12 Things I've Learned About Sewing: Or, A Sewist's Dozen.

oonaballoona | a blog by marcy harriell | 12 Things I've Learned About Sewing: Or, A Sewist's Dozen.

So, this skirt is currently up over at The Mood Sewing Network, and really, you must see the horror show that is the side seams. Well, you know the drill, civilians wearing RTW wouldn't bat an eye at it, but we are HIGHLY TRAINED PROFESSIONALS.

RTW, by the way, stands for Ready To Wear. The stuff you buy in Forever 21, and the like. I mention it because I've had several emails lately asking what TNT stands for, and it reminded me that there are many things you learn along the way, and once you learn them, you sort of go OH! DUH! and assume that you were the last one to catch on. So I thought I'd do a little stream of consciousness-- things that I know, that I think are common knowledge, things that I wish I knew when I started, things that I'll get up on my soapbox about. Shorties love soapboxes.

1. What the Hell Does That Stand For.

TNT: Tried 'n True. Any pattern that you've tried, and, well, it's true. You've made it, and can make it again without any more fitting or worrying. RS, WS: right side, wrong side of fabric. CB, CF: center back, center front. L/S line: lengthen/shorten. FBA: Full bust adjustment (not happening 'round here). UFO: Unfinished object (happening most of the time 'round here). GSOH: Good sense of humor. Essential for sewing. SA: seam allowance. OOH! SEAM ALLOWANCE!

1. Patterns without Seam Allowances Are Kind of AWESOME.

I know. I know you HATE to add SA to a pattern after you've already angrily traced it, possibly after ragefully PRINTING it, but guys. An MIA SA is a good thing. First, if you're going the couture route, you'll have the seamlines already marked and ready to trace onto your fabric or muslin. Second, you can hack and change a pattern so much easier when you can already see where the seamline should be. Third, you can add the proper SA for the treatment you want to use, instead of wasting fabric on extra seam allowance that you maybe don't need. Want to use your serger for those seams? 1/4 SA. Know that this pattern is going to fit you well? 3/8 SA. Fitting as you go, and want some extra insurance? 1 inch SA. Hrmmmmm. That said...

2. Too Much Seam Allowance Can F With Your Head.

For real. Home sewists are an anomaly in our use of wider seam allowances. Of course, a lot of commercial patterns come with that big old 5/8ths included, so sometimes you can't escape it. But it's so much easier to use the edge of your presser foot as a guide, and, if you think about your presser foot...it doesn't extend to 5/8ths. Sure, there's all sorts of handy markings on your needle plate, but try sewing a 3/8s (or 1cm) seam with the needle offset, using the edge of the foot as your guide. Then try it with the needle in the center position, using the plate marking as your guide. Then come back and tell me which one was easier (and bring some gin with you, we're almost out. I love my gin like I love my seam ripper).

3. Yes, I Love My Seam Ripper. Cause Stitches be TRIPPIN'.

You are not a newbie, or unskilled, or going to the third level of hell, because you had to use your seam ripper. I have five different kinds of seam rippers, and use them CONSTANTLY. They are your friend. Think of them like the coal that turns your work into diamonds. (Coal actually has zero to do with diamonds. But you catch my drift.)

4. Measure Twice, Cut Once.

Same as the carpenter's golden rule: Measure yourself, like all the time! And then cut carefully. If you're careful in your measuring and cutting, your results will show for it. And while you're at it...

5. Pins Will Cut You.

No, they won't. They'll stick you, and cause you to wonder what those scratches are all over your torso, but they won't cut you. They can, however, cause problems in cutting. I used to cut out everything with the pattern pinned to the fabric, using lots and lots of pins, because more is more. What I was actually doing was upsetting how the pattern laid on the fabric, as those pins simply can't lie flat. And those little ridges created by the pins add up! Pattern weights are your friend, and you don't have to go all ninja on it. Thin books, small plates, a smartphone, they do the trick too.


As mentioned previously, no they won't. But they might eventually end your beloved machine's life if you sew over them. This is a hot topic, with sewists planting their feet firmly on one side or the other, but having ended Ricky's life during a frantic race over pins during Project Sewn, I'm headmaster of camp PINS WILL CUT YOU. Even if you're going slow, that's metal on metal. Think of the grinding. THE METALLIC GRINDING. No bueno, yo.

