How a spool of thread cost hundreds of dollars and an entire morning

This is a story that any sewer (or knitter, quilter, weaver etc) will completely understand.

I needed topstitching thread. I got this far on a denim jacket

denim jacket with no sleeves

2 rolls of topstitching thread finished already

and ran out of topstitching thread.

So I went to my closest store, but ran out the door without the thread spool. Of course, I picked up the wrong thread.

I also picked up some stretch cotton for my kiddo (we have this exact thing in lycra and were saying how awesome it would be if we could find it in cotton for a dress)

Gorgeous cotton stretch stripe fabric

Gorgeous cotton stretch stripe

and some stretch for me (for a wrap dress, or this great dress from Muse Patterns)

Black fabric with print with blue, black & white ovals

I don’t usually wear polyester, but this print is excellent

and some soft lycra that will go nicely with a brown I bought last week (oh, and 2 light bulbs and some spare denim needles).

Grey-green cotton lycra

This looks better in person

I got home, realised the thread was wrong, and went to the next closest fabric store (about 20 minutes drive). The thread I wanted was the only colour they didn’t have, so I went to the next closest quilting store (in the same mall, so just a walk).

The thread I wanted was the only onecolour they didn’t have, but I found some organic cotton thread that will be nice for my next blouse project

White organic cotton thread

Organic cotton thread, who knew

and an amazing pair of scissors for my left-handed kiddo

Left-handed scissors with printed handles

Left-handed, print-handled dressmakers shears! OMG!!

a buttonhole chisel (which I’ve been looking for for a while)

A buttonhole chisel

Very handy when I’m about to cut buttonholes in denim

a scissor sharpener (I just fixed my favourite 2 pairs of old scissors that have had blunt spots for years – I haven’t been able to find a sharpening service here)

Scissor sharpener

Now I’ll have sharp scissors forever

and a white marking pencil that I’ve been looking for.

Then I went to the next closest sewing machine store, but they didn’t have the brand of thread I needed.

So I drove across town (normally 25 minutes, but I was writing this post in my head and missed the turn, so it was a bit longer)…

…where I finally found topstitching thread

brown topstitching thread


(and some really nice silk thread for another project I have planned)

Red silk thread

I’ve never seen silk thread anywhere else

(and the store owner remembered me even though I haven’t been there for about 15 years).

And that’s how a spool of thread cost me a couple of hundred dollars and took me all morning to buy.

But now we have a new jacket, which will be the subject of another post.

Denim jacket

Looks just like a real one

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A new year: Cleaning up, setting up, restarting

I had a couple of weeks off over Christmas (actually, that’s not quite true – it’s my quiet period as well, so I have a fair amount of time, but on these 2 weeks I did no working-work). I had a bunch of projects that I wanted to start but an uncomfortable, unsettled feeling that was stopping me from getting stuck into it.

Usually for me this feeling is resolved by, instead of getting stuck in, stepping back and spending some time just fooling around and getting re-organised. So that’s what I did – mostly without as much intent as this will sound :)

The studio

I have a nice studio space beside my garage, but it was feeling crowded and uncomfortable to work in. I wanted to get another dressmaker’s mannequin, but knew I wouldn’t be able to fit anything else in.

After a bunch of thinking of options, I realised there was only one thing to do – the loom had to go (no, not forever, but I’m not going to be using it for a while). It was literally taking up half the room.

It just sits there and stares at me

My floor loom is enormous!

That opened up tons of space!

Plenty of space

Plenty of space

I’ve been doing sketching and drawing in my office in the house, but the lighting isn’t great and I don’t like working there – it feels like work. So I decided to set up a space in the studio for that. I bought some lights and pinboards, borrowed a trestle table and set up a desk to draw at. The bonus is that my daughter can sew at the same time as me now, which makes that more likely to happen!

A drawing & extra work space

A drawing & extra work space

The blocks

I have a set of blocks that I use for patternmaking, but I wasn’t happy with them. I wasn’t very good when I started them so every time I start a new pattern I have to remember the things that don’t quite work (bad waist positioning, terrible armhole shapes…). So I procrastinate when I want to start a project because I know the first draft won’t be very good.

