What Really Counts


A disconsolate letter poured into the Getting Things Sewn headquarters this morning addressed to our advice columnist, Miss GTS.

Miss GTS says, “Compare and despair? Au contraire, ma chere!” (Miss GTS knows that the first “e” needs an accent grave.)

It read,

Dear Miss GTS,

I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I should be excited to be in the Ready to Wear Fast year-long sewing challenge, but I’m depressed, and it’s only Day 4!

Over a thousand sewers have signed up, and some have already posted pictures of their first finished garments on the Facebook page!

Meanwhile, all I’ve done so far is give up on a pattern that’s described as “so easy even the schoolgirl can make it.”

I had high hopes for making a sleeveless jacket from Pictorial 7318, but the 1930s pattern-drafting mystifies me and I don’t know whether the fault lies in the pattern or in my feeble understanding.

This jacket, a sleeveless version traced from the pattern illustration, looks contemporary.

I guess those schoolgirls in the 1930s all went to vocational schools in garment districts.

While I was folding up the pattern pieces and putting them away yesterday I was mad because I can’t count this project toward my total count, which I was planning to be awesomely awesome.

Are the pattern pieces fine or do they need to be fixed? The waist was marked a full three inches above my waist–that was definitely not right.

The one who sews the most garments wins, I’m already behind, and I’ll never make up the lost ground.

Miss GTS, what can I do? I’m miserable!


Sniffling in Columbus

Dear Sniffling,

It sounds like you’re suffering from a common malady called Compare and Despair. You are using a cheap, off-the-rack mental shortcut to compare your projects with other people’s projects rather than a tailor-made instrument to judge your results against your goals.

I could say “Just stop counting–right now!” but that would be as ineffectual as telling you not to think about a polar bear.  Instead, I suggest that you radically change what you count.

The number of garments you make is much less important than how well you’ve planned those garments to work with each other.  Leverage the power of capsules to create hundreds of outfits.

If you make 8 tops, 8 bottoms, and 8 jackets or cardigans that all go together, that’s 8 times 8 times 8, or 512 potential outfits. Is that impressive, or what?

And remember, zero is a number, too. How about aiming for:

  • Zero wardrobe orphans
  • Zero fabrics in unflattering colors or patterns
  • Zero patterns that don’t work for you
  • Zero Craftsy classes or sewing DVDs bought but never used
  • Zero unfinished projects

But even creative counting can get you only so far. The most valuable lessons, skills, and knowledge awaiting you are unquantifiable. If you are lacking in pattern-drafting knowledge see how you can achieve your goals within your current capacities.

Before you can be a practitioner, you have to practice.

Learn more patience. Practice using your serger.

Learn more diligence. Practice fitting a pants pattern.

Learn how to ask for help in more ways. Take advantage of being able to ask your Craftsy instructors questions.

Push yourself to work on your challenge edge–and be sure to give yourself credit for it.

Also, take breaks.

So for a vastly more interesting, productive–and fun!–year, drop the self-defeating game of Compare and Despair and design your own game of Dare and Declare. Dare to define what you want to accomplish, and declare, “This is what I’m doing–you’re welcome to join me!”

I know you can do this, Sniff.

I’m counting on you.


Miss GTS

I’ll get back to this pattern eventually.

Guest Blogger: Our Advice Columnist, Miss GTS

Miss GTS has been watching me–and watching out for me.

If the writer of this blog has been somewhat elusive,

And more than a little aloof and reclusive,

It’s only because she has been on sabbatical

Attempting to superintend projects radical

To transform a house locked in 1958ness

Into an abode that is destined for greatness.

Our fixer-upper.

Our fixer-upper.

Warned her sister, “Of tobacco this dwelling does reek,

And I fear that its outlook’s no better than bleak.

I’d love to have you in the neighborhood

But this house’s call for labor would

Give pause to mighty Hercules!

So– I ask you, please,

Consider other properties!”


Auditioning condo, flat, and house

Separately and with Jack, her spouse,

Hourly checking Zillow online,

Flying down to Ohio from time to time,

Such possibilities our blogger weighed,

But naught else ever made the grade.

Meanwhile, “The Reeker” on the market stayed.

Wallpaper with a cocktail theme on the walls down to the basement rec room.

Wallpaper with a cocktail theme on the walls down to the basement rec room.

Her sister said, “I know a builder

Whom this house would not bewilder.

Should he walk through and give opinion

Whether this could be your next dominion?”

His verdict? “The Reeker” was ugly, but sound:

Improvements were “doable,” he said, but profound.

The sale was negotiated and house was won,

And that’s when the adventure was really begun.


To freshen each surface by cigarettes tainted

With gallons of primer Jack painted–and painted.

If the cigarette smell was bad in the house, it was even worse in the garage.

