Book: Let It Go by Peter Walsh

Readers,

I haven’t seen a decluttering book specifically for sewers–yet–but when I came across the phrase “material convoy” to describe “the massive pile of stuff that you collect and carry along your winding journey” in Peter Walsh’s new book, Let It Go I ruefully nodded.

A snapshot of my “material convoy.”

In his latest title the organizing expert addresses the daunting task of downsizing your own home or that of a parent, other family member, or close friend.

I wanted to see which of Walsh’s observations or guidelines might apply to sewers and sewing spaces. Here’s what I found valuable:

  • In Chapter 1 Walsh quotes gerontology expert David J. Ekerdt, “Our possessions are extensions of ourselves. All of these things in the convoy are part of our past selves, but they’re also part of our possible selves. They’re selves I could become, so I hang on to the object to accomplish that.”

Aren’t fabric and patterns seductive, even–or especially–in their pristine state?  Years ago I attended a neighbor’s estate sale that included musty old dressers and file cabinets crammed with at least 1000 1500 patterns from the late ’40s through the ’70s–untouched except by moisture and mold.

What dreams Maureen must have had! But how many remained sadly unfulfilled?

Maureen’s estate contained hundreds of patterns like these, at 50 cents apiece. I limited myself to 12. (Hard!)

Well, of course I can’t say, but I do know the siren call of aspirational buying, and in the end it’s rarely satisfying. I’m sure she never meant for her patterns to be hauled away in grocery bags by eBay vendors.

What steps am I taking to see that my vintage buttons don’t meet a similar fate?

  • “If your home is like most people’s,” Walsh writes in Chapter 2, “it probably contains half-completed projects that the kids abandoned a year ago, an old coffeemaker that you keep in the kitchen, just in case you need it again, a broken printer that holds up the working printer, and gifts gathering dust in cabinets, still in their packages. Such homes are filled with what I call un objects: things that were unwanted and unopened, that go unused, that are unappreciated, or simply unnecessary.”

If I remember only one thing from Let It Go it will be this brilliantly simple concept of un objects. And now I have a new question for myself:

Is this item an un object? 

If I have to ask, probably so.

When I set up this sewing room 3 years ago I saw this baker’s rack as a parking garage for projects. Today I see it more clearly as a graveyard. Now I am limiting the number of projects I have going.

  • “All the stuff you own will fit into one of three categories: Memory Items, I-Might-Need-It Items, and Trash/Recycling. It’s easy to determine where each goes, and this will be your first task when you start doing the hands-on downsizing work.”

You’d be either a genius or a fool to whittle all possible categories for stuff to just three. Walsh is a genius.

  • In Chapter 4 Walsh describes four kinds of Memory items: treasures, which you keep; and trinkets, the forgotten, and the malignant, which you don’t. “Here’s a good rule of thumb: If something makes you smile, fills you with joy, brings back a good memory, and makes your heart sing when you look at it, then chances are high it’s a treasure. If not, it likely isn’t.”

    “Treasure” objects: Souvenirs of Wayward, the vintage haberdashery store in St. Leonards On Sea, a little town on the English Channel.

  • Most things by far might appear to be I-Might-Need-It items, but the only ones you’ll bring to your new home will be the ones he describes as “worthy:” “Your worthy items must have a readily visible purpose in the next stage of your life, and you need adequate space to store them appropriately. You must have a better reason for keeping them than ‘I just don’t feel like getting rid of this yet’ or ‘I can’t make a decision now, so I’ll box it up, take it with me, and deal with it later.'”

    I was going to bind the ragged edges of these towels, but you know what? They would still be old towels. They don’t meet my “worthy” standard. So off they’ll go to the humane society.

  • In Chapter 7, Walsh warns that “Thinking ‘I’ll move this to my new home’ is an overly broad and general statement that discourages downsizing. So I recommend ‘shrinking’ your ‘thinking.’ This means viewing your new home not as one space but as many smaller individual spaces, each of which will be used for a specific purpose. Not only should you break your new home into rooms but you should also consider the spaces within each room.”
  • “You only have the space you have. This is worth repeating, since it’s so important.”

“You only have the space you have.”