7. Let Your Thread Be Your Pilot.

Thread! It is so useful! A bit of fiber, magically keeping us un-naked! When you read directions like, Understitch, or Stay Stitch, and you think, PAH! I'm not wasting my thread! Listen, yo. WASTE YOUR THREAD OR WASTE YOUR GARMENT. The two techniques I just mentioned will change your sewing, and I know from experience, because I avoided those steps like Jury Duty the first year I started sewing. When I finally decided to slow down and include those techniques, it was like a revelation. Curves didn't stretch out, linings turned to the proper side, angels sang a mixtape of 80s power ballads. And yeah, sometimes you'll unpick a small spool's worth of thread on a project-- but your hem is going to fall under your iron ever so much easier when there's a nice long line of basting stitches, helping the fabric to fold evenly. Which brings me to...

8. Iron. Iron. Iron.

I have always loved pressing and ironing, right from the get-go. My Nan taught me how to iron, so maybe that's why. When I hear people grumbling about pressing while sewing, I truly don't understand-- to me, it's magical to see those seams lying flat and bending to my steamy will! Curves taking shape around a ham! MAGIC RIGHT ON MY IKEA IRONING BOARD! If you don't love ironing, maybe it's your iron. This is my favorite. Speaking of love...

9. Love The Patterns That Love YOU Back.

I fell prey to so much oooo I love that on her! when I started. On top of considering what looks good on your particular hot bod, consider that different pattern companies use different fit models and blocks to create their patterns. And maybe they don't have your brand of hot bod in mind. If you have to make seventy gajillion adjustments to a pattern, it might not be the company for you. Sure, there are very few patterns that fit right out of the envelope, but you might start to see that some companies are more your cup of joe.

Just because a pattern looks good on someone else, and they had success with it, doesn't mean it will work for you. That isn't necessarily the fault of the pattern (and it sure isn't the fault of the sistergirl wearing it).

10. Blame it On The Boogie.

Or, on the sistergirl you're reading. Did someone tell you to use magnets to trace a pattern? That someone is probably drinking something questionable, and should not be trusted. There oughta be a law.

11. Learn The Rules So You Can Break Them

Now, this is one I should have employed all along, but, see: #7. My first vocal teacher drilled it into my head: Learn the music as written, and then you can embellish and backphrase and whatnot. After all, how are you going to properly break a rule if you don't understand the very rule you're breaking? And let's face it. BREAKING RULES IS FUN. USING RULES IS FUN. IN FACT


Whether you're just starting out, and merrily skipping all the rules, or employing every technique there is in the book, it's all useful. It's all learning. So have fun and do it. It all adds to your 10,000 hours. I don't regret the bad pattern choices I made, the poorly inserted zippers, the questionable libations. (Well, I do regret Jagermeister.)

Well, that's just off the top of my head. I said this is "A Sewist's Dozen," so I invite y'all to be number 13 in the comments! I know that there are newbies out there, who are at the same place many of us were, who'd appreciate the knowledge, even if it seems rudimentary to us! (Hell, just last month, I asked how to use the L/S line on the Baste & Gather FB group. Lost my mind briefly. Because, Jeans.) So please, share away!


The Dress That Would Not Stand Still

oonaballoona | a sewing blog by marcy harriell | draped cotton dress



oonaballoona | a sewing blog by marcy harriell | draped cotton dress

wait i don't think i actually know those people


oonaballoona | a sewing blog by marcy harriell | draped cotton dress


oonaballoona | a sewing blog by marcy harriell | draped cotton dress

In Ruggy's defense, I was moving around an awful lot. In my defense, it took 4 months to complete this dress and I was so happy to have it on, I couldn't stop boogying. Also, there were about 3 million people out on the street when we took these shots. It was (almost) warm enough outside to traipse around just as you see me, so I guess everyone had a similar desire to pound the pre-snow laden pavement.

