The next time you go to a craft fair, artisan fair, arts and crafts fair, etc., there are a few things that you might want to avoid saying to the artisan. These are all true. Awkward, but true. I swear. Please don't follow suit, just buy your bag/mug/hat and move on with a smile and hearty thank you.
Artisans are their own biggest critics, trust me. We have enough insecurities without being compared to Target, and we probably already have an idea list a mile long for new products. Ask us questions about our process. Shower us with compliments. Comment on the weather. Say nothing. Even better, buy something!
This has been a week where more things were added to my to do list than were crossed off. At one point I had to pause, write each task on a sticky note and re-arrange them to know what to focus on now as opposed to tomorrow or next week. I have a thing for sticky notes.
With work opportunities opening up (more on that soon), a feeling that there is more to do than hours in the day, sometimes it helps to write a list at the end of the day titled "Done." This helps when I'm treading water instead of making forward progress. It only feels that way because in reality, I am making forward progress.
One tangible way to feel progress is to look at the impact my work is having through my Etsy shop. I thought I would share some recent feedback from my wonderful customers:
"I am thrilled with this needle organizer! Expertly constructed and darned cute, too." --Linda (Sheep Circular Knitting Needle Organizer)
"Perfect size, good quality, and great customer service!"--Kate (Boxy Tote)
"I was drooling over all of the new snack bags but unfortunately (fortunately!) all of mine are in great shape. We use them every day so I was hoping my supply would be low. Not yet. Sadly." --Heather (snack bags)
"I ordered this for a gift, she loved it." --Fran (Soap Saver Bag)
"Item shipped very quickly and is even more beautiful in person. Stitching is perfect and the lining of the bag is strong and secure. I look forward to using this. Will shop here again! Thank you!" --Sarah (snack bag)
"This is a the best bag! It keep your salad greens/herbs fresh for so much longer than anything else. I would highly recommend!" --Jamie (wet bag)
"Well-made with quality materials, including YKK zipper. Would definitely re-purchase" --Joretta (pencil case)
"Well done, presentation was excellent, sewing was perfect, can't wait to use. Pride in craftsmanship." --Heidi (felt fishing game)
Reading reviews like these, I'm feeling motivated to tackle this coming week's to-do list head-on!
The average school student will use 500+ plastic baggies in his/her lunchbox in one academic year. For argument's sake, let's say there are 60 school days left this year. And one child uses 3 snack baggies every day in a lunchbox (sandwich, fruit, vegetable). Between now and summer, that's 180 snack baggies being thrown away per child!!
Later this week I will deliver a fresh stack of snack baggies to Clements Market here in Portsmouth. In this group, you will find a bag perfect for just about anyone. Have a look.
Paper airplanes and baseballs.
Handwriting and math.
Even a matched set of small and large.
All of these bags have the ripstop nylon lining, great for crackers and other dry-ish snacks. Machine wash on cold, line dry. I will not offer this lining anywhere except at Clements--not at festivals and not in my Etsy shop ($7 small, $9 large). All the snack bags you will find at my shows from now on have an eco-PUL waterproof lining. Get them while you can! The next set I deliver will likely be completely different fabrics.
Have you noticed the new email signup form on the right hand sidebar? It needs some formatting, but it works! Try it out, and let me know what you think of my email newsletter!
Why do you sew? Lots of people take up the hobby to save money on things like clothing and curtains. Have you shopped at Target lately? You can buy a woman's dress for $20.
A dress I'm planning to sew for myself in the next week or two will cost far more than $20. The pattern itself was $18 plus $2.68 for shipping & handling, the interlock knit fabric was $51.92 (at least it was free shipping through Fabric.com). There will also be thread and buttons (TBD).
Obviously I'm not saving any money, but my reasons for sewing some of our clothing run wide and deep. Here are a few:
So how can we not go broke by sewing? I have some great ideas to share today.
Coupons: Joann Fabrics, Hobby Lobby and Michael's all offer coupons. Use them! I never buy anything from those stores at full price.
Textiles can be found outside of the fabric store!
There is a lot of great fabric yardage that can be found on clearance at places like Marshall's. Tablecloths make excellent and sturdy tote bags.
Thrift stores. Curtains and tablecloths can be had for $2-3 at a thrift store (wash it before using). You can also find unused yardage in most thrift shops. I've scored linen for next to nothing at a thrift store because someone cleaned out their craft room or a house after an estate sale.
Re-purpose things at home. Take items from your home that you no longer use and turn the fabric into something new. The above cafe curtain didn't even require any sewing--I draped a vintage tablecloth from my grandmother that is too small for my table over a tension rod as an instant window covering. It works so much better than the full length curtains I used before this.