Walsh adds, “Accept this fact now or you’ll struggle with it later.”

Walsh recommends recording the measurements of cabinet space, closet space and shelf space as well as the dimensions of rooms and assigning them purposes as crucial steps in downsizing to your new space.

It’s obvious, but I hadn’t thought about this reality check so clearly before:

Do the Math.

“You only have the space you have:” Figuring out the sewing room floor plan in 2014. (It was fun, by the way.)


Walsh is writing about physical space, but it’s occurring to me that I need to do the same with mental space. I can manage only so many sewing projects in my head at a time. Or, for that matter, in a lifetime.

So, of the dozens of sewing projects I could consider, which ones strike me as the treasures? Which, no matter how difficult (or easy) they may be, would yield me and their users the deepest satisfaction? What physical and mental space am I prepared to dedicate to those special endeavors? “Treasure” projects might take a greater investment of resources, but the rewards would be greater, too.

Downsizing can be an intimidating undertaking, but Peter Walsh argues for engaging fully with your stuff to win the life-enriching benefits .  If you follow the Let It Go process, he writes, “You’ll have less focus on the amount of your stuff and greater happiness with the quality of the treasures that surround you. The possessions you carry forward will support your daily activities, bring you joy, resurrect happy memories, say something important about you, and perhaps serve as treasured heirlooms after you’re gone.”

From here on out, when I evaluate my fabrics, patterns, and equipment, I’ll ask myself, “Honestly–is this an ‘un object,’ or do I have a plan to make something wonderful from it?” And when I think about the things I could possibly make, I’ll ask myself which could be the “treasure” projects.

Because this sewer certainly doesn’t have time for “un projects.”

This vintage fabric by Souleiado is one of my favorite possessions, and I want to turn it into something wonderful. I just have to commit to doing the practice runs before I cut into this beauty.

De-stashing on a Deadline

Readers,

I got back from our New York trip to find an e-mail from my local little independent fabric store. Sew to Speak, in Worthington, Ohio, was announcing an event it was calling “De-stash on the Lawn”–a yard sale especially for sewers September 9.  What a brilliant idea.

For a small fee sewers could rent space on the tables on the lawn in front of the store to sell stash fabrics and notions not only to Sew to Speak customers but also to passersby on their way to pick up some basil and tomatoes at the nearby farmers’ market.  Presumably, with our yard-sale earnings we vendors would then be primed to browse Sew to Speak’s beautiful fabric selections for fall to restock our sewing room shelves.

I read Sew to Speak’s announcement first as a customer, and since I’d hadn’t even unpacked my purchases from the Garment District I thought, no, I’ll pass up this event.

Then I thought, hey–I need to be part of this–as a seller.

I slept on the idea but the next morning I was so concerned that table space would sell out fast that I registered to secure my place.

Of course, I saw the De-stash on the Lawn as a convenient solution to the pesky problem of disposing fabrics and scraps, buttons, and sewing gadgets that no charity or consignment store would accept. If all I did was lightly edit my fabrics and notions, spend a pleasant Saturday morning in some good-natured haggling with other sewers, and earn back the $12 I’d spent on table space, I wouldn’t consider the time ill-spent.

But then I wondered how I might leverage the opportunity further, to yield a bigger benefit.  After all, I’ve been mulling over Sewing Room 2.0 for months.

Yes, the sewing room is due for an overhaul.  In the first round, three years ago when we moved into this mid-century fixer-upper, I was happy just to have a biggish room with natural light and good heating (unlike my Minneapolis basement sewing domain).

Now I want more.

No, not more space–more function.  A 17-foot by 13-foot room should work fine, but I’ve got to get a lot smarter about supporting the whole getting-things-sewn process, start to finish.

I sewed for years in a space that just–existed. It performed moderately well and I got moderately good results.  I never even thought about designing my sewing space until I began blogging.

The big lesson I learned from designing my Minneapolis basement sewing domain was:

Space not otherwise assigned a function tends to get filled with stuff.

I’ve found this becomes a serious problem when stuff interferes with doing activities.

Obviously, fabrics (and patterns, books, equipment, etc.) are physical objects and need cubic feet of storage space. That’s a fact.

