three different dresses =) ) For beginning sewers... besides pressing the garment constantly, I'd say keep the seam ripper on standby because that little guy is SO useful. Hehe.

  31. I just want to say that I am extremely appreciative of all your bustier research and tricks. I'm currently creating my own version of the 50's Balmain couture frock( you posted about it recently) complete with the "underdress"? and all your articles have been SUPER helpful! Thanks :)

  32. Sewing wise, tying a knot, especially at the end of a line of stitching was the hardest thing for me. It took me years to finally master getting that darned knot to end right at the *end* and not inches down the thread! Now when I'm showing anyone how to sew it's the first thing I make them do, knots, knots & more knots!

    The other thing is more conceptual, but I had to stop trying to visualize the flat pattern pieces in 3-D. Focusing on "this straight line connects with this straight line & then this line connects with this line" takes all the confusion & yes, fear, out of sewing. Then when you're finished, back up & wow!it's in 3-D!

  33. the best piece of advice i ever got when i first started sewing was "watch the fabric, not the needle." it sounds so dumb & simple (and i couldn't tell you exactly where i heard it from!), but it made a drastic improvement in how straight my seams ended up. who woulda thought those ruler lines on the sewing machine actually meant something? haha!

  34. I've been sewing for a year now, but I still don't understand how I am supposed to finish my seams when I don't yet know if I'm to need to adjust them when I try on the garment.

  35. sorry. Should be "don't yet know if I'm going to need to adjust them when"

  36. On the TV front - I just got into Dexter, the first two seasons are on Netflix streaming; True Blood is starting up again soon, I wasn't a fan the first season, but as it got more campy and ridiculous I just couldn't look away(Evan Rachel Wood's wardrobe in Season 3 is vintage-inspired gorgeousness); RuPaul's Drag Race, ( is spectacular, think Project Runway meets America's Next Top Model meets extreme fabulousness; two seasons of Pushing Daisies are on Netflix so you can get a Chuck dress fix when needed; if you haven't watched Downton Abbey yet, it is a must for anyone with a love of period drama and 30s fashion (also on Netflix streaming).

    The true travesty of the summer is no Mad Men - no Joanie dresses for at least a year!

  37. I'm a newbie & I find myself repeated struggling with something I think is so dumb that I'm embarrased to admit it: Remembering how to lay out a pattern to cut it. Do I fold the selvage edges together & then place the pattern pieces or do I fold the cut edges together? Is there a rule for that & how can I remember it?

  38. Oh, how I love Adam Scott! It was all Party Down's fault (which I only started watching because I so loved Veronica Mars) and Parks & Rec, of course! You really know how to pull me in!

  39. Oh, and notching into patterns instead of cutting out those stupid triangles. Basically, I find cutting and marking the most annoying part of sewing, so anything that makes that less tedious (rotary cutter, going to the sewing lounge with their big high tables) was really important in getting me actually sewing instead of just thinking about sewing. So you might make sure people are using their scissors right, tips for keeping the fabric from shifting, tips for cutting accurately (which I found impossible to do with scissors), etc, why my stupid wax tracing paper never worked (I needed double-sided)

    I also never understood how to translate muslin changes to paper until I saw someone do it.

  40. As far as beginning sewing, starting and stopping seams. Do you backstitch to hold them in place? Do you bring the thread tail through by hand later? What about topstitching? Where does Fray-Check fit into this? Also, buttonholes and zippers.

    One thing that still challenges me is bagging a lining. When I read about it, it seems to make sense, but when I try to visualize it, it doesn't make sense anymore. I replaced a lining in a winter coat and I have no idea if I bagged it or not. There was a rather complicated moment when both the coat and the lining seemed to be inside out...It turned out fine, and anyway, it's a lining, so even if it was horrible, no one's really going to see it. Maybe a lining is not beginning sewing, though.

    I'm making honey ice cream this weekend and then I'm going to peruse High Style.

  41. The tip that helped me out most was that if something is wrong, rethread the machine first before you start messing with the tension. So much of the time, that's all it needs!

  42. I only have TV tips for you. And they are British.
    'The IT Crowd'
    and 'That Mitchell and Webb Look'
    Both are Netflix instant view ready.

