Forging an iron seam stiletto sewing help.

Yesterday I forged an iron knive and a tool to help with sewing:
Mes smeden ijzersmeden workshop Veghel Phoenix Cultuur NoordkadeMes smeden ijzersmeden workshop Veghel Phoenix Cultuur Noordkade
It was a one day workshop with a real black smith.

In a well equiped black smith forgery in Veghel. It’s situated in an old factory that’s repurposed to dozens of studios, skilled craft working places, food courts, cinema and the best chips/fries of the country. Phoenix Cultuur offers many courses and workshops there.

The smith is Niek Eikelenboom from Black Oak forgery in Schijndel:

In the Netherland you’re not allowed to carry a knive in the street. That’s why sewing a leather holder is part of the workshop. Again natural materials: leather, waxed thread, steel needles. Love it!

Blacksmithing is amazing! You can make your own tools, exactly to your own requirements! The knive is made to the width of your own hand which makes it ergonomic. The forgery was fool of tools that were customized. My hand got twitchy just thinking about the possibilities! Scissors, pliers, grabby tools, stabby tools, melting pots, cooking tools, poking tools. Useful things!

That’s why yesterday, for our extra project, I made a sewing tool, a seam stiletto or rather a tool to help with keeping the fabric and threads at the right place while I sew over them. It’s the part I use my seam ripper most for during a sewing project:

handforged iron sewing tool

All beginners were deemed good enough to make a bottle opener, with two slightly curved flat bits at the end and a round twisty bit in the middle. I just changed one end into a sharp and flat end and now I’ve got a new sewing tool:
handforged iron sewing tool
handforged iron sewing tool

It’s called a seam stiletto I believe. It’s a good orifice hook for spinning too. And I can probably also open bottles with it.


a Dress Form: Prym Prymadonna S 611 755

I’ve bought a dress form!

This is the adjustable dress form by Prym and it comes at a cheap price for an adjustable dress form. You can adjust buste, waist and hip individually from each other. (Other forms may let you only scale up the total: you dial the hip to size 42 and waist and buste go to 42 too.)

It has a four legged standard and a device to mark the hem all around. It’s made of plastic with a purple cover. The package only weighs 6 kilos.
Size S is for sizes 36 to 42 (Chest: 84 – 100 cm; Waist: 66 – 84 cm; Hips: 91 – 109 cm)

It’s technical information is listed right under the thimbles.
I think Prym only introduced this product in March 2015…

Every product is worth no more than you pay for it. This dress form is not perfect (but for this money well worth it I think)
These are the critiques I found on the net:
1 It’s a rigid surface with a rather thin layer of fabric to pin things on.
2 It’s a bit wobbly due to its lightness.
3 When the chest is expanded there aren’t much boobs left.
4 Measurements don’t match the one on the dials.
5 When you assemble it some of the plastic inner parts can have sharp edges.
6 Some people find it hard to get the hang of manning the adjusting dials.

These are the solutions:
1 set it to a slightly smaller size and add a layer that will hold pins better
2 haven’t figured this one out. Work with downwards motions.
3 add a bra that fits you well
4 measure the form and adjust to this knowledge instead of the numbers on the dials
5 be careful during assembling and if you plan to do that often round off the edges with a file. A nail file will do.
6 practise. Perhaps add some grease or candle wax.

Then you get, for a low price (100-175 euro), a dress form that is adjustable for your own and other peoples measurements.

I plan to only use it for myself and to make it an identical double of my own body, by padding it out until it matches my exact measurements.

As a base to start from it’s very good, for that price. It has a wide foot to stand on; it can combine my small hips with my wide torso and I don’t mind that it then looses boobage because I’d add a bra of mine anyway because I want to be sure to have the my exact curves.
With the padding (and the no-ease body shell I plan to put over it) I will have enough thickness and sturdy surface to attach pins to. It will be able to hold up heavier fabrics. I will be able to drape on it!

Poppaea Olimpia.jpg “Poppaea Olimpia” by Nanosanchez

For the padding I’ll use some tricks found in this blog post:
Especially how to define the underbust once the bra and cover are on. And the notion that I’ll need padding in variegating thicknesses to perfect to my measurements. Not just 1″ thick padding.
I won’t use plastic bags though, I’ll opt for felt or carded wool instead.