But designing garments–outfits–even a seasonal collection for a wardrobe–what space does that activity require? Isn’t that important, too?

I had never considered that question until recently. In Sewing Room 2.0 I want to shift the default.

In Sewing Room 2.0, supporting activities will take precedence over storing stuff.

Readers, I am stating this without completely knowing what a Sewing Room 2.0 will look like. But now, I’m eager to find out.

Shopping New York’s Garment District: What Shall I Bring?

Readers,

Thursday Jack and I are flying to New York for a week’s visit.  I’m no stranger to the Garment District–over the years I’m sure I’ve visited it a dozen times, and easily spent five dozen hours petting woolens and sizing up shirtings in happy reveries.

My 3 in 1 Color Tool is great for helping me discover color relationships as  well as interesting neutrals. Plus, card blanks and a mini-stapler for collecting swatches.

I’ve spent hours similarly occupied at Britex in San Francisco; Vogue Fabrics in Evanston, Illinois; and at every fabric and notion store I could find in London for the article I wrote for Threads magazine a few years back.

I was thinking this morning, “I wish I could bring more clothes to swatch fabrics for.” Then I tried photocopying my skirt on our printer. It’s a decent enough color reproduction.

You’d think by now I’d have the drill down–what I should pack as memory prompts for what’s in my stash and wardrobe, what colors I want to coordinate and what yardages I need before being bedazzled by thousands of choices and millions of permutations.   And yes, I’ve gotten better–I haven’t hauled my unwieldy pattern catalogue with me for years.

Now that I live in a city (no–a state!) with very limited fashion fabric choices, I want to make the most of my opportunity to see and touch fabrics for myself.

I bought this snappy black and white checked wool on a Chicago trip back in October 1999. It’s been waiting for the right moment ever since. Oh dear.

In the past I’ve made the mistakes of buying too much fabric on trips, thinking “I’ll never see this again!” or buying nothing, thinking “I don’t know where to start! This is overwhelming!”

The upper photocopy is of the scarf in layers. The lower photocopy is of a single layer of scarf with a blank sheet of paper laid on top.

This time, I think unless I’m absolutely certain a fabric is perfect, and that I have a plan for it, I’ll just ask for a swatch to bring home.  I need time to see the swatch next to items in my wardrobe or fabrics or buttons in my stashes.

The coloring is so subtle that I’ll bring this vintage Pendleton jacket with me to the fabric stores.

If it’s a home decorating fabric, it’s essential to see it under the lighting conditions in our home with other fabrics, paint colors, and furniture.

The fabric I used for our living room curtains, with paprika-colored linen trim and covered buttons to jazz it up, and samples of the paint colors for the walls and fireplace.

I used to think buying the fabric right then and there was saving money on shipping and swatch requests.  True enough.

Swatches of fabrics I’ve sewn into garments.

But when I edited my stash three years ago, I saw that the majority of my bad decisions were made on my travels.  The money spent on fabric I never ended up using could have paid for a multitude of swatch requests. Now I know.

When I buy a ready-to-wear jacket I usually have to shorten the sleeves–and then I get a swatch. I’ll be looking for coordinates.

It’s entirely possible that I won’t buy a thing on my latest foray into the Garment District.  I’ll come home with fistfuls of cuttings to consider at my leisure and a myriad of ideas for fall sewing.

A chance to find out-of-the-ordinary notions: these Vintage Vogue blouses call for 18- or 20-inch separating zippers.

One thing I can guarantee: I’ll see a color—-a color combination–a print–a weave–a plaid–knits–trims–buttons–home dec fabrics–that I’d never imagined before but like instantly, that gets me thinking in an exciting new way.

So although I do my best to plan, and to leverage my precious opportunity to find fabrics to build a wardrobe purposefully, it’s those electrifying surprises that really put a smile on my face.

Stash fabrics waiting to be sewn up.

What will give me that sensation of “I’ve never seen that before!” and “Hello, old friend!” at the same time?  I can’t wait to find out.

Pendleton jacket photo by Cynthia DeGrand

What Works, What Doesn’t: Five Versions of the McCall “Mannish Jacket” from 1941

Readers,

Remember this jacket pattern? Of course you do.

