Oct 4, 2010 / Labels:

Using Live Writer

Blogger’s editor has recently become excruciatingly slow and irritating. I continued using it because I like the way it integrates my Picasa web albums, making it very easy to add photos to my posts (when it works of course). This past week I read Dawn’s post on Live Writer, so downloaded it this morning. I try not to use Microsoft when I can help it, but using *free* Microsoft doesn’t feel as bad . . .

First impressions:

Easy to use interface feels like a minimalist version of Word. No waiting around for blogger/google/adsense to load – you work right on your computer, not on the Internet.


You can save drafts on your hard drive.

It is easy to add labels – just check them on a list.

Links to your own posts and other places on the web are a breeze. You can also set whether the link should open in a new window. Nice!


Integration with Picasa Web Albums is not automatic (I’m using the Windows XP version). The Live Writer help centre is useless and provides no information on this as far as I could see. You first have to download a plug-in here and install it. Then restart Live Writer and a new option “Picasa Photo” appears on the Insert menu.

Once you’ve done this, it’s easy to add pics. 

Your albums are sorted alphabetically and photos appear much more quickly than in Blogger. It seems easy to move them around; align them left, right, or centre; change or remove the caption; use a border or not; or change the white space around them. The only thing I miss is the easy way in which I could change the size in Blogger. But maybe I won’t miss it that much, because I see I can save my preferred settings as the default.

just a random photo from a random album
just a random photo from a random album

And now my paragraphs have the line spacing they’re supposed to have. For some reason Blogger always changed some of the paragraphs to have a very tight line spacing, which I hated.

Edited after publishing: Publishing the post took mere seconds. Love it!

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Sep 30, 2010 / Labels:

Jalie jeans 2908 muslin part 2

Subtitle: Making a sandwich wrap sloper/block

While thinking about my ill-fitting jeans muslin over the weekend, I remembered Phat Chick Designs' post on using Kathleen Fasanella's method for making a bodice block. I read this several months ago, even bought the unperforated sandwich wrap and packaging tape. Unfortunately, owing to uncooperative daughter and PhD-writing husband, I haven't had a chance to try it out yet. Until my epiphany over the weekend: why don't I wrap myself up in plastic wrap from the waist to the knees or thereabouts, then use this plastic garment as a sloper to figure out the flaws in my jeans pattern?

I must mention here that I have been trying to understand the fitting problems for a while now, and have been reading up about pants adjustments, but for some reason the intricacies of crotch fitting are just beyond me. It seems counter-intuitive. So: learning by doing.

Yesterday, I put on my tight bicycle shorts, armed myself with Glad wrap, packaging tape, permanent marker, small mirror, narrow elastic and several pairs of scissors (you'll see why soon).

I stuck long pieces of packaging tape to CF, CB and side seams. I marked a straight line with tippex (I think it's called white-out elsewhere) before sticking them onto my pants. Don't bother with this step - the lines moved and I had to remark them anyway.

Then I started wrapping myself with plastic. It wasn't difficult. The trickiest bit is getting the wrap between the thighs and to add enough to the crotch area to form a stable "fabric". It wasn't uncomfortable either. I still had enough freedom to walk around in my sewing room, set up my tripod to take photographs, and draw lines on my waist, CF and side seams. (The back waist and CB seams needed a helper, though. Uncooperative DD stepped in to draw a line on my b***.) The only thing you can't do is pick up things that you've dropped - so leave several pairs of scissors on surfaces you can reach easily without bending.

After wrapping, I taped over the waist, leg, CF, CB and side seams with clear packaging tape, then drew the final cutting lines ...

... and cut the shell apart on the side seams. I managed to cut a hole in my shorts with initial overenthusiastic wielding of a pair of small scissors. Large shears worked better.

The result is a weird ghostly replica of myself.

The next step was cutting the left and right sections apart along my CF-CB line. Then I relaised that I hadn't marked the inseam when the wrap was still on me. In the end I put it back "on" as well as I could and marked where I thought the inseam should go. The left side looked the sturdiest, so I used it for all my next steps.

