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.

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.

Class Begins!

Hello, Folks! Just a quick post to say the Felted Wool Blanket Master Class starts tomorrow! You can step right in and begin forthwith to create your own felted wool blanket. This is a great time of year to work on a blanket, as life is a little quieter than usual…plus, um, it’s cold.

Want to learn more? Go here to read all the info about the class. You can sign up there too.

(Please note: Enrollment for the class will stay open an extra week (through January 26) as I inadvertently caused a frustrating sign-up glitch when I first launched enrollment. Ugh! If you have any trouble signing up, contact me directly and I’ll help get you squared away.)

Winter 2019 Blanket-Making Class is Open for Enrollment!

©Joan Olson “Blessed are the Merciful” (61×75) Felted wool sweaters

Happy New Year!

It’s a day for kicking back, enjoying something out of the ordinary, maybe dreaming about 2019. I won’t interrupt all that.

But I do want to announce that this winter’s Felted Wool Blanket Master Class is NOW OPEN for enrollment. Woo hoo! If you’ve ever wanted to make a wool blanket of your own, this might be the time. Go here to find all the details. If you’ve got any questions, ask them right here at the bottom of this post.

Class starts January 12. Work can be done along the course timeline or at your very own pace—as you will have access to curriculum indefinitely. There’s also a private Facebook group for all sorts of helpful interaction, which you’ll be invited to join as soon as you enroll. Enrollment will remain open through 1/12/19. Sign up here.

Maybe I’ll see you in class soon!

Seven Ways I Deal with Overwhelm Before it Deals with Me (or, “Nobody cares, Grandma!”)

A couple of months ago I sent out a survey to my email list members,
to help in my own brainstorming about what directions to head next.

In response to a question about blog content, one person made a comment
that regularly pricks my thoughts. She said,

“Maybe you could post that you too get overwhelmed
from time to time … if you do. Surely you do?”
 ·······   Yes, I surely do!   ·······

For the past two days I’ve set aside time to write a blog post and an email newsletter. I’ve actually made the time to do it! But then I can’t write. Cannot. I chase ideas around my cluttered brain and find nothing cohesive. I look dumbly at photos I’ve uploaded and sentences I’ve struggled to form.

I recognize this. It is not a case of an elusive muse. No, it’s paralysis. And it is brought on by a sense of overwhelm which cloaks everything I try to do with its dark, slogging weight. It comes when there are too many expectations (usually self-made!), too many idea trails to follow, too many things coming at me at once.

Two powerful triggers of overwhelm for me are 1) travel, and 2) the holidays. And what do you know? They are both presently operative, with all their happy bells on!* I love travel and I love the holidays, but they throw the beloved evenness of my days out the window. Amen, anybody?

Yesterday, after staring at the computer screen blankly for a long time, I finally gave up and cleaned house. (Which is one of the things that has badly needed doing, and people are coming over tomorrow.) A huge perk of house-cleaning is that it lifts my spirits and clears mental space. Maybe that’s the reason I can write today?

As I cleaned I thought about the strategies I use to beat back a sense of overwhelm so it cannot get the best of me. I identified seven. In most cases they boil down to some wise words I learned from a little girl a long time ago…

One Christmastime, when my oldest daughter was six, she stood on a chair at the kitchen counter helping my mom decorate cookies. Her curly, unkempt red hair was pushed back by an ill-fitting plastic tortoiseshell headband which continually slid forward onto her forehead. My mom kept trying to fix it, but my daughter wasn’t having it. With far more wisdom than she could understand, my daughter declared, “Nobody cares, Grandma!”

This line has gone down in our family lore and is still quoted frequently, whether the object of the assertion is a grandmother or not. Watch how it works in the first four of my list of seven. These are things I do when I am feeling overwhelmed:

  1. Lower my expectations for whatever is the task at hand. Although my heart was clamoring for a thorough fall house-cleaning yesterday, I chose a few important particulars. Maybe I’ll get to others before 2019. (“And anyway, nobody cares, Grandma.”)
  2. Drop judgment of myself for my limitations. Yesterday I was grieving the fact that I didn’t pack a shoe box for Operation Christmas Child, let alone make a blanket for it (which is what I really, really wanted to do again). So I let myself feel sad for a bit, then I went to the Samaritan’s Purse site and ordered a shoe box right there. You can still do this too! Deadline is November 19. (“You got a box out! That’s what matters, Grandma!”)
  3. Set low goals for what I can accomplish by Christmas. Handmade gifts may not be done on time or even at all. I preach the following to myself regularly: “Nobody knows what your intentions were but you. Others will likely love whatever you give as a gift. Don’t turn it in to something to fret about. (“Cuz nobody cares, Grandma!”)
  4. Recognize that the feelings of stress are simply a feeling, that no-one else can feel mine (they’re inside only me), and many of the things I think I need to do are cared about by only me. Do I need to cook dinner from scratch tonight? Do I need to dust the blades of that ceiling fan before people arrive? (“Really, nobody cares, Grandma.”)
  5. Flip the switch in my mind to think about the things I have been able to do: Have a great conversation with a friend. Fold the laundry and put it away. Teach an online class (!!).
  6. Be conscious of the present moment and enjoy what I’m doing. When I practice this it’s actually a lot of fun. Turn on loud music or listen to a podcast while I clean. Pour a short glass of wine while I cook.
  7. For the to-dos that are necessary, I do best when I address them one-by-one and tune-out the rest of the noisy list in my head. This keeps me calm and speeds up each little job. Many don’t take but a few minutes!

What are YOUR techniques when overwhelm strikes? Please share!

*Last weekend I returned from southern California where I stayed with my mom for a week. One evening we were stunned by this glorious sunset. (Can you find the sliver of ocean in pics 3 and 4? Far right.) The photo below is what I was met by back at home in northern Illinois.