  43. I wholeheartedly agree with Little Black Car, everyone should start using "white bread" as a synonym for bland!

    As for TV, the new season of Covert Affairs is starting this week, I'm so excited! I think this show covers both topics: good/entertaining tv and tv cuties - anyone else drool over, ahem, i mean, admire Christopher Gorham who plays Auggie?

    On the sewing front, I think the advice that Valerie is right on the money in saying "'anything worth doing well is worth doing crappy at first'" (don't get caught up in perfectionism--your skills will improve!)" As a mostly self taught (and still beginning) sewer, I was convinced not too long ago that I just didn't have the sewing gene. But I kept moving forward and suddenly my projects weren't total disasters. I think it's definitely true that no matter how much you read about a technique or watch someone else do it, in sewing, it's really a matter of getting a feel for it yourself.

    Happy weekend sewing!

  44. Summer viewing? I suggest these British imports on Netflix:
    Gavin and Stacy, super cute romantic comedy that gets addictive!
    Sherlock: series 1 so far, kinda off beat and fun (a modern take on Sherlock Holmes)
    I'm also watching old "Closer" episodes: she wears 1950's Irene suits and vintage shirt dresses, so that gets my vote too.

  45. You know what I've been trying to figure out? Now that you're on the bustier construction topic... Was there some kind of bustier inside of most vintage/1950's swimsuits? how were those swimsuits put together? Were women just shaped that way in the 50s? Can't be, right? I'm guessing there had to be some kind of super sucking mechanism... but what?

    Gertie, if you know the answer to this, I would LOVE to know. I am seriously toying with the idea of making myself a bathing suit, but I don't want a shapeless one that doesn't suck in (or push up) the goods. If you don't know, and my investigation turns up anything worthwhile, I'll let you know!

  46. I've been hooked on Korean Dramas with subtitles lately. Weird, I know. My husband lets me know just how weird every time he sees me watching one! ;) However, they do offer some really hot, exotic eye candy! I'm watching City Hunter right now and can I just say, Yummy! (Hey, I'm married, not dead!)

    Don't really know much about sewing as I'm a self-taught beginner more or less. So I guess I can't really participate in that part.

    As for vanilla, I have to agree. It is the best flavor next to chocolate! Maybe the bland part is referring to the color rather than the taste. Vanilla ice cream is pretty... white, bland, no color. If you want to describe taste, then I have to agree with others and say, "White bread!"

  47. Sewing class: My first was with Patricia Moyes at the Sewing Workshop in SF. She wrote a great beginners book that I still use. A most fantastic early lesson was on seam finishes. We made about 6-8 samples of different finishes, with the bottom inch unsewn so that we could remember how they work. I still refer to those when I'm choosing seam finishes.

    Two things I've been taught but still have trouble with are understitching facings (so many steps! which seam allowance to trim?) and hand hem stitches (which is the best one? How far apart should the stitches be? They seem so flimsy!). The great confusing mountain I'm currently climbing: transferring muslin changes to the flat pattern. I need a private teacher and a dress form to really move forward, I think. So I'm saving up.

    Happy weekend, Gertie!

  48. I agree with Krystina! Let's talk about vintage swimwear! I am currently making my own swimsuit which is vintage inspired, in no way is it historically accurate, in construction anyway. I would love to read what you have to say on the topic!
    As far as vanilla, not bland in anyway. Why can't we just say bland?

  49. I was just admiring some vanilla orchids at our Botanical Garden last night and thinking the same thing! It's lush and gorgeous, and the flavor is rich and delicious as far as I'm concerned.

  50. When I was little (around 10) I always treated the seam allowance as a "suggestion" rather than a hard and fast rule. It took me awhile to figure out why my pieces were not fitting. As soon as I starting sewing a 5/8"seam allowance, everything fit perfectly. Even today, when sewing seems to be not working out, it usually means I'm getting sloppy with the seam allowance.

