National Sewing Machine Day is today (June 13)

For us sewing enthusiasts, isn’t every day ‘Sewing Machine Day’? Of course it is! I didn’t know until today that sewing machines have their own day. This article on PBS.org tipped me off. It’s a neat collection of sewing stories they’ve done over the years. (Click on this photo to view the story of this pretty old machine on Antiques Roadshow.)

Sewing Machine Patent Model | Antiques Roadshow

I’ve done a few blog posts profiling my machines, and have more still to profile. Here are the stories I’ve told so far:

Here’s the lovely Vera, and her story such as I know it: The lovely Vera has been called up for active duty.

This was my grandma’s 1958 Singer 401A, that I learned lots of sewing skills on at her house.

This was my first antique sewing machine purchase; a 1917 Singer 66k hand crank, manufactured in Clydebank, Scotland. Still one of my most precious machines. The blog post: This machine is a sewing ambassador.

The two below are my ‘modern’ machines. It’s hard to believe the Bernina 930 is about 35 years old. I’ll never want for anything more modern. This will likely always be my main machine. The serger/overlocker is my newest machine. Five years after its purchase, I still have a love/hate (mostly hate) relationship with it. (Future blog post coming on that.) But it does serve a purpose.

In future posts from time to time, I’ll continue to profile my machines one by one. There are a couple more Berninas, and the rest are vintage Singers. There’s a Featherweight, another beautiful hand crank machine, and more treadle machines. Each one is different and special, at least to me.

Which is better, new machine vs vintage? The debate will continue to rage on about whether modern machines are better than vintage, and whether to go computerized or mechanical. You can see where I come down on those issues. I love sewing with my old machines, and I love that if something malfunctions, I’ll probably be able to fix it myself.

Yes, you can restore an old Singer yourself. If you’ve wanted one of the old black Singer machines, don’t be afraid to buy one you see at a good price. Use the serial number to date the machine. The site http://ismacs.net/ has a great database of sewing machine manufacture dates, and a collection of manuals, photos, etc. The parts for the machines are still made, and the machines are quite simple mechanically. Some cleaning, oil and minor adjustments may be all that’s needed. You can buy the bobbins, needles, belts, etc. at a sewing store, some discount stores, or online. Youtube has many excellent videos on how to do the cleaning, oiling, adjusting and repairs if needed. If you find an old machine at a great price, give it a shot.

Mila dungarees (Tilly and the Buttons pattern)

I purchased the digital pattern [link here], printed out the 30 pages of letter-sized paper, and commenced taping them all together in a big rectangle. Then I cut out the fully-assembled pattern pieces.

(Image from Tilly and the Buttons webstore.)

They’ve put out an add-on pattern for front pockets. I made the pockets, too. Free pocket download and instructions here: https://www.tillyandthebuttons.com/2018/06/mila-dungarees-pocket.html

How to add hip pockets to your Mila dungarees! - Tilly and the Buttons
(Image from Tilly and the Buttons webstore.)

The pattern instructions recommend using a fabric containing spandex. I did not follow the recommendation, and instead used some vintage thick brown corduroy that I inherited from my grandma’s stash. With no stretch to the fabric, I opted to make loose (baggy) overalls. They feel great and are fun to wear. I can do chores and run errands in them because they aren’t restrictive. I could take 3 inches out of the waist and hips, and they would fit more like the picture on the pattern, but that would compromise stretch and versatility. I’m happy with my baggy version, and am glad to have used some of my heirloom fabric.

More thoughts and recommendations:

No Front Pockets: I tried to put on the optional front pockets. Then I took them off, remade them and tried again. Then I gave up. I couldn’t get them to look right on the corduroy. I learned much, and should be able to get the pockets to look right on my next make.

Bulky facings: I wish I would have used a lightweight fabric for the inside facings and plackets. I used the corduroy, and it’s quite bulky. The bulk makes the waistband and side button plackets unnecessarily thick and stiff. It makes the overalls look wider at the waist and hips than if I’d used something lightweight on the inside, that would have enabled some drape in the fabric.