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From 1941, McCall pattern 4065, the “Misses’ Mannish Jacket”

In 2015 I used it for a project following Kenneth King’s “Old School” instructions on his Smart Tailoring DVD.

From 2003 to 2015 I made up this jacket five times.

Don’t ask me why, but I always loved the jaunty pattern illustration.

The actual jackets? I didn’t love them, exactly, although I was proud of the quality of work I did on parts of them.  Only recently (like five minutes ago) did I make this crucial distinction.dark_tweed_jacket_1712-247x460

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If I had seen well-lighted, full-length photos of this first version of the jacket on me I could have perfected the fit.

I made the dark tweed one first, starting it in a Palmer-Pletsch sewing camp in Portland, Oregon in 2003 and finishing it at home with guidance from my sewing teacher, Edith.dark_tweed_jacket_1721-460x363dark_tweed_jacket_1722-460x403

In 2006, in a stunt of sewing bravado, I sewed burgundy plaid, green heather, and red plaid versions. purple_plaid_jacket_1732-244x460

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The only jacket I’ve ever interfaced with fusible canvas. I know Kenneth King isn’t a fan of fusible canvas, but it turned out to work well in this garment.

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I need a little posture-correcting here!

Defiantly shaking my fist at the sewing gods, and with Edith’s encouragement and coaching, I cut the pieces for all three jackets (two requiring meticulous matching) over that Labor Day weekend.  Relaxing, right?

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I have always liked this plaid for its colors and scale.

I just didn’t want to be intimidated by tailoring anymore, so I cut and sewed the three jackets, with different pockets, over the course of several months.

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It’s fun to cut some plaid pieces on the bias. I cut out a hole the shape of the finished flap from stiff paper, and moved the “preview window” around on the yardage. Then I cut the flap pieces.

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It’s nice when you can find the right buttons in the right sizes. These are a souvenir of a visit to Edinburgh.

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Bound buttonholes are not my forte.

 

I had a few tutorials with Edith and also used Jackets for Real People by Patti Palmer and Marta Alto extensively.heather_jacket_1780-460x331

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The bound buttonhole is coming apart. But–I love the subtle coloring of this fabric! I picked it up as a remnant for about $3.00 at the Minnesota Textile Center’s fabulous annual fabric garage sale.

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I’m happy with the shoulders and notched collar job I did. This wool was a breeze to work with.

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Holes in the lining created from carrying tote bags of books to and from the libraries I used to work at. Of all the jackets, I’ve worn this one the most.

I did learn a lot, and achieved a lot, and am still impressed by the ambition of the goal as well as the results.red_plaid_jacket_1808-460x357

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I settled for this style of button but think there are better choices out there. Something subtle and matte.

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Shoulders are okay, but I keep wanting to subtract a little roominess from the upper bodice.

But if the point of sewing clothes is to wear the clothes, then I didn’t succeed as much as I assumed I would.  I didn’t follow through with planning outfits around these jackets, let alone making the jackets the pivotal pieces they deserved to be.

Even though my now four “Misses’ Mannish Jackets” were underemployed in my wardrobe, yet again I turned to this pattern when I wanted to try Kenneth King’s brand new Smart Tailoring DVD last year.blue_tweed_jacket_1818-252x460

I wanted to try all of Kenneth’s techniques–for a notched collar, felt undercollar, mitered sleeves, and a vent–and the Mannish Jacket met all those specs. blue_tweed_jacket_1856-460x384

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This is Kenneth King’s “hidden pocket”: a nice addition to the lining.

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The patch pockets on this 1941 jacket are slightly asymmetrical, which I like.

I did consider many other patterns I’d been dying to try for years–but the prospect of going through the whole muslin, fitting, and pattern-altering rigamarole before getting to the tailoring was just too much. I wanted to finish my jacket before attending Kenneth’s weekend workshop in Cleveland a few months later. (And I did.)

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This fabric, which I bought at a Textile Center of Minnesota sale, may well date to the 1950s. It likely came from somebody’s stash. The button dates to the 1940s, according to the owner of Taylors Buttons in London.