This is a very good tutorial for making a dress form to your own measurements:
She strongly advises to start with a solid dress form, not an adjustable one…

Oh! A wonderful tip is to take a picture of your dress form and of you wearing the cover and compare them side by side! You’re looking for differences in silhouette that need to be eliminated.
pic by Marion Bellet

Another great tip from the Sew Chic Patterns blog:”after you’re done, spray the mannequin and its cover so the fabric will shrink a bit and be nice and tight.” Excellent idea!

Last year I saw the dress forms they use for Strictly Come Dancing on TV: a professional sewing studio that has to make high functional garments for all the contestants every week. They use solid bases with padding.
pic by Clara Molden

hahaha, this tutorial has padding with bean bags:
Can’t do that, the Prymadonna will get top heavy.
(Tutorial is by a true cling foil fan. Brrrrr.)

NB to myself:
padd the back at the top, you’ve got an S-thing going on there

Well, it will be here next week. I better find some cotton batting and fabric to make a shell with.

The dresses from last year’s Strictly Come Dancing finals on the indidualized dress forms (with a “sock” over it)
pic by Steve Reigate

my fabric stash November 2014

100% Cotton. Sturdy. Good for daily dresses and skirts. Dresses to wear when roaming the fields, climbing trees.
The idea is sleeveless dresses, with a bit of ease. Wearing a longsleeve and woolen tights under it.
Bought to combine into colour blocked dresses. One or two are stretchy canvas. The petrol is heavier than the rest.

For lined and underlined dresses and skirts.

Jacquard, the wool from Dublin, upholstery fabric with butterflies and my woolen handspun and handwoven.
Butterflies is for a skirt, it will need shaping as this fabric is not souple. The other fabrics need various degrees of fortification (the handwoven most of all.) The jacquard can do without lining.

The mauve I got from Lieneke and petrol silk I bought at a sale.
They need attention when cutting and some fortification to help them maintain a dress shape. And also fraying prevention.

Very light weight grey textured cloth. Batiste I guess.
Stretchy loud fabric, the same material as my blue dress.

little pieces of cloth. For accents, colour blocks, pockets and WIPbags.
Cotton, flannel, linnen, stretchy cotton, silver lined EMF blocking cloth, upholstery owl cloth.

all kinds of silks. Organza, chiffon, plain weave. Some dyed to match the green handdyed linen above.

Cotton. Muslin. Bed sheets. For trying out patterns, making muslins.

new old sewing machine: retro Vesta

This followed me home from the thrift store:

I know nothing about it and it’s pretty dirty. But it has a metal casing, it ran in the store and it’s from before computers so it’ll be easy to fix if something isn’t good. Ain’t got no worries ’bout this un!

The colour! Option to zig zag!
the future is bright

At the moment I’m knee deep in wool but when the weather outside changes I’m playing with this new old toy.

UPDATE 2017:

I cleaned it up. It’s not a Vesta, it’s a Senwa. And it’s busted. It only sews backwards. It seems it is beyond repair. Or so the expert tells me, the one at Rijkers Naaimachines in Veghel, and they know their business.

They also told me this type comes from a generic machine factory (in Japan) that uses plastic gears. Metal gears are better.

Parts have not been on the market for 30 years.

A new dummy, in paper tape

With two friends we made some dummies last weekend. We used Paper Tape which is superior to duct tape for dummies, in my opinion. It doesn’t smell, it went much faster because only two layers of tape where needed and because it goes very solid upon drying it doesn’t need filling.

This dummy is rock solid, you can use it as a drum:

We used this tutorial

And this is the tape we used. It’s industrial quality, used for sealing carton boxes. (Do not use aquarel tape from the artists’ shops! It’s too flimsy.)
One side has glue (not for vegans!) on it and you wet it with some water to activate it.

It only took two layers for the dummy to dry solid. We could make 3 dummies out of 2 rolls of tape! (I bought 12 because with the duct tape we needed 4 to 6 layers for it to keep its shape.)