  51. on sewing for newbies:

    1) how to use bias tape. single fold, double fold... total mystery.
    2) sewing straight lines - i recently figured out to use a magnetic ruler on my stitching plate to keep my seams *really* straight.
    2a) sewing curves - still tough.
    3) where exactly to place the tops of zippers.
    4) and investing in a decent seamripper.
    5) interfacing options, and shrinking fusible. i grew so frustrated with fusible that i'm now using fabric proper to interface (muslin usu, looking forward to trying organza).

  52. I think it's important for beginning sewers to know that just because you're going to sew most of the project on a machine, doesn't mean that hand-sewing is completely out. There are some things that are just too fiddly to sew on a machine, and hand basting is priceless.

    As for TV, I've been re-watching all of Mad Men, though I know that'll run out on me soon, too. I may need to switch over to audiobooks again while sewing -- I "read" all of Harry Potter book 7 while sewing last summer!

    At the moment I'm researching Victorian corsets and 1920s-1950s girdles/all-in-ones, with an eye to making my own hybrid in the near future. I found a much better source for coutil and powernet the other day, which was the highlight of my day. When I mentioned it to my husband, he said I needed more excitement in my life, lol. ;)

  53. Things I learned the hard way:
    - measure the pattern against your body (first pair of pants ended up capri length)
    - preshrink your fabric; set reds and navy overnight in cold water & vinegar and prewash so you don't end up with dye on your skin or other clothes
    - if the pattern says 'knits' use a knit
    - clean & oil your machine, change the needle, and check tension before you start
    - use the right machine needles for your fabric
    - don't sew in the dark
    - cut out on a hard surface, but not the dining room table
    - get the right thread, not the cheap stuff which will cause you grief
    - buy a big box of good pins (1/2 lb)
    - buy the best scissors you can afford
    - press everything
    - sew as many seams as you can (without crossing seams) and then press
    - test the interfacing before you stick it to your fabric
    - put zips in flat, not last
    - buy the best fabric you can afford
    - leave the charmeuse & chiffon for later & use cottons instead
    - finish insides nicely: add lace to a hem or piping to a lining edge; make it yours and pretty
    - keep your swatches & basic yardages with you just in case there's a sale ;-)
    - don't toss big scraps; save them to trim something else (buttons, piping, pockets, collar, hat)
    - if you buy fabric you hate later, give it away/trade it/sell it, just don't keep it
    - buy a basic pattern that has variations; fit the pattern and see how many you can make by changing fabric, collar, length, sleeves, trim; easy for a beginner to get used to sewing without fussing over fit all the time
    - a full lining means no show through, easy & clean finish inside (for basic pattern) and feels good
    - take a good hard look at the pattern, the fabric used & your body; see Vogue patterns body type/pattern suggestions for ideas
    - have fun (most important); if you hate it, don't make it
    - buy an old 70s Vogue sewing book (original one) as it has every technique a beginner needs
    - mark your pattern pieces so you end up putting them together the right way around

    Sorry for the long list. I've made about every mistake a person can as I learned to sew on my own with just the old Vogue patterns for help (like Claire Schaeffer's patterns.) Most important thing: have fun making something that's yours, a real one of a kind.

  54. As a beginner, the concepts of grainline and pattern placement and selvedge edges and how to fold fabric for placing patterns... this is still something I don't understand properly. Every time I cut out a pattern I just kind of hope for the best :). No matter how many times it has been explained to me, I just don't get it.

  55. I am searching for a beautiful seam finish to replace a french seam in the armhole of a tranparent fabric garment...any suggestions. Unless you have a trick to take the french seam around the curve?....

    and I always choose vanilla over almost any other flavor. LOVE IT.

    As for TV - just watched the entire first season of Glades on Hulu...pretty good. you can add the lead actor to the eye candy list too. I have also been watching a lot of old Brit Com on my Netflix stream...I love Moss from The IT Crowd... I also have a tendency to rewatch my DVDs with Rik Mayall and Ade Endmondson quite often...Young Ones/Bottom - both great!
    Love your Bog Gertie!

  56. Zips get me - it's just thing I can't do well on a machine. I often resort to hand stitching to get a reasonable finish. Unfortunately I don't have a zipper foot. And it's the one thing I wish I'd have been taught how to do.

  57. I think it's important for the first project be something the student will want to wear. If its too baggy or daggy it will diminish the sewing joy.

