I’d Tap That

Friends, forgive me if you find the title of this post a little, er… crude. I’m not gonna lie, this joke has been in my head ever since Katy & Laney launched their sweet and sexy Tap Shorts pattern. Plus, I thought the occasion called for a little good humor. What occasion, you ask?

tap-shorts-oonapalooza-sewstylist-2.jpgYes!!! is what I exclaimed when I first caught wind of this brilliant Sewcialist plot. True, when writing about my core style a few months ago, I clearly defined my love of modern, easy wearing clothes in neutral tones. And I quote, “I’m not as into colorful clothing as I’d hoped I could be.” I truly did hope to be, as evidenced by my fabric purchases in the early days. But as I came around the learning curve I began to realize that what makes us fall in love with a fabric is not always what makes us fall in love with and wear a garment. So. That’s the long way of saying I’ve got a pretty colorful stash, and Oonapalooza time gave me a great excuse to dig in to it.


In an effort to give you my best Ebony x Oona, I pulled out my biggest shoes and paired them with my boldest earrings. I was hoping to put a few more prints in the mix, but my neutral toned closet left a bit to be desired on that front. I settled for some fun, furry texture instead. (But really, why don’t I have any fringe in my closet? Seriously, that has to change.) When it came time to get in front of the camera I did my best to break out of my rather serious posing standard and said to myself, “What would Oona do?” 


Sooo, less like this. (People don’t believe me when I confess to being a little shy, but honestly, this pic just about captures how I’m feeling most of the time. Especially with my legs hang’n out like that, sheesh!)

tap-shorts-oonapalooza-sewstylist-6.jpgMore like this! (Hey! Smiling is fun! Maybe I could get used to it…)

Now, let me tell you more about the make. I came by this fabric at a thrift store I used to frequent back when I lived in Eugene. I miss that thrift store something fierce because it always had the most amazing vintage fabrics for, like, a dollar. (Once I scored something like six yards of black silk noil for $4.99, but that’s a story for another day.) I had somewhere around a yard of this stuff, which proved to be just enough for the Tap Shorts. And, oh! The Tap Shorts! I really love this pattern. It provided the perfect classic, wearable outline to fill in with all this wild vintage color.


In true Oonabaloona fashion, I chose to forgo a muslin, and given that I just sewed these up blind I think the fit is pretty spectacular. I cut a straight size 6, which is actually one size down from the size recommended by my measurements. I’m learning that I tend to prefer a bit less ease in my garments than is usually drafted for.

I added about two inches to the length. Then I ended up trimming some of that off when it came time to hem. These shorts really looked shorter than I would imagine I’d want them to be until I put them on, and then I realized that K&L know what they’re doing with the high waist + short leg proportions and I should just go with it.

You can see from the rounded side seam in the pic above that I could maybe have left a bit more room for my behind. I also may have had a little snafu with sewing the waistband on upside down and trimming my back panel to fit before realizing I’d done wrong. However, since the shorts have some fullness in the leg I’m getting away with it. (And I’ve been getting away with it all my life, getting away with it…

tap-shorts-oonapalooza-sewstylist-8.jpgI made view B, which also accounts for the fortunate fullness, but you can hardly see the pleats because A: The fabric hides it. B: My butt is using it. The waistband fit perfectly though, and the slope from waist to widest point would be perfect if I’d made a small sway back adjustment, which is something I keep not doing even though I keep seeing that I kinda need to get with that. So next time I’ll probably grade up a size at the waist hip, and take a wedge out of the back, and all will be well with the world.


Never mind that little bit of fabric hanging out of the pocket there. Where’s the stylist when you need one?!

I chose to add the welt pockets as well because I can’t have enough pockets in my life. The directions for these, paired with the detailed online instructions, helped me produce the best looking welt pockets I’ve ever made. Honestly, they’re just about flawless. Of course, the fabric hides that too, but I see you, welt pockets, and I like what I’ve done with you.