If the cigarette smell was bad in the house, it was even worse in the garage.


Then followed the guy to change locks on the doors

And men armed with sanders to finish the floors.

The chimney was swept and the radon abated,

Termites were found and then exterminated.

The furnace was checked; gas leaks eliminated;

AC was replaced, and walls were insulated.


Drained was the yard and then pruned was the tree,

Driveway resurfaced; and from AT&T,

Came service for Internet, phone, and TV.


But all this was only the warmup, you see.


For after the house was safe and sound

Came the decorating round.


Our blogger’s new haunt was the hardware store

Where she gathered and scrutinized paint chips galore.

Hypnotized, online for hours she’d browse

Millions of pictures and stories on Houzz.


She tried to continue to blog without failing,

Doing a series on Kenneth King’s Smart Tailoring,

Chronicling her jacket–while just down the hallway

The carpenter’s crowbar made bathroom walls fall away.

The upstairs bathroom, staged for sale.

The upstairs bathroom, staged for sale.

The upstairs bathroom, gutted.

The upstairs bathroom, gutted.

The upstairs bathroom, nearing completion.

The upstairs bathroom, nearing completion.


But while plumbers were fighting to vanquish corrosion

She found that her focus was suffering erosion.


She had to be ready to issue decisions

And equally ready to offer revisions;

She was on alert for doorbell, phone, and text

And was constantly thinking about what to do next.

She tutored herself how to execute floor plans,

And more plans, and more plans, and more plans–and more plans!


The basement remodeled, the first bathroom followed,

And in a new welter of choices she wallowed.

And although home designers are heavily vaunted,

There wasn’t a one who could say what she wanted.

None else could define and refine her dreams

And turn them into living schemes.

The basement rec room when the house was staged for sale.

The basement rec room when the house was staged for sale.

The basement remodel.

The basement remodel.

Basement: Clean and bright.

Basement: Clean and bright.


She warmed to her task; she plunged into the deep end

And, bathyscaphe-like, she started to descend

Into memories of objects and places she’d been

That expressed an essential sensation within,

Then translated the feelings to physical objects–

And dozens, and dozens–and dozens of projects!


Still a bathroom to go, and the big one–the kitchen–

Were lined up on the runway, and our blogger was itching

To do those jobs justice. But ‘twould court disaster

To think she could serve any more than one master.


So she promised her blog she’d be back, with a wink,

And turned her attention to choosing a sink

And countertops and enough appliances

To support all the major domestic sciences.


But she also imagined the feeling and mood

She wanted when they were preparing their food,

And the smell of their coffee, in dim morning light,

And the rituals of closing their kitchen each night,

And what colors and patterns ideally expressed

Generosity, civility, and happiness.

Where, and how, might I use these colors, patterns, and combinations in our house?

Where, and how, might I use these colors, patterns, and combinations in our house?


Meanwhile, her blog waited and silently beckoned,

For her to pick up where she’d stopped, and she reckoned

She’d start again “soon,” but–not just this second.


I watched all this, Readers, with unblinking gaze–

The heartening progress and dreaded delays.

The kitchen got done; second bathroom did, too.

Before: the kitchen

The kitchen, when the house was staged for sale.

The kitchen, nearing completion.

The kitchen, nearing completion, before the linoleum floor was installed.

Downstairs bathroom, staged for sale.

Downstairs bathroom, staged for sale.

Downstairs bathroom, nearing completion.

Downstairs bathroom, nearing completion.

The dust having settled, now I sought a clue:

I wondered if she would return to her pace

Or suffer from more than a little malaise.


So I thought I’d inquire and make my view plain,

And I walked to the door of her sewing domain.

In that doorway I stood with my arms akimbo

And simply asked, “When are you leaving this limbo?

Your mannequin, Ginger, is de-energized,

And if she had a head she’d be rolling her eyes.

Ginger the mannequin has been wearing the same outfit for months!

Ginger the mannequin has been wearing the same outfit for months!

And readers are asking about your demise–

(I suspect that they’re angling to buy your supplies…)

And my job is saying a word to the wise,

But these last twelve long months I’ve had none to advise!”


“We’re all in the doldrums, we all seek employment–

And doing our work would restore our enjoyment.”


Emboldened, I said, “Please forgive me for prodding,”

(And I’d swear in the corner that Ginger was nodding),

“I refrain from advising without invitation,

But I’d like to help you defeat hesitation.

You’ve been in the thrall of this house long enough:

It’s time that you wrote about sewing your stuff.”


“You’re becalmed at the moment; it’s hard to get traction

When you are inactive instead of in action.

The bulk of your work on the house is now finished;

Its gravitational pull is diminished.

The blog’s pull is weak now–but starting to strengthen;

Your concentration’s beginning to lengthen.

