From Overalls to Cross Back Apron

My pottery overalls had finally bitten the dust. No wonder, they were more than 25 years old although I had not worn them for a number of years.  Saying goodbye to my overalls was a painful prospect.  What would I  wipe the clay on?  I decided to make an apron from them.

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First, I cut off the legs being careful to keep all the pockets.

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It was not until I turned the overalls over that I realized that I had the makings of a no-sew cross back apron!  Se my other post on how to sew one from scratch here

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Just cut the seam right down the middle of the back.

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Make sure the straps are plenty long to accommodate the cross over.

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Rear view.  You don’t have to unhook the straps to put on the apron which is what is so great about a cross back apron in the first place!

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Front view.  A great, easy, low-cost no sew cross back apron!  With pockets!

 

Learn to Sew in a Butcher’s Shop

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Amalia Petherbridge (Mali, pronounced “Molly”) is the founder and  tireless proprietor of the Butcher’s Sew Shop in the Bella Vista neighborhood of South Philadelphia.  While she has been sewing nearly as long as she has been walking, it was not until after college graduation, a stint working in the non-profit sector and  taking some sewing classes for fun  that she decided to go back to school and study sewing full time.

Mali was not sure what direction her career would take after she completed her course work in design and pattern making.   But she  discovered that she loved teaching when she started giving her friends sewing lessons sewing in her home. “I loved seeing things click for other people,” she recalled,  “and I still  love seeing adults learning those skills for the first time.  It’s really empowering for them.  Even something as simple as being able to hem your own pants.   It’s a life skill and it’s a great creative outlet,  too.”

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So she decided to open a business and teach sewing.  This is hardly surprising; many of the  women from Mali’s childhood  combined creativity and entrepreneurship  in their careers. An Aunt had a line of children’s clothing.  Mali’s mother built pipe organs in a home studio.  Mali’s step mother was a seamstress and quilt maker.

Mali located her shop in Bella Vista because she knew and loved the neighborhood.  “I think it has a great vibe and when I saw the for rent sign in the window  I just instinctively felt that it would be a good place.” And that turned out to be true.  “The neighbors are so supportive; it feels like a little community and we do have a lot of students who are from the neighborhood, although we get most of our students from Internet traffic.”

When Mali signed the lease, she did not know the space  8th and Catharine Streets had been a butcher shop. The shop had been a bodega after the butcher shop closed, and looked completely different when Mali first saw it.

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Mali  tackled the renovations herself  with the help of many friends.   She found gleaming white tiles behind the peeling dry wall.   The drop ceiling hid an old fashioned  punched tin ceiling.  As the renovations progressed, she uncovered more relics and artifacts.

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Transforming the shop was an intensely personal process for her; she felt a deep connection to the space. At some point in the process she learned the store had been a butcher shop.  But one day, purely by serendipity, she found out that one family had operated the butcher shop for eighty years. That’s when she started to research the history of the shop and the family behind it.  “Because here I am opening my first business,” she explained,” and I’m just trying to make it through the first month and to think that family kept a business alive here for generations!”

She located the family and asked them if they would allow her to name her business Butcher’s Sew Shop in their honor. “Butchers work with their hands, too.   It’s a craft and I felt that energy in the space and loved the idea of being able to honor that.” The family was delighted and sent her copies of old pictures and other information about the butcher shop which you can see on the web site here.

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“Our core adult student is a young professional  who wants some kind of creative release outside of work.  Some of the people who come in have some kind of vision.  They want to learn how to make something for themselves or to mend their clothes or we have young mothers who want to sew for their kids.  But a lot of people just come in to try it  and they end up taking more and more classes.”

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“Half of our business is a sister program where we teach kids.  They are so creative and they soak up things like sponges!  We have kids who have been here for a few years and they can sit down at the machine and do pretty much anything at this point.  We start at age 5 and go to 14.  And we have the five year olds on the machines too.”

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The Butcher’s Sew Shop is stocked with heavy duty Singer Sewing machines and plenty of sewing tools and equipment.  Students also have access to two sergers.  They are also welcome to bring in their own machines; Mali and her staff will help them learn how to operate them.

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In June, the Butcher’s Sew Shop is opening  a second location at  1912 South Street which it will share with  Loop Yarn who will offer knitting classes in the rear.  Programs are planned to start in July or August.  Mali is excited about this expansion which will give her more room for children’s classes.

For the full schedule of classes and activities at the Butcher’s Sew Shop, go to the web site here.  For information on the exciting  summer, afternoon and weekend programs for kids offered  through Sew Philly, click here.