I’ll end by saying that when it comes to both Oonapalooza and K&L’s Tap Shorts pattern there are too many beautiful things to link to. So if you haven’t Google stalked these yet, I’d best let you get to it!



tutorial // scout tee x complex geometries


When I posted my knit Scout variation a few weeks back several of you asked for a tutorial showing how I modified the pattern. Since your wish is my command, here you have it! Jen and Wanett, among others, have shown that this pattern really doesn’t need any adjustments if all you want to do is make it up in a knit. The changes I made were to get a fun look of fuuuuuuuuuullness, and you’ll see that it’s totally easy.

If you’re new to playing around with and adjusting patterns to get a different look, adding fullness is a great place to start. It’s relatively foolproof, so long as you keep these two things in mind. 1: Balance your fullness. 2: Preserve your grainline. I’ll clarify both shortly, but figured it would be good to establish these guidelines at the outset.

What you’ll need:

  • A traced copy of your fitted Grainline Scout Tee pattern (fyi: since it’s easier to photograph, I’m using quarter-scale blocks here)
  • The usual pattern adjustment suspects: pencil, paper, ruler, scissors, & tape
  • A sense of adventure!


How to:

The first adjustment I made to the pattern was adding length. I added some extra inches (maybe 4”?) to the sleeve. Jen has a great post showing how to lengthen your sleeves. I wanted the front of my shirt to fall about mid-pelvis and the back to cover my bum. I don’t remember exactly how many inches that turned out to be on me, but I think it was about +4” in front, and about +12” in back. But, as my boyfriend LeVar Burton would say, Don’t take my word for it! Try on a version of your Scout tee then take some measurements to see how much additional length is right for you. Or you might decide you don’t want to add any length. That’d be cute too.

As a side note, I’ll say that my shirt is definitely a little back heavy. That’s not a big deal, but I mention it because if you’re using a weighty fabric you might not want to go too crazy long in the back.

At this point your side seams won’t be matching up. It’s cool; we’ll come back to that.


Now it’s time do some slashing and spreading! But first, those pointers I mentioned earlier… When you look at the source picture (see below) notice how the fabric drapes fairly evenly across the model’s bust? Instead of one big triangle of drape she’s got several little triangles distributed across the front of the garment. That tells me the drape is balanced. If it weren’t balanced I’d see one drape containing all the fullness, which would look kinda weird.


To add balanced fullness to your pattern, draw a series of evenly spaced lines down the length of your pattern pieces, starting 2-3” out from center front/ center back. If you add just one line and do all the spreading from that one spot you’re likely to end up with one big triangle of fullness, which (as I said) might look kind of weird.

probably not…



looking good!

Take your scissors and slash the pattern up to, but not through, the neck and shoulder seams. Leave the slashes hanging on by the tiniest little edge, creating a flexible hinge. (If we were being absolutely correct, we would actually have excluded the seam allowance and only slashed up to the seam line. Since I planned to make this shirt up in—always forgiving—jersey I took the easy route and skipped that part.)

Now you can spread open these slashes to create as much or as little fullness as you desire. In order to keep the fullness balanced, aim to spread evenly across all your slashes. And in order to maintain the grainline, spread your pattern pieces away from the center front/center back fold line, leaving the center front/ center back piece straight and on grain.

The picture below shows what NOT to do. Doing it like could move the straight of grain and lead to trouble.


Add as much fullness as you like! I went as far as my fabric width would allow. If your fabric is narrow, you don’t have to cut your pieces on the fold. Just add seam allowance at center front and center back and you’re good to go.

Now, using your extra paper and tape, fill in all that lovely fullness you just created.


All that’s left to do now is smoothing things out a bit around the edges. Your shoulder seam may have gone a little wonky when you spread, so take your ruler and smooth that out. Once you’ve done this to front and back you’ll want to confirm that the shoulder seam is the same length on both pattern pieces.


Smooth the hemline on your front pattern piece. I just sketched it in, but you can always use a curve if you prefer.


Line up the side seam of your front pattern piece next to your back pattern piece, using the base of the armscye as a guide. That seam needs to be the same length on both sides, so mark where the front side seam ends on the back pattern piece.


I ended up adding a bit more length to the back pattern piece so the shape of this sample more closely imitates the one I have on my full-size pattern.

