Monthly Archives: June 2011

Librarian Business

Sorry for the radio silence, all! It’s Summer Reading Program time at the public library, and we held our biggest youth event of the year on Friday… I’m still recovering!

And now I’m off on another adventure – the American Library Association conference in New Orleans. I’ll be going by train and am really looking forward to the break that train travel provides.

See you all soon!

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Posted by on June 20, 2011 in Away


Librarian’s Corner: How to Use, Adapt, & Design Sewing Patterns – Hollahan

How to Use, Adapt & Design Sewing Patterns - Hollahan

I had high hopes for How to Use, Adapt, and Design Sewing Patterns when I picked it up from the library — surely such a shiny new, and hip looking book must be ever so much better than some of the older sewing books out there! It’s so shiny, after all! And green, too! I want to be green!

If I had to guess at the target market for this book, I’d guess it was meant for folks who had spent a significant amount of time watching Project Runway. The stock images throughout focus heavily on bolts of high end fabric, pattern-standard looking models, high-end dress forms, and commercial pattern pieces and muslins hung on racks.

That said, I think this book is suffering from a bit of an identity crisis. It’s clearly targeting those who don’t have much experience with patterns —  the use, adaptation, or design thereof – but it’s a skimpy book, y’all. I’m not sure what I was expecting — a miracle perhaps? – but sometimes, there’s such a thing as too big a scope for the number of pages, and 140 pages to cover ALL the basics of pattern use, pattern adaptation, and pattern design is so optimistic as to border on hilarity.

So, things must be left out… let’s find out what they were!

HtUADSP - Simple Bodice Alterations

Since I’m only evaluating this book on it’s ability to teach me how to do bodice alterations, the deck is already stacked against this slim little book! While it may do better in future reviews for it’s other elements (I am curious about pattern design), it’s not faring too well in my test of “help me figure out how to alter a bodice to fit!”

There are 3 sections in the book – pattern use, pattern, adaptation, and pattern design. Pattern use is your basic info about how to measure yourself, how to buy the right pattern, how to understand the markings of the pattern, and how to prep your fabric and pattern for cutting.

Part two is altering a pattern – this section is actually just for simple alterations, so the chapter is really a misnomer. I would have preferred they give the simple alteration, followed by the advanced alteration… mostly because if you’ve got a big bust, alteration isn’t an option or a skill you can pick up later. You’ve got to figure it out, even if it’s a really advanced skill! No need to intimidate the newbie by putting it in a separate “advanced” section!

Part three is the pattern design section, and buried within it is a little section on advanced pattern alteration.  This section is also followed by a series of pattern blocks, which look cool, but only go up to size 18, and — surprise — there’s no info on pattern grading provided in the book! There’s a section that teaches you how to scale up the pattern blocks from the back of the book, but there’s a missed opportunity to talk about how to extend these to larger sizes. If your size falls outside the range provided, they simply instruct you to purchase a set of pattern blocks from one of the pattern manufacturers.

On to the simple bodice alterations…

HtUADSP - Simple Bust Increase

Above, you’ll see the extent of the solution provided for the problem I’m having. The remainder of the bodice alterations chapter talks about lengthening or shortening a bodice, shortening the shoulder, and moving the bust dart. For those of us with large busts, they warn that the method above is only for busts that are fractionally larger — 2cm — than the specified pattern. If you’re a bigger gal, you’ll have to skip to the advanced method, described below (note: there was no mention of this method in the simple alterations section — I had to go hunting for it in the pattern design section… kind of misplaced, in my opinion).

Okay, we’ve been waiting for it… are you ready to learn how to make a large change to a bust measurement on a pattern? Wait for it…. wait for it….

HtUADSP - Advanced Bust Increase


No, seriously. That’s it. No, really! Everything you see above is all the instructions you’re going to get from this book on how to increase bust size in a pattern. I have a lot of problems with that. First of all, they’re using that darned distorting slash method for making the pattern bigger. Second, really? This is all the instruction they provide? They don’t even tell you specifically what you are trying to accomplish here… or how to determine the spread between each of the pieces! This is pretty depressingly unrealistic as far as advice goes.

