Saturday, July 17, 2010

Friday, Friday . . . So Sad It's Friday

It's as predictable as the sun coming up  . . . Thursday of sewing camp takes on what I call a "disco" mode, with everyone sewing a second or third project, getting fitted in another pattern, talking, comparing, laughing, and beginning to think about how much she will miss the new sewing friends she's made. Friday morning, things take on a new, silent seriousness, as the mad rush to complete projects ensures, and more sadness as the hours march by and another week with Sandra Betzina comes to a close.

Sandra told us her father said, "Entertain the people you do business with in your home," and that is why at the close of each sewing camp, she has all 10 of us (plus various friends, family, and spouses) for dinner at her exquisite loft in SOMA near AT&T Park.

Here's how the week shook out:

Diane, Burda magazine expert, shows Jenni how to find the pattern and size you want on the pattern sheet.

Catherine made a fabulous pair of pants. I was nice and didn't take a photo of her booty, even though it does look fly.

Buoyed by her success with the Anda dress, Carol worked on another project. She's learning what a sleeve pattern looks like, a bodice, a facing. It's pretty weird if you haven't done it before!

Sandra fine tunes the fit on Lyn's dress. This is a very important dress because Lyn is being honored at an event for her years of fundraising for Planned Parenthood.

Alden finished her vintage dress!

Jenni made a skirt from this wonderful Japanese linen/cotton eyeglass print she got at Piedmont. A print with cameras is underneath. Did I mention Jenni's a budding genius? Yes, I did. But I can say it again.

Sandra showed us the first dress she ever made. It was when she was in the 8th grade. Even then she had the best taste in fabric! This shirtwaist dress is in the highest quality cotton jersey.

Diane sewed one of the new patterns from Sandra's line.

I'm channeling my inner Joan Holloway.

Cat's "convertible dress." She didn't make it at sewing camp, but isn't it fabulous?

Jenni's apple dress. She said she was very hungry while she was shopping for fabric.

Well, that's it for another week of sewing camp. I love my new and old friends, and the thing we share: sewing, sewing, sewing!

Friday, July 16, 2010

What Everybody's Making at Sewing Camp

I didn't make this at camp, but I was showing it off at camp. It's from a 1950 design, reissued by Butterick and now long out of print again. During my two-day fitting shell death march, Sandra determined that I still need to add an inch to my bodice. The same is true for this dress. So much for my being short waisted! I've made a knit, raglan sleeve top that I think channels my inner Joan (from Mad Men) and today I've been fine-tuning and sewing another of Sandra's T-shirt patterns.

Sandra's eldest daughter, Kim, is with us at sewing camp this week. No, she doesn't sew much and had never wanted to learn until recently. She's making a faux fur vest, that lucky San Franciscan! Kim is super proud of her admirable mother.

This is Cat, Sandra's and Kim's friend who relocated to San Francisco from Portland. What a sweetie! She's copying a favorite top and making it in what she and Kim refer to as the "bad boyfriend fabric." It's a thin, hard to handle jersey that doesn't want to behave.

Jenni's embellished camo dress! She has made about six garments so far this week. This dress is for prom . . . in 2011. She has to plan ahead because she's so busy with school. She wondered aloud today if there was such a thing as sewing boarding school. If so, let me be the headmistress.

Without a doubt, today's happiest gal was Carol, who made her first garment ever this week at sewing camp. This is the Anda dress from BurdaStyle, their most-downloaded design. She chose a camo-like silk and even sewed French seams!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Vintage Vixens at Sandra Betzina's Sewing Week!

I've always — and I mean always — loved the styles and silhouettes from the 1950s and 1960s. And when I was but a lass in the 80s, discarded clothing from those eras was still plentiful and mostly cheap to get in vintage stores, thrift stores, and yard sales. How I miss Purple Heart, Mr. Peabody's, and Flashback, in Houston, Dressed to Kill in Austin, Garage in Berlin, Alice Underground in New York. All gone now.

At some point, I acquired a vintage pattern at Flashback. It was for a full slip and printed in the early 1950s (I still have it). I made a slip out of electric blue pima cotton and wore it under a black voile Nelly Don dress. Then about 1988, someone gave me a pattern for a mini-dress from about 1967 and I made it out of purple and green polkadot print cotton. I found a bunch of old patterns at Family Thrift in Austin around that same time. Then, I bought a bunch more at an estate sale from two, never-married sisters on Dancy Street (as well as an armload of 1950s dresses).

I'm not sure what happened after that. I think something called eBay came on the scene, and even in its early days, you could pick up a lot of old patterns for less than a dollar each. I have a lot of vintage patterns now. They're not all amazing designs, but I love them just the same. Used to be, I got a lot of funny looks when I said I collected old sewing patterns. Not anymore!

This year at sewing camp with Sandra Betzina, I've got even more company than usual in Vintageland.

This is Lyn, and she's saying, "Oh, I'm only folding my lining!" She's one of my best buds from sewing camp over the years and a veteran of the Betzina week. She loves 1940s silhouettes best, but is making an Eva Dress pattern that's reprinted from a Claire McCardell design. Lyn has that fantastic gift of knowing exactly what looks good on her, and stays with it. Her dress, intended for a big event in the fall, will be made out of her beloved blue, and I know it's gonna be smashing as always.