Now you can sketch in the back hem, starting at the full length at center back and easing up to meet the proper side seam length. I tried to make my hem into a gently sloping quarter-circle.

At this point you may want to do a quick status check in the mirror and confirm that your length is still looking good. I pretty much just hold the paper pattern up, take a quick look, and say, Yep, look’n good, or make any little tweaks as needed.

Also take a moment to consider how you’re going to finish your hem and confirm that you’ve got enough seam allowance down there to make it happen. Once all is well, trim off any excess paper from both front and back pieces.


That’s it, my friends! See what I mean? Totally easy. Of course, if anything here doesn’t make sense you’ll let me know. It also bears mentioning that this is just one woman’s method. I’m sure there are other ways; this is what worked for me.

And now you’re free to go forth and make yourselves many twirly jersey Scout tees, and be sure to let me know if you do!



Sewcializing with Rachel Hill of Origamicustoms.com

This begins as a tale of sewing synchronicity. I was at the fabric store (getting a few yards of jersey cut, even though I just went in for a double needle­—you know, as you do), and the woman across the way was getting herself a yard of black neoprene. When asked what she had planned, I overheard her saying something about custom swimwear and a traveling sewing machine. Needless to say, I had to speak to this amazing gal. She introduced herself as Rachel and was kind enough to take me up on a cup of coffee and regale me with her tale of sewing radness. Today, I’m happy to share the highlights of our conversation with you!


Here’s Rachel modeling one of the monokinis she produces for origamicustoms.com

So, tell us how you got started with sewing and swimwear design.

I grew up in Victoria, Canada, and my grandmother and my great aunt were both professional seamstresses, so it was always in the family. I was brought up sewing; from the time I was 6 I was learning on my mom’s machine. My sister, who is ten years older than me, she was sewing as well. All our Christmas presents for each other would be hand sewn.

Then in high school I’d go to thrift stores and buy wedding dresses, or grunge t-shirts, and rip them up or sew lace or leather bits on them because I wanted to be different and have something no one else had. And I did! Some of them worked out super well. Some of them I look back and I’m like, oh my God… But that’s where I started to first experiment with putting different fabrics together. My line has still got that element to it. I experiment a lot with putting together different materials, things that wouldn’t necessarily go to together.


And how did you get started with your swimwear line?

I’ve been living for about the last seven years in Central America, and lived for about five years in Honduras. I was a scuba instructor, which is how I got into sewing swimsuits. I moved there when I was eighteen, just after high school, and all my friends and I were in the water all the time.

It was this tiny island, only four to five thousand people living on it, and people couldn’t get things imported. Bathing suits were something that just wasn’t available. I mean, there were a few, but they were all small sizes. There was no variety, no quality. For bigger women, there was nothing they could wear. So I let people know I was experimenting with making things for myself and that I could try making things for them too. I would take trips back and forth to the mainland to get fabric. There was one ferry a day; a three hour boat ride. I never learned the techniques of stretch sewing until I started learning on my own, like how to put in elastic and use twin needles. I just Googled everything.

Recently, I’ve decided that I’m going to call Victoria home base again. The nice thing about running my business online is that I can be fairly flexible. Wherever I go, if I have a machine, or if I have someone else’s machine, I’m good.


Let’s talk about that a bit more, because I think it’s so cool! I have to admit that when I first heard you talking about traveling with a sewing machine my mind was a little blown, because for me I feel that a huge part of sewing is having the space to do it in. You know, I feel like I need my space, I need my stuff…

I’ve always tried to live super simply. My thinking has been I need to be able to fit everything that I love into a backpack that I could throw on and travel with. Travel has always been super important to me.

When I design I just make the pattern from formulas, or my body, or someone else’s body. Mostly I just use math. You know, that takes up less space! I’ve worked on little, tiny plastic kitchen tables with one cruddy little machine. Now my company is growing to the point where I need to have industrial machines, and I need to have a studio to call home base. But I still need to be able to travel!

You have a machine you can travel with?