I decided to redo them all, which is a big deal as it’s days of work. I also decided to try a new method (I’ve tried three different patternmaking methods and didn’t like any of them for real people who aren’t size 10 with an hourglass shape – one day I’ll do a detailed review of the methods). I bought a Craftsy class by Suzy Furrer which turned out to be my best patternmaking decision ever. Her method is fantastic, and the block it creates is wonderful. I still needed to do mine and kiddo’s twice due to some measuring mistakes, but now I have brilliant, wonderful, perfect blocks and I know my draft patterns will be pretty close to right first time.

And I have them on card, all hanging on pattern hooks, looking like I know what I’m doing. There really is something in the appearance of being professional :)

Looking like a pro!

Looking like a pro!

The projects

So with space and supplies, I should have been ready to get into those projects. But no, I was spinning around in circles, still not sure where to start. I had too many ideas and couldn’t start any of them.

Post-it notes to the rescue!

I wrote out every project I was thinking about – some were for garments and some were just fabric I wanted to use. I even colour-coded them with different colours for kiddo and I.

Then for each I applied the good old ‘Getting things done’ method and thought about the next action for each – what was stopping me from just getting started.

I had a few barriers:

  • Some (like a couple of pair of trousers) couldn’t be started until I lost a few kgs – there is no point making good things when I’m bigger than I want to be, then lose weight. These just needed to be parked.
  • For some, I actually didn’t know what to make. I know that I want some stretch tops and some cute blouses, but I don’t know what I want. These needed research.
  • For some, I didn’t have some skills I needed. I don’t have enough experience with fine (slippery) silk to start a silk blouse. I don’t know how to bind the armhole of a sleeveless blouse. I have very little experience with knits. These all got put on hold, and skills added to my projects list instead.
  • Some were for winter, and I really should work on things I can wear sooner, so they were parked as well.

The process of getting these out of my head and into a visible form was excellent. The worst place to hold ideas is in my head – it’s just far too messy. So now they are all on my pinboard, with sketches, inspiration and fabric.

All the ideas

All the ideas

This was better, but not perfect – I can see everything I want to do, but not what to do next. So I also put all my projects into OmniFocus, where my entire life’s todo is. Now I’m comfortable. I can easily see what the next step is for any project, rather than trying to hold that detail in my head as well.

All the jobs!

All the jobs!

This may completely look like overkill but with a job that involves running 3 conferences and a couple of client projects at once, I am accustomed to outsourcing all my thinking into a computer. I spend an hour a week looking over all my projects, updating them and figuring out next actions. It really means that when I have some time I can see exactly what I can do right now.


So with that all in place, I can start projects. The first three are a denim jacket and jumpsuit for kiddo, and a sleeveless blouse for me (I knocked over the ‘learn sleeve binding’ problem). I’ve even made a start on them:



Hmmm…so what now? Finish the stretch blocks, redo the denim jacket pattern or make a blouse? I might just do all three!


Posted in Patternmaking, Sewing | Leave a comment

Linen panel dress

[Intro: I’m switching direction again – from personal development to motorbiking to sewing. I design stuff, patternmake and sew; and I thought I might share some of my projects…]

The concept

I’m studying a Diploma in Fashion design and for an assignment had to design a mini spring/summer range. Amongst other things, I sketched this dress:

First sketch

First sketch

Which turned into this flat:


The fabric

I actually thought I wouldn’t be able to make this – it depended on being able to find colours that went together in the same fabric. I don’t have very good access to fabric stores so went shopping to look for things for another project. You can imagine how surprised I was to find these, all in lovely-quality linen:

5 examples of linen fabric

The pattern draft

The pattern is pretty simple. It’s from a standard dress block. I removed ease under the arms, moved the shoulder dart to the side seam, let out the waist darts a bit, widened the skirt and then drew in the neckline and panels. You can see most of it in this photo. The reason there is so much drawing on it is that there are a couple of stages of modification, each in a different colour (green is the final pattern). It’s messy, but easier (and more accurate) than tracing it for each variation.

Making the pattern

Making the pattern

I did make a toile, but the photo is fairly awful. I just traced the pattern straight onto the calico – again, that was much easier than cutting out the pattern and then cutting the fabric. I made it all in one piece to check the overall shape – I didn’t’ bother with the panels just yet.

The prototype

I made a prototype out of sheeting so I could double-check the pattern and see what the panels looked like, and it turned out great. All I needed to change was to narrow the skirt a bit.

Prototype dress, made from old sheeting

Prototype dress, made from old sheeting

I love the prototype – it’s almost wearable except for the fabric.