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BUTCHER’S SEW SHOP  800 S. 8th St  PHILADELPHIA, PA 19147  

TEL: 215-678-7671

www.butcherssewshop.com

 

 

 

 

Turn An Old Skirt into Something New!

I wanted a dreamy looking leather satchel in a soft, buttery leather only I didn’t want to shell out a couple hundred dollars for it. I saw a cool looking black leather skirt in a thrift shop and I suppose they were having a hard time moving it because it was marked down to $7.00. I grabbed a back leather belt for $2.00 and away I went!

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I turned the skirt inside out and marked there I wanted to cut it.  Since the skirt was lined, I could skip lining the tote.

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I had to decide how to work around the zipper and  decided that I would  make a seam there and remove it.

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I’m glad I scanned the Internet for tips (see end of post) because I got myself some heavy duty needles which helped immensely.  The leather I used was thin-it had been a skirt after all, and the Singer Slant-O-Matic had no trouble handling it.  Plus it glided smoothly because the lining and not the leather was making contact with the sewing machine.

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I cut the handles from a thick leather belt which was very hard to cut.  I used a utility blade.

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I attached the handles to the body of the bag with grommets I bought at Harbor Freight.

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I stitched the  handles to the top of the bag with a sewing awl, also from Harbor Freight.  You can see that I had to make the holes with a drill, but the awl was great for passing the thread back and forth between the holes.

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I installed a magnetic purse snap and I had a leather tote for under $10.00!

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Here’s another one made from a suede thrift store skirt

This tutorial from sewbeittudio.com was very helpful.  I also liked this one from the Vintage Ramble blog.

And here is a good video to get you started.

 

The Quilt In Progress

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I have  started the block trimming and sewing.    Lots of scraps!  But now that I have a decent place to work with a cement floor, it’s much easier to keep things swept up

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I decided to make sections of 12 blocks-2 rows of 6-and then I will join 4 of them to make each quilt top which will be 6 blocks wide and 8 blocks long. (Finished blocks are a foot square so the quilt will be 72 x 96 before binding.

 

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Since I had so many colors of fabric, I decided to use white in the overall design to give the eye a rest.  I’m glad I did, because this is going to be a busy quilt.

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Studio Birdie seems to be enjoying all the activity and bright colors.

 

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I am wearing a wrist support  because I am doing a lot of trimming and I don’t want my wrist to suffer.

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I find that it’s helpful to break up the trimming with the pressing and the sewing.  I am managing to keep all the thread under control  but I have a feeling I will be picking loose threads off these quilts for a long time.

 

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      I started out sewing 2 blocks together then joining to make strips of  6 and then joining this to another strip of 6.  But last night,  I joined a two block section to another two block section to make a four block piece and I sewed three of these together.  It seemed a little easier to line up the seams with the latter method, but I am still learning.  Any tips would be welcome!

 

Creative Thrift Shopping

One of my favorite thrift store in Philadelphia is Thrift for Aids.  With its creative and witty staff, shopping there is always entertaining even if I don’t find anything.  Case in point: their new trash receptacle outside the store.
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For me one of the best forms of therapy is retail therapy in a thrift shop. There is no thrill like finding an item like a pair of Talbot’s Silk pants for $4.00 or a an Ann Taylor sweater for $7.00. Unless you are shopping for new fashion trends, are a Wall Street Trader or work for Big Law, a good thrift shop can be your go-to store most of the clothes you’ll need, not to mention a source of fabric for quilts, a source of yarn for sweaters, and all kinds of household goodies.  But what to do  when you see a pair of Eileen Fisher pull-on pants in a soft and dreamy  Italian knit that you must have but they are much too large?  If you are like me, you buy them and keep them for a year before you get the courage to take scissors to them.  You search your sewing books and on line tutorials and then you come across a video on YouTube which is as simple as it can be watch it and get the courage to alter those pants so they fit!   I was so surprised at how well they turned out that I had to share the results and the video with you.

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I don’t have any “before” pictures, but these are the pants after I took in the legs and crotch, put in a new waist and  shortened them about 6 inches

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New hem

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New waist

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Here are another pair of Eileen Fisher pants made of linen which will be perfect for summer.  These don’t need a new waist so much as slimmer legs and a crotch that’s not in the middle of my thighs.   And now here’s the video to which I owe my new pants. 

Here are some links to instructions  for  altering waistlines and hemming pants.  Now get sewing!