I sense your momentum may be in the wings

If you just give your flywheel a few good, strong spins.”


At this point, dear Readers, did I descry

A glimmer return to our blogger’s eye?


“Your blog’s a UFO*, that’s all,

And I should hope that you would recall

My prudent counsel to get things sewn

Is to do it yourself–but not do it alone.”


“Engage the right expert to see your way through,

And as I’ve said before, the right expert is you.

This blog’s entirely your invention–

You know your goal and your intention.”


“For months I’ve seen you lay the groundwork

For lovelier and even more profound work.

You sewed living room drapes, for heaven’s sake,

And shirts for Jack that take the cake!

Curtain rings, brackets, and finials being painted for the living room drapery project.

Curtain rings, brackets, and finials being painted for the living room drapery project.

Testing out spacing pleats for the living room draperies.

Testing out spacing pleats for the living room draperies.

You finally came round to fitting and altering

Without histrionics, or fainting, or faltering.

What’s more, you’ve been sewing many a muslin–

The number must be approaching a dozlen!”


“Well, that all is quite true,” said our writer, blinking,

And I believe I divined that the old girl was thinking.


“So you are getting things sewn, but not all the way,

What I tell you’s the truth, or I’ll eat my beret:

You’re a writer who sews, and you don’t fully digest

Until you’ve attempted a jokey or wry jest

And through your efforts to others explain

To inform or at least to entertain.”


“Writing’s your real game, so spring off that bench

And stitch up that lounge robe or jacket or trench,

Then proceed to report upon how it all ended,

Reaping double rewards from your efforts expended.”


I rested my case with a voice magisterial:

“Sewing bloggers,” said I, “never lack for material;

I know you’ve the house–and Italian, now, too–

But you’re never alone–we are here to help you.”

This past January Jack and I started studying Italian together at Ohio State University.

This past January Jack and I started studying Italian together at Ohio State University.


Our writer looked hopeful; I gave her a fist bump.


And if Ginger had arms she’d have given a fist pump.

She told me her old clothes were itchy and riling,

That she was impatient for new clothes and styling–


And if she had a head, I believe she’d be smiling.



The muslin of this McCall's "Misses' Lounging Robe" from 1951

The muslin of this McCall’s “Misses’ Lounging Robe” from 1951

And here is the illustration.

And here is the illustration.

 *UnFinished Object

New! Improved! The UFO Makeover


A tear-stained letter poured into Getting Things Sewn headquarters recently:

Dear Miss GTS,

The pace of my househunting has really picked up lately. I’ve been flying to Columbus and back so often, the flight attendants don’t ask me anymore whether I want the peanuts, the pretzels, or the cookies! That’s the good news.

Miss GTS says, “An UnFinished Object doesn’t have to be an UnFun Object!”

The bad news is the time has come to get cracking getting our house ready to sell. You know what that means: weeks of packing, cleaning, painting, and making everything pretty for prospective buyers. It also means not sewing.

You know that jacket I was working on, that I thought I’d finish this weekend? Ha! I’m stuck. I can’t do any more on it till Edith bails me out. Again.

I’m running out of time, Miss GTS. It looks like I’ve got to set this jacket project aside. You may be thinking. “Just go back to it when you’re ready. What’s the problem?”

The problem is when I put this project away it will become a UFO. I hate UFOs! I can feel them silently mocking me for my slowness and inefficiency.

It is so hard to build up the momentum to get my things sewn that when I have to stop, it’s like certain death for my project. And this project has such promise!

Miss GTS, how can I avoid consigning my jacket project to the world’s growing pile of UFOs?


Miserable in Minneapolis

Dear Miserable,

Miss GTS sees three strategies in getting your jacket done:

  • the bribe
  • the threat
  • using an expert

In her experience, despite its popularity, the bribe is the least likely to succeed. She’s read countless times in women’s magazines to reward yourself with chocolate, a manicure, or a bubble bath if you get some loathsome task done. Please. This shows a sad lack of ambition and imagination.

Also, it doesn’t work, at least not for Miss GTS, whose taste in bribes, which she prefers to call incentives, runs more to diamond bracelets. (In fact, after she answers your letter she is rewarding herself with two diamond bracelets.)

The threat is much more effective. Think of something you would want to do even less than tackle your loathsome task. Now, doesn’t the loathsome task look so much better?

If you’re having trouble thinking up something threatening enough, do what Miss GTS does: take three things you dislike and find the overlap.

For example, Miss GTS despises

  • surprises
  • singing telegrams, and
  • clowns

A perfect threat for her would be a surprise singing telegram from a clown.  (In fact, if Miss GTS does not answer your letter by 4:00 today, JoJo the Singing Clown is going to surprise her with a singing telegram sometime in the next week.)

