Knitting in 1960

Hands up, who had one of the first Barbie dolls in 1959/60?

They were all the rage and for $4 your mom could give you the opportunity to see the future of fashion and celebrity status. Never before did we have high fashion dolls with a chic wardrobe!

Last weekend, I finally made a dent in the cardboard moving boxes in the garage. Some of them had been packed over 20 years ago when I went to live in England to marry Mr Mole. So deep inside one box jammed with old photos and old costume jewelry from the 80’s I found an old plastic bread wrapper filled with my first Barbie clothes.

My mother did not buy me the real Mattel doll, she opted for a fake one that did not have movable hip joints so my doll could not sit down. Also my doll came in a cheap box and when we tried to remove her from the box we realized that her ponytail was stuck with a huge wad of industrial glue. The only way to release her was to cut off her entire pony tail and leave her with just fuzz. So there I was holding a non-bendable doll with a hair-do looking like a dandelion top…great. I have asked some of my sewing sisters if they knew of these cheap Barbie clones and some have said they had them but were too embarrassed to play with their friends who had the real deal.

So was I. 7e6eaea9350f6ab347015031712a5d47

Even buying nice clothes for her could not raise her profile, she was a little freak with fuzzy hair and had to stand up all day. But there was one bright spot…my grandmother knew how to knit and taught me to knit simple stitches and when my mother shipped me off every summer to stay with her up North, my grandma taught me to make my own Barbie clothes by knitting and sewing using a child’s Singer sewing machine that made only a loose chain stitch. Here is what I found in the box:P1180582

The outfits were all made with thin fingering yarn and the dress was lined and decorated with baby rickrack and lace. P1180583

Then this got me to thinking…where did the pattern go for the clothes? Can you still find them and wouldn’t it be nice to have a copy to put with this collection for future generations? And look what I found on Ebay


There is the 3/4 length rust coat with brown ruffled trim and the ivory turtleneck sweater. I have not been able to track down the striped parka or cardigan pattern but I have asked the Ebay seller to check for me.

Meanwhile in the sewing room, it is full speed ahead, 7 gowns have arrived that need extensive alterations. Already there has been a scalloped lace hem on a adult pageant dress that was shortened, a bridal gown with the same labor intensive hem and an early prom gown that will be shown next time covered in roses.

An unusual short wedding dress came in this week and I have to show you what brides think is OK.


Because she got a “good deal” she figured a seamstress could make it fit…sure…taking 4 inches out of the back zipper is a piece of cake and adding 1.5 hours of labor just adds to the “bargain” price doesn’t it? At least it will be plenty tight when it is finished just like the brides like it…breathing is optional.

Wishing you a great week of planning the next season’s sewing and minimal altering to get that perfect fit…fingers crossed! Thank you for stopping by to walk down memory lane with me!


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Sew Bad Saturday #6

This week we have Lorraine of the Spottydogsocialclub blog.

She wrote this email to me to start her process:

I am a long time fan of your blog, and am totally amazed at the skill and patience that you have. I have also been following your Sew Bad Saturday, and have a contender for you. It seems that pretty much EVERYONE in the sewing world has made up McCall’s 6844, all with great success. I happen to love cardigans, so what could go wrong (I hear you ask)? Well, here is my version. Sigh! OK, so the wonky photo probably does not help (at least the floor is horizontal!), but what a wadder. I was so disappointed. So much so, that I went on to make it again (different view), and guess what? Yep, it still didn’t work out. And yes, I can hear everyone telling me that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results (thank-you Albert Einstein). The pattern has now been dispatched to the great pattern box in the sky. . . . .

So here we go – My version of McCall’s 6844front-closeback
Why did you pick this pattern?

I had seen gorgeous versions of this all over the blogisphere. A quick search will show you some fabulous garments that other seamstresses have made – and looks gorgeous. I am a self admitting cardigan fan, I love, love, love drapey collars, I’ve got knit fabric in my stash and my serger is waiting patiently for me. What could possibly go wrong?

What size did you think you were according to their envelope numbers?

An XL or XXL – I’m a 44″ bust and I like room in my clothes. Ease is usually my friend. Note the word ‘usually’.

What size did you cut and did you alter before cutting?