My Sewing Machine Will Quilt Again!

In my previous post, I told you how I murdered my sewing machine and how Jack De Sorte carried it and my other machine off into the night. Did I ever hear from him again?

I am happy to report that I did. As a matter of fact, he had the Slant-O-Matic back to me THE NEXT DAY!!!!! I was beside myself with joy and sewed like a mad woman all weekend. But what about the Kenmore? Well, that’s a little more complicated.

I got a call at work the next week. It was Jack.

“What did you do to that machine?!?!” he demanded.

“Did I do something wrong, ” I whispered meekly.

“Did you do something wrong? The gears were shot! I don’t know what you did to that machine but I had to call in favors and drive to shops in Jersey to get all the parts. What did you do to that machine?”

“I dunno,” I squeaked, “Could you fix it?”

“Could I fix it?-It’s like new,” he shot back me, ” and when I deliver it I’ll give you some instructions.”

Yikes. What was I in for?

He arrived at my house that might cradling the machine like a baby. He laid it on my dining room table and pulled a small bag out of his pocket. “Here are needles,” he told me, “and bobbins and a new zipper foot. I want you to use them.” He put the bag on the table.

“Do not use cheap needles!” he admonished me. If you hit something while you’re sewing, STOP AND STEP AWAY FROM THE MACHINE! Do not try to sew with a bent needle! Do not pull the thread! Do not sew with a dirty machine! Clean and oil it regularly! ”

“Yes Jack,” I whispered.

And now, I am afraid-I am afraid that if I screw up one more time, that Jack will find out, come to my house, take my machine and place it in a foster home.

I will be careful.

Seriously, if you live in the Philadelphia area and need sewing machine repair, call Jack. I cannot recommend him enough.

De Sorte’s Vacuum Cleaner Service

6153 Market St
Philadelphia, PA 19139
(215) 474-3045

Here are some pictures of what I sewed after Jack fixed my sewing machines

Stripey
Stripey
Stack-O-Blocks
Stack-O-Blocks
Two old dresses and a napkin
Two old dresses and a napkin
Chain Pieced Blocks before separation
Chain Pieced Blocks before separation
Home made thread cone stand
Home made thread cone stand
Just-Started Blocks
Just-Started Blocks
More Blocks
More Blocks
Wonky!
Wonky!

I Murdered My Sewing Machine!!

I managed to murder a sewing machine.   I was busy sewing wonky log cabin blocks on my late Mother-in-Law’s Kenmore when I heard, GADUMP!  I stopped and saw I had a bent needle.  I replaced it and stared to sew but the machine  continued to clunk!clunk! clunk! And clunk!  And basically not sew anything.     I needed sewing machine triage.
Chain Piecing
Chain Piecing on the Kenmore
There is no sewing repair place near my house and I don’t own a car.  I was determined not to ask a friend to schlep me and my crippled machine to a repair place so I started to look for someone who would come to my house.   I found a guy on Yelp who had one five star rating.  That was his only rating.  I called him.
“How old is your machine?” he asked
“I don’t want to buy a new one,” I retorted.  (I am always suspicious.)
“I don’t want you to buy a new one,” he answered,  “the new ones aren’t any good; but I need to know how old yours is before I know  whether I can work on it.”
“Seventeen years old, ” I replied.
“I can fix that no problem.”  He made arrangements to come to my house the next day.
My husband let him in and took his card, Jack DeSorte’s Vacuum Repair.  Jack parked himself at my dining room table and inspected the machine.  “I’ll have this fixed in about an hour, ” he announced.
My heart soared.  For the next hour,  Jack labored on the machine and treated my husband and me to the short version of his life story, his philosophy of sewing machines, sewing machine repair and sewing machine restoration.  It dawned on me that I had a first class, genuine, A-Number One sewing machine nerd repairman seated in my dining room.  Which is a good thing in case you were wondering.
After an hour,  Jack rose from the table wiping his forehead and informed me that he would have to take the machine into his shop.  “I don’t know what you did to this machine, ” he declared, ” but I’m gonna have to take the whole thing apart and it’s gonna be messy.  I  might need parts.  I can’t fix it here.”
“Will you bring it back when it’s fixed?” I inquired.
“Of course,” he replied as if wondering why I had to ask about something so obvious.
“Wait a minute,”  I called, running down the basement steps, “I have something else.”  I returned with  my Mother’s 1961 Singer Slant-O-Matic 500A. “This was my mother’s machine, “I told him, ” and I used to sew on it when I was a little girl.  It works but it needs a tune up.  She got that machine when Kennedy was president, ” I added.  (This means that I felt comfortable enough with Jack to date myself.  Which means something but I’m not sure what.)
Slant O Matic
Slant-O-Matic
He was beaming.  “Will you look at that, ” he exclaimed lifting  up the lid that covers the double  thread spindles. “It’s so clean!  Normally when I see one if these it’s got all kinds of crap on it.”
“My Mother was so clean that once she broke our television to clean it, “I bragged.  “My Father wouldn’t get it fixed, so we had to turn it on and off by using the plug.  And my brother claimed that we were the only family he knew who had a brutal cycle on their washing machine.”Maybe you are starting to understand why I took to Jack like I did.
Jack wrote up the proper receipts and disappeared with my sewing machines into the night.
To be continued. . .

