30 November 2008


Well, check me out! I made it to Round 2 in the Best Activities Blog category. How unbelievably cool is that??

29 November 2008

Ode to Thread

I love thread. There, I said it. I know that claiming to have a passion for thread is neither perverse nor earth shattering, but I do acknowledge that is is a little weird. I can't help it, though.

I love seeing all my spools of thread lined up in their storage drawer, like tiny soldiers, ready to be called into service at a moment's notice. The neat wrapping of the thread on the spool, creating a distinct crosshatch pattern is soothing to my eye. The colours entice me and cause me to dream of what could be.

I use 100% polyester Gutermann thread almost exclusively in my sewing machines. I know other sewists swear by Mettler or Coats & Clark, and I have tried both of those brands, but something about the Gutermann colours and the packaging spoke to me. I have never had any problems with Gutermann thread shredding or creating excess fuzz to gum up my machines, so I stick with this brand.

I used to buy my thread at my local chain fabric store, for an exorbitant price (100 m for $1.84 and 250 m for $3.75; or on sale, $1.00 and $2.00 respectively). Then, one day I discovered a better source.

Cleaner's Supply is an online store, specializing in all the products necessary to run a laundry and/or dry cleaning business. Although much of the inventory is of no interest to me (hangers, tags, packaging, etc), the Pressing and Tailoring sections are wonderful.

The Pressing section was where I found my sleeve board, which my husband has put through its paces with his dress shirt ironing. They also carry pressing mitts and vacuum boards (which is extremely drool worthy).

The Tailoring section, however, is where I spend most of my time. Here is the place for metal tailor's rulers, zippers, buttons, machine needles and exceptionally good seam rippers, among other things. My favourite notion in this section is (not surprisingly, based on the title of this post) the Gutermann thread. The price cannot be beat. See below for a comparison:

Local chain fabric store: $2.00 for 250 m or 0.800 cents per metre, if bought on sale
Cleaner's Supply: $3.63 for 1000 m or 0.363 cents per metre, no sale necessary

Based on the rate with which I go through thread, the savings are substantial. Not to mention, the larger spools are so much more convenient - I never run out of thread part way through a project anymore.

Unlike many online thread sources, this company sells to Canada (just be sure to click on the Canadian flag to get Canadian prices), not just the U.S. Additionally, they offer free shipping on any order over $100 and only charge $2.83 on any order under $100. The shipping times are reasonable - I have never waited more than three or four business days for any order. The customer service is great too, letting you know when the order has processed and is being shipped.

Cleaner's Supply carries 360 different colours of thread, in every shade of the rainbow. To facilitate my thread buying, I have purchased the Gutermann Real Thread Chart (which is a sturdy fold out booklet with actual samples of every thread available). This chart allows me to match thread to my fabric exactly.

At this point, I am the proud owner of 67 large spools of thread (see photo to the right). Ultimately, I would love to have almost every single colour they offer.

24 November 2008

Canadian Blog Awards

I am so deeply honoured that Connie has nominated me for a Canadian Blog Award in the "Best Activities Blog" category. Not that I'm telling y'all what to do or anything, but if you wanted to, you could go check it out and if you happened to vote for me that would be cool too... :)

23 November 2008

Blast from the Past

In a previous post, I wrote about my belief that every good sewist must be willing to take risks. I feel this is especially important for many beginners. Very often, on discussion boards, new sewists will ask advice on the best first project. Typically, suggestions to make pillow cases, very simple aprons or other non-challenging articles abound. For some people, this may be exactly where they should start. Success on a simple project will likely create a sense of accomplishment and inspire the sewist onward.

For others, this inauspicious start may result in boredom and a desire to pack it in and look for a different, more satisfying hobby. I fall firmly in the latter category.

My first foray into sewing was in grade 7 home ec class. First, we were all lectured on the safety rules associated with operating a sewing machine - which although not fun to listen to as a child, I agree is a necessity. Then the real tragedy ensued (at least for a kid like me). We spent days "sewing", sans thread, on pieces of paper that had simple shapes drawn on them. Our goal was to have a neat line of needle holes on top of each shape, which was supposed to help in the mastery of sewing straight lines, curved lines and turning 90 degreee angles. This was pure torture for me. I wanted to sew something real.