Final Ratings:

  • Ease of method for beginners:  1 star, pretty much nonexistent instruction for increasing bust size
  • Adequate use of images detailing method:      1 star, one image does not an instruction make!
  • Logical progression of instructions:    1 star, you can’t go mixing up your sections — all alterations belong in the “alteration” section
  • Limited use of technical jargon:   3 stars, jargon was well defined, and the book contained a glossary and technique dictionary
  • OVERALL REVIEW: 1 stars, this book is a fail in the making for beginners hoping to alter a bustline
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Posted by on June 15, 2011 in book review, new skills


Jersey, knits, spandex… what gives?

I’ve got several knit dresses on the planning board, and I’m really interested in getting started (even though I’m really nervous to be working without a serger!)…

McCall’s 6032 is a little sheath dress with a great detail at the empire waist. It calls for 2.5-3 yards of 60″ wide stretch knit (cotton, jersey, interlock, matte jersey), so I’m thinking one of these…

BurdaStyle’s June 2011 silk jersey halter top — I’d probably never get away with wearing this without a cardigan, and I’m skipping the pockets which are just weird…but I’d love to make it out of the silk jersey it calls for… This ruby red silk jersey would be phenomenal…

Vogue 1224’s Tracy Reese dress is supposed to be made from 2 yards of Spandex (rayon, cotton, or nylon)…I *think* spandex = base fabric + lycra… is that right? I kind of want to do the dress in an olive green or forest green — something to make my eyes look greener.

I’m hoping once I’ve done each of these, I’ll understand the tactile difference between each type of knit — I’ve got the book, Fabric Savvy, but it kind of falls short on the touchy-feely aspects… I wish they’d printed it with a swatch book in the rear appendix!

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Posted by on June 14, 2011 in musings, shopping


Librarian’s Corner: Pattern Fitting with Confidence by Nancy Zieman

Pattern Fitting with Confidence - Zieman

Nancy Zieman is the queen of DIY to me — she’s been teaching people to sew for years… long before many of us Gen X, Y, and Z-ers picked up our grandmother’s bobbins and started sewing our own clothes again. And there’s a reason for that — she’s really good at what she does!

Nancy’s techniques in this book are dead simple — the illustrations are clear, and the captions and instructions are detailed. She teaches the “pivot and slide” method of pattern alteration, and after looking at all of the options, I think this one may be the easiest for a beginner to have success with.

PFwC - Pivot & Slide method

Before you get started with the pivot-and-slide method, you must first find and use a pattern that is correctly fitted to your most difficult to correct-for measurement: the shoulder/neckline area.  Nancy shows you how to find your right size, which isn’t based on your largest measurement (bust), but instead on a proportional right size measurement, which she shows you how to determine.

*Reader note*: do not be tempted to take your own “right size” measurement (which is from arm-crease to arm-crease across the chest). Although it seems like there wouldn’t be any distortion, there is! When I took this measurement on myself, I got 17.5″… when Don took the same measurement (but with me standing normally instead of hunched over trying to take the measurement!) he got 16″ … that’s a big difference! For me, that means I should be using a size 22 pattern, instead of the 24/26 I had been using. No wonder my necklines kept falling off my shoulders!

Once you’ve got your Right Sized pattern, you will modify it to match the rest of your measurements, using the pivot-slide method.

PFwC - Pivot & Slide method for large bust

The essence of the pivot-slide method is that you use the original pattern piece to guide your grading of the larger measurements you need to accommodate with that pattern. First, you cut out the pattern piece you’ll be using and place it on a piece of paper — whatever you choose to replicate your pattern (wax paper, tracing paper, anything you’ve got on hand). Then you take your measurements and compare them to the pattern piece. Where ever your measurements are larger than the pattern piece, you divide by 4 (for a bodice with 4 seams) and then use that number to draw a mark next to the pertinent section of the pattern. Don’t forget to remove seam allowances from your measurement of the pattern piece!  Next, put a pin in the key point on the pattern (Nancy lays these out for you) and spin the pattern until the edge meets that mark. Then trace the outline of the piece along the edge of the pattern to create the new outline for the pattern.