XL. I can be pretty brazen and this was to be a wearable muslin. I do have short shoulders, well, to be fair, once pattern companies start designing for us plus sized ladies, they tend to over compensate in the shoulder area so it is not all my fault. I also have a rounded upper back and would usually make a swayback adjustment, but as this was stretch fabric and a casual design, I cut it straight out of the packet. I should mention here that I am pretty much a cylinder in shape. A few bumps and dents, little difference between my bust, waist and hips. I certainly ducked the traditional British pear shape!

Did you encounter difficulties others would like to avoid?

No-one else seemed to have any problems . . .

Is there anything in the photos we cannot see that you wanted us to know about?

Not really. What you see is what I got. The front looked rather nice – I was quite happy with that although it made my hips look fluffy – and they are certainly not that, but the back. Oh-my-goodness. There was enough space to fit another person in the back. Instead of being a nicely fitted cardigan with a peplum, it was a swing-back with a peplum – and not in any good way.sideside-2

Is this garment wearable with tweaking or not?

No. There may have been choice swear word or two, and then the jacket was tossed in the garbage.

Thumbs up or thumbs down on buying this? Worth the effort?

For me, a definite thumbs down. A waste of time and money in both pattern and fabric.
Do you want suggestions on how to “make it work” or is it beyond that?

I probably should have contacted you earlier, but both the fabric and the pattern are happily rotting away in the landfill. What I did learn was to carefully measure the pattern pieces before cutting out my size, and to avoid peplum for the foreseeable future. I have recently made up Simplicity 2154 to much more success.

And the link to the much more successful Simplicity 2154 post:

Many thanks to Lorraine for sharing her jacket and I over lightened the photos to show the details but it was much darker to start with. Please direct your helpful comments to Lorraine and she will respond.

Before I go, I wanted to share a delightful video of two 90+ year old sisters who are still sewing for clients. The very end brought tears to my eyes when they explain why they have continued: The video.


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Nancy’s Jacket

All of us have been waiting a long time for the very much altered/redesigned Butterick 6106 jacket for Nancy. She has been patient and gone along with my suggestions and additions and subtractions in order to get the perfect fun jacket from a piece of painted linen.

Having taken photos all along the way to document what went into this final garment, they are all assembled in 4 boards (147 photos)on the Pinterest page:

After all the pinning and tucking and shortening and lengthening, I told her that we should line the jacket with rayon Ambiance so it will slide on and off and resist wrinkles. 41-front-liningWe also decided on topstitching all the horizontal seams to show them off. 58-front59-side60-back

The buttons have small clear backer buttons behind them to keep them from pulling through the fabric and the entire jacket has 1/4 inch edge stitching with a neutral thread to hold them flat. The sleeves have a 2 inch facing to be folded up and shown. All the hems have been faced with 2 inch wide self facings.


Shoulder pads were covered and snaps attached for easy removal during washing.46-cover-pads50-zigzag-tails

After I had worked on this puppy for months, the sleeve heads looked all wrinkled and then I decided that the painted bits of the fabric caused the sleeve cap to go up and down and so I opened up the hand sewn lining and attached wool sleeve heads to fluff and smooth that area.52-sleeve-head53-stitched-by-hand54-the-fold57-cap-done They look much better now. The buttonholes were quite wide 1.25 inches and in the making of them, the painted areas stalled the zigzag of the needle path and had to be coaxed/yanked along to finish the lines.45-make-samples45-1 buttons

I used masking tape to attach the buttons for placement.

I won’t bore you with all the photos but if you want to see the process, visit the Pinterest page and the 4 boards.

Good news this week, remember the ponte issue from last week? Well the president wrote to me saying they are taking my suggestion of testing their fabrics and issuing a warning on the shrinkage and they wanted to send me a free replacement for the magenta knit as the hot pink and grey had been sold out. So I want to tell you that the company Sawyer Brook has been great and they pride themselves on good customer service and in the end could not do enough for me. This week I have cut the 3 pair of leggings and managed to figure out a way to salvage the fabric to “make it work”. Next time I will share the photos and layout. But before I go, I have a photo of a RTW pair of leggings with a possible solution for the cutting layout:grey-pants A wedge might just save the day!