The final pattern

The final pattern pieces look like this:

Front pieces

Front pattern pieces

Pattern pieces for the back

Back pattern pieces

Lining pattern pieces

Lining and facing pattern pieces

There are a few little pattern features that may not be obvious:

  • The strap is the same colour as the top panel, but cut as a separate piece so it can be cut on the straight grain, not part bias (so it sits nice and flat)
  • The strap is perfectly positioned over the bra strap
  • The bust dart is hidden on the left, incorporated into the panel seam (but I couldn’t manage that on both sides)
  • I made a skirt facing instead of just turning up a hem. I wanted a bit of weight so the linen would hang straight and heavy-ish. I have never sewn a large turned up hem and have it look great. The facing is excellent for a really neat hem.

The dress

And here it is – the finished dress!

The final dress, and matching jacket

The final dress, and matching jacket

Just the dress

Just the dress

Sucking in my belly

Sucking in my belly

The wrap-up

I really love it. I’ve worn it twice already. It fits perfectly of course and is really comfortable. The linen crushes, but that’s just what happens with linen. I could even imagine making it again, which is unusual for me – I usually don’t use a pattern twice. If I did, I’d change the top angle of the centre panel to be less straight across the body – it’s a bit straight and visually wide, but that’s the only thing I’d do differently.

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Sinking sunk costs: Don’t continue work you hate

You may not know this, but I’m a weaver. I’ve had an enormous loom for longer than I’ve had a daughter, and my number 1 criteria when house-hunting is making sure I have space for my loom and sewing machines.

Some years ago, I made a rag rug out of denim jeans and gave it to my Dad. He hung it on the wall instead of using it as a rug, but that was OK. It was a good rug and I liked it enough that I eventually decided to make one for myself.

I collected jeans for years – going to op-shops and church sales, picking up $3 jeans, and delighting when I found a cheap pair of fat-man jeans.

I tore them into strips for years. Standing on my back deck, breathing in cotton dust, tearing until my arms hurt.

Thousands of strips of jeans

Thousands of strips of jeans

I wrapped them into balls by colour. Starting small and gradually getting bigger. It took ages and for a couple of years there were piles of denim strips in my loungeroom that would sit untouched for months at a time.

Rolled into balls

Rolled into balls

I wound a long warp and patiently put it on the loom. I threaded around 500 warp threads through the heddles, through the reed and tied them onto the front beam. It took days of continuous effort.

A very long warp

A very long warp

I finally started to weave – about 8 years after I started the project. And I hated it. It was just not fun weaving. I couldn’t get any rhythm, every piece of denim had to be placed in by hand, the warp was too wide to do it comfortably. So naturally, I stopped and did other things. I think it sat still for well over a year, possibly two.

It just sits there and stares at me

It just sits there and stares at me

The rug sat on the loom until last night, when I had some free time and thought I’d give it another go to get it woven off so I could start something pretty. It took half an hour to weave 10cm and I still hated it.

With only 1.6m done (out of a potential 8m), I decided it was not worth continuing. I didn’t want it to sit there for another 2 years, not being done. I wove a header to finish it off, took the scissors to it and cut it off the loom.

Finished weaving

Finished weaving

Twisting the fringe - another 3 hours work

Twisting the fringe – another 3 hours work

Ah, what a good decision that was. Now, instead of a hated project that I felt like I should continue because of the time I’d already sunk into it, I have an empty loom and infinite possibilities.

The rug is lovely. I would like more of them. But I don’t want them enough to risk locking up my future into a project I hate.

The finished rug is gorgeous

The finished rug is gorgeous

Now for something pretty.

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Seat, tyres and boots

It’s been far too hot to ride recently – around 37°C for the entire week (and it starts getting hot too early to get a ride in).

I did get out on one great ride on the Australia Day holiday – about 11 of us spent a few hours on the back roads before settling in for a burger at Jugiong. That was fun – after saying I could probably manage 80 on gravel roads, I managed a top speed of 112 before it got a bit wobbly (my top speed on tarmac is only 124). But most importantly, I kept up with the group (of mostly big bikes) all morning.

I also got some practice in a friend’s paddock – doing slow speed stuff, learning to lean the bike right in, initiating turns with my feet and getting off the handlebars. I also channelled my inner 10 year old by riding sitting down, half off the seat, with a leg thrown forward for balance. All good practice that I can’t get while on rides.