Still Quilting, Still Dreaming

I started these quilts (I am making two) a year and a half ago. I put them away during our house renovation.  I have moved from the dining room to my new workshop in the basement where I have lots of room and a floor that is easy to sweep.  I moved my mother’s Singer Slant-O-Matic down there and plan to have it tuned up.  In the meantime,  I’m using my late mother-in- law’s Kenmore which I also love and which I  used to make my couch covers.

I’m making a modified Log Cabin pattern, semi wonky because I could never color inside the lines and still can’t. I plan each block to be 13 inches square raw and 12 inches square sewn and I have 70 made so far. I want to make 14 more.  I am using mostly cut up clothes, old sheets and tablecloths, scraps and found fabric.

I bought a big box of scraps on Etsy.  If you do a search for “fabric destash” you can get some incredible deals and the shipping is reasonable too.

You use a lot of thread when you sew patches together so I am using a cone rather than a spool of thread and I made a stand for the thread cone that is working out quite well! Here are some instructions.

I also learned about the chain piecing technique that helps you to sew faster. There’s a nice video on it at the bottom of the post.

 

And now for the gallery

My First Quilt


I did not plan to make this quilt.  I wanted new quilts or comforters for my bedroom but could not justify buying new ones when the old ones were perfectly fine and I was just tired of the way they looked.  Then I started searching for the perfect duvet cover.  I didn’t see anything I liked.  Then I saw quilts I liked in a catalog and thought about making a patchwork design duvet cover.  I started dreaming in patchwork and going on line and looking at quilting supplies and fabric.   That’s when I got the idea of making quilts for my bedroom using the old comforter as the insides.  Have I ever done this before?  No.  But the Internet is full of blogs and tutorials with information on how to do things.   I read and watched videos.  A lot of videos.  I read books.  The main idea I came away with is that a beginner (me) should start small.  It was then that I remembered that a baby was due in our family in a few weeks and, if I put the (sewing machine) pedal to the metal, perhaps I could make a baby quilt.

What about the fabric?  I knew the little Tater Tot was a boy.  I had some great fabric I found at Jo-Mar in Philadelphia, along with some Bohemian Chic   style tablecloths bought at deep discount.   Not appropriate for a baby boy quilt.  So I went looking on line and saw all these kits and jelly rolls and charm packs  with gorgeous color coordinated fabric meant to be cut and sewn together.  But that didn’t resonate with me.  This project wasn’t about recreating someone else’s idea; I wanted to create my own palette and  I wanted to recycle fabric.  So I  bought old clothes at thrift stores, and raided  my small fabric stash and closet.  A co-worker gave me fabric that belonged to her late aunt who had made baby quilts for her family.  That seemed appropriate to use. I brought everything home,  washed and dried it, ripped out the seams in the clothes and ironed everything. 

Plumpton helped me to “audition” the colors.  He took his job seriously!

                                                                                                                               

I decided to make the quilt five (six inch) blocks across and down and to have blocks on both sides.  Because I intended to do the quilting on my sewing machine and didn’t have a walking foot, I used a baby blanket for the inner layer.  My first step was to cut out 50 blocks, arrange them in two sets of 25 and sew each set together.

One side sewn together.


After I completed both sides, I sandwiched the baby blanket in the middle using spray adhesive to hold everything in place and smoothed out the layers.  I put in a few pins for added stability.  Then I started to machine quilt.  It was here that tips from two friends came in handy.  I had watched one video where the quilter  started machine quilting from an outside corner.  “No,” instructed Jeri Beading Yoda, “You start from the center and go out.”  And since I had never machine quilted anything,  Susie B recommended I practice on some cheap fabric first. I’m glad I did.