As a teacher and a self-proclaimed anal retentive, obsessive compulsive freak, believe me, I know that structure and learning the basics is the best way to teach a new concept. At least in the beginning, when your student is a clean slate. Once they begin to show an apptitude for the skill and express an interest in moving forward, it is time to provide more freedom and latitude. I never got that chance in grade 7 home ec. So, I didn't show an interest in sewing again until grade 12.

Fast forward 5 years. It was the 1988 Prom season and I had spent days trying on dresses and coming up empty. Anything that was reasonable in price was not what I was looking to wear. That was when I expressed an interest in creating my own dress. To mother's credit, she didn't even blink an eye. She set me up on her sewing machine, bought me the pattern of choice (Simplicity 8006* to which I added a "shawl" that attached at the front bodice) and took me to a wonderful independent fabric shop and helped me pick out fabric and notions. I cut out the pattern and made one quick trial dress. Ironically, back then I didn't even know that the word "muslin" existed, I just knew it would be a good idea to check the fit before cutting into the good stuff. Content with the fit, I proceeded onto the actual Prom dress. At no point did I even consider that maybe this was too difficult for a first project and thankfully, neither did anyone else.

In my opinion, my dress turned out pretty darn good. I got a ton of compliments from my friends, my boyfriend thought I looked great, I saved a bunch of money and I learned a valuable skill. The vision of the perfect dress that resided in my head was turned into a reality. I am thankful that I was allowed free reign and that I was only given advice when I requested it. Had I been told to take the safe route and sew a pillowcase first, I can't imagine I would enjoy sewing as much as I do today.

So, for anyone that teaches beginner sewing, whether formally in a classroom or informally in your home to a friend or family member, please let the students determine your curriculum (at least to an extent) based on their interests and capabilities. Provide knowledge of the basics, but then back off and let them blossom. It's amazing what can be accomplished when creativity is allowed to run free.

* I have long since lost/given way/disposed of this pattern, so I was tickled to find that it is available at Out of the Ashes Collectibles.

21 November 2008

10 000 Hours = Sewing Expert?

Carolyn, of Diary of a Sewing Fanatic, wrote a post the other day, inspired by Erin, of A Dress a day. The basic premise of Erin's post was that to attain true sewing expert status, you have to devote copious amounts of time (upwards of 10 000 hours) to sewing. Carloyn, after reading Erin's post, asked the following questions:

Are you the best of the best in this craft? Are you just good enough? Or are you mediocre and working on improving? And finally, do you believe this theory to be justified? Can you really be the best of the best without some talent, or is it just about the time put into the process?

I have been mulling this over for a few days now and purposefully avoiding reading the comments to Carolyn's post, so as not to be swayed by other viewpoints.

Of course, the first thing I did was to calculate my hours-logged tally. I first began sewing when I was 17 years old and continued to sew until mid-university, then I took a break until 2005, at which time I dove back into sewing with a vengeance. This leads to two distinct periods of regular sewing activity during my lifetime (I am ignoring my sort quilting phase):

t = (5 y)(12 mth/y)(15 h/mth) + (3 y)(12 mth/y)(85 h/mth) = 3 960 h

According to Erin, her time logged is approximately 4 500 h, which she claims puts her in the mediocre category (far below the 10 000 h expert status). So, using my calculation above, I fare even worse - what is a step down from mediocre? abysmal?

Well, all humility aside, I don't think I'm abysmal or even mediocre at my craft, but I also don't think I'm expert. If asked to honestly evaluate my skills prior to this calculation, I would have claimed to be exceptional at some things and pretty good at others. I feel have conquered what many claim to be the holy grails of garment sewing: bound buttonholes, welt pockets, zipper insertion and appropriately combining pattern with fabric, to name a few. I have a good handle on tailoring techniques (although I have never sewn a completely hand tailored jacket - however, it is on the to-do list). The only areas that come to mind where I long for improvement is in fitting (I can fit myself well, but I have yet to acquire the skills to consistently fit others) and in draping (something with which I have only dabbled).

