Monday, June 30, 2014

Let's Not Go Throwing Sewing Machines (Even If We Want To)

I've been sewing for almost 20 years and there are still times when I want to hurl the sewing machine out of the window.

Okay, I don't actually want to hurl my sewing machine anywhere, it is behaving beautifully. But I sewed two major seams wrong and URG THE FRUSTRATION! I mean, it's a fairly easy fix, it's just that they were fussy seams to do the first time around and I feel like I wasted an hour.


When I was younger and such things happened, my mentality was "MUST KEEP WORKING UNTIL PERFECT!" Invariably my frustration would cause me to make more mistakes which would make the frustration greater in a vicious never-ending cycle.

Finally I realized that "Hey, maybe I should just walk away, take a deep breath, do something else and come back with renewed patience."

It was like magic! Sure it's hard to walk away when I JUST WANT TO GET SOMETHING DONE and I'm on a deadline. But honestly it saves time in the long run, and definitely keeps my blood pressure down!

Lesson of the Day: When you want to do something destructive to your sewing equipment, don't. Walk away, drink some tea, eat some chocolate, tidy up the kitchen, then come back and try again.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Queen Regina Embroidery

Remember that post I wrote about how difficult it was proving to find the right fabric for Queen Regina's Black and Purple costume? Well we decided to purchase a blue and black brocade and add the purple with the help of my new embroidery machine. It has been QUITE the task - I have 1 and 1/2 skirt panels left to go and then it'll be done! 

Anyhow, I thought you might like to see my machine in action.

Video #1 is about 90 seconds and shows the start of the design. I have to press a button between the three stages, because the original design includes a color change that we don't need.

The plastic film you see covering the fabric is a water soluble stabilizer. After all of the designs are sewn, I soak the material in water and the plastic dissolves away! 

The second video is just 30 seconds long and you can see the flowers emerging.

My machine is a Brother SE 400 for Embroidery and Sewing, which I purchased from Amazon for $300 back in March. I adore it! The flower design is from

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Who said you're too old to make-over Barbie?

Granted, it's a bit easier to explain when you have a daughter/sister/niece to use as an excuse. I just love making clothes of any size though, and Barbie's are easier to display than full size dress forms.

I picked up this lovely lady at the thrift store the other day, because I was enchanted by the rich varied red of her hair. $2.99 packaged with a horrid Bratz doll which is going right back to the thrift store! And then I got my whole purchase 25% off because it was a monday...

Anyhow, her hair was a mess, so I carefully combed it out, section by section, shampooed and conditioned it, then dipped it in boiling water to straighten it out. Look how smooth and silky it got! I wanted her curls back, however, so I used straws and bobby pins to roll it up and - yes - once again stick it into boiling water.

When her hair dried I took the curlers out and she had a lovely shiny new mop o'curls!

As you can see from this top-down view, I was able to save the narrow braid from the original hairstyle and loop it up again over the curls.

Although I hope to created something more stunning for her eventually, today I just needed something to cover poor Barbie up. So I pulled out this vintage pattern set my aunt had given me and picked the easiest design.

30 minutes later, Barbie has a cute new frock, very Rose Brier in style!

I couldn't resist sticking a little flower in her hair!

Saving and restyling dolls is addicting, but thankfully not a very expensive addiction!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Let's Dye Some Fabric - A Tutorial on Fiber Reactive Dyes

Guys, I have such a love/hate relationship with dyeing fabric. It is so fun but so picky! Remember my very first post about it? And remember how that project turned out so beautifully?

Since then I've done a heck of a lot more fabric dying and figured it was time to do another post - this time a proper tutorial in using Fiber Reactive Dyes.

So here is the very first thing. USE FIBER REACTIVE DYES. I've tried Dylon. I've tried Rit. It's so tempting to just pick them up because they're right there at JoAnn's and just $3 a pop and...


Just. No. They do NOT hold the color well. Dylon is a bit better than Rit, especially if you're doing a shade of green or blue, but red is laughable. Seriously. Save yourself the headache.

Dharma Trading Company is THE source for your Fiber Reactive Dyes. Yes you have to pay shipping, and yes paying $4-$8 for a few ounces may seem a headache, but trust me, this dye goes a LOT further and lasts forever. It's beautiful stuff. Furthermore it will work on most natural fibers! For trickier fabrics like wool and polyester they have other options, but I haven't explored those yet. (Here's some more about that) Their website is VERY informative and although I have not used their customer service myself, I've heard it is quite good.