The first thing I noticed was that the blocks were not flat - they still retained my gentle curves. How to convert them into a paper-pattern-resembling flatness? My feeling was to find the centre point of the "fullness" (I find that such a weird dressmaking term) and cut right to it from the edge. I started by measuring the width of the waistband all around, and cut that off. Then I used my Jalie yoke pattern on the back, drew around it, and cut that off. This left me with the front and back pieces.

On the back block, I only needed to pinch out a small wedge to get the piece to lie flat. I cut out the wedge, cut it in half, and added half to the top and the other half to the bottom of the CB seam. I am still not entirely sure whether my technique to get the front piece flat was correct. (I may redo it after "reconstructing" the original piece by tracing it onto pattern paper.) I made several cuts to the fullest point, which lies in the tummy area. Then I moved the resulting pieces around till it approximated the Jalie pattern. This added some space, marked in black. I am a little worried about this as some of this extra fabric is under the tummy - exactly where I was getting my creases. I drew in a smooth curve from the waist to the thigh to eliminate the "dent" caused by my saddlebags. This should disguise them somewhat in the final jeans (she hopes ...). Here are my final block pieces. I ended up moving the small wedge from the back inseam to the front inseam, and may do the same with the little half-wedge added to the yoke-back seam.

I found it interesting that the front waistband is almost straight, whereas the back half is curved. There is also "added room" in the booty area, while the side seam on the back section is almost straight. I think in the original Jalie pattern, the butt area is straighter, while the side seam is more curved.

Next step: cut out a partial muslin (I only have enough stretch cotton left for one half of a pair of short shorts) to see whether this thing fits!

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Sep 28, 2010 / Labels:

Jalie jeans 2908 muslin part 1

I have been sewing more than I've been blogging - I have a backlog of things to photograph and just don't seem to get round to it.

I made a wearable muslin of the Jalie stretch jeans ages ago. It was totally impossible to tissue-fit this pattern. I used a rather thin, rather stretchy woven cotton lycra for the trial garment. Although the result is (just) wearable, it still has quite a few problems to iron out. Muslins are for learning from, aren't they?

Lesson #1: The correct size
I started with the size corresponding to my high hip measurement (as recommended by Fit for Real People), but cut wide seam allowances so I could adjust where necessary. This didn't work so well, and I ended up retracing all the top parts of the pants in a larger size to get the pocket placement etc right. Next time I'll trace the whole thing in the size corresponding to my widest hip m'ment. I'd rather adjust down than up.

Lesson #2: Extra seam allowance
I added 1" seam allowances from the waist to the knee, but not below (why waste so much fabric in an area where I won't need to adjust?). I had to use so much of that extra 1" in the thighs that I ended up with pants that tapered sharply at the knee - like a Victorian dustman's pants (think Alfred P. Doolittle in My Fair Lady). This is especially obvious in the pic at lower right.

Lesson #3: Crotch length
I used the so-called regular rise version of the pants, because I find low-rise jeans produce uncomfortable muffin-top effects. One of the biggest problems in the finished muslin is the front crotch length - it seems too long and produces weird creases in the front. I have never had this problem with RTW pants. A few days ago while reading a blog post on the Jalie jeans pattern, I looked at the pattern envelope photographs again - and noticed that the regular rise version shows those exact same folds on the model (look at the left of the picture below). The fly also doesn't seem to be lying flat. Maybe I should try the low-rise pattern after all?

Lesson #4: Lengthening
I'm embarrassed to admit this - instead of lengthening the pattern above/below the knee, I just cut an extra 2" at the hem, thus exaggerating the dustman's pants effect. I should have known better.

Lesson #5: Interfacing
I didn't use enough interfacing. I interfaced the fly as described in the pattern, but some stretching still occurred and the fly gapes weirdly. My feeling is that the interfacing should be double the width, so that the whole area where you topstitch is also stabilised. As per the pattern instructions, I didn't interface the waistband and the result is a pitiful stretchy shapeless thing. Next time, interface! Also, I forgot about interfacing the tops of the back pockets and they are droopy.

