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Aug 1, 2011

Pushing Past the Sewing Block

Readers, do you ever come up against a sewing block (block, as in obstacle)?

Are there things you're simply afraid to try: insert a lapped zipper, pad stitch a lapel, underline a bodice?  Would part of you like to be able to tackle these challenges but you just can't get over your irrational fear?

I, for example, have a fear of crinolines.  I don't know why.  Perhaps I was Little Bo-Peep in a former life.  Or Alice Lon.

I've gathered tulle and nylon net with my ruffler attachment with great success.  I know it can be done.

But there's something about all that measuring, all those long, loooong cylinders of net that has me spooked.  Well this is the week I'm going to do something about it.  I mean, I must.

I even have a petticoat pattern, though I doubt I'll use it.

Instead, I'll likely follow an online tutorial, like this one.  I've looked at a lot of crinolines in person, and some of them are thrown together without a whole lot of finesse; it doesn't have to be perfect to get the job done.

Yesterday, I saw a gorgeous vintage silk dress with a Saks Fifth Avenue label at the flea market ($525!) and it had an attached three-tiered net crinoline whose edges were simply folded over and stitched: no ribbon, lace, or what have you.  The rougher edges were facing the skirt (as opposed to the legs), of course, where they might snag one's nylons.

But it reminded me that this can be a simple job.

Anyway, I have my nylon net.

I have some light poly lining material I can use for the top, or I can use lightweight cotton.  I have to decide whether I want this to zip up the side or just have an elastic casing.  That might add a little unwanted thickness in the waistline area, though it would likely sit lower, and certainly beneath the waist stay of the dress.

I also have tons of tulle, which I may or may not even use. 

The stiffer net provides the greatest amount of loft.  The tulle, while soft and pretty, is less effective.  That Carolyn Schnurer tulle petticoat I found on Saturday, for example, while pretty, provides essentially no loft at all.  It just sort of hangs there, droopy.

So this is likely to be a net crinoline.  I even have a roll of ivory polyester ribbon if I need to trim edges, as well as a roll of poly lace, if I want to use that (the same lace I used for the hem).

So I'm good to go.  I need to push past this block, is all.  Hey, I had the same block about boning and lining a bodice and I got over it!

A few of you asked whyever svelte Cathy would need a Maidenform "Control It!" Waistnipper Brief, mentioned briefly in yesterday's blog post.  Here's the thing: it's not so much that Cathy is lumpy, which she isn't, or needs to "tame her tummy."  But the brief, which rises well above the waist, provides a smooth layer between the lower part of the bodice and Cathy's skin.  Party due to the heat and humidity, no doubt, the cotton bodice lining had a tendency to stick to the skin, which is not only uncomfortable, it drags on the dress itself, particularly in back.  With that extra layer of smooth nylon/elastane, the dress hangs smoothly.  Trust me on this one.

Finally, the length of the dress: is it too long?  I can only say, we shall see.  In the worst case I can shorten it, though it might be faster to just grow Cathy a few inches.  I consider this dress "tea length" and tea length is a much debated topic on sewing blogs, I've discovered.  Some consider it unflattering to nearly everyone.  We'll just have to see how it goes.

Friends, in closing, do you have irrational fear of certain sewing tasks?

Is there something you yearn to master, like, I don't know, working with faux fur or sequins (no wait, those are mine) but you just can't quite get up the gumption to do it?  Maybe this fall -- which is just around the corner, alas -- we'll challenge ourselves to take one (or more) of these on.

Remember: fear is just another word for too scared to try!  (?)

Have a great day, everybody!


  1. This is an easy question for me to answer - my block is pants. Real pants with a zipper and pockets that fit. I'm a size 0 at best, but i'm curvy, which is basically an oxymoron in RTW. I have a couple patterns, Fit For Real People book and a few cuts of appropriate fabric, but I just can't seem to get started. That's my fall goal, to make some pants!

  2. My fear is adjusting vintage patterns to fit the modern woman. I had a go and failed miserably. I think i need to do a pattern drafting course before i try again. Glad you are pushing past your fear barriers! GO PETER GO GO GO!!!

  3. Timely post...I just started making a crinoline for a short dress. I am using the Alice Lon tutorial, but have adjusted it, both length and width wise, for my project. You are right-all the measuring! I was not looking forward to it, but now that I have my ribbon on the bottom edge, I am ready for the gathering. So far, it has been easy, basic sewing. I am using nylon netting, not tulle, so hopefully it will give the right amount of "pouf" to the dress. I think you should give it a go for your dress. At the very least, you can say you tried something new, and never want to do it again! And, you will end up with a lovely petti for Cathy's wardrobe...good luck!

  4. How funny you should post about making a crinoline--I am waiting for supplies to make one (for a tutorial I'm cooking up--there is much sewing wildness afoot around here lately ;)! lol. (Great minds think alike!!!) I think for me I've put it off for ages because of the yards and yards of netting and all the measuring too... it's just so intimidating.