‘Overall’ Recommendation: Highly recommend. The pattern was accurate and easy to make, and the instructions were very well done.


Future post preview: I’m attempting to make homemade sauerkraut for the first time.

Painting smock made from a man’s shirt

This was a Christmas gift for my mom, who’s wheelchair-bound, with advanced Parkinson’s. She can no longer sew, and wants to try painting. So I made her a painting smock, upcycled from a man’s shirt.

The pockets and other add-ons are made with fabrics from my stash.

Here are some of the details.

  • The front pockets can hold supplies.
  • The ties go around the shoulders; not across the back, so she can get the apron on from the front, without being lifted out of the chair.

To protect her sleeves, I made these coordinating sleeve gaiters from chambray in my stash. You can also see the shape/template of the apron as it was cut from the front of the shirt.

And another smock!

After finishing the smock and then looking at the leftovers, I realized there was another smock in the back of the shirt, so I made her a second one, too.

How are the aprons working out? Well, she hasn’t shared any feedback (or paintings) with me yet, so I can’t assess the success. But I got a big smile from her when giving her the smocks, so I know they are appreciated and will be used.

Is there a tutorial? I didn’t take progress pictures to make into a tutorial. But if you do an internet search (like this) for images of aprons from upcycled men’s shirts, you’ll see a bunch of inspiring examples like I did before starting my project. The examples were all I needed, but the search will lead you to tutorials if needed.

Squishy Squeaky Squares — DIY dog toys

When Myrtle the two-year-old pup is being awful, and I need some peace, I can reach for the red plush fabric, and spend 5 minutes making her a squishy squeaky square.

When she sees me grab the red fabric, she calms down and sits as still as a statue by my sewing chair until I’m done. When I finish and hand it to her, her appreciation is a wonder.

THE PROCESS

The squeakers came from Amazon. For Myrtle, I got the 2-inch size. https://amzn.to/3jLL9q5



More desert island music

Round 6 of the Slice The Life 2020 Album Draft has just concluded. Four more rounds to go. For the latest ‘desert island album’ picks, click here.

For the Run-Sew-Read pick, click here, and enjoy the sample below.

Mask making continues, and gets more creative.

As masks have finally become plentiful, with enough supply to meet demand, my one-person mask making sweatshop is still operating, but I’ve slowed down production in order to indulge in more creativity. I’m using the same patterns as I was here and here, but have continued to experiment and add ‘improvements’ and improvisations.

I’m enjoying the process, and am grateful that I can do this one thing to help people navigate the pandemic. I’m inspired by all of the creative masks I see. Our community is under a mandatory mask order right now, and what I love most about it (besides the way it makes people keep each other safer) is looking at everyone’s masks. I love the vast array of prints and designs. Instead of people-watching, I’m now a mask-watcher.

My neighbor gave me a mask she made! I had given her a mask very early on. Then a few days after that, she came over asking where I got my pattern. Of course I printed her a copy to keep and use. Then one day she came over with this mask for me! She had worked her own details into it; filter pocket and good nose wire included. I love wearing it as much as I love my own. So, I say go exchange masks with fellow mask makers!

Another neighbor informed me that her mask was stolen from her car. So you’ve been warned, that the coolest masks have street value. Protect your valuables.

How long will we be making and wearing masks? I don’t know, but I just pulled fall and holiday woven cottons from my fabric storage, thinking I might as well get started on masks for the upcoming seasons.



And for some mask-making nourishment…

One big chocolate chip cookie…
For the sheet cookie, I added an extra cup of flour; spread the dough on a 1/4 -size sheet, and baked 2 minutes longer than specified for drop cookies.

It’s from this totally awesome recipe book.

Which apparently is still in print, which is a good thing.

Nelly Don Zero-Waste Apron (part 3)–Construction steps

After looking at the life and career of Nelly Don the iconic Kansas City designer in Part 1, and then deciphering the diagram for her 1925 patented zero-waste apron in Part 2, here in Part 3 are the apron construction steps.