When I started out, I had a little machine I would travel with. I was working part-time in PR, so every time I would go on a business trip I would always pack my sewing machine. I’d work during the day and then at night I’d sew. It was just a dinky old Brother sewing machine. Nothing special, but it was all plastic, so it was light and I could take it with me on a plane. More recently, I was in San Jose [Costa Rica] for a while and set up a home base, including a Janome serger. At that point I figured if I traveled I could pick up a whatever sewing machine on Craigslist for less than a hundred bucks, but the serger was something I needed to take with me. I’d carry it on the plane with me. It’s pretty heavy, but I’d lug this serger around with me.

I love that! That’s real passion.

It totally was.

You were doing this even before you launched your business?

Yeah, when I was just sewing for me, and for friends, I would always take my sewing machine. That’s what I wanted to do at the end of a workday, to relax or whatever. It really worked at the time; I was just doing it part-time and I would get these fun little orders to do. I’m still able to do [some work on the go]. The fabric you saw me buying the other day was for a present to give to my friend for letting me stay with her.


So you would take a machine. What else would you take with you?

Oh yes, my travel kit! I had a bobbin saver, my pincushion, my rotary cutter and a mat. I’d put all my patterns into these big manila envelopes and pack those too. It was so messy and terrible, but it would fit in my suitcase. I never got one of those big cutting mats. I just got little ones and taped them together so I could fold them up like an accordion.

Oh, okay! I was thinking, How the heck did she take the mat?

Yep, I had three little cutting mats all taped together on the back. I would take that with me, and a pack of needles. I didn’t even bring thread because that’s something I could always buy easily. And… my stitch ripper. Really, not much else!


You set yourself up in this way where you were forced to go out into the world and find your community.

That’s very true. I did like that because it was a way to get connected to a lot of people. You know, the people at the fabric store would get to know me as the only English speaker. I was just starting to learn Spanish, and I’d go in and didn’t know the names of any of the fabrics. But once we started to form a relationship they were really great about letting me know what was going on, or if there was a new store I should go check out. But I’m also pretty much an introvert, you know? At the end of the day, I do like to just go home and sew.

I’m so impressed by what you did because I can get overwhelmed in fabric stores, especially in the notions department, even when everything is in my native language!

Every time I come up to North America I have this problem, coming from having just one of everything, just enough, and having to reuse things. I used to have to put bobbin thread on top of bobbin thread, eight colors on one spool! And then I come here and I can get all this stuff, and it’s cheap. I have to ask myself, Do I need all of this stuff? Do I need a magnetic pin holder? Twelve different rulers? It’s really tough for me, to try and just stick with what I know. But my new studio, there’s very little stuff. It’s pretty much bare minimum, and I like that.


Tell us more about your business!

I’ve been doing the business fulltime for the last year and a half. Before that I always had other jobs, but then I got to the point where I was like, “Actually, I can do this as a career, and I’m not gonna go broke!” That was super exciting.

It’s still really new, but I’m feeling pretty good about it. I did a lot of work over this last year upgrading my website to make sure everything is really simple, easy to use, and clear. I’ve been working with a little company in Ithaca, New York, doing consignment sales, and I just got my first big wholesale order. To do a whole batch of something is totally different because everything else I do is one-of-a-kind. People send me their measurements and I hand-pattern for each person to make a piece just for them. I do custom designs too, with people sending me an idea or concept they want me to work up. That’s totally the fun stuff for me.

That’s a great concept. Especially with things like lingerie and swimwear, when so much of our sense of ourselves and how we feel about being in our bodies is impacted by how we look in these garments.

I work a lot with the queer community and customers whose bodies don’t necessarily conform to the established standards of mainstream swimwear companies. It’s something I’m really passionate about because there are so many people out there that can’t find what they want and need. Sometimes people will come to me and say, “I need to hide this part of my body,” or “I need to emphasize this.” They may come with a list of restrictions or needs that are going to make the design process more challenging than just, you know, making a pretty bikini so I can sell a billion things. I’d much rather make something that’s going to work with that person for what their needs are.


It sounds like your ethics and what you want your life to look like have been just as important when forming your career as your passion for sewing has been.