    Another irrational sewing fear: making tshirts. I keep putting this on my sewing list and keep whimping out. Finally last week I cut out my "non-tshirt tshirt" (aka a knit top out of tshirt material that isn't your basic tshirt), in an attempt to entice myself into sewing a tshirt. So far, it's just sitting next to the serger (I need to rethread it with white instead of black thread--go me for finding excuses to put this off even more!). Um... Yeah. My goal is to spend some time thsi evening at least rethreading the serger... haha! I think for me the bottom line is I'm scared that my knit tops will look homemade because I don't really know what I'm doing. I've read a lot on the topic, but for some reason it just hasn't all "clicked" in my brain like regular sewing has. However, I'm trying to push past this "fear" and stretch my creativity and know-how!

  5. Mine is welt pockets and lapel type collars. Don't know why, but I have a fear of them looking lumpy and Becky homecky. I guess I need to make this my next "sewing goal."

  6. I used to have a paralyzing fear of welt pockets, but I was able to conquer it after several tries. Like with most things, practice and repetition makes all the difference.

  7. Re "tea length" - Without the crinoline Cathy's dress is too long. But don't shorten it before seeing how it looks with the crinoline. It should show off her dainty ankles to be a true tea length dress.

  8. that sugardale tutorial is great - i used it, with much success, to make my own crinoline. if you are concerned about the crinoline not being full enough, use a stiffer net - i used horsehair crinoline, which, while itchy as HELL, actually makes up a great poof without a lot of net to gather. it is kind of expensive, though, at least at my fabric store. anyway, crinolines aren't hard. they are just time-consuming and to me that is annoying.

    i can't think of any sewing task that i am afraid to battle... i'll try anything once. that being said, i do avoid pattern-matching (like plaids, ew!) and i hate working with really slinky/slippery fabrics. i like putting a giant amount of effort into my projects, but i'd rather focus the effort on the actual sewing, and not 6 hours of cutting with a rotary blade, you know?

  9. I believe that fear of crinoline construction was introduced to society by the Professional Makers of Crinolines, mainly to keep prices up. Try it, they're not hard to make and you can decide what fancy finishing details (if any) you want to incorporate. The other thing on the planet that makes me laugh is the fear of making bridal veils, the markup on those things in retail never fails to astonish me.

  10. I like challenges when I'm not sewing on deadline, but time is so precious I tend to avoid garments with 10,000 pieces, all curved. Never have made a crinoline, but your designer one might just need starch? I read someplace that tired crinolines could be sparked up with some kind of starching process. The good news about so much lingerie is that it can be worn with more than one overgarment! As for the tea length, it may not be absolutely flattering, but is very comfortable; modify the effect with hose & shoes & be happy to move, sit, dance, walk, and climb in & out of automotive vehicles. I have some lovely long dresses that I can't drive in, or maneuver in & out of a car in, so I stick with pants most of the time. Sigh. Dresses are more romantic, don't you think? K.

  11. I have yet to the find material that petticoats were made of in the 50's. I think it was a nylon crinoline and the netting was made of threads that were more like a stiff cord than thread, also probably nylon.

    Even with the stiffer fabric, we would starch them, sometimes with sugar, till they would literally stand on their own.....and wear more than one at a time. It was a status symbol in the schoolyard to say you had on 6 petticoats! Okay, I have really dated myself. But, what a great time to be alive...twirling in yards and yards of petticoats!

    Today you can order the netting already cut in different widths and rolled onto a spool. It looks like rather large rolls of toilet paper. It just doesn't have the oomph in stiffness I remember.

    I started sewing at 5 (God Bless Grandma!) and had the child's attitude from the start that I could sew anything. That held until I got my first serger. OMG what a pain! So, I approach knits with disdain. I sew knits, but I don't feel the love.

    Thanks for the memories!

  12. I suspect today they're using Splenda.

  13. I've made so many things I've lost count (although I do have over 550 reviews at Pattern Review. You know what is missing from my repetoire? Fitted pants for me...I did just purchase Pants for Real People, and I plan to make some pants for work. I have lots in the stash and quite a few patterns. I just haven't done it. My goal now is to have a pair complete by the time it gets cool enough that I want to wear pants to work (maybe late October).

  14. My mental block is dresses. I probably just need to fit a few blouses on top, to get used to my own size, before doing a dress. I think my big issue is, I don't wear dresses that often and don't want to make something that will sit in my closet other than the two days or so per year that I actually dress up.

    I also don't like making t-shirts but that's because I can buy them so cheaply and they fit just fine. It seems silly to spend time making them when they're not a fit or price issue for me.

  15. Irrational belief #1: commercial patterns should fit. I never believed this about bodices, but some glitch in my brain allowed me to believe it about pants. I thought I should be able to follow the instructions and come up with a beautiful pair of pants.

