October 16, 2017

Sweet Butterscotch Quilt

This quilt belongs to a friend of mine.  It's a late 19th century quilt.  I found the block in Barbara Brackman's Encyclopedia of Pieced Quilt Patterns.  It's called New Album, published by Ladies Art Co., pattern #36 (LAC started publishing in the 1890s, and 36 is a fairly low number).

(Note: There is info on finding the book on Brackman's blog.  It's now available as an eBook.  It's an invaluable resource!  It's also available on paper via my favorite used book resource, AbeBooks.  I have no connection to AbeBooks.  So far, I have found their condition notes to be accurate.)

The quilt is a great collection of mid- to late 19th century prints and colors, including a great butterscotch yellow print in the alternate squares. 

Here's the back fabric. 

There were a couple of older repairs, which I, of course, found especially interesting.  These were done with a reverse appliqué sort of technique, which I like to use all the time.  The patch fabric looks like a very faded version of the original fabric.  I wonder what the story behind that is!

I turned to Barbara Brackman for information again, this time to her great fabric history book "Clues in the Calico".  In the 1800s yellows, dark yellows and yellow-oranges were dyed either with antimony or chrome.  When the dyes were printed in a tiny texture on white as in this fabric, the result is this softer color often called butterscotch.  Brackman says the butterscotch print style was popular from the 1840s to 1890s.

This is the kind of quilt that I always want to call a very quilt-y quilt.  It's the sort of quilt I imagine everyone has in their mind's eye when they first hear the words "old quilt."  It's straightforward, scrappy, and just plain cozy!

October 4, 2017

It's a Wedding Dress!


My daughter Katrina came to me last spring, asking me to be an advisor for a wedding dress one of her best friends had asked her to make.  Of course I would!  We have known Hannah, the bride, and her family since the grade school years. 

What ended up happening was two long and intense and super fun weekends of dress planning and construction.  And after that, a most wonderful wedding! 

Here's the production team:  bride, mother of the bride, and my daughter.  It really did take all four of us for all the brainstorming, remembering of details, and the actual cutting, fitting, and sewing.  While we all know how to sew, not one of us is experienced with this kind of fancy gown.  We each had a different skill set to bring to the project.  The bride's mother did double duty, also keeping us fed with her delicious culinary skills.  We just had the best time!

Planning started with Hannah searching online for style ideas.  Her ideal was to use organic and sustainable fabrics, but she was having trouble finding an organic lace that she liked.  Then her mom offered up her own wedding dress which had tons of lace.  The idea of re-purposing the lace fit Hannah's sustainability wishes just fine, and we were off to the races!

Here's the original 1980s dress.  The lace had been chosen by the bride's grandmother, so using it brought another generation into the process.  How lovely!

Our first sewing session was in mid-May.  Hannah and Katrina no longer live in the same city, so their old hometown here became the rendezvous point.  Here's how we started - patterns, laces, and fabrics - many choices to make.

We ended up choosing the strapless gown from one pattern with a trim of old lace at the hem, and a short tunic from another pattern, to be made from the old lace.

First step was to make a muslin for fitting.  That was made with organic voile.  Measuring, twiddling with the sizing, and then cutting and stitching. (Yes, folks, those are soup can pattern weights!)

The fitting went smoothly enough that we were able to use the muslin for the lining of the actual dress.  Cool!

Next step was a shopping spree for the appropriate foundation garment which turned out to be a basque.  We also bought silk to make the actual dress.  And then made the dress "again", this time with slippery silk and boning in the bodice.

Stop the presses!  The silk dress with the voile lining was too sheer for comfort.  So we took the satin underdress from the old dress, took off the deep lace flounce, cut off the bodice just under the armholes, and stitched it into the bodice seam as well.  This almost made the dress too tight, but when we put the original darts back into the old satin, that helped the fit a lot.

We also cut a fitting muslin for the tunic from an old sheet.  Katrina took that back to Philly with her to stitch up before our next production session.

So by the end of four 12-hour days, we had a lined dress mostly constructed.  It was ready for the (dreaded) zipper, hemming, and adding lace at the hem....  and figuring out how to keep the strapless bodice up securely....  Just a few more little things....  Oh, and also there'd be making the tunic...

We met again two months later.  The zipper went in mostly easily (do zippers ever go in totally easily?!) and "just" needed some hand tweaking at the bottom.  We decided on using lots of snaps to keep the dress up, i.e. snapped it right onto the basque.  We also added ribbon hanging loops.

We did some fitting with the tunic muslin, including noticing that the shoulders were too wide.  I pulled out a great book that I bought at a rummage sale - Fantastic Fit For Everybody: How to Alter Patterns to Flatter Your Figure by Gale G. Hazen.  We made tucks as the book suggested in the muslin, and the tunic looked great!  The muslin then was taken apart and became the pattern for cutting the lace.

Next step was cutting the lace pieces.  We wanted to cut so that the lovely scalloped edges at the bottom of the old tunic and the tightly gathered skirt flounce would end up at the bottom edges of the new tunic and it's sleeves.  The blue outlines below show how we placed the pattern pieces.  We cut the sleeves out of the old tunic front and back, and the bodice pieces out of the flounce that had been taken off the old underdress.  (Imagine that the old gathered lace flounce had become a long piece of flat lace underneath all three bodice outlines.)  In both cases, there was just barely enough fabric, sometimes just a 1/2" to spare at a couple of corners.  Phew!