    Even if you have misgivings and need to simplify some parts for the beginner they must love it otherwise whats the point.

    Also don't let them buy anything that will melt and stick to the iron (also make sure they dont melt any iron on interfacing to the irons) or needs to be dried cleaned or doesnt fare very well when you unpick seams. But they still have to love the fabric!

  58. Vanilla, really good vanilla, is my absolute favorite flavor. I think it is used as bland mistakenly. I would say simple. deceptively simple...and really good.

    I loved the movie the Brothers Bloom. not TV but netflix-able.

    Stitch in the ditch. took me FOR-EVER to be able to make it work. I have only recently become comfortable with it.

  59. "anything worth doing well is worth doing crappy at first" - Thanks, Valerie. I'm going to tattoo this on my forehead.

  60. I think my mom had the bestest approach to teaching me to sew. She helped me solve problems, but left me totally free to experiment.

    In other words, she actually left the room to let me make my own mistakes. She bought me books and magazines (this was before the Internets) that clearly illustrated techniques, so I got a good grounding in the basics, but I got them myself, at my own speed. In the process, she gave me permission to stretch my abilities because I knew she wasn't gone; help was only moments away.

    When I yelled for help, she limited the discussion to making me articulate what I wanted to accomplish, then helped me achieve that. There was never a question of "the right way" or "the wrong way" to do something, so my creativity knew no bounds.

    As for "plain" vanilla, I've always assumed that was a reference to artificial vanilla flavoring. That stuff's very plain. The real stuff? Nothing plain or simple about it.

  61. When I started sewing (I was self-taught, your's are in a class, so they may not have this issue), it took me two years to realize that when you put in pins, they went perpendicular to the seam, not along the seam. They are so much easier to remove when sewing that way :)

    And vanilla is my favorite too. I had the vanilla sorbetto at Macaroni Grill the other night. To. Die. For.

  62. Gertie, I love your blog, thank-you for putting so much hard work into it. Definitely try Gavin and Stacey, it is a lovely, strangely addictive love story.

    I have been sewing more years than I care to admit but I had never learned how to do zips properly! The internet is a wonderful tool and now I can do all sorts of zips. As a new sewer I echo the "you will learn loads by making mistakes/having disasters" school. If you start sewing young you tend to forget all the balled up fabric nightmares that took place in your teens.

  63. I started learning to sew 2 years ago and am still learning. I started by taking classes at the local adult school and my dear instructor Joan had a list of slogans she would run through on a daily basis. Two of my personal favorites were "respect thy grainlines" and "the iron is your friend". She also sang an interesting rendition of home on the range while she was at the sewing machine, which to this day I cannot help but think of when I'm at mine. Same goes for respect thy grainlines as I'm laying out my pattern pieces and the iron is your friend while ironing. Gertie I loooooove your blog and was so happy to randomly discover it, I read your posts eagerly and can't wait to see where this one goes.

  64. This is fun.

    1. Netflix has "La Cage Aux Folles," "Valentino; The Last Emperor," and "Auntie Mame," which are great to sew to. 2. The best advice I got was from my gran who, when I said my stuff didn't last through the wash, asked "How many times are you sewing each seam?" Now it's twice, to much sturdier results. 3. Invisible zippers. Damn those pretty things - I have to watch Grosgrain's video on them (God bless her for that) each time I do one and I still usually muck it up once. 4. Vanilla orchids are awesome. And enormous. If you ever get the chance to view one at a local botanical garden or orchid shop, go; they're many, many yards long before they bloom.


  65. Such interesting, and varying, thoughts in the comment section. I can't help you on the TV front, as I have terrible taste in TV. ( Think Jersey Shore) But, I do have some thoughts on the beginner sewing front though I would still consider myself a beginner.
    -Easing was probably the hardest concept for me to grasp.
    -Don't take the directions too seriously, they're not always the best way.
    -I still have trouble properly and neatly stitching around a zipper pull.
    -Seam finished since most patterns make no mention of them. I left the seams unfinished on the first few things I made. ( The new Lisette patterns from Simplicity actually include finishing the seams in the steps, so they would be great for a first project.)
    -Don't be afraid to make mistakes and take risks. It is just fabric after all!