But otherwise, (well, apart from this thing called work that I occasionally have to do), I did some playing with the bike.

Lowering the seat

I’ve been thinking about some of the things I’m still afraid of, and a lot of them revolve around falling. Well, not falling specifically, but losing balance and not being able to catch myself. I’m not bothered by the height of the bike any more for most situations, but I imagine being in the middle of a creek, and not being able to get my foot down to catch myself.

There seemed to be three options – lowering via the shock (apparently about 3/4″), getting a lowering link, or lowering the seat. I’d really prefer not to play with the clearance if I can avoid it, and I had bought a spare seat foam a while back, so thought that would be the best, first option.

I pulled the seat off and looked at the spare foam. There’s a ton of foam in there! I’m only 70kg – surely I don’t need that thickness of foam to support me.

There's a ton of foam there

There’s a ton of foam there

I drew a revision of about 1cm, and cut it down (haha, with one of my best kitchen knives). It was pretty rough, so I grabbed some sandpaper and sanded it until it was smooth enough, then glued it back to the seat base and re-stapled the cover.

This simple change dropped my heels by about 2cm. I still couldn’t flat foot it, but I don’t really need to – I just needed more grip with my toes – I could finally push back while sitting on the bike, and felt more able to get to the ground if I needed to.

Fixing the tyre

After the last ride, I looked at my tyre, and it was doing something very strange. Half of the tyre (around the circumference, not across it) was almost worn right down, and the other half still had 5-6mm on the central knobs. After a bit of asking around, I concluded that it was incredibly out of balance – it has one rimlock and it’s right near the valve stem. This combination means that one side of the tyre is heavier than the other, and results in uneven wear. I’m not sure, but it may have been made worse by a 400km tarmac ride on a 44°C day!

So I got a new tyre (a D606) and asked them to balance it. Just look at the weights they needed to balance it! No wonder it was out of shape.



Before I changed the tyre, the bike vibrated so much that I usually wore cycling shorts when riding any kind of distance. With the new, balanced tyre it’s beautifully smooth.

Buying the boots

I had been wearing Gaerne G-Adventures. I bought them in Italy, using my limited Italian and much hand waving, and carried them in my backpack all the way home. They’re great boots – super comfortable and easy to walk in. They are so comfortable that I rarely think about my feet at all. Except when I’m standing on the pegs for a long while – then all I think about is how much my arches hurt and how I want the ride to end. It also seemed to be getting worse – starting to hurt earlier in rides, rather than my feet getting stronger. I needed something with a stiffer sole, and something that would protect my ankles a lot better if I fall under the bike.

The incredibly hard thing about finding good boots is that I have girl-sized feet. I wear a European 39 / UK 6. Most of the boots that were recommended to me start at a Euro 40 (except Garne SG-10s, which come in a 39). The bigger problem is that retailers don’t carry boots that small. Because clearly, girls don’t ride! (BTW – there are no appropriate boots in women’s styling). I asked at my local shop and they were happy to get me in a pair of Sidi Crossfires, with no obligation to buy them if they didn’t fit. That was awesome! Then when I tried them on, they fit well enough – with an innersole to support my arches better, they are pretty much perfect. They have a reputation as a narrow boot, which was perfect for me. It took me a week of wearing them around the house to soften them up for riding, and I can’t lift my toe high enough to change gears without lifting my foot, but that’s ok.

Sidi Crossfires

Sidi Crossfires

But now I can’t touch the ground again

The combination of a higher profile tyre and a boot with a stiffer sole means I could only just touch the ground again. I couldn’t push the bike forward or back.

Lowering the seat

I only took 1cm out of the seat first time, and there was still plenty of foam where I sit, so I took to it again, this time removing another 1cm. I didn’t want to slope the back of he seat, as changing the angle of the seat could make it uncomfortable to ride, so I cut it down square.

Marking the foam before cutting

Marking the foam before cutting

The result was excellent. My heels almost touch the ground and I can push the bike around if I need. I feel safer if I need to stop, and the foam is still supportive for riding. Win!

Testing it out

I took it for a run with a friend on the weekend and it was most excellent. I missed the shifter and brake a couple of times with the new boots, but that was the only issue. I felt comfortable and happy on my bike. Here’s a pic from the top of Tinderry Rd.

Tinderry Rd

Posted in Riding | 1 Comment