I’m really happy with it. I’ve begun to sew a dress from Burda May 2014, just to see how a standard Burda size 40 fits me. Pinning the pieces to the dummy already teaches me so much (like: I am not that wide in the back. But I am in the front. And I’m really a 21, the size with the shorter back.)
Pictures soon (aka 3 weeks)

In the mean time I slipped a tight shirt over the dummy and am pinning things to that. I love it because now I clearly see my shape and can think about how to dress it to its advantage.
I already know where this is going: moulage. Draping.
I’ve got a Craftsy class lined up. I’ve got an instruction book from a Dutch teacher. And I watched Chinelo Bally on The Great British Sewing Bee.
What an inspiration.

But first the May Burda dress. And a couple of dresses with princess lines from a basic pattern. That I have to reinvent now that my posture has changed.

Sewing: a basting kind a gal

Today I discovered I am fond of basting a garment!
With the sewing machine set on 2mm or 3mm stitching I just whip up the garment (no seam treatment, just baste together the defining seams: side seams, bustdarts) and try it on.
Ideal for trying out the fit!

With the wide stitches I can take the seams apart fast after I’m done pinning the adjustments.
Or, as I did with the Wriggle Dress -my second dress ever- today: baste together and try it on and pin the adjustments and take the basting apart and baste it again and try it on again and pin some more adjustments and take the basting apart and baste it again and try it on again. I am a beginner.

It was especially the darts that needed the most repinning and when I found them to be good I pressed them, while they were still basted. Then I took all the basting out and resewed the seams in the apropriate, smaller stitch. Easy peasy since the baste line was still visible.
(I do stitch slow and with ridiculous attention so YMMV (Your Milage May Vary))

One dart, ready to be sewed. These are diamond shaped darts. They are to be sewed starting in the middle towards a point, reducing stitch width as you approach the end of the fabric. Try “falling off” the fabric gradually, in a very small stitch width. This reduces puckering. Then you turn your dress around and do the other point of the dart in the same way.

I plan to do this basting thing with a few more dresses that I am trying out, I love it! No toile needed.
Of course, the fashion fabric must allow for all this basting and taking apart. Probably shouldn’t do this with satin, silk or high end linen… and should work from too wide to a good fit. Not from too tight to more ease, that basting line might remain visible.

And: there should be a nice cup or holder to collect the threads while you work.
this is mine, it belonged to my grandmother who was a great seamstress (I didn’t know untill after she passed) and she and I both love birds.

Oh! Last tip to myself: use a contrasting colour thread for basting! This makes it easier to unpick. And it won’t tempt me to leave it in because “it’s already the right line”. 2 or 3mm stitches is not a good width for many fabrics, it will stretch and tear in the seams. Take it out. Yes, use contrasting thread. Good tip. You know you.

Have scissors, will cut

I now have good scissors, I’m ready to cut the fabric pieces from last time!

But first: mark fabric properly.

See how ragged the line had become with the blunt scissors? I’m not even going to sharpen them, I’m just going to chuck it.

So these are my thoughts about marking:

– do it.

either with the seam allowance attached as is custom with most US patterns. Carefully trace around the pattern piece. Take it away. Cut the fabric, just inside the line you drew.

Or mark the fabric while adding the seam allowance. Most European patterns do not have the seam allowance attached so you can decide for yourself how broad you want it. I like this. You could even trace where the stitching needs to be which will give a more accurate line than with the US patterns where you have to measure first to take away the seam allowance.

There are some nifty tools to add a seam allowance of your chosen width. There’s a metal thingie which looks lovely ‘engineer’ to me. And there’s a plastic thingie that gives some standard widths. They showed it to me at the fabric store this afternoon but I had already paid for my stuff and people were waiting behind me so I got flustered and ran away before buying or taking a picture. It looks like a cut up credit card.

Now I cannot find one online because the Dutch word for it is the equivalent for ‘buddy’ and the Dutch word for ‘sewing’ is also slang for ‘breeding’ (very much like ‘screwing’ is in the English language) so the search results for ‘maatje naaien’ aka ‘screwing buddy’ were not the results I expected… I’m so naive! adorable.

oh look, I found a brain cell: just search for “seam allowance tool”

this Swedish blog shows one like I saw today.  I don’t think I should steal her picture and her band width. The blog is in English and she knows all the names for that plastic tool! I’m going to buy one next time.