Lesson #6: Waistband
I used the straight waistband from the pattern. After cutting this out, it fit very well around my waist, so I didn't make any adjustments. But in the finished pants it is too loose. I think I'll use a curved waistband instead. I would also like it to be wider - the Jalie waistband is quite narrow.

Looking at the photographs above, I think I can see that there is not enough fabric at the front of the thigh, and too much at the back of the thigh. Pants fitting is difficult! I am now working on a different approach to solving the crotch fitting issue. More soon!

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Sep 22, 2010 / Labels:

Three new bras

I have been working on three new bras for my mom for the past two weeks, and finished them yesterday. I sewed a little bit most days, as I have been working quite hard. After a recent positive experience with cutting out five Jalie sweetheart t-shirts in one go and sewing them one after the other (fewer decisions to make - always a good thing for me), I decided to try production-line bra-sewing.

This is how it started...

... and very soon ended up looking like this!

Despite many many thread changes (I used three different fabrics), I enjoyed working on three bras at once. Instead of finishing one before starting the next, as I did with the t-shirts, I sewed all the cups, then all the bands, and so on. It gave me a chance to use slightly different techniques on each, but also the ease of repetition.

It is odd to realise that little over a year ago I still had to follow step-by-step instructions to make a bra! Now I need only a little post-it note up behind my sewing machine with the basic sequence I follow, just to keep me on track.

I used flesh/nude cotton lycra, taupe Tactel lycra and black cotton lycra. I used the Sewy Rebecca pattern I adjusted for her previously, in size 85B, and also shortened the back band by 1/4" on each side (1/2" in total). I made notes while making the previous "wearable muslins" to remind me of elastic lengths, stitches I used, and so on. (I keep these together in a ring binder - they are turning out to be very useful for repeat sewing of TNTs.) I am very happy with the results. (Click to see larger pics.)
Nude cotton-lycra bra with stretch lace at cup edge
Taupe matte Tactel-lycra bra with decorative straps

Black cotton-lycra bra with fold-over elastic edge

I have uploaded detail photographs to Flickr, here. (These are so I have a record of details I used on the different bras, for future versions.)

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Sep 10, 2010 / Labels:

10 things you didn't know about me

A few days ago my daughter was looking at the new posts in my Google Reader while I was sewing, when she suddenly said that I had been nominated for a blog award ... and it's true! Heather (aka Li'l Miss Muffet) listed me as one of the recipients of a Beautiful Blogger Award. Thanks Heather!

These blog awards always have some task attached to them, and in this case it is listing ten things others don't know about me. This is hard!

1. I have three pedigree dogs - Porthos (a Rhodesian Ridgeback), Holly (a black Labrador), and Oskar (aka Mr Naughty, a Wire-haired Dachshund).

2. I am a botanist by training.

3. I used to work as a technical writer of software manuals and help files for a large American software company.

4. Until a few years ago I made and sold miniature teddy bears to collectors all over the world.

5. Making miniatures is one of my most enduring hobbies, and started when my father made us a doll's house when I was 8 years old. I love making miniature food from polymer clay!

6. I don't like housework or cooking, but love baking, especially bread.

(These are real rolls, not polymer clay!)

7. I don't own a television (and haven't for more than 15 years).

8. I am an avid reader, especially of non-fiction. (Not having a TV frees up a lot of reading time!) I also love listening to audio books while I'm sewing or driving. Our local library has an extensive collection, so I almost always have something to listen to.

9. I learned to knit two years ago.

10. I am a committed breastfeeding advocate and was active in La Leche League International for many years.

In turn, I also have to nominate five other bloggers. And they are:

Sigrid - who rekindled my interest in making lingerie and pointed me to my first bra pattern and has great tutorials
Karen - who makes an incredible number of clothes and introduced me to David Page Coffin's Shirtmaking book
Debbie - who just has so much good sewing information on her blog
Mikhaela - who draws, makes and wears zany polka-dot clothes
Vicky - whose creations are just too mouthwatering to miss!