(If you only need a few colors, ordering three of the small sizes will allow them to ship first class, which is cheaper than priority mail. So order small unless you need a lot of stuff!)

I recommend getting their starter kit if this is your first time, as you will need the soda ash for sure and it's a good color melody. However you could skip this and just get the colors you want and the soda ash, and stock up on rubber gloves and a mask at the hardware store. (Go with disposable gloves. Rubber breaks down over time with these chemicals and you will protect your hands better with a new pair each session rather than investing in sturdier workgloves).

You'll also need some measuring cups, stir sticks, and at least one plastic tub/garbage can/storage bin. All of these need to be things that will not be coming into contact with food. I got all of mine at Goodwill, Dollar Tree, or JoAnn's using coupons.

Finally you'll need salt. LOTS of salt. More salt than you could imagine. Thankfully it's cheap. Stock up. (No iodine, please).

The Dharma catalog has a lovely set of instructions right in the front. As you can see, mine is much loved! I found them pretty intimidating the first time, and marked it up heavily to make sure I wouldn't forget a single step! But don't worry, I'm going to give you plenty of pictures.

First off, you need to wash your fabric. Doing in the machine with the Dharma detergent is best, but I didn't have those luxuries this time so regular detergent in the bath tub! If your garment is already clean, just soak it all the way through with water. This helps the dye cling evenly.

Note on bathtubs. Ideally you'll be working in a laundry room tub where a little staining won't matter. HOWEVER, if a bathtub is your only option, let me assure you that Fiber Reactive Dyes are really easy to clean off of porcelain. Wipe dots and drips down as you go, and spray everything with cleaner at the end and scrub it up. Any stains that remain should be sprinkled with a product like Barkeeper's Friend, left to sit, and then wiped up.

Salt time! I did not have enough salt for this project, which kept the color from getting quite as deep as I wanted. Make sure you have enough salt! It's important! (The Dharma instructions lay out clearly how much salt per gallon of water.) You'll be adding the salt straight into your dying tub, which should contain warm water by now.

The instructions will tell you how much dye to add per gallon of water, and how much water you need per pound of fabric. A scale is nice, but they'll also tell you useful things like "a t-shirt is half a pound" and "one tablespoon of dye per half pound of fabric."

You need more dye if you are doing darker colors, which is another thing I skimped on here, resulting in a lighter shade than I originally wished. Oops.

Also. Safety precaution. This is a good step to wear your face mask during. You don't want to breath in this powder!

But can you blame me? Look at how dark that is!

It is important to mix your dye into the water really, really well before adding the fabric. I like to measure it into a glass jar of really hot water, shake that up so it's really mixed, then pour the jar into the dying tub of warm water. (Pay attention to the temperatures. They are important!)

Now it is time to add your fabric! Use the long handled stirring utensils to work the fabric evenly into the dye and stir it around.

Then stir, stir and stir again! You'll want to stir constantly or at least every 3-4 minutes for the next half hour or so. If you don't stir consistently and frequently you'll get streaky color setting.

Look at that lovely fabric! After the half hour, you'll follow your instructions to mix up the required amount of soda ash into REALLY HOT water. You'll need to pour this mixture into your tub over the next fifteen minutes or so. Wear your mask again while measuring and mixing the powder! I mix it the same way I do the dye in the same (cleaned!) jar. This will cause the dye to set. Keep stirring.

You can really let the fabric sit as long as you want, just don't forget to keep stirring. 30 mins is the minimum wait time, I usually let the soda ash have at least an hour to do its work. Then it's time to put on those rubber gloves and rinse out the dye!

Note: The color the fabric is now is NOT the color it will be once you wash and dry it. It will be a lighter shade - perhaps even a MUCH lighter shade.

Rinsing is the most backbreaking part of the process, and it's kind of cold too since you have to rinse out each garment in cold water until it runs clear. This can be up to a half hour, depending on how much you are dying and what color you are using. (Red or colors containing red are the worst).

Then it's time to throw your pieces into the washing machine and wash them out! Follow the Dharma instructions for temperatures. (I handwash mine sometimes. That works too.)