PFwC - Pivot & Slide method for large bust

For example, my bust measurement is 46.5″, so I had been using a 24W pattern and sometimes a 26W if it seemed like a tighter fitting garment. With Nancy’s method, I’ll be using a 22W pattern, which lists the bust as being 44″.  My bust is 2.5″ wider than this, so I’ll need to add 2.5″ to the bustline of the bodice pieces. If the bodice has 4 seams/cut edges, then I’ll divide 2.5 by 4 to get 0.63″ (or about 5/8″), which is the amount I’ll need to measure out from each seam on the bodice to mark the start of the new outline. After tracing the original pattern on the paper, I’ll put a pin through the pattern & paper at the arm hole, then pivot the pattern piece so the edge meets the 5/8″ mark, and then re-draw the edge, tracing the pattern to create the new line. If I also wanted to increase other measurements or make modifications, I could do it in the same manner.

This is the method I think I’ll try first — it seems the simplest to understand and execute, and doesn’t involve any “exploded” patterns, which tend to make me a little nervous, I’ll admit!

Photos help a great deal, and I don’t include enough here for you to get a real sense of all the images in the book.  For you a/v learners out there, Nancy also repeats this lesson in a video on her website… Look for the “Pattern Fitting with Confidence, Part 1” show (for some reason, each episode says “buy this episode” but I was able to watch them for free.)

Final Ratings:

  • Ease of method for beginners:  5 stars
  • Adequate use of images detailing method:      5 stars
  • Logical progression of instructions:    5 stars
  • Limited use of technical jargon:   5 stars
  • OVERALL REVIEW: 5 stars, this book is a winner on all counts!


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Posted by on June 14, 2011 in book review, new skills


Librarian’s Corner: Fast Fit by Sandra Betzina

Fast Fit - Betzina

Fast Fit by Sandra Betzina was the first pattern fitting book I bought, about 5 years ago. Yes, there was a 5 year gap in my sewing efforts … partly because I was really busy with grad school and then a new career, and partly because I kept encountering road blocks that seemed to make sewing a greater challenge than I was ready for. One of those things was pattern fitting, and one of the causes, was Fast Fit.

Betzina starts by walking readers through a full body measurement session, and then talks a bit about buying a pattern.  This section contains one of my biggest pet-peeves about this book — there’s a strong emphasis on narrative description, with a distinct lack of bullet points, numbered steps, and illustrations in some of the sections. For example, buried in a paragraph on page 25, she mentions that readers should use their full-bust measurement or high-bust measurement, depending on the pattern company they are buying from, and that McCall’s, Butterick, Simplicity, and Vogue all tend to run large in the upper chest. Rather than being pulled out in a side-bar as a special authors note, this is inside what is a series of paragraphs about fitting and shopping. The problem with the narrative guidebook is that readers must continually re-read the sections to find the steps to follow or points of interest, or they must make copious notes while reading, so they have their own bullets to follow. While the book provides a few quick tips, there’s a significant amount of really essential info buried in paragraphs throughout. I felt like I needed to read this with my trusty red-pen in hand!

The book is laid out with fitting “basics” coming first, which seemed to include a huge number of steps to me. First, you are exhorted to record all your measurements carefully, then buy a pattern based on your bust measurement (ensuring you’ll have to make a lot of fitting changes, if your bust is your largest measurement!), then you take the flat measurements of the pattern out of the envelope. Next, you compare these to the measurements of garments you already own, and then make a fitting shell, and finally a muslin… and this is all before you get to any of the advice about how to alter a bodice to fit a large bust!  I know I was a little (okay, a lot) intimidated by all these steps, but I took them as gospel because I didn’t have anything else to compare it to. After several failed attempts, I decided pattern fitting was too hard to continue… I boxed up my tools, de-stashed (ouch!) and gave up on sewing for years. This is really sad to me now!

