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

“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.]

“Blessed are Those Who Mourn”

“For the Lamb…will be their shepherd,
    and he will guide them to springs of living water,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” *

Christmastime = joy, festivities, love, gatherings of great people. It also equals the baby Jesus, his captivated parents, and the unusual, fantastical events of that evening: a very pregnant young woman and her fiancé on the road and far from home, an extraordinary star, angels (!) with a message to shepherds that was actually for the entire world.

One angel, the angel of the Lord, went right up to those shepherds and said, “I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord” (Luke 2). The angel’s glory shone all over those shepherds as he said this. 

Exciting, joyful, miraculous stuff.

But I know there are many for whom an undercurrent of heartache and loss runs through their days this season. People I love very much are right now dealing with cancer, suicide, and death. Ow! It wrenches my gut to see the depth of their hurt.

So maybe this is an appropriate time to introduce this particular blanket—because such a difficult mix of joy and grief is not only true for lots of people this time of year, but was also foretold for Jesus and his young mom, Mary. It happened like this:

Just weeks after his birth, when Mary and Joseph carried their tiny son to the temple, a faithful man named Simeon met Jesus and, after praising God, looked directly at Mary and told her, “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too” (Luke 2).

“A sword will pierce your own soul too”? How difficult this must have been for Mary to hear as she held her tiny, defenseless son. How could she take this in? We know a little: she stored up things in her heart. And she must have lived daily with a tension of joy and sorrow hidden inside.

That tension is what I see in this blanket. The sorrow. The joy. And the comfort.

This is “Blessed are Those Who Mourn,” part of my Beatitude Series.

It didn’t start out that way! This is the blanket I made on video for the master class I’m teaching, and I never intended for it to be about mourning! But at the design stage, as so often happens, the colors, the patterns and the wool itself spoke to me a ton in this particular layout and not in others—and I had to listen.

In this blanket, I see the weight and depth of grief in the dark colors around the edges—but then I feel the palpable relief of those creamy whites, a cocoon of healing and comfort in the center, and joy in those tumultuous, popping pink flowers, all spreading outward.

In its entirety, this beatitude says, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” Jesus himself said this, when he was just starting out on his itinerant ministry at age 30. Over the next 3 years (just 3!) Jesus would mourn the ugliness of hypocrisy and sin, the betrayal of friends and followers, and his own impending execution.

But in the end? Jesus beats death itself and becomes the One to wipe away the tears of those who turn to him. Wow! We’re so used to hearing this, but just…Wow!

In fact, Jesus becomes ALL the things. He is he sacrificial Lamb, the Shepherd, the Comforter, the King. The Alpha and Omega. All these names are his names.

So. Blessed are you if you mourn and seek comfort. Jesus doesn’t say the pain will leave. But he does say he will wipe away your tears. And he will comfort you. In my experience, as I have trusted this shepherd king, he does exactly that.

Welcome, Lord Jesus, this Christmas. Please don’t let us overlook who you actually are.

*Revelation 7:17

© Joan Olson
“Blessed are Those Who Mourn”
(55×68) Felted Wool Sweaters

Mom’s Blanket

Attention, all you makers…

Do you want to learn to make these blankets too? The Felted Wool Blanket Master Class begins January 12, 2019. Sign up for my email list to be the first to hear when enrollment opens—and receive access to a video from the course about how to choose great sweaters for your project.

I am grateful for amazing travels lately!

In August my hubby and I celebrated 35 years of marriage in England and Wales. In October I was in San Clemente, California, to celebrate my mom’s birthday. And last week we headed west again, to Seattle this time, for an extended-family Thanksgiving and a granddaughter’s baptism.

Packed in that little paragraph are four generations of people and celebrations. So ordinary and yet extraordinary at the same time.

I’ve been thinking about these people whom I love and how we have shared years, influences, loves, skills, preferences, and gifts. Such richness.

In Mom’s living room, there is a blanket I made for her back when I was first figuring these blankets out. For Mom (half of the wonderful parental team who transplanted themselves from the Midwest to the Wild West to start their family), I wrangled up colors that made me imagine a rough-skinned cowboy up on his horse, his hat low to shade his eyes. And a Franciscan padre trading for Mexican textiles to furnish his living quarters in an adobe mission. And heat. Lots and lots of dry, bone-piercing heat.

My parents passed on to me a love for these things. (And my mom taught me to sew. There’s those influences and gifted skills, right there.) I have brought those western US influences into our home in northern Illinois, with a couple of pieces of Mission furniture, a Navajo-woven rug on the wall, and a painting of rugged California mountains above the piano. They ground me still!

Sitting one morning last month under that blanket with my morning cup of coffee in hand and the tissue-thin bougainvillea outside made brilliant by the California sun, I realized I had never taken photos of this pre-blog blanket. I finally captured a few with my phone. (Tricky lighting for me, but you still get the picture.)

The whip-stitched edge works just right for this one. Because that cowboy had a worn laced-leather wallet in his pocket, don’t you think?

© Joan Olson
“Mom’s Blanket”
Felted Wool Sweaters

This blanket has already gone to a good home.