This blog shows the engineering metal one. Ha! She sews for relaxation and has a degree in Urban Planning! Just like me! Only I am an absolute beginner….. And I have not found the relaxing part of sewing yet. Although I expect to find it in the fine execution of things, in using good fabrics and tool and in enjoying colours and hand eye coördination. Pretty much like in knitting, crocheting, spinning, embroidering and wood carving and wood block printing and Japanese brush art and probably also in ironing and baking.

hmmm, I could be reading these blogs all day long. Better stop. I want to do some sewing today.

For marking, I used a dress makers chalk (my, isn’t that a crumbly thing!) or just a pencil. I’ll be cutting on the inside of the line so the markings will not be on the fabric you use.

I have now trimmed my pieces properly, using the chalk and a pair of good, micro serrated scissors.

And I have cut lining fabric (also known as an IKEA curtain in soft cotton found at the thrift store)


I’ll be heading over to the sewing machine now!

Back at the sewing table

I’m back in the city. I brought back my scissors.

nah, I’m kidding. I have two proper fabric scissors at the cabin. Not used for anything else but fabric.

My plans to sew while I was at the cabin didn’t come into place. I did talk to another sewer in real life, I met her at my knitting circle. I could tell she was wearing a handmade dress, it looked fantastic on her. Great fit. We talked about marking, cutting and seam allowances. It left me very determent to be precise in that.

So this morning I will try the sharpness of the two fabric scissors I bought back from the cabin. If they don’t perform I will run into town this afternoon and get a pair of micro *mumblebumble* scissors at the fabric shop. And some chalk to mark with.

Today and tomorrow are for sewing. After that I’ll be running around and then retreat to the cabin again. For a long time. Long enough for Summer to arrive so if I don’t have a dress tomorrow afternoon I sure hope to finish sewing at the cabin.

(I may have ordered 22,5 m of pongé silk online…. for lining for all the dresses I’m going to sew)

(It’s white. I can dye it myself. Wouldn’t that be marvelous, to have a cheerful lining in a respectable dress?)


trouble cutting the fabric

I wanted to cut the fabric but I am having troubles.

I drafted the pattern onto sturdy paper. I’ll show you the details in a next post. First I want to talk about cutting the fabric.
Here’s a pattern piece positioned on the fabric. I matched the grain and I decided the total length from underbust to hem should be about 70 centimeters. Of course I only made the paper part for the part of the dress that matters. The line going down down down to that 70 centimeters I can cut without a guiding pattern. I have a steady hand and it doesn’t matter much.

The trouble I’m having is with the actual cutting. The scissors need some working room between the table and the fabric that makes them less accurate. Also, I suspect they are not sharp enough. I am getting ragged edges and I am unable to follow the precise line the paper dictates.
This is unacceptable.

I tried tracing the paper onto the fabric, with yellow chalk, so I wouldn’t have to handle the paper and the fabric together. That worked ok but doesn’t solve the problem of the scissors lifting up the fabric and not being able to follow the exact line.

All the cut pieces have a few millimeters varying marge around them. Given that I was very precise in drafting this pattern and plan to be very precise in its seam allowance when sewing it I am not satisfied with this.
A cutting mat and rotary cutter sound like a good idea. It’s just that I hate to spend money (on that).
First I’ll look into better tracing and wielding fabric layers together so cutting can be easier. And sharpening those scissors. For these cut pieces I could opt for tracing the stitching lines and using them as a guide. But I’d rather not draw on the fabric, the chalk doesn’t come out very well. And the irregular seam allowance will give me trouble when finishing the seams later on.

So I’m a bit stumped for now, how to proceed.

In the mean time: here are the ‘raw’ pieces:

without ‘accessoires’:

intermezzo: putting thread on the bobbin of my foot threadle

had to wind some new thread on the bobbin for the under thread of the sewing machine. It is all done by hand (foot) and it’s a wonderful piece of machinery. I LOVE the gears and all the precise engineering:


look at that heart shaped gear, it guides the thread holder to an fro!
The tension is precise, there are fail safes and spots to put oil. I LOVE it!