Sunday, June 7, 2009

Kwik Sew 3706 -- Why Kwik Sew, Why???

I feel a little guilty about badmouthing Kwik Sew. After all, their patterns are perfect for teaching beginning sewers how to do things like attach collars and zippers. But Kwik Sew's sense of style, taste, and restraint is often lacking.

The other day I received a little booklet with their latest summer lineup, and one of the patterns was so unbelievably bad, I resurrected this blog, inactive for a year, just so I could show it to you.

I know Minnesota isn't fashion mecca, but what on earth could have possessed the company to issue Kwik Sew 3706 with its mishmash of whacky details? The moment I saw that ruffley-thing dancing off the shoulder and the gift wrap bow hovering around the waist, I thought of the prize winning cow at the county fair.

Who or what was this pattern created for --opening night at the Grand Ole Opry, milk maids from Lake Woebegone or the Beverly Hillbillies? Honestly Kwik Sew, is this pattern for real?

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Stuff Happens: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love My Seam Ripper

Every day like clockwork, I can count on myself to commit a sewing error so lame brained, so mind numbingly stupid, I’m tempted to hang up my rotary cutter for good. But I’ve learned to ignore the hectoring voice of doubt. Instead I cooly assess the damage and determine the fastest, least detectable way to correct the problem. Fortunately, many mistakes can be prevented, and almost every project I’ve ever “wrecked” was salvageable in one form or another.

You’d think I’d be making fewer sewing errors as I become more experienced, but that hasn’t happened. While I rarely make the basic mistakes of the beginner, a finer, more advanced class of blunders has stepped in to pick up the slack. So the overall error count has held steady, and I’ve resigned myself to a lifetime of sewing screw-ups.

A mistake can occur at any stage of a sewing project, but the most common and most deadly ones occur during cutting. And as you might guess, I’ve made more than my share of fatal cutting errors. In fact this blog is named for one of my favorite ways of botching up a project – cutting fabric “slightly off grain.” I’ll never forget the day two years ago when I cut three pairs of pants that were so wildly off grain, the leg seams spiraled around me like a barber shop pole. Unfortunately, there was no Undo Button. I simply took the pants apart with a seam ripper and recycled the fabric into tee shirts. But I also learned how to prevent the problem before I cut by obsessively measuring and re-measuring my pattern’s alignment with the fabric grainline.

Just last night, I decided to cut some fabric for a pair of pillow covers. I was tired and shouldn’t have been cutting in the first place. But I knew I had twice as much fabric as I needed, more than enough to compensate for any error. To make a long story short, I made almost every mistake in the book. But in the end, I squeaked by with just enough good fabric for the pillows and some scraps for a bonus handbag.

Moral of the story: If your sewing life resembles a comedy of errors, don’t throw in the towel. Simply take a deep breath and remind yourself -- to err is human, but to fix it is divine.

Monday, March 10, 2008

If Ralph Nader were a sewing machine: the unbondable Bernina 1008

Two years ago when I was learning to sew, my husband bought me a manual Bernina 1008, the same machine the schools were using just before they kicked sewing off the curriculum for good. The 1008 was intended to replace my first machine, a three week old Bernette 65, a cute little electronic that was fun to use but seemed to lack oomph. My husband was willing to fork over an extra 400 bucks for the 1008 because he collects Swiss Army knives and he was impressed by the “solid, dependable, workhorse” review on Consumer Reports. I’m sure that if Ralph Nader morphed into a sewing machine, he would be the barebones 1008 –crunching granola in a twenty-year old suit, earnest and humorless and eager to spoil another presidential race.

As soon as we traded in my cute little Bernette and I brought my 1008 home, I knew I’d made an egregious mistake. Gone was the needle threader and all my beloved pushbuttons. In their place was a collection of strange mechanical levers set in a homely hunk of cold, hard metal. The two-handed contortions required to sew a reverse stitch were beyond me. Of course, I could master the six-step buttonhole – I just had to sit there and practice it 2,000 times.

True, the stitch quality was good, and the machine seemed to have some power. But every time I used that 1008, I felt deprived. I knew millions of women were out there happily stitching away on sleek computerized models, turning out flawless keyhole button holes with pushbutton ease. Yet here I was struggling with the heavy hand crank, and manually threading my needles with a magnifier. Surely, I’d been cast back to the Stone Age with nothing but an awl and a mammoth hide.

I racked my brain -- there must be something I could do. With I Love Lucy as my mentor I set about an information campaign to turn my husband against my new machine. “Did you know the 1008 wasn’t assembled in a Swiss factory but somewhere in Asia?,” I innocently asked. “And the solid-metal body refers only to the machine’s exterior. Many of the inside parts are actually made of….,” I paused for emphasis, “flimsy…. plastic.” Of course, whenever there was a problem, no matter how trivial -- like a burned out light bulb or a broken needle -- I eagerly brought it to my husband’s attention, careful to hide my glee. And then there were all those handbag projects that my “workhorse” just couldn’t handle.

Somehow, after a few months the message finally sank in. My husband no longer felt the 1008 was a miracle of Swiss engineering -- but a lemon like Ralph Nader’s Corvair. And I began to search for the perfect computerized sewing machine, confident I would have it by Christmas.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

The sewing gene kicks in -- with a vengence

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Before I hit 50, I was more than happy to buy my clothes. The saleswomen at Saks and Macy's all knew me by name, and my closet was filled with beautiful things -- elegant jackets from Ellen Tracy Petite, Gucci's Jackie-O hobobag, you get the picture. But then we left the big city, and life changed.

My father's father, who died before I was born and for whom I was named, was a tailor. He sewed an elegant robe for my father made of burgundy silk, which my father kept until the day he died. My father's sister had married into the family of a famous dress designer from the 50s, Ceil Chapman. And my mother's mother, who once worked in a garment sweatshop and loved to sew, had an impressive stockpile of discarded fabric scraps from Ceil Chapman evening gowns stashed in her dresser. As a child I played with these scraps of velvets and silk and grew up with the crazy notion that fabric was free.

Until two years ago I had made only a few sporadic attempts at learning to sew. At ten I sewed a simple black sheath for Barbie that turned out surprisingly well. At twenty-five, I attempted a pleated skirt with $80/yard imported wool but quickly abandoned the project. In my 30s I made simple home dec projects with a needle and thread. And in my 50s I took up the glue gun, which worked surprisingly well for pillows and seat cushions.

Then two years ago, I asked my husband to buy me a sewing machine so I could retire my glue gun. I never imagined my house and my closets would soon be filled with the things I'd made. And I never imagined that my sewing hobby would become such an important part of my life.

slightly off grain

Sewing adventures and misadventures