After fitting basics, comes the alterations section, which lays out the sequence for alterations, and goes through in “steps” how to start and how to alter multisize patterns. Then it covers how to upsize and how to downsize garments, and how to change the length. I say “steps” in quotes, because these steps are not really the bullet-point like steps you might be expecting… instead, they are really enumerated paragraphs of text. Many of these instructions also make a lot of assumptions about what you know how to do, with nary a nod to any of the previous sections. Basically, the author assumes you will sit down and read through her book, cover to cover, without skimming anything… which I think is unrealistic. For example, on page 51, she says in her sequence for pattern alterations, “Shorten or lengthen the distance between the bottom of the armhole and the shoulder, if necessary. Make the identical alteration in the sleeve cap.” This is nearly greek to me, and there are no references to tell me where in the book to flip to find out more about how exactly to go about doing this. If I flip to the index, I see that shoulder alterations are covered on pages 100-121… so she’s referring to a technique in this section that she hasn’t covered yet. For a beginner, this is *very* confusing.  Another cause for confusion are the images — the book relies on one photo for each described technique — and sometimes this is not enough to help the reader understand what is being illustrated in the image.

On to the bust alteration section…

FF - Large Bust Alteration

The section on bodice alteration is about 30 pages long, with about 6 pages devoted to large bust modifications. Again, the author relies on paragraphs for illustration, rather than images.. For bust modification, you have a total of 2 images, one of which is below. The other image was of the original pattern piece with red lines marking where to cut. In my opinion, this is not enough illustration to show me how to modify these pieces, or how to determine how much spread is desirable.  I dislike that each of these sections has the area of adjustment listed (above “Large Bust”) followed by “The Problem.” I’m sorry, but the problem isn’t with me or my body, it’s with the pattern. I don’t like negative body talk, and that smacks too much of it for me.

FF - Large Bust Alteration

The instructions for how to alter a bodice are as follows — please note that the original instructions have only 5 steps… those below are my interpretation of those 5 steps.

  1. Draw a line from the center of the shoulder to the bust point (1-1.5″ from the end of the dart… heaven help you if your pattern has no darts here!)
  2. Draw a line from the bust point to the bottom of the bodice, staying parallel to the grainline.
  3. Draw 3 more or less (??) evenly spaced diagonal lines from the front armhole to the first line, in the area between the bust point and the shoulder.
  4. Cut the pattern apart along the vertical lines.
  5. Cut the pattern almost to the edge of the diagonal lines, stopping 1/8″ from the armhole cutting line.
  6. Place the pattern pieces on a flat surface over a piece of tissue paper.
  7. Spread the pattern apart 1/2 to 1 1/2 inches at the bust point (how do I figure this out, exactly?)
  8. Spread or close the rest of the pattern as much as necessary to keep the pattern flat (huh?)
  9. If you need it, spread the pattern apart a bit at the waist for a large waist or tummy (umm…how?)
  10. Tape adjusted pattern piece to the tissue paper and smooth out the cutting line at the bottom.

There’s a separate illustration for a princess seam which involves slashing along a horizontal line on the main bodice piece, increasing the length in the middle, and tapering to nothing at the edges. I do not feel like I understand the description well enough to even attempt to explain it here.

Although I attempted this method a few times, I was never successful at executing it, because I always wound up with the paper buckling or bowing out… I couldn’t get it to lay flat, or I wasn’t able to figure out how much spread I needed.  And as anyone who has tried to do the traditional slash method of alteration knows, it’s pretty tough to cut out a flat piece of fabric from a rounded piece of paper! This was always very perplexing to me, and it wasn’t until I picked up another sewing book (see my review for Fitting & Pattern Alteration, coming soon!) that I realized what the problem was! More on that to come!

Final Ratings:

  • Ease of method for beginners:  2 stars, some great basics included, but generally over my head
  • Adequate use of images detailing method:      1 star, really lacking in this area
  • Logical progression of instructions:    1 star, instructions provided before a technique was discussed
  • Limited use of technical jargon:   2 stars, see above
  • OVERALL REVIEW: 2 stars, not a book that will lead beginners to success.

What did you all think of Fast Fit?

