on being a tailor: #realness

Three sisters doing needlework on the verandah of their Toowong home, ca. 1918

The fiber arts are here to stay. I don’t want to hear one more blessed word about how “sewing is a dying art” and, “it’s too expensive to make clothes” when our entire retail and internetz worlds are scrote-deep in knitting, crochet and quilting books, blogs, magazines, craft fairs, and meetups.

I make garments. I mean – I can, and do, mess with that abovementioned stuff occasionally. But clothing is my forte. My beginning, middle and end. My alpha and omega. I don’t make clothing via mass-production or support my habit through any other social-media-saturated hustle, and it chaps my arse when people tell me I should.

Me? I am like many struggling tailors before me: educated first as a child in a lineage of home sewing, emboldened via experts and tuition for classes, and – most importantly – forged in the crucible of a whole, whole lotta trial and error, groping through books and other printed material, and mashing my way through acres of fabrics. And, it must be said: failing many, many times! #theStrugglesIsReal

In my world, sewing ain’t all that cute!

First, and foremost, you need to know I can obsess on garment design and construction like you might not understand. At any given moment I am probably creating at least one item, and planning about five more. In fact if you’ve ever spoken to me in person and you can tell I’m listening, you are speaking to me in a rare state where Kelly’s home. Enough said.

silence of the lambs

This drive has resulted in sometimes regrettable, epic battles at my machines. Where I sometimes lose.


I am only not sewing out of a barely-maintained modicum of social courtesy. There sure are an awful lot of meetings and gatherings where it would not be mindful or courteous participation if I brought my hand-sewing, so I don’t. Yes, I cry a little on the inside. But I try to focus on the task at hand.

And hey – what is all this shit about scissors? You’ll see this in a lot of “things to know about people who sew” top ten lists: don’t cut paper with our fabric scissors! tee hee!

But – really? My family doesn’t mess with my scissors. Maybe they know when it comes down to it, I will spend their grocery money on new ones!

Also: AS IF I don’t always have a set out being sharpened, and one or two pair at home ready to rock!


Stitcher’s kryptonite… it’s real. You know, something that I should avoid, but will lure me to my doom, every time. In my specific case, I have to make rules about when I allow myself to shop for wool tweeds. And I can’t pass by a vintage sewing machine selling for practically nothing at a local thrift store.


Yeah, I can get a little obsessive. Certain large-chain stores coupon schemes-I-mean-programs are an organizing factor in life. 

crazy eye

“Sew your own wardrobe!” is flippantly hailed (by non-sewists) as a way for plus-size women to finally have decent clothes. But: 

sewing didn’t solve my self-esteem issues… 

Thing is, I used to fly up my own rear end obsessing on fit. But the endless tweaking of pattern blocks can be a real red herring when what we’re often dealing with are body image problems and aspirational thinness-fantasy, which plague women mercilessly. I know a lot of sewists who make garment after garment for themselves – only to never be satisfied: making tweaks and adjustments and endlessly looking for “the right pattern”.


… except when it did!

The good news is, I stuck to it. I stopped kidding myself I liked styles that I didn’t like. I found some mentors built like me who love how they look and love to sew for themselves. And I think I got so tired of obsessing on my body’s supposed flaws and supportive undergarments and “flattering” patterns and stripes and shit that I just moved on.


Sewing is so much fun I want to share it – with everyone! After a while I got pretty good. And I found along the way that there are totally mean, snarky people out there who are forever talking trash about beginners and bloggers…


… but I don’t have to be one of them!


I’ve sewn for over thirty years. My experience in the craft has been full of successes, sure – but also so many, many mistakes, and regrettable choices…


that at a certain point, I started getting fearless.


I am no longer a perfectionist (although my pieces are often perfect – hey-oh!). I can take risks. I can cut into that fabulous yardage instead of saving it for a rainy day. If I’m not happy with the end result – I gift it to someone who will be. And for my pains, I have made a lot of garments which are either rockin’ it on my hot bod – or out there somewhere, making someone happy!

So yeah. Sewing as a Life Choice isn’t for the faint of heart. But I’ve stuck to it long enough that these days I sew exactly what I want, when I want

and I love it!

the dude

Bootstrap Fashion: Draped Sheath Dress

i can’t give you anything but love! – in silk

Bootstrap Fashion: Draped Sheath Dress
I have put together three patterns from Bootstrap Fashion in the last couple weeks, and I am impressed. For those stitchers not yet in the know, Bootstrap uses algorithms to craft a custom pattern. You measure yourself, plug your body’s specs into their fields, and receive a pattern via PDF – in whatever printer width you require! (Um, joy!)