Go ahead, Miserable, try it. Find the overlap of three things you dislike intensely, and threaten yourself with it. See if your productivity doesn’t pick up! Feel free to borrow Miss GTS’s threat to try out– giving her the proper credit and link to her blog, of course.

Now, the last and most effective strategy is using an expert. The trick is finding that special person who has exactly the knowledge you need to help you get your project done.

In Miss GTS’s experience, finding a husband is usually easier than finding the right expert.

However, Miserable, you’re in luck. Because in this case, the expert is–you. You, even more than your sewing teacher, are an expert in this project.

The jacket: Vogue 4036, from 1959.

The jacket: Vogue 4036, from 1959.

You know

  • what you’ve done so far
  • what’s left to do
  • what you feel competent doing, like the bound buttonholes and the pocket
  • what you feel uncertain doing, like checking the sleeve fit and ease  in that muslin one more time, or drafting the lining

Have your questions for Edith’s visit, and make sure you understand all her answers. Take notes in  OneNote and use the OneNote recording feature, too.

After Edith leaves, you’re going to sit down and write your future self–the one who will be finishing this jacket in your new sewing space–a letter.

The letter will tell your future self how to finish this UFO. Think of this UFO as a kit that will become a smart little jacket from a 1959 Vogue pattern. This will be the best kit you’ve ever received, let alone completed.

Read the pattern sheet. As you review each part of the construction and write that part of the letter to yourself, put the pattern pieces, fabric, thread, and other supplies into a box, ready to be unpacked and assembled like a piece of Ikea furniture. (Only better–because your instructions will be better.)

And while you’re at it, list those books, magazine articles, and notes that are going to help you through the buttonhole, lining, and other stages.

When you finish the letter, sign it, “Your friend.”  Put it on top of the supplies in the box. Close the box.

Now go pack, clean and paint. Sell the house, move out, move into your new house, and set up your new sewing space.

Open up your kit for the jacket, and follow the instructions your friend–your earlier self–wrote to you. And if you never open that box, the kit will be ready for someone else to take up and complete.

But Miss GTS is betting that making your UFO into a kit is going to help you finish this project. Besides, don’t you want to see that jacket you’ve been dreaming about?


Miss GTS

p.s. By the way, Miss GTS has given JoJo the Singing Clown your address. Just in case.

How to NOT Use Your Serger


Miss GTS says, “Make yourself at home–thread my serger!”

This plaintive letter recently poured in to Getting Things Sewn:

Dear Miss GTS,

I’ve bought a serger–hooray! So I should be happy, right? But now I’m worried I might break the machine out of the box and actually use it.

Miss GTS, can you help me?


Concerned in Columbus, Ohio

Dear Concerned,

Of course I can help. I’ve been an expert in not using my serger since 2007.

You’ve already taken the most important step: buying a serger. Good for you, Concerned. Miss GTS hopes it was a top-of-the-line model, the better for making your friends jealous. And also, why aspire to being an expert in not serging with a piece of junk?

Just follow these ten easy steps and you, too, can not serge for years to come.

1. Buy a very expensive serger (if you haven’t already), and plan to learn how to make those pretty edges on cloth napkins. Then recall that you don’t use cloth napkins, because

  • cloth napkins get stained
  • you hate laundering napkins
  • you hate ironing napkins

(And remember those napkin wedding presents? From both marriages?)

2. Store your serger in a dark corner. Cover it with fabric remnants you’re collecting to “practice” on. Bonus points for storing your machine in the original packaging.

3. Have a dealer that’s at least a 30-minute drive from home. Sixty minutes, even better. If the dealer is located in a chain fabric store with Muzak, you’re home free.

4. Assume that the manufacturer must have great instructions in the manual and online written by (or at least edited by) a native English speaker.

5. Take a class from the dealer to learn stitches for making “gifts” for your friends and grandchildren.

6. Take a “fear of serging” class at the annual sewing expo and make a very large, ugly cardigan.

7. Don’t go it alone, Concerned. Take local “fear of serging” classes. Swap stories with other timid serger owners about how horrible it is to thread your machine. The one who takes the longest to thread her machine wins!

8. Hang out with enthusiastic serger owners who boast about how many panties per hour they can produce.

9. Borrow serging books from the library that were published in the ’80s and browse the fashions. Lettuce edges! Seam finishes on the outside!  Oversized decorated sweatshirts!

10. Attempt making a t-shirt without getting help. When it doesn’t turn out, give up.

If you faithfully follow these ten steps, you’ll be on the path to success to not using your serger.

Good luck, Concerned. I’ll be thinking of you.


Miss GTS

(A copy of these tips suitable for framing is available for 25 cents for handling plus a self-addressed, stamped envelope. Just send your request to Getting Things Sewn, Basement Sewing Domain, Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA.  Allow four weeks for shipping.  You’re welcome.)