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.


  1. Hi Roseana! Thanks for teaching me so much this afternoon. What's this about a 'muslin fitting shell'? Is it any easier/harder, etc than working with a sewing form? Great blog, btw!

  2. Hi Amber,

    Thanks for the compliments!

    A fitting shell is a basic pattern for a bodice, sleeve, skirt, or pant. It has no style lines and only enough ease in it to get it on your body. Butterick, Vogue, and McCall's each publishes one. Look in the very back of a counter catalog sometime and you'll see it.




    These patterns are the basis for the designs for the corresponding company. They're called "pattern blocks."

    I spent several days fitting a bodice to my own body. The idea is, I can now use this bodice and compare it to other patterns, so I'll have an idea what adjustments I need to make before I even get started.

    I'll let you know how I make out!

    A dress form is useful in this exercise, but not totally sufficient. You need to try the garment on yourself.

    When you get to a point where you're interested in refining fit, let me know and we can talk more.