I wouldn’t go so far as to guarantee nothing will go wrong – but in three garments of varying levels of complexity – nothing has gone wrongThe sheath dress with asymmetrical draping shown here fit my daughter perfectly!

Bootstrap Fashion: Draped Sheath Dress
Bootstrap Fashion: Draped Sheath Dress

Most people would have a hard time sewing with this fabric. But treating the silk – and the lining – appropriately yields great results.

And I made a video – my first-ever! Check it!

So, there are many ways to work with silks and what non-sewists might call “fancy” fabrics – in fact, I’m enrolled in a Craftsy course on sheers. People will fiddle with starch- or gelatin-washes to get the fabric to behave in a more paper-like fashion. And I’ve done those things – with decent-enough results (although please note: not every fabric is starch- or gelatin-friendly and not everyone will want to use gelatin). Stabilizers (wash-away, tacky or non-tacky, etc) also can help – and y’all know I’m a huge fan of using those!

However I’ve found that superior silk and sheer results can be accomplished by a few guidelines:

1. selecting the highest-quality fabric you can afford (always! honor your craft!)
2. cut pattern pieces in a single layer – without folding, ever
3. cutting via rotary (so as not to lift the fabric) and using a sheet of paper under the fabric while cutting
4. making sure the fabric is entirely supported while cutting, sewing, serging, pressing, and interfacing (in other words – that it isn’t sagging off the table)
3. using the proper needle (usually a sharp, for a sheer woven)
5. not disturbing the garment pieces after cutting; sew them as soon as possible
6. sewing slowly! take your time to really love the experience!

Bootstrap Fashion: Draped Sheath Dress
On that note: notice above, the edge I’m turning up to set a tailor’s tack. Like I said: paper works well for not just cutting, but handling. In this case, the static electricity of the paper under the fabric “glues” the fabric and keeps it from shifting while I apply these tacks. Using paper yielded pieces cut accurately and perfectly on-grain, so I was able to confidently underline with a rather annoying exciting fabric – a Bemberg rayon.

For the bodice: in every way except the neckline, the bodice is underlined. The neckline – which I created after stitching the shoulders of both shell and underlining – is stitched, graded, and understitched. Maybe you’ve asked – “but how do I get a beautiful invisible zipper installation, Black Dynamite?” Well I’ll tell you! You interface your shell, you serge-stitch that seam allowance together for a tidy 3/8″ (and hide the serge-tail at the neckline), and your zipper tape will hide the beautifully-finished seam! BOOM!

Bootstrap Fashion: Draped Sheath Dress
Bootstrap Fashion: Draped Sheath Dress

This dress pattern featured seamless cap sleeves. A baby hem was out of the question – the curve around the armscye wasn’t playing! Instead I cut 1 1/4″ bias strips and made enough length to comfortably finish both sleeves. I sewed staystitching at the seamline (3/8″ allowance), trimmed to 1/8″, then measured and finished the bias-strip binding via diagonal seam (in other words, made a tube of bias-strip). Then I pinned around the armscye, stitched, pressed, and carefully hand-tacked the bias fold to the underlining.

Bootstrap Fashion: Draped Sheath Dress
The hem – easy-peasy. I let the dress hang for a bit (keep in mind the asymmetrical draping of this dress will make a perfectly-behaved hem a bit of a challenge), then put the dress on my model – in her correct undergarments and heels –  and marked the hem, pinning the underlining to the shell. I then sewed 1/4″ from the marked hemline, trimmed off excess, finger-pressed, then flipped again to stitch a hem. Beautiful!

Bootstrap Fashion: Draped Sheath Dress
For the belt, I used a pumice-colorway sateen and tore along the grain to get the perfect strip. I used a 7/8″ grosgrain to give body to the belt, and applied snaps in a colorway that matched the dress: (OH MY I am loving oyster/bone/pumice/etc colors this summer!)
Bootstrap Fashion: Draped Sheath Dress
And of course: a hand-crotcheted belt carrier – shown here at one of the dress’ two invisible zippers. Since I don’t like the look of a zipper in the skirt of a dress, and since this bodice is quite fitted at the waist, I needed another zipper:

Bootstrap Fashion: Draped Sheath Dress
I am not even lying that I owned that invisible zipper installation – with a cheesy plastic invisible zipper foot, too! I even installed the side-seam zipper in the side with the large gathers! #bigPimpin

The dress fit is amazing. The hand, drape, and breathability of the fabric is the loveliest I’ve seen in a while. I think I might have to make myself a dress like this – then wait to get asked to a summer wedding or formal event.

