Skirt Skills

Nearly 3 months ago I began a 5-week online class to make a skirt of my own design, based on a “skirt block” which I created according to my own unique measurements (and they are unique! More on that shortly).

The class, called Skirt Skills,* is offered by Brooks Ann Camper, a custom maker of wedding wear. Essentially and amazingly, Brooks Ann is able to bring a bride’s dress from dream into reality.

She pretty much helped us newbies do the same with our simple skirts. I learned so much!

I’ve sewn many articles of clothing for myself and family members through the years, but fit has always been a bugger for me. I’ve tended toward patterns where shape is forgiving in order to compensate for my lack of…what? understanding? patience? knowledge? All of the above, really.

The process in Skirt Skills has been so interesting that I wanted to give you a glimpse into how the course worked and what I’ve gained from it. I’ll take you through the main steps chronologically.

1. The first thing we did in the course was reflect on particular skirt ideas to add to our wardrobes. I was looking for something simple for summer, straight or A-line, to wear mostly with simple knit shirts. In the back of my mind, I also was tempted to try cutting a skirt on the bias, as a particular bias skirt in Lotta Jansdotter’s book Everyday Style had caught my eye:

We then learned how to use photos to draw a custom outline of our selves. On mine, I drew some possible skirt designs. Here were my early, simple sketches:

That’s actually when my “unique measurement” problem first showed up. In the third drawing, I look like I’m leaning to my right even when I distribute my weight evenly over my feet. It turns out my left hip is higher (and fuller) than my right hip. Yikes. This affected every single step of this skirt-making project.

2. The next step involved taking lots of measurements in tights. (More than once, too, because I tried to do it alone but it’s tricky to hold the measuring tools straight and read them correctly. Things got easier once I asked my hubby for help.) I’ll share one small, humbling photo of me with elastics tied on to let you see the hip discrepancy I had to deal with. Yikes again. My crazy crooked hips throw off everything above them.

3. I took the measurements and then did a smidge of math to determine my block dimensions and to decide on dart width, length, and placement. I drew each one of those onto heavy paper for the first draft of my skirt block.

4. Next, I traced around the block to transfer all those measurements to a piece of fabric for my muslin or mock-up. (I used an old sheet after I made sure it squared up nicely). You’re seeing the mock-up here after tons of adjustments, multiple bleeding finger pricks where I pinned it closed at the side seam, and many moments of setting it aside and going to the Skirt Skills Facebook page to ask Brooks Ann yet another question. I kept adjusting until I got it to sit correctly on me.

5. Once all parts fit correctly, I transferred the changes back to my brown paper block. I then went the extra step of sewing up a second mock-up to make sure it would actually fit correctly and could be used for future patterns. Yes! It worked!

With that, I made a more permanent skirt block out of poster board, below. To accommodate my unruly hips, I chose to have all FOUR skirt pieces mapped out for my block (so there’s a separate Left Back and Left Front that’s not pictured here). If I were symmetrical, I could get away with just two pieces.

6. Shopping! I made a trip to Holland, Michigan, to visit my daughter—during Tulip Time, no less. I arrived a couple hours before she was off work in order to GO TO FIELD’S FABRICS!! I lived in Michigan for 10 years and was smitten with that store. I miss it here in Illinois.

I came home with more fabric cuts than I had intended to buy (of course), but this class has inspired me to boldly try sewing more clothing. I particularly liked this interesting and heavy blue and white cotton, very Scandinavian (I’m married to a Norwegian who loves his blues) and with an abstract hint of tulips. Well, I see tulips; I’m not sure about anyone else. I wondered if the fabric was too heavy, but what the heck! I talk all the time about being willing to experiment while making blankets, so it came naturally to me to experiment here as well.

7.  I made a pattern for an A-line skirt off of my skirt block, following Brooks Ann’s guidelines, tailoring it to my own likes as far as width, length, darts or no darts, etc. Here’s that pattern, created from a skirt block copy. I traced around all pattern pieces directly onto the fabric, adding wide seam allowances for any adjustments needed during the making of the skirt.

8. After stitching in the darts and basting up the long seams, I was at another point of decision. Pockets or no? Zipper hidden or exposed? and at which seam? I had several zippers on hand to choose from—ones I’ve cut out of wool sweaters over time. No surprise!