The Apron and patent drawings:

Last week’s post provided measurements for drawing and cutting out the pieces, like this:

Nelly Don designed the apron to be sewn in one sitting, without having to remove it from the sewing machine. So now in Part 3 we sit down at the sewing machine and start constructing:

These are the chronological construction steps:

  • Hem all free edges
    • Side Panel (C) top edge
    • Pocket (D) top edge
    • Back (B) centers
  • Sew a Pocket (D) on each Side Panel (C)
  • Join Front (A) to Front Yoke (E)
  • Join Backs (B) to Back Yoke (F)
  • Join Side Panels (C) to Backs (B) and then to each side of the Front (A).
  • Join Front Yoke (E) to Back Yoke (F) at shoulders.
  • Hem entire lower edge
  • Bind neckline
  • Sew ties to back pieces at the waist line.

Here are the above-listed steps in pictures:

Hem all free edges (shown in blue)

Hem all free edges.

Sew a Pocket (D) to each Side Panel (C), along the bottom edge of the Pocket, right sides together.

Then flip Pocket right side up, and top stitch across lower edge of Pocket.

Join Front (A) to Front Yoke (E), right sides together.

Join Backs (B) to Back Yoke (F), right sides together.

Join Side Panels (C) to Backs (B), right sides together. Catch the pocket side in the seam.

At this point, the your pieces will look like this:

Join Side Sections (C) to Front (A), right sides together. Again, catch the pocket side in the seam.

Join Front Yoke (E) to Back Yoke (F) at shoulders, right sides together.

Tada! Now you have your lovely apron. To finish it, turn under and hem entire lower edge and the armholes; bind the neckline; and sew ties to the back for the closure.

How about some finished examples? These were my practice attempts:

This wraps up the Nelly Don apron series. My obsession with the patent drawings has been satisfied…for now; although I do keep thinking of more ways to experiment with it. Have you made a Nelly Don apron? I’d love to hear about your experience with it.

Nelly Don Part 1 is here.

Nelly Don Part 2 is here.



Back to 2020, Series 6 of The Great British Sewing Bee is about to conclude. It’s been a fabulous series of talented sewing contestants and their creations. Last week was ‘Hollywood Week’, and it did not disappoint! https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=1148109945557937

Two weeks ago was ’80s Week’, and it was full of larger-than-life creations and personalities. https://www.facebook.com/greatbritishsewingbee/videos/568722604082017/

Nelly Don’s Zero-Waste apron (part 2)–measuring, drawing and cutting the pieces

The drawings of KC designer Nelly Don’s patented zero-waste apron, so intrigued me, that I committed myself to working out the measurements and construction process for the apron. My post last week about Nelly Don and her apron design (including a downloadable copy of her 1925 apron patent) is here.

And now, for the measurements and steps to cutting out the apron

The 1925 patent diagram shows a single layer of fabric. For my apron, I concluded the fabric needed to be 48″ long and 36″ wide (1 1/3 yds x 1 yd).

Drawing the diagram.  Start with the measurements across the yoke and work out the rest from there. 

From there you can work out the width of the side panels, and the front and back pieces:

Here’s the process in a step-by-step slide show. If helpful, it can be viewed on Youtube in full screen; pause and rewind as often as necessary.

For shaping the simple round neckline in the yoke pieces, here is a pattern you can download and print on an 8 1/2″ x 14″ (legal sized) sheet of paper:

I tried some different dimensions and measurements for the apron layout, but the version I’ve described above is the only one that really worked. Some problems I encountered when varying the dimensions were:

  • Narrowing the yoke width also means the side panels become narrower, which makes the side pockets too narrow to be useful.
  • A longer/lower yoke meant the side panels became shorter, which made for a shorter apron; which then made the A-line angle more exaggerated. Alternatively, if the hem length were maintained, it made the side panels sit too far below the waist, or not extend all the way to the hemline.
  • A shorter/higher yoke made the side panels longer, which made them come up higher to the waist. This made a smaller, tighter waist because the front and back pieces are narrower at that higher point where the waistline is located.

