Thursday, January 12, 2023

Boro Stitching

Japanese Rice Bag from 2019

Non-sewing activities in November and December left me feeling a loss. Sewing is so much a part of my life that I feel off-center and ungrounded when I don't have time for it. So here it is January and I have cleared off the wrapping paper and other detritus that filled the cutting table. I've started the new year with time in my healing space, the sewing room. And it's very, very good.


Next month I am teaching a class on boro using the lovely Japanese rice bag pattern from K Z Stevens. Also known as komebukuro, it is a traditional bag used for religious celebrations to bring rice to temple. I love the shape of bag and the fact that it provides a blank canvas for fiber art exploration.

Side panels (rectangle) and square bottom cut to size on a piece stitched to white flannel

As prep for my class, I made this sample.

It's fun to remember the previous projects that are represented in this bag, as well as the adventures involved in acquiring the fabrics. For example, I see remnants of a favorite Archer shirt from Grainline Studios worn recently on a trip to Israel:


While rummaging through my remnants, I began to wonder, just what is boro? And what might boro be for the 21st century sewist? No one I know has precious rags that have been pieced together to provide warmth during the winter, as the original boro did. So I thought, perhaps, for me, boro stitching means using what I have and not buying new. Though not real boro, it captures the spirit.


This approach to boro allows me to pull out precious little pieces from old projects. Diane Ericson calls this the *parts department.* An example is the piece below. I used to keep a little brass pot in my pantry with folded cotton inside. Each morning when I finished steeping my tea, I threw the bag into the little pot. After some weeks (months? years?), I retrieved the fabric and unfolded it.

There were tea stains, as well as rust marks from the clamps I used. I really like the design, as well as the obvious decay. It is fragile. Just looking at it gives me joy.


As I considered it, I thought that a light blue background would be interesting underneath and adjacent to it. I did not have any fabric that worked. My husband has more cotton button down shirts than any human needs (just like I have more fabric than any human needs), so I asked him to donate an old one to my project. He was happy to oblige me. 


Using this soft light blue shirt cotton,  I began to compose another rice bag as a possible way to spotlight my fragile fabric. Composition is a subject I'm interested in exploring. My sewing tends to be somewhat spontaneous but I do appreciate that composition can create more satisfying results.

One approach is to assume that the vertical seam will fall along a corner of the square bottom. Then you can mark the places where each of the four panels will be ultimately be situated. I have generally taken a seredipitous approach, and applied embellishment that does not depend on careful placement. And I tend to avoid placing the vertical seam at a corner, because it adds bulk to a place where sewing finesse is already required.

This is what I have so far. I can locate the side seam so that the panels are ones I like before sewing to the bottom. In previous bags, I allowed myself to be surprised, but since I'm teaching, I thought it might be helpful to think in terms of planning AND creating.

But maybe not.



Friday, October 28, 2022

Autumn Color and the Chopin Blouse

A kind of mood board from June Coburn

Now moving into autumn - I do love those colors - burnt orange, chocolate brown, burgundy, deep teal. I have a nice little pile of these in stash. It's been fun pulling them out and planning some pieces and ensembles. 

Patterns: Pearl jacket, Bristol top, Helix pants

Fall also puts me in the mood for shirts and all the details that accompany a shirt. An old Sewing Workshop pattern, the Chopin blouse, caught my eye somewhere, probably on the Sewing Workshop gallery. And then I discovered that I do not have it in stash. So how did that happen?!? I tend to collect all their patterns, but particularly the old ones.

The older ones have all the interesting details and shapes. The Chopin blouse came out in 1999 so it's of millennium vintage. In the illustration it looks kind of 90's, doesn't it? The shoulders look wide (and they were) and the proportions are very 90's, as well.  

So I queried my local ASG chapter and Beth (thank you, Beth) donated her copy to me. She said she doesn't want it back, but if you change your mind, Beth, you can have it. I traced my size and so the tissue is still intact. 