I nixed the pockets. The fabric was too thick and the pattern too busy to make them a good idea. And I YouTubed my way through inserting an exposed zipper for the first time. Pretty simple! Mine’s not perfect, but I don’t think its shortcomings will be too visible. I’ll just have to keep moving :).

Eleven weeks later, my custom-designed, custom-fit (by ME) skirt is finished. So cool!

I learned to use a few new sewing tools along the way: a hip curve, a needlepoint tracing wheel (I already owned one, but here is a similar one), a thimble (I tried this leather one), and new Gingher dressmaker shears.

Guys, I have never ventured into the self-drafting world before. Blocks and slopers, muslins and mock-ups—I had heard this terminology but basically ignored it because it sounded like way too much to delve into.

But it’s fascinating! My patience for re-dos does not yet quite match my desire to solve any given fitting problem before me, but it is improving. I was proud of myself for persevering through my asymmetry trials. And now that it’s behind me, I can barely remember the frustrating moments.

A HUGE shout-out to Brooks Ann Camper, her Skirt Skills course, and her patience and willingness to work with me through every single confusing thing I ran into. I’m thrilled with what I learned and understand much more how satisfying and worthwhile it is to take the time to get things right for one’s own body.

I find I can’t stop thinking about other skirt designs and what I’d have to do to my skirt block to actually form what I’m imagining. Pockets should be in my future shortly!

*This is an unsolicited review. The opinions expressed are my own.

Greta’s Blanket: A Girl and a Pearl

Our second granddaughter turned 1 last month. In the weeks leading up to her birthday—and with (coincidentally!) a visit cross-country to her family for that very date—I knew what time it was.

Time to make Greta her very own blanket.

As was true for our first granddaughter, I had to wait to know this little one awhile before attempting to create a blanket for her. (Her sister Miriam’s blanket is here.) Blankets always begin with mulling over ideas, images, sensations. And so it was with Greta’s.

My inspiration for Greta’s blanket began first of all with her smile. It is big, bold, ebullent and endearing. Most stunning of all, it appears immediately when a loved one enters her line of sight.

Next was her name: Greta, a short form of Margarethe or Margaret. It means “pearl.” The Bible talks about the pearl of great price, and I knew this was one reason her parents had chosen the name.

Next: what colors look good on her. This girl has her dad’s features and her mom’s coloring—blue eyes and light hair that’s already showing the red glints of her mama’s copper-colored hair. I automatically started turning over in my mind the greens and goldens that her mom looks great in. But when I pulled up the family photo stream just to check, I was surprised to find Greta is in her niche in bright pink and navy. Apparently her skin tone is cooler than her mom’s!

Once supplied with several thoughts to get the project rolling, I found the right colors in my stash and got started.

The color arrangement came together easily. And I knew I wanted to put a pearl in the center somewhere, but where and how? As I played with different ideas, and especially with oyster sketches, I discovered something very close to a “G” for Greta in the upside-down opened oyster. What better than a sweet cipher right there in the middle of her blanket?

And so it all came together. I finished in time for our trip, and Grandpa and I were able celebrate  that amazing first birthday in person. (And eat scrumptious homemade birthday cake!)

The following note accompanied the blanket. It’s for later, when Greta’s language skills are a little stronger and this precious girl begins to mull over the things of life herself:

Sweet Greta,

You are a little small for some of the symbolism in this blanket, but your name is so wonderful it couldn’t help but show up here. Your name, Greta, means pearl. Your dada and mama told us when you were born that their prayer is you would come upon the MOST precious, valuable pearl—that’s Jesus!—and want to know him more than anything else.

So there, in the middle of your blanket, is a pearl in an oyster. And if you turn that oyster upside down, there’s a secret “G” for Greta.

We love you more than words can say, Greta, and pray this same prayer for you. Happy first birthday!

© Joan Olson
“Greta’s Blanket” (35″x36″) 
Felted Wool Sweaters

Roundup: 15 Felted Sweater Experiments (by me!)

Writing recently about my granddaughters’ wool clothing made me reminisce about all the items I’ve played around with out of felted sweaters. Today I’ve put together a Green Sheep roundup of THINGS-THAT-AREN’T-BLANKETS. Some of them are one-offs; some of them I chose to make a batch of and sell on Etsy. I posted about nearly all of them on this blog.

(But I didn’t post about this kitty, so he’s a bonus. The pattern is not original to me, although I did adapt it for felted sweaters. Unfortunately, I can no longer find the original (a library book?) to give the designer credit. Does this little guy not look like a rodent from the back?? It would be fun to play around with the pattern and see what other animals it could become.)