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Aug 24, 2010 / Labels: ,

Sewing room progress

There is a kind of Murphy's law that applies to rooms that have been recently organised - you end up spending a lot of time searching for things. I started working on a skirt for my daughter's tap dancing yesterday - a tiered gypsy-style skirt with shirring at the waist for a comfortable fit. I started using shirring elastic already on the bobbin, but ran out last night. I know I have a whole spool of shirring elastic - somewhere. I spent all the time I had available for sewing this afternoon on looking for that elastic. And I haven't found it yet. OK, I have to admit that a lot of my sewing stuff is still not organised, and I often end up throwing unrelated items found on my sewing surfaces into boxes, so it might be buried underneath some bra fabric. I finally decided to stop searching and just go and buy a new spool tomorrow.

I drafted the skirt myself, if one can call cutting three strips of fabric with a rotary cutter "drafting". The crinkled cotton fabric came from my stash. I actually wanted to make a circle skirt, but didn't have any suitable fabric in a colour that was acceptable to the client ;) I gathered the tiers by sewing a single line of gathering using strong thread in the bobbin, which worked very well. The hem was finished with a rolled hem done with the overlocker in matching thread. I may still topstitch the seams, maybe with metallic thread or add sequined trim. I want to finish it tomorrow!

Since my last post. I have at least arranged a lot of my notions (in clear plastic tubs) on the selves closest to my sewing machines. While looking for fabric for the skirt, I also folded and stacked my lingerie and t-shirt fabrics - I like being able to see my stuff. "Out of sight, out of mind" describes my attitude well.

I will be working on a "real work" project from the beginning of next week, and am planning to do more sorting and organising in my breaks. I am usually much more productive when I have work than when I have a lot of time on my hands!

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Aug 20, 2010 /

Moving to a new space

I have really missed writing for my blog but have been finding it difficult... for various reasons. One of these is that I have finally, after years of threatening to do it, swapped rooms with my daughter. Debbie's re-org of her sewing room provided the final push. My daughter now has my smaller but cosier ex-study as her bedroom - and against all her expectations, loves it. Her lime-green ex-bedroom is now my new office and workspace. And believe, me, it still needs a lot of work. I have moved in all the furniture, my laptop is on my desk, and my machines have been set up and used, but about half my stuff is still in the old room. The new room has an entire wall covered in shelving, which will be nice for storing books, notions and fabrics (once I've moved and organised it). I had a wonderful sense of accomplishment after doing the move, and I like my new big space.

I have completed five different versions of the Jalie Sweetheart top (all for DD), with one final short-sleeved top cut out and ready to be sewn. Two of these have been sewn in the new room.

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Jul 5, 2010 / Labels: ,

Radio silence broken

Contrary to popular opinion, I have not spent the past month either chained to my TV or travelling to various soccer stadiums around the country. But, despite being totally averse to anything remotely sports-like, it has been very difficult not to be moved by the wave of socca feva inundating the country. I even have a little South African flag waving from the radio antenna of my car! Sadly, our team didn't make the second round. My support is now firmly behind Germany (you can't get away from your genetics - I am 50% German). Many commentators believe that the final match will be between Germany and the Netherlands, and this will bring me into direct competition with my many Dutch friends - no hard feelings, hey?

On the sewing front, very little has been happening (not due to soccer-watching, I might add). My last serious sewing project was making a fine linen shirt for my dearest husband, whose birthday follows shortly after my own. Despite furious late-night sewing, I didn't quite make the deadline, mostly because of a nasty tummy bug doing the rounds. I still have to finish the cuffs and buttonholes.

Most of my time has been taken up by major decluttering operations here at home, viz. our garage. It had become so bad after five years of being the dumping ground for all sorts of unwanted furniture, boxes and STUFF that we couldn't get into it any more. We spent two whole days carrying out the contents, organising into piles and making decisions to Dump, Keep or Give Away. I am happy to say that we Dumped and Gave Away a lot of things, and that the garage has now become a roomy workshop.

We are still sorting through tools and the hardware equivalent of notions - screws, nails etc. - but we are getting there. The interior needs a few coats of white paint and more shelving, but I've already started on my first workshop project - restoring a little chair my dad made for me when I was one. Forty years old: almost a semi-antique!