So, there you have the apron pieces. Nelly Don designed the pattern so that the entire apron could be constructed without ever having to remove it from the sewing machine. I’ll tackle that in the next post…

Nelly Don’s zero-waste apron design

In 1925, Ellen “Nell” Donnelly, Kansas City based designer and manufacturer of women’s clothing, patented this iconic apron design.  It was designed to minimize waste of fabric, and economize assembly and production.  For the wearer, the apron was designed to:

  • easily slide over the head
  • provide full front protection
  • not slip off the shoulders
  • accommodate large sleeves; and
  • allow for maximum arm movement.

Nelly Don Handy Dandy Apron photo from KSU collection -- resizedNelly Don patent drawings

(Apron photo from Kansas State University.)

The company manufactured the aprons and also sold the pattern for home sewing.

Nelly Don apron pattern
Image from https://sites.google.com/site/apronhistory/home/1910s

Nelly Don apron ad
Image from https://indygojunction.com/blogs/indygo-junction-blog/nelly-don-vintage-made-modern-inspiration-from-a-kc-legend

Nelly Don led an interesting and sometimes dramatic life; always following her own personal code, and taking innovative care of her employees for the times.  She used the apron to keep her manufacturing company going during the Great Depression, and thereby kept her employees working.  She promoted women to management positions.  She offered health care assistance, high wages for the time, a pension, and work breaks with food and drink.  In 1931 she and her driver were kidnapped and held for ransom.  When unions attempted to organize her employees, she fought the unions in a marathon battle, keeping them at bay by showing her employees were better off than union members.  Here is a photo from her clothing manufacturing company in the Kansas City Garment District.

Nelly Don factory
Image from https://www.pendergastkc.org/article/bitterest-battle-ilgwu-and-unionization-kansas-city-garment-district

The story of Nelly Don, her garment manufacturing company, and her apron, have been expertly told elsewhere.  Check out these links for more about her life and business:

There’s a musical about Nelly Don’s life.  More info here: https://nellydon.com/pages/about-nelly-don-the-musical

There’s a fact-based novel about her abduction and rescue.  It’s a really good book.  I call it a must-read.  I recently finished the Kindle version, and as the Amazon reviews say, it was fast moving, well researched, and a quick read.  I would have loved for it to last longer. https://amzn.to/2XFjGOY

The Abduction of Nelly Don: Based on a True Story by [Patrice Williams Marks, (Jake) The Indie Editor, Brian Schell]

The Apron Patent:

The Nelly Don apron patent itself is brilliant reading.  Click on the image below to download a pdf copy of Nelly Don’s Apron Patent (4 pgs) :Nelly Don patent p2 of 4This 3-minute video has great images and footage from Nelly Don’s 1920s operations:

Nelly Don’s life in one minute:

Now, back again to the famous apron:

From reading about Nelly Don and her apron, I formed a small obsession with re-creating the apron from her patent diagram.  After several attempts, I believe I’ve conquered the challenge!  Stay tuned for the next post. 

DIY Ironing board cover

My ironing board cover was already in bad shape before I had to press pleats in hundreds of cotton face masks.  Yet, I pressed on.  Eventually the situation got ridiculous.

IMG_20200407_195641189aw

My ironing board is a vintage wood model; and slightly smaller than today’s standard store-bought ironing board, so a store-bought cover is too big.  Using a 50% off coupon, I purchased 1/2 yard of ironing board cover fabric.

I removed what was left of the old cover, flattened it out, and traced the shape onto the new fabric.

Ironing board cover -- old

The drawstring in the old cover was actually still good and strong, so I removed it for use in the new cover.

To avoid a bulky drawstring casing, I zig-zagged around the edge of the cover with the drawstring in the middle of the zig-zag stitching.

The finished zig-zag drawstring edge looks like this close up.

Zig-zag casing

For the padding under the cover, I used a piece of left-over cotton quilt batting.  The uneven edge you see is not erratic cutting; it’s where I stretched it.  After seeing this picture, I went back and re-situated it, although it was probably fine. 🙂

Ironing Board underneath

The cover is already looking used, … because it’s getting a lot of use.

Ironing Board cover

The new cover was a quick make, and is so much better to iron on than the old one, that I never should have put off making it.


Not covers.  Scotland has been putting out some nice lockdown music.