Now: On to the roundup!

Here are 15 non-blanket experiments (i.e. with the exception of leggings, tunics, slippers and hooded jacket, I drew up my own patterns). The list starts with the WAY-backs, from 2010, and comes up to the present. The links go to original blog posts, most of which were pretty spare in terms of info. But there are a few more pictures. Maybe they can get your own creative juices flowing ;)

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

1.  Sachets

2.  Coasters

3.  Running Leggings

4.  Draft Dodger

5.  Baby Lovies

6.  Fingerless Gloves

7.  Christmas Stockings (The prototypes. Later ones.)

8.  Ponchos

9.  Sewing Kit

10.  Sweater Coat

11.  Slippers

12.  Mittens (My first try! My next ones. Later ones.)

13.  Assymetrical Hooded Jacket

Gray jacket

14.  Vests

15.  Children’s Leggings and Tunics

These are all a lot of fun to try and to tweak. Certainly, having felted sweaters on hand gives a new dimension to gift-giving. And still? After all is said and done, making blankets is the thing I love the most ♥

Wooly Leggings and Tunics


[Credit for all the beautiful photos in this post: Grace Claus, mama of the girls]

Before winter is gone (and how I will rejoice to wave goodbye to this very long, very cold winter!) I wanted to show you how I used felted wool sweaters in Christmas gifts for our granddaughters.

My daughter was looking for some Merino wool bottoms and tops for the girls, things they could wear to play indoors or layer to be outdoors. There are lovely ready-mades for this purpose, like this and this…but my DIY nature made it hard to avoid experimenting with what I had on hand.

I first searched online for simple leggings patterns and chose Sew Can She’s pattern for the 3-year-old and Life Sew Savory’s pattern (because it had smaller sizes) for the 10-month-old. Thank you, Caroline and Emily, for such great (and free) patterns and instructions!

Next I looked for little-girl shirt patterns I already owned. In a bundle of patterns I had bought from Sew Like My Mom a year ago I discovered the Posey Tunic. This pattern includes several sleeve and hemline variations. Nice versatility! I chose long sleeves and adapted it for each granddaughter.

Unfortunately, in my haste to finish sewing and then package up the gifts before Christmas, I neglected to take photos. Recently my daughter helped me out by taking several for me. Although I love the look of an item freshly sewn and pressed, these pictures tell a better story: These clothes look like they have been happily well-used this winter!

For every one of these garments, I needed to mess around with the layout because of the repurposed aspect of this project. Pieces of felted wool sweaters turn out to be all sorts of unconventional shapes and sizes! But I measured and squeezed and pieced together in order to get everything I needed. Using sweater sleeves with their finished edges works especially well for the legs of the leggings.

Here are the leggings, with small appliqués added to the front of each pair to easily differentiate front from back—especially for a 3-year-old dressing herself.

And here are the tunics. For the 3-year-old who loves purple and pink, the closest I could find in my stash turned out to be a maroon beaded sweater with crocheted edging. A little grown up, but I picked it anyway. I love the edging. And for the little one, I found a very sweet gray and barely-pink striped cashmere. There wasn’t much of it, so I complemented it with plain gray cashmere for the sleeves and neckline.

I’m pretty certain I’ll do more of these or something similar in the future. They were relatively quick to sew and they satisfied my itch to give some handmade gifts. They also gratified my fondness for figuring out a puzzle and fitting the pieces together just right. I highly recommend all the patterns I used!

Have you tried projects out of felted wool sweaters? Big or small, it’d be interesting to hear what you’ve experimented with. Comment in the comment section below ↓↓ and proudly share your project ideas. I’d love to hear what you’ve come up with.

“Baby Walt”

Our Disney aficionado strikes again!

This wonderful client, with me since the very beginning, has adopted many Green Sheep blankets into her family, several with a Disney theme. (For her grandchildren there’s been I Love Minnie, Mickey and Theo, Dory Finds a Pearl, and 11,12, Dig and Delve. Other blankets in the family are The Light Changes Everything, In Argyle Style, The PondA Quiet Creature, and Nap Hunting.)

You can read more about how Disney got to be so special to them here.

Now a little guy has joined the family, and so another blanket arrives as well.