So that’s how Mannish Jacket 5 came to be: I sewed it as a learning exercise. And the fabric?  I chose that only because I was willing to sacrifice it, if the jacket was a dud. So, looking back, I see just how much learning technique took precedence over making myself something I wanted to wear.

In fact, just now I’m realizing that each of these Mannish Jackets may have been taken on a little too self-consciously as An Exercise in Sewing Self-Improvement.

I suspect this because, when I see these jackets hanging in my closet I hear myself saying:

  • “I put a lot of work into that.”
  • “I did a good job [matching the plaid/sewing the pockets/choosing the buttons].”
  • “I learned a lot.”
  • “I wish I hadn’t padded the shoulders so much.”
  • “Are they too long for me?”
  • “My bound buttonholes are too flimsy!”
  • “I do love the fabric.”
  • “If I just sew the right coordinates, I’ll wear them.”

In other words, I still see them as projects more than as garments.

I don’t notice myself saying:

  • “I love these jackets!”
  • “When can I wear them again?”
  • “What can I sew now to make new outfits?”

Don’t get me wrong: the Mannish Jacket series wasn’t a waste of time. I did learn a lot–and not just how to sew a notched collar without flinching.  But there will be no Mannish Jacket number 6.

What I had only vaguely felt–a sense that, however hard I had worked on these garments, they still fell short, without my knowing precisely why–became clear to me when I saw the stark reality in properly lighted photos.

These jackets were wearing me more than I was wearing them.  The shoulders? Wider than I’d realized before, and not in a flattering way.

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I am very dissatisfied with the prominent sleeve caps; they interrupt a clean, straight shoulder line. It doesn’t help that the shoulders are too extended for me. This is the same pattern I used for the preceding four jackets, yet this one turned out so different.

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This is too big! So exasperating. Also, I wonder whether I made the best interfacing choices. They are so hard to get right.

The length?  Disproportionate on me. The back? Too roomy.  This is the 1941 version of–yes, a boyfriend jacket! Of course!

I could alter the pattern pieces for future jackets, narrowing the back and shoulder and taking three or four inches from the 26 1/2″ finished length.  I could make a better-fitting Mannish Jacket. However, I think I’d be removing much of what makes the 1941 design distinctive. I also think my appetite for this style has been satisfied.

Instead, I’ll reassign Jacket 5 from bench-sitting as a garment to active duty as a tailoring resource.  And jackets 1 through 4 can serve occasionally as light coats flung over sweaters or flannel shirts and jeans to wear on crisp, dry, fall days.

There are critical points on the way to getting things sewn, where, if I do make the extra effort to identify the lessons, I can reap the full benefit.

As I look back at what my Mannish Jackets could teach me, some lessons are:

  • Photos of myself in muslins and garments give me much better data to work with than squinting in a mirror or getting feedback from well-intentioned helpers.
  • If the point of sewing most garments is to wear them in outfits, I should pay a lot more attention to the outfit level of planning.
  • Planning outfits is a skill in itself. If I plan outfits before I sew the garments, I’m more likely to enjoy really successful outcomes.  If I sew the garment and then only hope I can incorporate it into an outfit, then I’m more likely to be disappointed.
  • It’s okay to sew something as a rehearsal for the next iteration–as long as I’m aware that what I’m producing is just a practice piece. If it does become part of my wardrobe, that’s a bonus.

Lessons learned.  Now to incorporate them into new practices and put myself on an even more rewarding path.

(Thanks to Cynthia DeGrand for all photos.)

 

What Problem Does That Solve?

Readers,

Blame my background as a librarian for calling a new form that I’m experimenting with an “Acquisitions Record.”

Out of my 22 years working in libraries I spent four and a half in my system’s Collection Management department, in Acquisitions, selecting adult fiction, large print, and audiobooks. (I also pestered advised my colleague who ordered the cookbooks and sewing books.)

Since my time as a selector I’ve thought about where it might make sense to apply library principles and practices to getting things sewn.  I haven’t actually drawn up a collection management policy, but I don’t think it’s a bad idea. (That’s a topic for another time.)img_0934-460x307

What I did do, on the spur of the moment about a month ago, was record a few facts, reasons, and plans concerning a book I’d bought.  Why did I buy another sewing book, why now, and how was I planning to actually use it? I did have a plan for it–right?