The hardware store. Canvas painter's drop cloths are one of the best sources for inexpensive cotton canvas. There will be flaws since its main purpose is to get ruined, but it's one of the best bargains out there.
Other craft store items can be had for a fraction of the price at places like Home Depot. Magnets, cording, nylon straps, wooden dowels, t-square rulers, etc. Even items that are expensive in a fabric store such as a fabric glue stick or quilt binding clips can be easily and cheaply substituted at an office supply store with Elmer's and paper binder clips.
Free Patterns. Do a search, you will find tons of patterns out there. It might read "free tutorial," such as my Chicken Feed Tote Bag. There are not as many for clothing as there are for accessories, but clothing ones do indeed exist. Check my resources page to start your search.
Digital Patterns. These are offered at a lower price than paper patterns when buying from indie pattern designers. The designer doesn't have to pay to print a physical copy and mail it to you, so that savings is passed on to you. When buying a digital garment pattern, the PDF will need to be printed by you and assembled like a puzzle (see my post on my nautical skirt). This can be frustrating, but it also saves you a lot of money!
Use scraps instead of throwing them away. Not only is it eco-friendly, you would be throwing dollars into the trash. Search "scrap buster" and you'll find many brilliant uses for your cast-offs.
Sew all interior seams with white thread, save the color for visible exterior seams. When you buy the large spool of white thread, it is less expensive per yard than the colorful threads not usually found on large spools. Use a coupon!
Measure twice, cut once. Nothing is more expensive than cutting incorrectly and having to buy additional yardage for your project. Similarly, buy only what the pattern calls for unless you know a way to use that extra half yard. Fabric sitting in your closet is a sunken cost.
Sign up for newsletters. You often get to choose a free pattern or get a discount on your first purchase. I got a free bathrobe sewing pattern by signing up for the Purl Bee email newsletter.
Lastly, I want to emphasize buying quality materials. What good is saving money on fabric when your finished project is threadbare within months of wearing it? Buying quality fabric (see post here) means that you will have a long life with that project. How long did that last item from Old Navy honestly last you? A season? Maybe a year?
How can you make curved seams look smooth with a professional finish? Pinking shears are your new best friend. Let me give you a closer look.
Here is a seam sewn on a curve. The seam allowance is consistent throughout. Here's what the bag exterior looks like if you don't do anything further:
A little bumpy, wouldn't you agree? Not bad, but it could be better with one simple extra step.
These are pinking shears. They look like scissors with jagged teeth. Don't be afraid! They are quite friendly, if a bit awkward the first few times you use them.
Cut as if you were using regular scissors. Cut along the edge, being careful not to cut any of the seam that you just sewed.
This is what the exterior looks like with a clipped seam.
A side by side comparison. Left: unclipped. Right: clipped. Can you see the difference?
Much better! Give it a try the next time you sew a curved seam.
Sewing for myself has been surprisingly fun this week. I thought I would share some information on the anchor skirt that I made for Selfish Sewing Week (shared on Facebook and Instagram earlier this week--DancingThreadsRI if you'd like to follow!).
The pattern came from Winter 2014 Stitch Magazine, and I would say it's appropriate for an intermediate sewer. Why? There are no ready-made pattern pieces, so you have to download, print and then assemble the pieces like a jigsaw puzzle. I kind of hate doing this, but it's how many digital clothing patterns are sold. Stitch is my absolute favorite sewing magazine, if you're looking for an intermediate/advanced resource.
Print, puzzle together the pieces, then cut your size. I ended up taking in quite a bit after cutting the recommended size based on my measurements. I cut an XL, but sized it down to more of a Medium while fitting. There are always adjustments to be made, even to the best-written pattern out there.
The other reason I think this is for intermediate sewers is that there are no zipper instructions. You have to know how to install a zipper to make this skirt!
All my zippered pouch-making definitely takes away garment zipper installation anxiety.
Originally I was going to skip the inset panel, because I just wanted a simple summer A-line skirt. When shopping for the fabric, the navy polka dots caught my eye (a premium quilting cotton from Joann Fabrics), and then the waves practically jumped off the shelf into my cart.
Add to that the anchor bamboo buttons I've been saving for a year from Katrinkles (I didn't know what to use them for, but couldn't resist them at last year's Rhody Yarn Crawl), and the inset panel is now the best part of the skirt!
I finished the seams with an overlock stitch (I don't have a serger, but you could also use a zigzag stitch--this means the fabric won't fray when you launder the skirt).
For an extra bit of fun, I used the wave fabric for the facings. No one will see it but me since it faces the inside of the skirt, but I think it's worth it. Signs of a well-made garment are attention to detail, and this is one fun little extra that makes the skirt look more professional.