Oh, my, the details on the Chopin blouse! I kept some and omitted others, especially all that ruching! There is a collar band with a ruched collar above it. I just dropped the ruched collar and kept the band, something I often do with shirts anyway. The cuffs on the sleeves were deep and also ruched. I liked the depth but drafted a new cuff. 

Cuff facing, placket, cuff and other placket

Right and wrong side of cuff after assembly

Cuff ready to attach to the sleeve hem

I really love the shape of the sleeve. It is slightly bell shaped. The very deep cuffs angle back in to the wrists creating a narrow shape at the bottom. And the cuffs present a cool place for extra buttons. In the end I used 3 buttons on each cuff.


Finished cuff

Those pockets! Too bad they don't show up at all in this brown and white linen. I'll have to incorporate that idea into another shirt some time. I think it would be fairly easy to draft them onto a different pattern since they are simply overlaps top-stitched in place.

And there are godets in the side seams, giving the appearance of a waist. I think that would be flattering on lots of people.

Lastly there is the pleated back peplum. I goofed and inserted it backwards so mine is a box pleat instead of an inverted pleat. I might go back and fix that but probably not.

The silhouette was a problem. The pattern as drafted is quite oversized as most 90's shirts were. I am wondering if shoulder pads were intended. The shoulders on the size S definitly fell off my shoulders by a good inch.

And it was too long. I shortened the overall body by 3". In the back, I shortened it by 2" at the top of the peplum and another inch along the hem. I shifted the godets up a couple of inches after adjusting the horizontal seam on the peplum. Then I cut the remaining hems to be even with the back hem. The resulting hem is straight, instead of a shirt-tail hem.

I narrowed the shoulders and reduced the side seams on the shirt, as well as on the sleeve underarm seam to accommodate the shoulder adjustment. 

There were no lengthen/shorten lines on the pattern pieces, so I just had to wing it. Because it worked out, I now think of it as fun. It was quite nerve-wracking in process, though, because I was working with the fashion fabric rather than a muslin. 

I know. I know. But I was channeling Diane Ericson the entire time. She has such a playful approach to design and typically works with the actual fabric, adding and subtracting as the design and fit require. I aspire to be that experimental. 

And I got lucky this time.

Thursday, September 22, 2022

The Fractal 1.0

I'm wearing the sample they provide for trying out sizes.

In April, I was lucky enough to attend my second workshop at Alabama Chanin in Florence SC. It was such a fun and inspiring time with fellow sewing enthusiasts and gorgeous clothing. The price includes one kit. This time I chose the fractal dress, an interesting silhouette with 21 sections - 4 upper fronts, 4 lower fronts, 4 upper backs, 4 lower backs, 2 piece dolman sleeves, and a collar.

  • Pattern: Fractal dress, size S
  • Outer knit: brown (earth)
  • Inner knit: brown (earth)
  • Stencil: Abbie's Flower
  • Embroidery floss: Dove

There was a version of the Peacoat displayed in the AC shop with this stencil and color scheme. All of us drooled over it. 

Sample from the Peacoat on Display

The first time I attended an AC workshop, I chose the Peacoat as my project so I did not want another version of that particular pattern. Instead I chose the Fractal dress with the same stencil and color scheme.


Each kit comes with an 8x10 sample of the stenciled fabric and another 8x10 without the stencil for trying out ideas. I used negative reverse applique on my sample and concluded that I did not like that effect. (Note to self: it actually looks nice, so maybe I'll use it on a future project.)



So I returned to my trusty reverse applique. I used this in my Peacoat and enjoyed the entire process. I completed one section with that in mind before bailing and selecting a different approach.

One sleeve section, stitched double layer, nothing cut away

My 3rd and final selection was to use a single layer of the knit. Nothing will be cut away, of course. I am using a version of the back-stitch to outline the motifs. I really, really like the way that sort-of choppy back-stitch relates to the leaf shapes. At first, I worried about that choppy stitching but then I embraced it as very leaf-like. I use 2 strands of the Dove embroidery floss. 


This version of the dress is on-going. The stitching is very time-consuming and meditative. I don't want it to end! You can see how far I've progressed in the picture above. Of course, my decision to stitch single-layer presented me with another whole dress without any stenciling. How fun is that!?!