This is Catherine, and she's making a 1960s sheath. Look how happy she is, and I would be, too, if I could make a dress straight out of the envelope! Catherine's learning fast how to take a flat pattern fantasy and turn it into three-dimensional fabulousness.

Here's Jenni. She's in high school. Before this class, she made a dress out of playing cards, another out of newspaper sheets, and an outfit out of Duck Brand duct tape. Jennie's Project Runway material all the way. She sews at lightning speed. She made a formal Vogue dress out of camo print twill (whereas most of us would have picked a boring satin-weave something or other) and plans to embellish it with faux jewels. Here she's working on a polka-dot dress that will have a chenilled bodice. Jenni told me that her favorite silhouette for women is the 1950s.

To Lyn's and Sandra's left, Alden of BurdaStyle is busy tracing off a new copy of her vintage Advance pattern, which she told me was rescued from the trash somewhere in Brooklyn. She, too, is an unapologetic lover of straight up vintage styles.
She bought these great buttons from "the button lady," who comes every sewing camp and sells us unique buttons of every description. While she and fellow BurdaStyle co-worker Carol were out today on company business, I snapped this photo of her pattern and buttons.

In previous years, most of of my fellow students have been interested in everything from tailoring to jeans, but never vintage patterns, so it's been good fun to meet these shirtwaisted sisters from another mother this year!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

My San Francisco Week With Sandra Betzina

The single most inspiring person I have met in years is Sandra Betzina. Based in San Francisco, Sandra writes books, produces instructional videos and television shows, publishes her own line of sewing patterns through Vogue Patterns, gives lectures, and teaches hands-on workshops in garment fitting and construction. I had happily limped along on junior high, home-ec style sewing skills for many years and seemed to be able to fool people that I knew how to sew. But after I started attending Sandra's workshops and using her books and videos, my knowledge of and ability in this craft grew exponentially.

Sandra inspires me not only to be a better sewist, but a better woman. There are no "fat pants" days in Sandra's life, and being with her reminds me that I shouldn't have any, either. Like other strong, independent, secure, happy, and confident women I know, Sandra believes that how you deal with your appearance has everything to do with how you feel on the inside, too. One of the most obvious outward signs of this inward grace is, of course, clothing. Clothes have great significance in the lives of some of us; others, not so much. For garment sewists like me, well-fitting, original, beautiful clothes are the goal, but the making runs a close second in importance. A willingness to embrace the process of fitting and sewing garments goes hand-in-hand with your final product. Luckily, we have Sandra to help us along the way, whether we learn with her in the virtual world or in real life.

This is my fifth return to Sandra's San Francisco Sewing Week — and I'm far from the exception. Sandra's husband, Dan Webster, likes to joke that Sandra's students probably never learn anything, or else why would they keep returning? For me, it's the chance to renew the great friendships I've made through this experience and to keep learning more about about the thing I love so much in my favorite city in the world. All right, it's also the best fabric shopping, too.

The week always begins with Sandra's trunk show, where she shows us all her latest garments made from her patterns. She tells us about the fabrics she's discovered lately, what she likes about them (or doesn't like) and shows us tricks and tips she's developed along the way for better construction or more interesting finishes and embellishments — things you will never find in pattern instructions. (All of her best ideas will be finally be collected in her upcoming book, Power Sewing Toolbox, due for release this fall.) I'm always struck by the possibilities she introduces, like this one above. Instead of closing skirt darts in the conventional way, stitch some hook and eye tape on the lines of the dart legs on the public side of the garment! I'm totally doing this on my next straight skirt.

Next, everyone in the class gets new, accurate body measurements and discusses what she hopes to achieve in the class for the week. For me, it's to get a personal fitting shell done and refine the fit on one of Sandra's T-shirt patterns. Even I, stubborn donkey of the sewing room, am feeling weary of making a muslin every single time I sew a garment. I'm hoping a fitting shell, which is a muslin bodice, sleeve, and skirt fitted to my body's own unique contours, then converted back to a flat pattern, will help speed the process of pattern alterations.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Project of the Month: Japanese "Sewing Lesson" blouse

Once you learn what there is to sew and do beyond the Big Four pattern companies, it becomes irresistable! This top comes from a Japanese pattern book called Sewing Lesson. You can make this design as a blouse or a shirtwaist dress. It has a cut-on sleeve, so it's a snap to sew and doesn't take much fabric. As with most non-U.S.-produced patterns, you have to trace this off yourself and add seam allowances. And with Japanese patterns, yes, you must un-petite them, and grade them up, and try a muslin before you get into your fashion fabric. It seems to me that Japanese patterns would be well-proportioned for a young teen or older tween (as long as she likes the design).

You know how ladies' shirt patterns are published with a layout for buttonholes? Sometimes, the pattern will even say something like, "six, 5/8" buttons required."

Ignore that. Don't mark any buttonholes until you find the buttons you want to use. Use whatever size fits the garment and fabric. Maybe you can only find five you love, or you have seven or eight small ones. Use the ones you want. In my case, I recycled shell buttons from a 60-year-old blouse.

Try on the blouse and pin it closed. Find the spot where the garment hits your bust and mark it. Then make another mark where you want the blouse to button at the top. The distance between these two is the basis for your buttonhole spacing. This is a much better way to determine your buttonhole layout. I guarantee you won't have peek-a-boo at your bra if you do it this way!