    Except the instructions want you to put things together without taking time to see if the pants will fit, so I ended up year after year with pants that looked good but did not fit. Several times I drafted a pattern, but by the time the pattern was drawn, I'd lost interest in sewing pants.

    This year I've been attacking pants. A pair of pants drafted by computer to my measurements did go on with ease, but there are still problems. I decided to choose patterns that were way too big and just pin fit them until they no longer fell off and I could still move. This works somewhat better.

  16. I don't sew grown up pants, just pants for kids, they are easy. I also don't make anything with pockets, collars, or anything else a beginner would go crazy about. I have only just started using zips, and I kind of do them my way, which for me is easier.

    The only thing I stayed away from was stretchy fabrics because I read all the negatives things about sewing them. Then, a read a blog about a lady that doesn't do anything different when she sews them. I tried her way, and my stretchy knits are intact still after many washes, I did not use a stretch knit stitch or zig zag, just your usual stitch.
    I did notice though that there is alot of fiber fluff created with these types of fabrics. I have made dresses and tops with them. Youtube has some informative videos of people making stuff of stretch knits without patterns. It is more forgiving than a lot of other fabric.

    I am way too scared of chiffon, of which I love, silk and anything really sheer. I don't think I have the courage to tackle that.

  17. I'll try sewing anything once. After a billion (give or take a few thousand) iterations of pants, they no longer scare me; however, I do stall out before adding a lining to a jacket. I've done it a couple of times, but have a hard time building up the nerve to tackle that task again.

  18. I have a jacket I've cut and even started sewing a few months ago. I even made welted buttonholes (a first for me) which turned out great. And yet, it's been sitting on my desk for a while because I am terrified of putting together the collar and dealing with the turn of cloth allowance. Maybe your post will help me deal with this and finish the jacket so I can wear it this fall.

  19. Chiffon and lightweight silks. I have a great machine, and I know it would sew them very well, I just can't seem to jump the hurdle.

    I purchased a printed chiffon and a coordinating solid poly suiting for a top and skirt duo. They are up next on my sewing list. Hopefully, like you, Peter, I can overcome my "block" and make that top this week- maybe this post is just the push I needed!

  20. There is not enough money in the world to pay me to fuc&*n quilt again. 3 yrds of quilted flippin way.

  21. Lap pockets. I confess I would rather sew over my fingertips then try to do them again- wait...I think I did both at the same time.

  22. I think I would try anything as long as it's a fabric or technique that I want to use. A challenge is always welcome after 60-some years of sewing. I try things out in waste fabric first.

  23. Crinoline does not scare me anymore as my DD loves wearing puffy ball gowns and i love pampering her, initially i sewed a the stiff net or can-can as it is known here in Indian stores, to each of the gowns (actually 2 of them) before i realized that i can sew a separate crinoline underskirt and wear it underneath any gown to give puffy effect! and it has been 2 years since i made the crinoline under skirt and have been adding layers to increase height and adjusting elastic to adapt to growing waist of my darling 4.5 year old daughter!

    What i am scared of the post are sewing pants - especially fly front zipper!

  24. On the subject of crinolines... You don realize that most net fabrics are treated with some kind of starch, don't you? A starch which can be washed out. I think that's why the old crinoline is now looking so limp. In washing it, you did not only clean it, but also wash out the starch. It should be possible to re-starch it. Of course there are many different kinds and textures of net and tule fabrics but most rely at least a little on starch for their stiffness.

  25. Oh please hurry up with the crinoline so we can see Cathy in the dress!

    Re sewing blockages - they go away when I sew with someone else. After years of saying 'no' to princess seams, I mastered them when a coat pattern and a piece of black cashmere blend got together and DEMANDED to be made into a new coat just when I found a great sewing class. It wasn't long before I was able to modify princess seams to get the right fit, and who knows, in time I may even be able to draft PS garments.

    I am still too chicken to try notched lapels on my own, but if the predestined fabric and pattern ever summon, I know that with the aid of Kim at the sewing class minor (or even major) miracles are possible.

  26. I have a tute link for you! I love full circle skirts and recently made two. And I wanted a full petticoat to give them the oomph they needed. But after much researching and reading of online tutes, I was put off - all that math and gathering! I had visions of being eaten alive by miles of gathered tulle. So my dear friend and fabulous seamstress reckoned she could figure out a better way, without all the measuring and quarter-marking and fuss, and she did. And we knocked up a petticoat in an afternoon and it works perfectly. Her subsequent tutorial probably doesn't rank that high in Google, so if you are interested, the link is I love wearing my petticoat with my hot pink and black polka-dot skirt, and last time I wore it out someone told me it was a skirt of "pure happiness" - best it gets!

  27. My first ever garment was a crinoline... ;) It wasn't pretty, but it did the job well. My block is tracing patterns (it just takes so long!) and zippers.


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