Bad news is I see more and more sewing blogs are “pimping for products” and offering “free stuff” that they have been given by suppliers and asking for more testers for badly designed patterns and direct knock-off from the Big 4….really folks…is this what we have come down to? I even saw a sewing blog this week with a woman who was dyeing her hair at home with a nationally known product and announced that she gets it free as long as she promotes it…what’s next? Dog food, tampons or pizza delivery? Wish we could just get back to real sewing without shilling for everything under the sun…stepping down off the soapbox to sew some wedding gowns now…24  brides have booked themselves in for the season so far.


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Ponte Knit Warning

Now we all love ponte knits…they are easy to cut, easy to sew and conform to our bodies and normally the fabric is easy care depending on the content.

Well during my little January break from the brides I bought 3 knits from a famous supplier and pre-shrunk them in cool water and cool dryer. I have been doing this since polyester double knits came out in the late 60’s but never had such a result.

My order was for one yard of each color, two being 59 inches wide and one being 55 inches wide which is just enough to make the leggings I made last year after I added the side panels. So with my knit ironed and flattened out and stacked with the folded edges together I measured length and width.


The grey rayon/nylon/elastane shrunk from 55 inches wide to 52 and from 36 inches in length to 34. The magenta rayon/nylon/spandex shrunk from 36 inches in length to 32 and no shrinkage in width. The hot pink rayon/nylon/spandex shrunk from 36 inches in length to 30 and nothing in the width.

OK, so is this a big deal? How about if you place the paper pattern on top and check out the length for the legs?


Can you see that the pink and magenta leggings will be way shorter? Next time I have a remedy for this but in the meantime I wrote to the owner to point out the shortened fabrics. I did not ask for replacement fabrics or a refund or anything, just that she be aware that this happened from her cutting table or the pre-shrinking. Maybe I never was given the full 36 inches since I did not measure right out of the package (lesson learned!)

Her response was quick:

Thank you for letting us know about the difficulty you’re having with your knit fabrics. Our policy when cutting all of our fabrics, but especially the knits, is to cut an inch more than the yardage ordered to allow the fabric to relax after being unrolled. Our cutting room staff works with the knits very carefully, measuring along both sides at the selvedge to ensure an even cut.We do not have any additional yardage available to send you, and you haven’t asked for that. We have created a gift certificate for you to use on your next order, for $10 off your purchase. 

And my response was: I did rinse them in cold water and dry on low setting but it is normal for the pink and/or magenta to shrink 6 inches in 1 yard? If this is a factor maybe this should be stated as a warning so we can buy a little extra allowing for that? If someone ordered say 2 yards for a dress, then it would also shrink 6 inches per yard and you would end up with 12 inches too short…scary isn’t it?
Thank you for the $10 off certificate, you never know what the future holds.

So dear readers, I am warning you about this fabric content:

Rayon/Nylon/Spandex and you may want to order more if you are making something that requires a specific amount and 17% shrinkage is not your bag. Imagine if I had cut the leggings first and then washed them…HOLY WEDGIE! HOLY CAMEL TOE!

Before I go I wanted to share a photo of my client Nancy’s latest scarf…on her body you could not get the full effect of the design:scarf

Isn’t it wonderful?

Next time I have the completed Katherine Tilton jacket for Nancy ready for her, all lined and looking pretty darn wonderful with over 100 photos taken in the process on my Pinterest page.

With the sewing room back up and running and 15 brides already booked in it feels like another busy season! Happy sewing everyone and remember to measure first and then pre-shrink!

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I Feel Duped

With a month off from bridal sewing I thought I would share a story from the end of the year:

Recently, I got a phone call from another seamstress in town with a request.

A new woman had come into her shop looking for someone to re-hem a floor length organza gown that had been ripped vertically about 1.5 inches up from the rolled hem in 2 places. Feeling sorry for this woman who had been wandering to different shops, I agreed to see the dress and decide if it could be repaired. I spoke to the woman on the phone and wanted to give her my address so she could look up the directions to my studio and she said she could not take it because her phone was dead…not a good sign. She said she could remember the directions but after the first street name change, she said, “Whoa, that is too many streets”. So I said she should ask for a piece of paper to write it down and even doing that was a huge effort for her to write down every street name but she managed to find me.