  66. Suggestions for beginner sewists - though I know I am mostly only echoing what other people have said.
    1. measure twice, check thrice and cut once
    2. Practice threading your machine and machine needle until you are confident. If something goes wrong with the stitching, rethread the upper thread as a first step
    3. Handbasting is your friend. I was taught roughly 'pin, then baste, then fit, then remove pins and basting in any seams that cross other seams, then sew the reamining seams,neaten the seam allowances then press, then repin the crossing seams, rebaste and sew.' It doesn't take as long as it sounds and it helps beginnners get good results. I don't do it every time now, but it certainly reduces errors if I do, and for a beginner that's encouraging.
    4. What really matters is the stitching line, not the cut edge.
    5. Don't be a slave to the pattern instructions.
    6. If you get tangles of thread at the start of your stitching try putting a finger on the two thread tails for the first few stitches.

  67. TV: If you haven't already seen it, you must watch Six Feet Under.

    FOR BEGINNERS: My mother taught me to sew, and the most valuable thing she taught me was to put down the sewing when you are tired or frustrated. Whenever I have ignored that advice, I have regretted it.

    VANILLA: If I am going to indulge in gelato, I will always pick hazelnut. I can't go down Vanilla Road with you, Gertie.

  68. Adam Scott is also in Veronica Mars, along with a lot of other people that are in Party Down. It is amazing, and on netflix.

  69. Things I wished I'd learned sooner

    - How to use a rotary cutter, and why it will change your life
    - What all those mystifying little sewing machine feet do, and why a rolled hem foot will change your life, too

    I have a huge collection of ties, but finding shirts to fit a sorta hourglass figure is maddening, so I just bought this:

    It's practically a treatise on shirtmaking. I differ with the author about back darts on men's shirt, having dated a run of guys with almost comically v-shaped torsos who seriously could've used some back darts in their clothes.

  70. re: advice for beginners -thread tension! is rather confusing

  71. I love Parks & Rec! As someone that works in local government, I really appreciate the subject matter. :) And thank you for that adorable picture of Adam Scott! Thanks to the input from previous commentors, I think I'll check out Party Down for summer viewing.

  72. I think the best tip I have heard as I started sewing was to not take it too seriously, and that 99% of all mistakes made can be salvaged somehow (you just might not end up making what you set out to make is all). I also like the tip that there is no shame in ripping out a seam and doing it again.

    I'm starting to look at pattern drafting right now. I have this dream that in 3 years or so I will get married in a dress I created. Problem is, I have a very specific vision of what I want to wear, but can't find a pattern to match, so now I am thinking the best avenue to go is making my own pattern.

  73. I wish someone had demonstrated the importance of paying attention to the grain for me (like maybe by actually showing me two different cuts from the same fabric or so). For years I thought those cutting layout diagrams were just wasteful, and only really mattered if you were doing something like stripes anyway. It wasn't until I made my own bias tape for the first time that I realized that the fabric actually does behave different depending on how you cut it!

  74. I think the best thing on Netflix right now is Community. You should go watch it if you haven't seen it yet.

  75. Two things that have improved my sewing life:

    When I was first starting: don't be afraid of your tools, use them, make mistakes with them & have fun!

    Now: Learning when to change and then re-balance the tension on my sewing machine. LIFE changer.

  76. Hi Gertie, this weekend I'll be watching the third (and final) part of Cloudstreet. A mini series set in the 40's and 50's following two families brought together by their own tragedies to share a house. I've particularly enjoyed the fashion and hair but also been interested as it is set - and was filmed - in my hometown of Perth, Western Australia.
    It is very unusual and exciting to see a story set here. I'm more used to seeing your city on film and tv than I am my own - everything from Mad Men to Gossip Girl to How To Make It In America ( I could go on). Do you (and your readers) still get excited to see your own city on the screen?

  77. I find that I regularly have to talk to my learners about what to do with your hands. How do you define what the "right" tension is for quiding your fabric without pulling your fabric etc.