And then, at long last, you have your new clothes! As you can see, the socks didn't take color at all, and the blouse and skirt remained light. The blouse definitely shifted from gray to lavender, and the skirt is a darker purple,but not as dark as I hoped for. Another round is due eventually!

Friday, June 6, 2014

In a Sewing Revolution

I have this theory (that I've mentioned before) that the reason sewing fell out of vogue with my mother's generation is that this is when cheaply made sewing machines became common. Instead of good old solid metal machines, we started getting plastic parts and fussy bobbins and other clipped corners that came with only paying $99 for a machine. So those cheap parts failed and home seamstresses threw up their hands over messed up tension and jammed bobbins and said "no more! I can buy my clothes and curtains and pillows and I will!"

Women didn't stop sewing, just the majority of them. But their mothers still sewed because they came from an era when you had to sew a lot and they knew how to make their good old machines work. And when those machines broke, they fixed them. And when they couldn't fix them, they were usually grandmothers and had extra cash to invest in really good new machines and go on sewing doll clothes and quilts for the grandkids.

And then those grandkids grew up and saw their grandmothers sewing, and saw it was something their mothers didn't do, so what started as granny/grandaughter time grew into their own rebellion of parental culture. They became a generation concerned about waste, so they learned to refashion thrift store options. They're concerned about individuality so they make one of a kind garments. And they're the internet generation, so they went online and found that they were not alone. Instead of expensive classes, they found youtube. Instead of groups of grandmothers, they found blogrolls of their own peers. Instead of just buying whatever the local craft store had, they discovered discount suppliers, independent patternmakers, and best of all, sewing machines they could read reviews of before buying.

And thanks to the computer age, sewing machines are better than ever. For $300 you can have a machine shipped to you from Amazon that has embroidery and quilting features, over 70 stitch functions, automatic bobbin sensing (and a top loading bobbin!), automatic threading function, and an automatic thread cutting function.

(Yes, this is my Brother SE400 which I LOVE. Watch the price on Amazon before buying, it fluctuates).

And there are some good machines that are not so fancy that cost less as well. Maybe they don't have so many stitches (but you really only need a few to get started), and maybe they don't have the special sensors, but they are top loading bobbins and they come with better written manuals and you can find plenty of support groups to problem-solve your issues. All things our mothers didn't have the benefit of.

We're in the midst of a sewing revolution, and I am thrilled to be a part of it.

BTW, this is what I'm working on now. It's intense. And taking forever to finish.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

I don't always sew gifts

While my day job is sewing, my night hobby varies between many types of needlework. I knit, crochet, and have begun embroidery. Recently a new little niece joined our family, and of course I had to welcome her arrival with a baby blanket! 

It was a great pattern that took less than two skeins of yarn, and I love how it turned out!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

MCHEC Report and Fairy Tale Totes!

 This weekend my husband, I and our friend Meg represented Chesterton Press at the Minnesota Catholic Home Educator's Conference.

I've done MCHEC twice before, once as lead representative, once helping out Regina Doman. It's a pretty big and well attended conference with people coming as far as Canada and Illinois to attend!

This year I gave a 45 minute presentation on "Why Catholic Fiction?" Regina made me a powerpoint that I used to expand on this post on the Chesterton Press Website. I had a small but engaged audience and it was pretty fun!

I even got to met a long-time reader of my blog!

I painted a booth sign, and once again we used one of my sewing creations to help draw attention to the booth. This year I chose to display a new dress that Regina and I both felt was very Blanche/Rose Brier.

We gave away tons of bookmarks. At the end of the two-day conference ALL of the FTN ones were gone and most of the JP2H.

The second day I brought along my travel machine to display and draw more attention to the fact that I was advertising sewing lessons.

My husband was a GREAT supporting, including running out to get me Gluten Free Pizza before my presentation.

Meg kept us alive the second day, because there was no way I could be on point the whole time. Meg knows and loves the books and has been doing this conference even longer than I have.

Now I am completely exhausted and sick, BUT I did take the time to put up an etsy posting for some of the Fairy Tale Tote Bags I have left over! I sold out of the "Keep Calm and Read Fairy Tales" but I may make and list some more when I get the time if there is interest.