We even managed to arrange the pattern pieces so that the scallops met gracefully at the side seams!

Constructing the tunic was tricky because the lace has subtly different right and wrong sides.  We also made a narrow silk binding for the neck edge, and attached button loop tape to the back closure.  I found just enough tiny antique mother-of-pearl buttons in my button boxes. 

Then the hem.  I did this to myself.  I came up with the idea that we could attach the scalloped edge of the old lace flounce to the voile lining, ending at the target length for the dress ... and then hem the silk dress a little shorter, so it would look like there was a lace petticoat showing at the bottom.  Lovely idea, but entailed yet more head scratching and math!

We put the bride up on a stool and measured for both hems.

The lace went onto the voile by machine.  We needed about 130", and the old flounce gave us only a few extra inches.  We figured that we'd never get the scallops to join neatly there, so Katrina just stitched the strip on.  It ended up only about 1/2" off, i.e. as good as a match.  We figure that Hannah's grandmother was watching carefully over her lace and helped it all work out for us - her gift to the wedding! 

Here's Hannah, a little astonished to see an actual bride in the mirror!

Then Hannah took the dress home to hem the silk by hand and put all the tiny buttons onto the tunic.

And voila!  A wedding!  This was definitely the most fun, most creative, and most heartwarming sewing project ever!

September 23, 2017

Creative Quilt Ties

What really intrigued me about this quilt were the "ties".  Instead of the usual yarn or thread knotting, this quilter "tied" her quilt with oversize lazy daisy stitches!  Sometimes, she used a contrasting thread that lets the stitches really show.

Here's the stitching, front and back.  Very clever, don't you think?  And the brocade on the back is really lovely! 


Sadly, this quilt is another survivor of doggie chews.  I patched tears and pulled together open seams.  The fabrics are mostly rayons; the pattern is bow tie.

I'm showing a couple of close-ups, because the colors are so subtle that the patchwork doesn't show well in a full shot.

The family thinks it came from the Georgia-Florida side of the family.  The owner's mom probably had it as a girl in the 1940's, so it possibly was made and given to her by a relative during her childhood in Florida.

September 21, 2017

A New Family Member

Well, if my beloved Bernina 830 is my first child, which it undoubtedly is, I am proud to announce the addition of its twin to the family.

A short while ago, I joined a Facebook group called Vintage Bernina Sewing Machines.  I soon became aware that lots of people are as in love with this model as I have been.

Shortly thereafter, this one showed up for sale, complete with a collection of feet and a knee lift.  The page is not just a sales list.  There is much more discussion and info about any and all Bernina models than there are sales notices.  It's a real treasure trove.

I bought what is now my first Bernina in 1980-something.  I've never had a hiccup of trouble with it, save some issues with the knee lift.  I was told, when I had that repaired several years ago, that the home Bernina factory in Switzerland had flooded, and their stash of replacement parts for older models had taken a big hit.

I've been a little on edge about that ever since.  My lovely machine and I are a real team.  We've got what I do pretty well all figured out.  On top of that, I'm definitely an "old dog" (in many arenas and all times of my life).  I don't want a fancy computerized model that costs a bunch because of all sorts of things I won't use.  I think the only new gadget I'd like to have is the stitch regulator for free-motion quilting.  But otherwise, I'm totally fine with still doing some things manually while having a machine with solid, all-metal innards that I already know and love.

So when this baby came up on the list, I decided to buy it.  As those who know me are aware, I don't spend money easily, but this was one of those moments where "my gut" told me an emphatic YES.  Besides all the aforementioned facts, the seller lives about an hour's drive from me - so no shipping hoo-ha and cost required.  It had to be mine!  And I'm happy to say that I have not one bit of buyer's remorse!

September 17, 2017

Look at These Cool Buttons!

I did a tiny bit of repair on this jacket, and fell in love with the buttons.  It's a cropped polar fleece jacket from the late 1980s or early 90s.  (And for sale, if you're interested, at my friend Julia's Etsy shop.)  The jacket is by Spanish designer Celia Tejada.  And let me tell you, she had quite an eye for choosing buttons!

Has anyone out there ever seen a button styled like this?  I haven't!  I mean really, how fun is this?!

There are appliquéd red rectangles at the buttonholes, so when the jacket is closed, these clever buttons get the spotlight they deserve!

Here's to those who step out of the box!

September 13, 2017

A Glimpse of the Past

Today I've been mending vintage clothes for Basya Berkman Vintage Fashion.

One of my "patients" is a 1960s-70s dress that needed a new hem.  I found a nice coral hem tape in amongst my stash of vintage sewing supplies.

The reason I'm telling you this, really, is because of the label on the package.  The price sounds, of course, very quaint in today's economy.  15 cents!

But really (and here is where I end the mounting suspense!), it's this lovely little paragraph:

I remember saving box tops and wrappers and sending them off for fun little gifts when I was in grade school.  It was so fun!  But mostly, I'm thinking how lovely (and clever) to have a company training its future customers! 

(I inherited a large collection of ribbons and seam tapes and blanket bindings from my friend Debbie's grandma.  I made small memory quilts from some of them for Debbie and her Mom.  You can read more and see the quilts here.)