All told: a success!

Bootstrap Fashion: Draped Sheath Dress
Bootstrap Fashion: Draped Sheath Dress

Summer Suits

“suits” me! har har

Summer Suits
Summer Suits
Exactly no one is surprised that I have a child’s “suit library” – that is to say, that I meticulously traced every pattern piece for every sized I could. That’s sixteen pieces per suit, and eight sizes – a total of 128 pieces that I traced, color-coded, labeled, hole-punched and reinforced, and then hung up on a board with hooks my husband made me.

I am that prepared to make up suitcoats, y’all.

In Burda 6918, an out-of-print vintage-ass pattern, I found the Holy Grail: the missing range for tween/teen boy. Tween/teen boys have perhaps the fewest sewing patterns out there. I know, right?

Summer Suits
The seafoam suiting with beige pinstripes has a wonderful hand and the suit will keep performing through many, many children. I put in a little extra length for my son, who is growing at a rate of six inches a year

Summer Suits
And, um – I am loving the colorways of oyster, bone, ivory, pumice. Flagged with a bit of cerulean blue – and a new double-welt pocket method using grosgrain ribbon – and I am a happy camper!

Summer Suits
Recommendations? If you make your child a suit, make two pair of trousers to go with it. My experience has shown that, even though children will wear the suitcoat without the trousers – thus wearing the coat much more – the trousers are the first to look shabby. Torn at the knee, frayed hem, et cetera. The only alternative is requiring one’s child to don the garments only during special occasions, and to behave with utmost decorum while wearing it. But – where’s the fun in that?

You can read more about these suits in my pattern review or within the Flickr tagset.

Summer Suits


dem jeans part 3: front pockets


OK, we are getting down to it for real this post. At this juncture, we should have all our jeans cut (except for belt carriers, waistband, and waistband facing – we’ll get to those!), our pieces marked, and our decisions about topstitching and needles all down pat. We covered all this material in our first and second posts.

Time to start on the front of the jeans with something nice and easy: the front pockets. We will be putting an optional stencil in the jean pocket, and will need to give the paint a moment to dry – so plan accordingly. We are also trying our hand at hammering rivets!

And in case you haven’t already figured this out:



Kai-Jeans! Selvedge Denim

Kai-Jeans! Selvedge Denim

Babies, my dem jeans sew-a-long is underway.  Posted here:

yellow Japanese selvedge denim with a monster-tentacle back pocket detail and articulated knees!

Kai-Jeans! Selvedge Denim
Brass findings: rivets and buttons. Four-button button-fly. Crossgrain and steam-shaped waistband (i.e. the most comfortable, long-lasting, and great-looking jean waistband you’ll ever wear!).

Kai-Jeans! Selvedge Denim
The interior of my button fly. You won’t find a better-looking button fly. I would invite you to look at the interior of your own designer jeans, but it might make you sad.

Kai-Jeans! Selvedge Denim
My favorite bit: while designing these jeans I’d been watching kaiju films, so I had this sort of seaweed-tentacle motif banging around in my brain. By the way, denim pocket topstitching is really soothing.

Kai-Jeans! Selvedge Denim
Uber-closeup of the back yoke at side seam, finished with triple-stitch. The waistband is finished by “stitching in the ditch” with an invisible-stitch result, as we see here.

Kai-Jeans! Selvedge Denim
OK, maybe THIS is my favorite bit? Articulated knees as formed by small darts in the inseam and outseam of the front leg. If you haven’t worn jeans with this detail, you will be amazed how much more comfortable they are!

Kai-Jeans! Selvedge Denim
And the selvedge outseam – Japanese selvedge denim, and people pay about $200 to $800 for a pair of jeans made with this detail.

Kai-Jeans! Selvedge Denim
I have come to realize that sewing is as much about design as it is technical savvy. One can master technical sewing skills far faster than develop a design sense and acumen. If you’re reading here, know that for most of us, it takes time, patience, blood, sweat, and tears to develop a design voice. Don’t let the amount of work, time, and yes – failures (or misfires) deter you from stepping on the path. It is a very special feeling to be able to create something – in my case, one-of-a-kind custom garments – that no one else has made, and that stands the test of time.

Happy stitching, lovelies!