I used a modified zig zag stitch because I knew my quilting was going to be crooked and this stitch would sort of hide that.

 

After quilting, I trimmed everything square and sewed on the binding.

 

Here I am machine stitching part of the binding.  I did it over  about three times before I was happy with it.  I ended up machine stitching one side of the binding and hand sewing the other.  You can see this technique here

They say you should sign the quilt, so I did.  I thought it was important to mention that I sewed it on a machine that had belonged to baby’s Great Grandmother Vicky.  It wasn’t until after I signed the quilt that I remembered that Vicky had  made me a beautiful quilted jacket  on the very same machine. 

 

Here is the finished baby quilt.

The Fabric Workshop: A Philadelphia Treasure


 

I recently had the opportunity to see an exhibit at the new home of the Fabric Workshop and Museum .  It’s a roomy, comfortable space that takes up several buildings on Arch Street in Philadelphia.   You no longer have to climb flights of stairs to get to the exhibits and it’s conveniently located on across the street from the Philadelphia Convention Center.

The current exhibit, New American Voices II showcases the work of  four invitational artists-in-residence: Bill Smith, Jiha Moon, Robert Pruitt and Jim Drain.    New American Voices II was definitely not the visual version of a string quartet; it was the work of four soloists, each of whom chose different media and themes to express a unique point of view.   The FMW  tries to showcase artists from across the United States with varied backgrounds and perspectives and encourages them to work with materials they might not have used before.  From what I saw the FMW accomplished its mission and it looks like the artists enjoyed the process.  The exhibition had so much to offer that I can only hit the highlights  in this post.  To get the full flavor, you must see it for yourself.

 

South Korean-born Jiha Moon’s mixed media wall pieces combine collage, sewing, painting, and screen printing with an Asian color aesthetic.   She makes  plentiful  use of Asian and American popular culture symbols and much of her work reminds me of traditional Asian embroidery, not because of any needlework she might usem, but because the designs are expansive and flowing.  Much of her work consists of fanciful pieces that incorporate images from folklore and advertising , but she showed her serious side in a work that appeared to explore the tensions between North and South Korea.     The piece below, which is a little different from the others, features pin cushions, ribbons and beads.

                                       

Jiha Moon

Jim Drain’s huge (and I mean XXXXXL) colorful  machine-knitted dolmen sleeve sweaters remind me of  the big suit David Byrne wears in Stop Making Sense, and fantastic Noh costumes.  I suppose they could be worn, but they were displayed on stands that let the viewer examine every nuance of the designs.  A two-dimensional picture cannot convey the surprises that jump out as you circle the sweaters.  The colors shift and there are lots of subtle details and embellishments.   At first, the color choices appear to be mostly random but on further examination, you realize that every skein and thread works with everything else in the sweater.  Nothing is there that doesn’t belong.

 

Jim Drain

What fascinated me most about Robert Pruitt’s work was his use of period cameras to photograph members of a fictional African-American family to depict ancestors from years past like you’d see in a family album.  Now that’s attention to detail and real dedication.  For me the most powerful photograph was one of a young woman wearing a grass skirt and what appears to be a European colonial officer’s dress uniform jacket.  The golden shoulder cord is replaced by rope that appeared to be a noose.   Pruitt also uses  traditional African symbols and imagery pulled from contemporary urban America.   I found his work  disturbing and compelling.

Robert Pruitt

Bill Smith’s mechanical sculptures meld engineering and art in a way that any fan of Jules Verne or Nicola Tesla would admire, but his inclusion of organic objects like Emu eggs and feathers along with organic looking plastic forms that resemble jellyfish or brain synapses takes his work out of the realm of Steampunk into another world that seems really strange (or is it strangely real?)  Along with Emu eggs, he takes water, magnets,  quirky copper wire, electronics and computers to fashion  several interactive contraptions that manage to look organic, old-fashioned and futuristic all at once.    When walked up to one sculpture,  the Emu egg started to spin, the wires started to sway and the room  filled with a low humming sound.  Then projectors started flashing images onto the white walls of the gallery.  Amazing.   Here’s a video of a similar device he designed and built.

New American Voices II runs until the Spring.  Admission is only $3.00 but you can  donate more if you like.    Treat yourself to this exhibit and the ones planned for the future.  We are so lucky to have a venue like the FMW in Philadelphia.  Let’s support it.

For more pictures of the artists’ work, press here, here, here, and here.