Yes, that’s so much a part of my brand. At this point, I can’t really separate myself, my life, from the brand. I just switched over from using cottons to using bamboo. The quality of these fabrics is so much better, but I researched it and also found it to be more ethical. It uses less water, plus it’s more sustainable and renewable. This is what I would want from anything I would buy for myself. I realized I need to be offering something that feels really good ethically as well as on your body.

My ethics have been so strongly appreciated by my customers as well. A lot of shops charge more for bigger sizes because that uses more material. But I’ve said I will never do that. There’s no cap on the sizes that I offer. I offer between an xxs and a 5xl, but people can send me literally any measurements and it’s no more expensive. I feel really strongly about all people being able to find swimwear and undergarments that are good for their bodies. I feel really good about being able to offer that to people, to make that an accessible, safe, comfortable experience.

With your business taking off, do still have time to sew for yourself?

It’s something that I’m making more of a focus now. What I’ll often do, when I’m developing new ideas for a line, I’ll make a prototype of my idea for myself and wear it around, see how it feels, how well it holds up when I’m doing yoga or whatever. Sometimes they turn into something that I’ll offer, and sometimes they don’t. But either way I’ve made something for myself.


What, if any, ways do you find yourself engaging with the larger sewing community?

I’m newly back in Canada, so I’m just starting to branch out and go to places where crafts people are going to be, like craft fairs, flea markets, or even garage sales. I’ve found that there’s a lot of overlap with handmade and vintage too, so talking to little shop owners can be a great way to connect with makers. I’ve met people at parties and we’ve bonded over sewing. I do tend to talk about sewing a lot because it’s such a huge part of my life, and this is what I love. When I’m making new friends, I definitely want to make sure they’re the type of people who are into that. I’ve been around people before who don’t see it as a legitimate job, and that’s been really tough and frustrating.

It’s very much a movement here, whereas where I was in the third world it’s not. Sewing is seen as “something my grandma does,” or “only poor people sew because they need to in order to have clothes.” This movement of crafters, that hasn’t caught on. People are very negative when talking about crafting, because the thinking is if you’re crafting it’s because you can’t afford to buy new clothes. And so there wasn’t any excitement, there wasn’t any reason why you would want to do that. It was very much looked down upon.

That is really interesting, that connection between economic prosperity and crafting. Of course, now that I hear you say it, it seems so obvious that there is a luxury to crafting for pleasure, as a hobby, rather than out of necessity.

Yes, my friends [in Central America], they would probably be embarrassed to talk about the fact that they had handmade clothes. Because it would seem like, “My parents had to make me these clothes because they couldn’t afford to buy me new ones.” So for me, saying this is something I do for a living, the response is, “Why would you want to do something like that?” And there’s not that feeling that you want to pay more for handmade clothes, because the value is lower. The attitude is, “Well, it’s just handmade. If I can have a brand name sweater, why would I get one handmade?”

Here, the value of the work and the time that goes into something that’s handcrafted is much more understood. And I also think people here see that if they’re supporting a crafts person, there’s a very good chance that they’re supporting their community, and putting money back into their local economy. That was a motivating factor for my move back to Canada. I wanted to be part of that community, and be where people value my work.


What are the best things that your skills, experience, and passion for sewing have brought to your life?

Well, the main thing for me is being able to be self-sustaining. To be able to not just craft for fun. That people want to pay me money for my skills, that’s huge. It still blows my mind: People want to pay me money for stuff I make! I’m still new at this, and I’m a terrible self-critic and really hard on my work. So just that fact that my business is self sustaining, that I don’t have to take another job… It just blows my mind everyday.


I hope you enjoyed learning that little bit about Rachel and the inspiring work she does as much as I did! I find it wonderfully inspiring to hear from other passionate seamstresses and to learn something about the unique ways people have for incorporating sewing into a lifestyle and, as in Rachel’s case, sometimes even a living. I was also really intrigued by her perspective on the attitudes toward sewing and handcrafting in different parts of the world.

Do you take your sewing with you when you travel, as Rachel does? What ways have you found of engaging with other sewcialists and keeping your crafty passions alive when you’re on the road?