So, I strongly disagree that time spent is an adequate measure of sewing skill. Like the accomplishments of a virtuoso, a star athlete or a scientific genius, I truly believe that sewing prowess is an innate gift, that is honed and developed through practice and research. Study and repetition alone however, can only take you so far - you need an intuitive grasp of your art to transcend the ordinary. For example, quite often I am blown away by the work of beginners, while I am left cold by the work of sewists that have logged countless hours. I also think that having a willingness to experiment and the fortitude to take risks is necessary for entry into the sewing hall of fame. Too many sewists allow fear or uncertainty to squelch their evolution and it really is a shame.

So, in conclusion, I look around and see a range of sewists, from those that have the "gift" all way to the other extreme. But, in the end, whether you are a born sewing savant or still struggling to master simple techniques, the most important factor is to enjoy the process. For instance, I have a decent voice, but I'm certainly no Ann - however, that doesn't stop me from belting out a tune when the inclination hits...

17 November 2008

Confession Time

Okay, I have obviously been lax with my blogging the last few months. I have been busy with work and life's little ups and downs, but that is not the main reason I have ignored my blogging duties. So, it's time to come clean.

I really like blogging. It provides me the opportunity to share my creative side with people. I also take pleasure in creating tutorials and sharing my knowledge with others. I hope that the small efforts I make on HZC help inspire people and occasionally teach them something new.

These were the main reasons I started this blog, but over time, I came to find writing here was cathartic, much like writing in a diary or a journal. A blog, although accessible by many millions of people can still be deeply personal and a measure of anonymity can be maintained. In much the same way I would never allow a close friend or relative to read my diary, I never wanted this blog to be read by people from my "real life." I wanted this blog to be completely distinct from my day to day life - an escape where I could nurture my artistic side and for the most part leave my teacher/scientist/wife/daughter/friend sides out of it. For that reason, I have never invited any of the people from my real life to visit my blog (heck, my best friend doesn't even know I have a blog).

Unfortunately, some of the people from my real life have stumbled upon this blog it makes me uncomfortable (to the point of not posting) to know that they read it. If they had found the blog and never said a word to me about it, I would have been okay with that. However, some of them feel the need to bring it up every time I post (despite my obvious discomfort when they do so) and some even go so far as critiquing my posts.

So, to those of you that know me in real life, I am humbly asking for the following considerations. If you must read my blog, don't tell me about it, don't make suggestions or corrections and don't send the address to other people that I know in real life. Please allow me to go back to blissful ignorance of your reading habits, so I can start posting regularly again. Thank you.

1 November 2008

To SWAP or not to SWAP

As many of you know, when Julie of Timmel Fabrics closed down her operations earlier this year, the annual SWAP contest was in peril of ending. Well, the ladies at Stitchers' Guild came to the rescue and the SWAP is indeed on again this year. The rules are the basic originals (1 jacket, 6 tops, 4 bottoms - all tops match all bottoms and the jacket pairs with each combo), with the only main difference being the time line. Sewing begins today, November 1st, 2008 and ends April 30th, 2009 (ie, a 6 month time span). The twist this year is that the wardrobe must be sewn for a week in your real life (whether you are a professional, a retiree or a SAHM).

Since the announcement came out (several months ago) that SWAP would once again take place this year, I have wavered back and forth (and back again) as to whether I would throw my hat in the ring again this year.

I have participated in the past three SWAPs and my wardrobe is better for it and adding more clothes to my closet is never a bad thing. However, a 6 month time line seems painful to me - when I decide to sew...I sew...now...no messing around, so trying to stretch this out for 6 months could be torture. However, I suppose I could just sew everything up quickly and then just add additional pieces as a SWAP extension. I do, after all, have the following SWAP (plus extensions and some of the extension garments are started) that I planned out last year. I'm just not sure I'm willing to commit to the actual contest. Maybe, I'll just sew along. But then, why not just enter? Ugh...see, I go back and forth. I guess there is no real hurry, I have 6 months to decide!

In other sewing news, I have been really looking at my stash of Loes Hinse patterns lately. I have a lot of holes in my professional winter wardrobe and I want to whip up some nice looking, simple, sophisticated clothes to plug the leaks. I have always liked the LH (and Textile Studio) patterns, but I haven't always used them to the fullest, so I'm going to be starting a LH sewing marathon. My greatest needs are for bottoms (pants and skirts), so I will start there. Hopefully, before this weekend is over, I will have at least one pair of pants and a skirt done. We'll see...