It’s way too easy to acquire sewing stuff, with the best of intentions, and then not to use it to its full potential. And that bothers me.

The Sewing Bible: Curtains--not to be confused with Katrin Cargill's Curtain Bible, of course!

The Sewing Bible: Curtains–not to be confused with Katrin Cargill’s Curtain Bible, of course!

I threw together a table in OneNote and started making columns to collect facts.

  • Date: Aug. 21
  • Type: Book
  • Description: The Sewing Bible: Curtains
  • Price: $4.29; originally $24.99
  • Where purchased: Half Price Booksimg_0936-460x288

Then I created a couple of columns to collect explanations.

  • Reason/What problems this solves: Looks like good instructions and designs for curtains and draperies, different from what I already have.
  • Why now? Kitchen curtain and dining room drapery projects by mid-Oct. before our next houseguest arrives.img_0935-460x361

Then I pushed myself to move to the planning stage:

  • Plans to use it: Read about sheers, tab-top curtains, design, construction.
  • Projects scheduled: Visit Fabric Farms 8/29. See list [of supplies to look for] in Outlook.
  • Projects completed: Aim for mid-Oct.img_0936-2-460x439

That was my first entry.  I was being ambitious: the heat of August persuaded me that October was a long ways off. Nevertheless, asking myself what problems this purchase was meant to solve, and why I was buying now made me think longer, more creatively, and more concretely.

My next sewing-related purchase turned out to be the very next day:

  • Date: Aug. 22
  • Type: Class
  • Description: “Fast-Track Fitting with Joi Mahon” plus Vogue fitting pattern for the class
  • Price: $21.14 (incl. shipping the pattern), usually $44.99
  • Where purchased: Craftsy

And my explanations:

  • Reason/What problems this solves: Different approach from Kenneth King’s in “Smart Fitting” DVDs, and complementary. I don’t want to wait to get help from my old sewing teachers. Also, I can ask Joi questions online as part of the class, and I can’t ask Kenneth.
  • Why now? Sale was one day only. This was on my wish list. I’ve read her fitting book, very impressed with her clear, organized explanations. Returning to sewing in earnest after blog sabbatical; want to crank out garments I love. Fitting is my biggest Achilles’ heel.

Fitting and pattern alteration have always seemed beyond my abilities. Could this Craftsy class change my attitude?

On to the ambitious planning:

  • Plans to use it: Aggressively use to fit my patterns, then try fitting a blouse for Cynthia.
  • Projects scheduled: E-mail Cynthia to set date to measure me per Joi’s class. Possible blog series. 1959 Vogue belted jacket pattern: read instructions Aug. 23.
  • Projects completed: [left blank]

Even though my simple little acquisitions record was barely 24 hours old, it had already begun to work some magic. I wasn’t just recording a past expenditure. I was thinking more systematically and strategically before my purchase.

That’s especially important for me when I buy Craftsy classes. They don’t occupy physical space, and it’s easy for me to forget that they’re resources like my books and tools–and maybe better, because Craftsy instructors respond to students’ questions.

In the last month I’ve made six entries in my acquisitions record: for a book, two online classes, a fabric remnant, and two patterns.  I have found that’s it’s been fun to track what things are coming into this sewing room and what potential they offer:

  • methods I can understand for fitting patterns better even before I sew the muslin
  • methods for altering ready-to-wear to perfect the fit
  • curtains to grace our new kitchen and dining room
  • flannel pajamas with flair
  • a steady supply of custom-fit aprons

    Got the cotton duck, got the apron pattern--now on to getting those aprons sewn for our new kitchen.

    Got the cotton duck, got the apron pattern–now on to getting those aprons sewn for our new kitchen.

That tantalizing potential is there, for sure.  And, I know, it certainly is easy to get over-ambitious creating projects and deadlines without the necessary follow-through: call me Exhibit A.

But I think this simple form is going to help move me in the right direction to get things sewn.  It’s a good starting point.

And when I get a better idea–I’ll just create another form.