Trousers for Ben

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It’s warming up in Minnesota.  The snow has melted away, and everyone is excited to get outside.

The past few weeks, I’ve been working on a few pairs of trousers for three-year-old Ben.  First, I used Oliver+S’ “Sketchbook Shirt and Shorts” pattern, but altered the pattern for trousers.  This pattern is designed with a faux fly and adorable pockets (little gents love their pockets).


I also continued my practice with pattern drafting, and drafted a basic trouser pattern by Mansie Wauch at the Cutter and Tailor Forum.  (Have I mentioned how much I enjoy this?!)  I added similar pockets (that work with a box of Tic Tacs), included the faux fly–appropriate for this age–and gave them a similar waist band treatment.



Love Working with Voile

I’m getting ready for a two-hour “pleat in” in Richfield on Saturday.  The Lakes & Prairies chapter of the Smocking Arts Guild of America is holding a session to cut and pleat a few precious little gowns for the Wee Care program of this national organization.  It’s been some time since I have created a little gown of this kind, so I thought I would refresh my memory.  I’ve also been wanting to work with Acorn Fabric’s cotton voile, a very lightweight, airy fabric, and this is a great opportunity.

After hand washing and drying my one-yard piece, I pulled a thread and established the edge along the grain of the voile, cutting one 12″ X 36″ piece and two 5″ X 9″ sleeve pieces, as needed for the gown of a 3-4 pound baby.

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The weave of the voile is nice and straight.  I took a look at it under a microscope and found the width of the thread to be consistent all across the weave and the weave very straight and clean.  Those characteristics were evident when I pulled a thread.  It was very easy to see the cutting line and my pieces were straight and even all across.

I followed the Australian Smocking & Embroidery pattern from issue 48.  This pattern is available as a free download at Country Bumpkin.

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One of the biggest challenges with pleating a bishop style garment is getting the four seams–that join the two back pieces, the two sleeve pieces and the front piece–through the pleater without breaking a single pleater needle and keeping the fabric straight and on grain as it passes through the pleater.  In the past, I concluded that the “seamless appearing seam” method that Nancy Malitz teaches in her “Practically Perfect Pleating” correspondence course is the best method, as most often I have experienced difficulty while pleating batiste weight fabric and regular or tiny French seams.  Unless each seam was extremely tiny (as in no more than 1/8th of an inch), the seam would “balk”, I was left “rocking the seam” with very often a broken pleater needle or two, and the project ending in disaster for the little gown.  This is why I’m excited about working with voile!

In my experience today, the voile cooperated beautifully.  I created a plain seam and then serged the seam edge with a 2-thread rolled edge.  I was very pleased to find the voile and the seams had no difficulty passing through the pleater–resulting in no broken needles.

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Once off the pleater, I blocked the gown to fit the neckline to the “small” size.

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I tied the pleating threads, leaving a 2 cm seam allowance at the back edges.


I pleated and blocked the sleeve edges.

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The gown is ready to smock.



Labors of Love

I hope everyone continues to enjoy the Christmas Season.  We have a little snow still here, even though much of it melted yesterday.   The slightly warmer weather is welcome in Minnesota.

It’s unusual for our family to celebrate Christmas at home.  On a normal year, we would be in Illinois, Indiana or Michigan, visiting family.

I thought my friends who love the needle arts would appreciate this picture.  I was inundated with labors of love yesterday.  I love my kids; love my husband; love my family.

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Lydia created the winter headband, Rachel created the frilly scarf, Madeline created the “infinity” cowl, and Hannah made one of two gloves.  I loved the fact that she wrapped her work in progress due to time constraints.

Hannah also made a pair of wool gloves for her dad.  He loves how they fit!


Warm Seasons Greetings to All.





Playing hand bells at the Mall of America


My daughters participated in a hand bells choir at the Mall of America, Radisson Blu hotel, yesterday, about an hour after the scheduled Black Lives Matter protest.

When we arrived at 3:15 p.m., the traffic was heavy and we counted about 12 police cars lined up on the side of the MOA nearest the hotel.  We accepted the offer for the hotel to park our car.  The hallway that connects the hotel to the mall was locked and at least three security officers were manning the area.


The choir was scheduled to play Christmas songs for two hours.  Initially, mostly hotel guests and the students’ parents attended their performance.  But, eventually, the hallway to the Mall was opened again.  Shoppers wandered through the hotel and listened to the students playing as well.

We are thankful that the protest remained peaceful overall.

We wish a Merry Christmas to all and a Happy and Healthy New Year.

Smocked Christmas Ornament

Everyone is getting ready for the Christmas Season.  Every where you look, there are Christmas lights and decorations brightening the main streets of towns in our area.  It’s that time of the year.


Our Chapter President, Lynn Schoonmaker, treated us to a festive lesson on ornament making at the November meeting of the Lakes & Prairies Smockers, a chapter of the Smocking Arts Guild of America.

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Lynn prepared approximately 20 kits with a pre-pleated piece of the cotton/silk blended fabric, lace edging attached.  She included DMC floss, a bell-shaped foam form and a white pin, as shown on the bottom.  (What some may not know is that pleating takes time; putting kits together also takes time to gather and organize the supplies.)

She guided our group through preparing the pleated piece for smocking.  We had two smock plates from which to choose.  One a little more challenging than the other.