This is for four-month-old Walt. (Is his name a Disney coincidence??) Walt joins two sisters and one brother, perfectly leveling things out, at least for now (two boys, two girls). He is big-eyed and curious. He loves gazing at his mama. He glows whenever he sees his dad. He loves kisses and smiles from his big sisters and brother. 

And when his grandma calls him “Sweetness,” his tiny face breaks into a giant smile.

In my original sketch for the blanket, I had the diagonal striped piece with the blue neckline nearer to the top of the blanket. But when I actually laid out the appliqués this way, I found they didn’t balance well—they were too far apart from each other. So I rotated the blanket and laid the castle on that colorful stripe. A soft serendipitous sunset appeared behind the turrets!

When I told my client this, she said the colors in the stripe are reminiscent of early Disney Hotel decor. She explained that had drawn her to this blanket’s colors in the first place. (I searched for this vintage Disney palette on Google Image but could not find it. If any of you are familiar with this and find it, please share it with me!)

Sweet Baby Walt. I hope you will always fill up on the smiles of the fabulous people in your life. This big family of yours—your mom and dad, brother and sisters, grandmas and grandpas, aunts, uncles and cousins—they love you wildly. May you flourish in that love always!

© Joan Olson
Baby Walt” (38″ x 41″) 
Felted Wool Sweaters

This is a custom-ordered blanket.

“The Work of Her Hands”

[“The Work of Her Hands” joins other Legacy Blankets on this blog. These are custom order blankets made from the sweaters of a loved one who has passed on. Learn about them here.]

“I hear you do something with old sweaters,” Bill said while we were all eating coffee cake.

My husband and I were at the home of friends. Bill’s daughter Dawn, my friend, had earlier told him I could help him put to use the sweaters of his late wife, Dawn’s mom. Nan had been a crafter par excellence, and knitting was one of her skills. Bill had saved a few of Nan’s sweaters after she passed away—a couple hand-knit by her, a couple store-bought. He was packing his home to move and wanted to do something meaningful with them.

“You heard right—” I answered, “I make blankets!” I began to tell how I took a loved one’s wool sweaters, felted them, and turned them into something gorgeous and functional. But as soon as I said “felted,” I knew the concept would be difficult for this gentleman to imagine, no matter how much crafting his wife had done.

So Dawn got her iPad and we opened up this website. I was able to show Bill what in the world we were talking about.

“Okay, then! I think I’d like to do that,” said Bill, and I left with Nan’s beautiful sweaters, ready to make a blanket for Bill and his new home.

I learned more about Nan. “Anytime she sat down,” Bill had told me, “she had something in her hands to work on. She knit me a pair of argyle socks—while we were dating!”

Nan loved knitting, sewing, ceramics, counted cross-stitch, and celebrating the holidays with several of her desserts on the table and her handmade items for decor. It sounds like she shared herself with those she loved through creating things. Bill fondly recalls all of this.

But one of his very favorite memories is how she loved others with a listening ear. She did this often, especially for younger women, some very distressed. Nan had words of counsel that grew out of the experience of her years. “Now, think it out,” was one of her best recommendations to encourage someone to pause and consider things carefully. Then she would listen some more.

When Bill first showed me Nan’s sweaters, I was pretty sure the two colorful ones hand-knit by her (one with her favorite bright turquoise blue) did not contain much if any wool. It was true; they did not felt up with the others and so I wasn’t able to include them. But the wools I was left with were a beautiful collection of more masculine colors, perfect for me to work with for Bill.

Oooh, but they were BUSY together—high contrast and tons of pattern! I laid the pieces of this blanket out one way and then another, several times, wanting to corral the chaos and introduce some calm.

The calm finally came. I put mostly medium and light hues in the center, organized the multiple patterns so they could lead the eye, wrapped those up with an interesting band of light chainlink, and reserved the darkest pieces for the outer border. I loved it.

One of these sweaters felted up particularly thick, thicker than I will usually put into a blanket. But I stuck it in anyway because it was gorgeous and meaningful, and I’m happy to tell you it is doing just fine. Because of that, this may be my weightiest, warmest blanket. 

For Bill—and the whole family—I hope this blanket reminds you often of the work of Nan’s precious hands and heart. You’ll have to make her pecan pie yourself, though. I hear it’s an excellent one ;)

© Joan Olson
“The Work of Her Hands” (60″ x 72″)
Felted Wool Sweaters

[“The Work of Her Hands” joins other Legacy Blankets on this blog. These are custom order blankets made from the sweaters of a loved one who has passed on. Learn about them here.]