Her general appearance was that of a discombobulated collection of clothing of colors, seasons, decades and sizes. Her story was that she needed someone to repair the hem because she was helping a notable celebrity in the area for a Winter tour. The celebrity had torn the gown and she wanted it repaired without making the organza hem any shorter as she could not be seen on stage with a repair or a shortened hem…yeah right…where is my magic wand? I said that I would have to shorten the whole hem by 1/2 inch to make it even and I would come up with something that would look the least unprofessional. I gave the woman a very cheap price as her attire did not give me any idea that she could pay full price. She seemed thrilled with the price and said I was going to “save her bacon”. (Have we heard this before?)

She then settled herself down onto my sofa for 15 minutes and began to tell me that she has just moved from an upscale part of the country and wanted to set up shop here in our little valley. She handed me her card that stated a grocery list of qualifications such as fashion expert, personal shopper, home dec professional, clothing and furniture design specialist, consignments and at the bottom of the list…”Outstanding Alterations”.

She then tells/advises me that she thinks I could just “throw the organza hem into a serger and be done with it”. Really? And what about the 1.5 inch tear? I ask her if she owns a serger and she says, “Never”. She says she owns 2 old used sewing machines she bought for $50 on Craigslist and an iron. There she sits raving about her qualities and how she has clients who need her assistance in dressing themselves. At this point I am just amused and I’m thinking, “Why am I doing this repair if she is promoting herself as Outstanding?” But then…I think…this would make a good blog post and show her out to the front door. I ask when her client needs the dress and she says, “Yesterday, as she has a tour coming up.”

I worked on the hem overnight and had it ready for noon the next day. What it involved was hand sewing the 2 raw edges of the tears together with invisible polyester thread so I had a firm edge to turn under, machine stitch close to that fold, trim, and turn under again for the narrow hem. Everything worked out great and you could hardly see where the damage had been done, especially from the audience.burgundy-hem But instead of the woman being on time for the agreed pick-up, she called an hour late to tell me she would be at least another hour later as she had clients to visit before she saw me. When she finally arrived,  she was wearing even stranger clothes than the first time, again mismatched, odd sizes and decades and styles. She then told me that she had found a dry cleaners at the opposite end of the state that would clean clothes in a week for $1.25 each and it was worth the 400+ mile  5 hour drive one way (twice) and a stay in a hotel (twice) to drop them off and return a week later. It’s funny what constitutes value-for-money these days.

On the way out the door, I said I was glad I could get her dress finished in time for the celebrity and she said, “Oh, I have a month before she needs it”. So at this point I’m thinking…was there ever a celebrity or was that a figment of her wild imagination? Was the dress found at the thrift store and she needed the hem repaired before reselling it? Does she really have clients begging for her services? And how Outstanding are her alterations? Does she reveal to her client that someone else did the repair or expect the celebrity to leave a glowing review for her?

Life still has little lessons for us to learn and experience…darn it!

Soon it will be February and the 2015 bridal season will start. What goodies will wander in the front door?

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Suspenders and Suspense

Some of my friends and the generous professional people whom I rely on to keep me from aging quite so fast call on me from time to time for favors. Sometimes we even do trades.

This week I was given a few strange objects….see if you can figure out what they will eventually become….Let’s start with these:P1180503

Sort of tubes socks with padding inside:


Yes, they are padded inside and shaped to wrap around something…you can buy your own here at Amazon.

What next? P1180492-2

Yes, did you guess correctly?…button suspenders or braces depending where you live. Here is what they started out looking like. I cut the leather ends off so I could attach the buttonhole ends on instead.

Right…now why would anyone want to do that?

It’s coming…please be patient.


Part of the excess suspender elastic was attached inside the yellow tube to reinforce it and a button was added on the outside.

Hey fascinating isn’t it? Is this an instrument of torture or bondage?

Well, in a way, yes and no.

Let’s move on…we have the tubes, we have the buttons and we have the altered suspenders…now what?


Here they are flattened out on my machine table…but they will not be used in this position…oh no…they will be worn this way around:


Weird? Creepy? Not if you owned a dog that could not stop chewing and licking it’s elbows until they were raw.