To me, it's calling out for a short sleeve button front eyelet white top. What do you think?
There is a challenge going 'round the sewing blogosphere to sew for yourself this week. While I bristle at the phrase "Selfish Sewing" (to me, selfish implies finger-wagging, and something wrong; why is it bad to sew for yourself, but acceptable to sew for everyone else? I get it that it's a time to put yourself first for a change and actually make all those things you've been wanting to make for yourself but never had the time, but...the "selfish" part still bothers me!)
This post here gives some details on the official contest where you can enter and win prizes. The event is being coordinated by Indiesew and the blog Imagine Gnats (check them both out if you get a chance, they are great resources!). I'm not interested in entering any contests, but I DO want to take the opportunity to work on some things I've been wanting to make for myself for longer than I care to admit.
The stack of fabrics in the photo seems reasonable for making a cowl, skirt, tunic shirt, and a dress that needs major alterations as I type this on a Monday. One liberty I am taking with selfish sewing is to not put pressure on these plans! Even if I only have one finished project from the week, that will be a win in my book. If I plow through this entire lineup of projects and still have time left, there are quite a few things on my Selfish Sewing Pinterest board I can tackle next.
Is anyone else out there taking advantage of this week by sewing for yourself? I'll be posting pics on Instagram, and will follow up here with posts on what I'm able to make. Happy sewing!
Have you ever eaten a BLT in August (bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich) with a juicy, fresh tomato picked that very same day from your garden? Delicious. What about eating one in February with a grocery store-bought mealy tomato of questionable origin? Tasteless. A complete insult to the bacon.
My point? No accomplished chef on the planet can make a New England store-bought February tomato taste good. It's impossible.
The same principle applies to fabric. The most-skilled seamstress can't possibly make a quality bag or dress out of cheap fabric.
Don't misunderstand--cheap and inexpensive are two very different things. I have found excellent high-quality fabric at a discounted price (Cloud9 organic cotton for $1.99/yard!). And you can pay $50/yard for horrible home decorator fabric if you aren't careful.
Price does not always indicate quality. By cheap fabric I mean poor quality. Set yourself up for success by choosing quality fabric that is well-suited to your project.
So how do you choose what fabric to buy? You have to touch it. How does it feel in your hand? How does it drape when it's hanging on the bolt? When you hold it up to the light, can you easily see through it? For a sheer fabric, this is good, for quilting cotton, this is terrible.
When you become familiar with certain fabric designers, you will get to know the type of cotton their fabric is always printed on, and can then rely on choosing things online. But--the best way to chose your fabric is to investigate in person. Visit your local Quilt Shop in addition to the big box stores. The small shop may not have as large a selection, but they are sure to know their stock really well.
Does that wool feel like it should when you imagine it as a winter dress? Does the cotton batik flow enough that your daughter will be happily twirling in her new sundress? Is the cotton sturdy enough for a couch cushion that will see a lot of wear and tear? Is the linen lightweight enough to allow your skin to breathe on a humid August day when wearing it as a beach coverup? Will the denim hold its shape as the shoulder strap of your new handbag?
You deserve to use quality materials so that all of your hard work is fully displayed in your finished project. It's so discouraging to sew for hours and end up with a final product that is lackluster.
Here's to many many August-tomato BLT-worthy sewing projects!
We may have gotten more snow overnight, but I'm turning my thoughts to spring with the handbag I'm sharing today.
Following the principles I laid out in my last post on Sustainable Sewing, I set out to make myself a new spring handbag. The pattern is the 241 Tote from Anna Graham of Noodlehead, a mid-western independent handbag designer. The pattern was actually purchased 2 years ago and I'm just now getting around to making it! Since the pattern includes the license to sell bags made from it, this may appear as part of the Dancing Threads RI product line--I'm still chewing on the idea.
The main exterior print is an organic cotton from Cloud 9 fabrics. Organic cotton can be more expensive, but I happened to find this print at a discount store here in RI for $1.99/yard! It must have been overstock from a discontinued print.
Companies like Cloud 9 are making organics in fresh, modern, beautiful prints.
The other fabrics used in the bag are 100% cotton and are smaller pieces left from other projects.
I love the overall shape of the bag!
The side pockets extend a bit away from the body of the bag, leaving them easy to access. One for phone, one for keys. Perfect.
One interior pocket plus a magnetic snap closure. The strap is the perfect length for a shoulder bag.
I'm ready for spring! Whenever it finally gets here.
What do you think? Would you like to see this as a bag in my shop?
As co-owner of Stitchery in Portsmouth, RI, I teach sewing classes to children and adults. Welcome to my blog Dancing Threads RI.