She even had the ornament shown here ready as an example.

My daughters, Lydia, Madeline and Rachel, all joined me for this meeting.  They loved the project, and greatly enjoyed being at the meeting.

Our many thanks to Lynn!


A Tailored Vest

Last year prior to a choir performance, my husband stopped by Ginny’s Fine Fabric, per my request, to purchase a length of concert black wool, so that our second daughter could make herself the required black skirt for the concert.  As always, with Ginny’s kind help, they found the black fabric.  Mission accomplished.  But that wasn’t all.  My husband also found an Italian wool in the Austrian boiled wool style and brought it home with the hope that I would make a custom-made vest, fitted to him.

I had to smile.  He knows the difference between standardized ready-to-wear clothing and something that is custom-made.  Like many, he’s struggled to find clothing that fits his broad shoulders, narrow waist and great height well.  He believes that custom-fitted clothing made for outside activities like cross country skiing or hunting is “the cat’s meow.”

Though most of my sewing has been for children, tailoring is a strong interest for me.  I admire what the tailor does; the art.  I am a frequent reader of the Cutter and Tailor’s Forum.  I have taken an interest in pattern drafting.  Last year, I worked through drafting slacks and capri pants for myself and my daughters, along with a couple of classic straight skirts.  I also drafted and created trousers for my young son.  I enjoy the entire process.  And, I also know the comfort of clothing fitted specifically to the person.

I came up short in finding instructions for drafting a man’s vest, so I contacted my friend, “Mansie Wauch”, from the Cutter and Tailor forum, who is a retired cutter and college instructor, and inquired whether he had a “block” for a man’s vest.  He provided instructions from his collection, and offered to “run along side” me as I worked through this project.  I took my husband’s measurements and drafted the pattern.  I then created a toile, and we proceeded through the fitting process.  I took pictures and emailed them to Mansie for his review and feedback.

From Mansie, I learned that my husband has a prominent shoulder and how to adjust for it.  (Many men have a prominent shoulder that develops as they do physical labor of various kinds and favor the use of one arm over the other.)  I also learned that working with the toile is akin to “sculpting”.  Sure, I’ve read about the fitting process:  you make a toile, see how it fits, see how you ought to adjust, check the fit again, and repeat the process until you are satisfied with the fit, but there’s so much more to learn in the hands-on experience of this process.  I learned a tailor has a “doctor’s” eye.  They look at a person’s body as a doctor does, seeing figure variances and/or challenges.  Do they have an erect figure or a stooped figure and so forth?  Do they have good posture, or do they tend to slouch.  It takes time and practice to develop this eye and understand how to create a garment properly.  I also learned there is “balance” in a garment, and too drastic a change to the pattern will cause the balance to fall away from the correct balance.

I have far more to learn.  One area in particular is the difference between the disciplines of pattern drafting and draping.  My husband’s shoulders did not match the shoulder slope of my draft.  We found that we had to drape and draw in the proper line for the slope of his shoulder, and at the same time, watch that the garment’s balance was still correct.  Again, I’m still learning.

So, after several weeks of sculpting, fitting and adjusting including a few mistakes (during which Mansie kindly sent pictures of his gladioli growing in his garden in England to cheer me up), here is my husband’s Austrian-style vest:





The vest is finished on all edges with a knitted trim found at Ginny’s.  The edelweiss-style buttons were found at Kelly’s Quality Sewing in Rochester.  I created the buttonholes by hand, which is a lovely art in itself and could be the topic of another post.  Hand (or thread) buttonholes require silk buttonhole twist, gimp and bees wax.  My friend, “Ladhrann,” from the forum, pointed me to Bay Tailor Supply in California.  Callum, at Bay Tailor Supply, was very helpful in receiving a swatch of the boiled wool and matching the silk twist, recommending the specific color number.  He also carries a cosmetic grade bees wax, which is better than any I’ve ever tried.  I loved the smell of it while melting it and applying it to the silk twist.

A few threads on the Cutter and Tailor Forum were very helpful, beginning with The Art of Making Buttonholes.  If you’ve not had a chance to see the beauty of a tailor’s hand-made buttonholes, take a look here.  This thread requesting feedback on First Buttonholes was timely as well.  Finally, I appreciated Jeffrey D.’s writing and video on the topic.

The final finishing step to the vest was the pockets.  Ah, they seem so easy, yet it was a topic of much study and trial and error.  I searched each book I could find in my little library, including Claire Shaeffer’s Couture Sewing and Cabrera’s Classic Tailoring Techniques, and Mansie also sent a welt pocket method from his collection of notes.  I followed my friend “Tailleuse’s”, also from the forum, encouragement to make several prototypes before working with the final product.  I eventually stopped by Ginny’s Fine Fabric to discuss the topic with Ginny.  I had the pleasure of seeing a vest on which she was working for a client.  She is so kind in sharing how she would handle the situation.  While my pockets were slightly different, the conversation was helpful.  I was concerned about their structural integrity.  They are stayed with silk organza, and the pocket bags are made of double-sided silk satin.  They feel luxurious inside.

In many ways, my post here is a tribute–a sincere thanks–to the tailors/cutters who are sharing their knowledge, passing on their talent, and keeping the tailor’s art alive and well.