Meanwhile, I have been dealing with the fallout - taking stuff to Hospice, cleaning/polishing/refurbishing some furniture I want to sell, taking pics and posting on Gumtree. I also wasted several days looking for curtain fabric for our sitting room/lounge. I finally declared a one-week moratorium, because it was taking up so much time with zero results.

I really need to make some time for sewing again!

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Jun 10, 2010 / Labels:

June so far

I have a new camera! A present from my family for my 41st birthday this past weekend (the cupcakes were a treat my husband bought at our local farmers' market). I couldn't believe how lost I felt without a camera - I dropped my good old Panasonic Lumix on its lens while I was photographing my last bra, and the lens was damaged. My new camera - a Canon Powershot - promises to take good close-up pics and to cope well with low light conditions. Thank goodness for camera reviews on the web!

Here is a Kniphofia (red-hot poker) taken on the morning of my birthday - these flowers are a pleasure to see from my kitchen window on a cold winter's day. (They also make great paper!)

I have been quite busy with sewing projects the last few weeks - I made another pair of pants for my daughter and finished my first Jalie Jeans prototype. I'll write about these as soon as I've taken photographs. I have also been playing around with hemstitching by machine.

I have been wanting to do this for a while, ever since I bought beautiful ramie/linen fabric to make special Christmas napkins last year. I could remember my mother's Bernina samples with hemstitching done with one of those needles with "wings", but couldn't find appropriate information about how to do this. The other day I followed a link from Threads magazine and discovered that Fine Machine Sewing by Carol Ahles has comprehensive instructions for hemstitching by machine. There is a searchable version here on Google Books. It looks as if we'll have those napkins next Christmas...

Another ongoing project is making two chiffon scarves. I bought half a metre of beautiful purple floral chiffon I couldn't resist a few weeks ago. I discovered another piece in my stash - I think it's been there for two years.

I thought hemming the scarves would be a quick overlocker project, but I was very disappointed with the finish of the rolled hem on an offcut. Next was a narrow hem stitched with my sewing machine, but it looked so... flat. So I looked up "rolled hem making" on Google and found this extensive tutorial at Colette Patterns. I tried it out on my ever diminishing scrap piece, and I liked how it looked. Some nice handstitching to do at times when I can't be at my sewing machine in the next few weeks. I love long flowing scarves in winter.

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May 25, 2010 / Labels:

Weekend projects

We went away over the weekend and I wanted to take my sewing with me, but in the end I realised there wouldn't be enough space for my sewing machine (two kids plus three dogs also had to fit into the car...). I decided to take along my new Jalie patterns, which finally arrived on Friday, a month and ten days after I placed the order with fabric.com. And it was supposed to have been "Global Priority Mail", for which I paid USD15.95. Does anybody else have experience with overseas shipping with fabric.com vs Jalie? I would love to get my patterns sooner next time.

So, back to the topic: I took along my new Jalie patterns - stretch jeans and sweetheart top - as well as everything needed to trace the patterns. I first highlighted all the pattern pieces I needed for low-rise pants in size Q for my daughter and the normal-rise version in size V for myself in different colours, then I traced everything for the Q size onto very thin see-through interfacing, ready to cut. (I didn't get round to tracing MY pattern yet.)

I also cut out another pair of Simplicity 2665 pants for my daughter, this time in periwinkle cotton twill with purply quilting cotton pocket linings and facings. I adapted the zip opening to a fly opening with a fly shield before cutting out. I hope to finish these in the next few days.

Pattern tracing and cutting proved to be a nice, relaxing weekend-away activity, with no lugging around of heavy machines, and very space-conscious, as everything folded flat.

Just before we left, I almost finished my McCalls skirt - I still have to stitch the waistband lining down, and then do the hem. I have worn it a bit just to see what it feels like and I think I like it. It would be better in a slightly thicker fabric, though. I think the stuff I used is a bit too thin and doesn't give enough camouflage at the hip-thigh junction (read: saddlebags). Maybe lining it would help? I have absolutely no experience with lining, but it would be another new technique to add to growing list on the right >>>>


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