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Posted by on June 13, 2011 in book review, new skills


Field Trip: Silk Road Textile Merchants, Austin, Texas

There are a limited number of fabric stores in Austin, and since I don’t usually find what I’m looking for at the Big 3 (JoAnns, Hancock Fabrics, and Hobby Lobby), I’m always excited to learn about a new (to me) fabric store in the area.

Silk Road is not a new store — in fact, I’d always looked longingly at their little storefront-in-a-house on Lamar, where they used to be located. When I saw the building was for sale, I thought I’d missed my chance to visit some of their legendarily beautiful fabrics… this was about 2 years ago.  Then, yesterday, I discovered that they had not closed down, but instead had moved to a new location — and that new location was less than a mile from my house.

Oh, behave.

Finding the Flat Bed building where they’re located was no trouble at all — those green steps are hard to miss! — but once I was outside the building, I wasn’t sure I was in the right place. Luckily, the owner of SR was on the steps, people watching as bikers from the ROT Rally drove by, and she welcomed us inside. As we left, I did notice that Silk Road was listed among the shops painted on the green steps, but I didn’t even notice when we arrived!

The owner (I’m guessing) led us down the art-lined hallways to a small space crammed with fabric.

And oh, what fabric!


Gorgeous cotton batiks….


Lovely silks… sorry I forgot to grab a photo of the bolts and bolts of dupioni! I’m also kicking myself for not grabbing a photo of all their buttons… sooo many buttons, and even a card catalog (be still, my heart!) filled with yet more buttons!


And a rainbow of linen… including the yummy burgundy I took home as my prize…


I will definitely be back to the Silk Road…


… though, at these prices, I can tell it’s going to be only once I’ve perfected a pattern, and am ready to make the investment in a quality fabric that will make it a permanent member of my wardrobe.

This linen is going to make up another version of the black & white dotted skirt and top outfit, but this time, I’m going to make a muslin, and really work on getting a perfect fit, before I get anywhere near this fabric with a pair of scissors!


Posted by on June 12, 2011 in Field Trip, shopping


Librarian’s Corner: Books on Pattern Fitting

Sewing Book Review

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’m learning to sew by the seat of my pants — well, actually, by the seams of my bodice. So I rely heavily on the resources shared by experts to help me master the basics of garment construction.

I don’t really have much interest in sewing pants — though I can see this changing once I’ve mastered some other techniques — but dresses and blouses fascinate me. This is mostly because I haven’t been able to fit into either properly since I was in elementary school (I developed young).

So fitting the bodice is going to be a huge part of my learning how to sew my own clothes.

Like a good little librarian, I’ve subscribed to tons of RSS feeds of sewing bloggers to learn more from each of them, and checked out tons of books from the library on pattern fitting. For this, though, I needed a little more guidance than the images I was seeing on blogs (like this one from Sew, Mama, Sew, which links to others at the bottom).

Since I don’t have a TV, that leaves me with books to teach myself how to fix my fitting dilemma.

Over the next few days, I’ll be reviewing the bodice-fitting methods in each of the books I have on hand. If you know of one that I missed that you’d like me to review, let me know and I’ll try and get my hands on it through Inter Library Loan.

I’ll be reviewing each of these books from the standpoint of novice — how well can I, as a baby seamstress, understand the fitting method described. I’ll also only be focusing on the bodice-fitting segments of these books. While I’m sure I have tons of other figure flaws that I’ll need to adjust my patterns for some day, it’s the overly-ample bosom that’s keeping my clothes from fitting, so that’s going to be the fit that I tackle first.

Here are the books I’ll be reviewing (arranged by publication date):

  1. Fast Fit by Sandra Betzina (2003)
  2. Pattern Fitting with Confidence by Nancy Zieman (2008)
  3. Fitting & Pattern Alteration by Elizabeth Liechty et al (2009)
  4. How to Use, Adapt, and Design Sewing Patterns by Lee Hollahan (2010)

I have several other books in my collection that I’d love to share with you all, someday, but I’ll bring them in as I’m able to start using them and incorporating their lessons into my own sewing (one of my favorites to browse through is Making Your Own Patterns by Adele Margolis (1985)– all the design details and options are just incredible!).

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Posted by on June 12, 2011 in book review, new skills