Tried out the Herringbone stitch in Dove floss

After a particularly inspiring session at my ASG neighborhood group, City-wide Couture, with our local beautiful Toni Morrison, I was anxious to try her idea of stitching wrong sides together (WST), using a decorative stitch to keep the seams pressed open. The seam allowances are only 1/4" so it's hard to keep the seams pressed open otherwise.

Feather stitch in Dove gray floss

Though I do love the Dove (light gray) floss against this dark brown, I wanted something a little different. I am surprised by how much I like this burnt orange against that dark brown. I am enjoying thinking about fall clothes and this combination fits in nicely. 


I sewed the underarm seams right sides together per usual, choosing to accent the other WST seams with my go-to elastic stitch, the feather stitch. It was such great fun. And I've decided that this is a top, rather than another Fractal dress.


Yes, it's a bit short for a top, but I think it will be fun to wear. And I'm amazed at how well it coordinates with clothes in my closet, some quite old. 


I had a great time playing dress-up with it.

With my linen Pearl jacket, TSW pattern Pearl and Opal

With my Japanese cotton vest, Cutting Line Design pattern Artist in Motion

Cotton home-dec fabric, TSW Plaza jacket

My first and last Coco jacket in silk home-dec fabric



Monday, September 19, 2022

The (Sub)urban Jacket

This was quite the snake-bit project, primarily of my own making. A while back, I admired sewing friend Charlotte's rendition of this unusual design. She described it as seriously challenging and even shared her modifications created with a Butterick pattern. I sure wish I had a picture of hers. It is fabulous with its hood and long sleeves.


In the beginning, I was optimistic, sure of myself. I even have fabric in stash that is similar to the fabric on the front of the pattern envelope. I was sure that I could do this!


Yes, the instructions were a bit of a conundrum to me but I pre-disposed myself to thinking "This will be difficult." Attitude is everything.


This is a Diane Ericson design. I do love her work. I drool over her journal entries every time one drops in my email. Much inspiration! I think to myself - I can do that too.


But I made so, so many mistakes. I don't think I can remember them all to include in this post and who wants to see all that anyway?!?


One mistake I made that tripped me up was cutting 2 of the collar/facing piece when I really needed 4. That took me for a long ride that included other related mistakes.


The design includes welt pockets, a close cousin to bound buttonholes, as I'm sure you know. I played around with some samples and decided that a real welt pocket would introduce too much bulk for my taste. I made a simple faced pocket opening and used the pattern pocket backing to finish it. And, after all, this was intended to be a wearable muslin.

(I do like this picture a lot. I like the way the flange causes the back to swing to the front)

As always, I had a limited amount of this while denim. I thought I could cut out a sleeveless jacket, keeping the hood and other details. If I had paid attention to the number of needed collar/facing pieces, I might have actually done that. Or maybe not.


When I finally sorted out the collar/facing error in cutting, I had to harvest another piece from the hood. That "other piece" turned out to be a lining piece that I did not use, as I had no intention of lining a wearable muslin. I guess that once I decided I would struggle with this, I made sure that I struggled with this.


Oh well, I did get the experience of making the hood before that debacle. No pictures of that.


I had fun decorating this separating zipper. It's just a white zipper with black permanent marker applied to it. An idea from Diane, I'm pretty sure.


I still did not have enough for 4 of the collar/facing piece. So you can see that I used the black and white print. Not bad, I said to myself. I can live with this.


The black and white was also useful for creating bias binding for the armholes. The armholes never did completely sort out for me. Perhaps they are good with sleeves, but there was a funny way that it cut away from my body at the base of the armhole. I just reshaped it to my satisfaction.



This was an interesting project and the wearable muslin idea has served its purpose. This is not a good silhouette on me. Seriously I don't think I like a boxy short vest over a longer top. And I definitely do not tuck in shirts these days. 


I'll chalk this up to a learning experience. I've got my attitude back under control.


Which of Diane's patterns should I make next? I can do this!