See the lucky recipient, Miss Di, modeling the finished product:                          


Action shot above and being still below:20141228_192350

Now Miss D can walk around and lie down and still have her elbows covered and be STYLIN’!

So even though wedding gowns are the main event here, you have to be versatile enough to work with clients who have “special needs”.

As Tia Dia mentioned this week…let’s have a wadder-free year in 2015!

So measure, measure, measure before you cut and if you HAVE to make just one more baby doll dress with a Peter Pan collar be sure to check out La Sewista’s latest post!

Lastly, if you have a hankering for the wild side of stitching…don’t forget to visit and submit your entries to Anne at Pretty Grievances for her Jungle January jamboree! It’s going to be a great 2015 year for making new things and stretching ourselves past the old T-shirts!!!

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Flip, Chip and Tips

One of my last brides of the season picked up her dress at 10:30 Saturday morning for her 3 pm wedding.

She was cutting it close but I had enjoyed working on her dress and her goofy personality. As she, a hairdresser, was writing the check she mentioned to me that lots of her own clients like to give her a tip in cash instead of writing it into the check. So I was thinking that she will write a tip into her check as well with over 6 hours of labor on the invoice. NOPE, Nothing, NADA. And before she left, she asked, “can you do me a little favor?” I assumed it was to ask to steam her veil or something small…oh no….it seems one of her out-of-town bridesmaids never bothered to get her Vera Wang dress hemmed and it is 6 inches too long even with 6 inch stiletto heels. Can I hem her dress right now?

OK, it is 10:30 a.m. so I said call her right now and get her here. The phone rings later and it is the bridesmaid who says she is at the gym and will come by after her shower. Of course one works out in a local gym the morning of her best friend’s wedding. She arrives at 11 and spends the next 15 minutes bitching about the whole wedding agenda starting with the dress:

“I don’t know what I am doing here wearing a purple dress, the bride knows I ONLY wear black.” (But it is HER wedding not yours)

“I am a size 00 and David’s only carries size 0. This dress makes me look like a whale. I will never wear this dress again it is horrible. Even with my normal 6 inch stilettos it is too long. ” (Normal sizing reflects normal people)

and then the CHIP on her shoulder starts to slide:

“I was engaged once until it was called off and I was stuck with the dress.” (the groom got out in time?)

“It is now 11:15 and I need this dress by 1 pm as the photo shoot is at 2 pm, you CAN do it can’t you?” (Sure flipping is my specialty)

Now, we get the picture…someone who resents the whole wedding and the joy it will involve. Here are some photos of the dress hem shortening.

First chalking the lining:

P1180419 Then chalking the chiffon and 12 vertical bias ruffles to be trimmed off and re-attached after a narrow hem is done.P1180422 Removing each ruffle:P1180423 P1180424

Stitching the first fold, trimming off and stitching the final narrow hem in chiffon.



Trim off ruffle level with new hem and turn under 1/2 inch as original hem. Notice embedded dog hair? The bridesmaid said for me to ignore the totally dog hair-covered dress as they owned Labradors…so this made it OK? Lab hair…nice touch!



Trimmed and folded under and ready to stitch.


And the finished product:P1180432

Dress was hemmed and all ruffles steamed flat to avoid the “whale look”. I timed myself as I had quoted the girl 1.5 hours of labor. Working like a mad woman it took one hour of flat-out sewing and cutting, then steaming added another 10 minutes so the dress was ready in plenty of time for the 1 pm pick-up.

The resentful/reluctant bridesmaid dashes in, gets into the dress and is ready to pay me. I hand her the invoice and she pays me exactly the amount…no tip, nothing extra for a rush job. She leaves behind the hanger and the plastic garment bag filled with dog hair and a lasting memory as she drives away.

The rest of my day was a blur, I could not get focused and by 6 pm Mr Mole and I decided what we needed was a dinner out at the local Sushi bar…that would fix everything…and it did. A serving of delicious Monkey Brain appetizer just works wonders!

I can certainly celebrate the New Year arriving this week…with almost 100 gowns altered and finished on time. My 2015 book already has 5 brides on the list so it looks like another banner year. Wishing you all the best for 2015 and may your bobbin never run out half way through the hemming…

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