    I also find that, as an experienced user of equipment, I do things differently without thinking about it....the way you pin, cut, press etc changes subtly (or not so) as you gain experience. And much like learning to drive, as you gain skill you forget to think about what it is that you are actually doing.

    Trying to explain something that feels natural to you is pretty complicated. My quilting learners are bewildered by the "magic" of rotary cutting. (How do you know where to cut?!?) And pointing out that there is NO POSSIBLE REASON you would cross your hands while sitting at the machine....well I was a little surprised. Although this is the friend who was returning to sewing after 15 years of refusing based on an ER visit that included a machine needle. I am starting to see how it happened. heh.

    Other than that, I love vanilla (people who think it is bland are the ones who have been using the same grocery brand bottle for 15 years!) and I don't watch any TV, so there you have it. k.

  78. I think people who use "vanilla" to mean "bland" have never had really quality vanilla ice cream. Once I tasted that, it became my favorite flavor. Mmmm.

    When I took a beginner sewing class the most useful thing I learned was how to press-- even that I needed to press my seams after sewing them was news to me. The teacher also covered, in detail, how to alter a pattern; but I never ended up using that because I have been either pregnant or nursing and not interested in making fitted clothes.

  79. Holy crap. I have the biggest secret crush on Adam Scott. He is a real man. That is all. :)

  80. Just needed to add, watching Avatar, the last airbender on netflix! I know it's a cartoon, but it is soooooo good!

  81. Re: Beginners Advice-
    I remember wondering how to fold my fabric before laying out pattern pieces. Should the selvedge edges be together or the cut edges?

    The way I remember is "How was it on the bolt?" The selvedge edges are together before you buy it. Put 'em back together before you cut!

  82. Regarding vanilla: I think it gets labeled as bland because when it comes to things like ice cream, it's a "safe" flavor to pick. I mean, no one really hates vanilla, right? And admittedly, badly made vanilla ice cream (like the stuff that's made with artificial flavoring) really IS kind of bland. I'm a lifetime chocoholic, and never really liked vanilla ice cream as a kid until my mom made this absolutely delicious French vanilla ice cream from scratch. It was so rich and creamy, the perfect base for a make-your-own sundae, and absolutely sinfully delicious layered between two of Mom's also-stellar homemade chocolate chip cookies--the best ice cream sandwich I've ever had in my life.

    It's been a long time since I was a beginner seamstress, but I think the two important lessons I learned as a teenager (when I started caring how "homemade" my homemade stuff looked) was not to skip the ironing bits, and that the seam ripper is actually my friend and not a sign of failure.

    My most recent sewing obsession is welt pockets. I'm in the process of making my first set of them, and am having a great deal of difficulty finding information on how to actually get the pocket bag part onto them! (Vertical welts on shorts, so basically a pants pocket. Incidentally, if anyone here knows of any information on this and want to point me in the right direction, I'd be grateful!)

  83. Hello,

    okay, here are my thoughts:

    1. Eye candy: Watch "White Collar" on USA network, the third season just started this week. The show plays in NY, is very stylish and the storyline is fine (it is about a con artist)I also like the chemistry between the main actors. AND/OR you may watch Dr Who on BBC America. Matt Smith and all the fellow actors are seriously cute (and I also like the character River Song, she is a kind of 45 year old Lara Croft - well kind of). And honestly, how genius is the idea of a telephone box traveling through time and space?
    2. Vanilla is great. I love it. But there is a lot of cheap vanilla ice out there. I guess that is the problem.
    3. Last but not least: I really like your blog. I am an absolute beginner when it comes to sewing, but you show so much passion and fun, I consider learning more about it.

  84. I sort of grew up sewing (my mother is a serious quilter) so I forget a lot of the basics even though I'm not a great seamstress myself. But I'll reiterate keeping the presser foot down, as well as holding your threads when you start a line of stitching. Every time I watch (or occasionally try to teach) someone to sew that happens all the time! That, and what a well loaded bobbin should look like. I didn't understand that for the longest time and its something that might not come up unless you have someone to explain it. Of all the sewing books I own I think maybe one or two talk about it at all.

    P.S. I'm a new reader and I love your blog! Looking forward to the book : )


Thanks for your comments; I read each and every one! xo Gertie

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