You wanna know something about the sewing, don't you? ALRIGHT, IF I MUST. I actually began this dress last August, when Susan of The Smuggler's Daughter and I were chatting about, of all things, race related sewing blog posts. Anyhoo, that led to a super sweet birthday offer of fabric from her shop, and I pounced on this cotton print. So lofty! So deliciously squeezy!! The only thing that prevented me from cutting into it the minute I unboxed it was Ruggy's admonishment that I had not pre-washed it yet. QUE DEMANDING, RUGGY.

oonaballoona | a sewing blog by marcy harriell | draped cotton dress

I stomped to the washing machine, did my duty, and cut and draped that very day. It seemed like I could use the print to mimic a waistline seam, so I set myself the task of getting away without one. I almost accomplished only side and CB seams, but, I had somehow made her a scoche too teensy, so instead of using the rest of the fabric for great big ginormous patch pockets, I got a CB godet and an exposed metallic zipper. (And sum fisheye darts inna back, and a coupla bust darts, uh huh.)

She's cut on the crossgrain--it seemed to add to the bell effect, so I went with it. The dress goes from selvage at the neckline to selvage as the hemline. I WANTED TO WEAR IT IMMEDIATELY. And I would have, if I hadn't stalled, trying to decide on the right straps. I waffled between cloth, and straw, and braiding, and in the end I went with my first choice: this leather trim. SO MUCH WASTED TIME. SO MANY CAPITAL LETTERS.

And yet, such a calm repose you have, oona. The close ups were ever so much more tranquil.

I lie. This is a shot of me mimicking the high school boys who just teasingly called oh you loooookiiiieeee so caaay-UUUUTE to which I immediately hollered back oh THANKEEEEE yoooooUUUUU HOOOOOOO!

I will take a compliment any way you dish it out, yo.

As previously stated, this (really exquisite, there's some left, you should absolutely go get some) yardage was gifted to me by Susan of The Smuggler's Daughter. Thank you Susan, for the birthday fabric, and thanks for waiting eight years for me to make something out if it!


Balloona Does Birkin

oonaballoona | a blog by marcy harriell | sewing the baste + gather birkin flares

Yes, my friends. YESSSSSSSSSS. Do not adjust your monitors. It is I, your Kalkatroonaan proprietess, and I am in that most normal item of clothing: JEANS.

Seriously, what would drive me to this? I'm a party-frock-glam-rock girl when it comes to sewing. I am cake AND frosting, with a side order of ice cream and donuts. 

(Because cake is sweet. Jeans are bread. Jeans are, like, delicious sourdough bread, yo.)

oonaballoona | a blog by marcy harriell | sewing the baste + gather birkin flares

Actually, I wear jeans a lot. You don't see them here, because I don't make them. I have five pairs of skinny H&M jeans. One bootcut. Zero flares. In the Great Closet Cull Of '08, I finally came to my senses and kicked all RTW flares in my closet to the curb. The sadness! I've always adored flares! YET THEY HAVE ALWAYS SPURNED ME! HAUGHTY THINGS! Waist too low, flare too baggy, back too gapey. They made me look less like a bohemian sunwashed Cali girl, and more like a hobbit.  

When I saw Erica B's jeans at the end of 2015, my love jones came back, hard. I needed those flares.

Baste and Gather's Birkin flares, to be exact. WHICH I FOUGHT KICKING AND SCREAMING ALL THE DING DONG WAY. 

oonaballoona | a blog by marcy harriell | sewing the baste + gather birkin flares

Let me back up a minute. This past holiday season, we headed home with a sewing machine in tow, as per Mama Ruggy's request. She mentioned how much she liked it when I set up shop in the living room on holidays past. Specifically, she said: I LIKE THE CHAOS. 

Hey, who am I to deny her that pleasure?

I had no clue what I'd make during those ten days. The traveling Singer Featherweight meant straight stitching only, so: something simple. A TNT pattern. A muslin, perhaps. Sensible.

oonaballoona | a blog by marcy harriell | sewing the baste + gather birkin flares

I guess the desire for "chaos" got stuck in my subconscious, because I lost all sense in the airport. Machine nestled between my feet, boarding calls pushed ever back, I pored over the bevy of testing beauties on Lauren's blog and impulsively announced to Ruggy: I AM GOING TO MAKE A PAIR OF JEANS. AND THEY WILL BE FLARED.

Y'all, Out-Loud-Announcements are No-Take-Backsies. However, my bad flare affairs of the past had left an indelible mark, because I did EVERY DAMN THING I COULD TO END THIS RELATIONSHIP BEFORE IT STARTED. Put the pattern in the cart and then waited too long for the $2 off coupon? Check. Bought a heavy weight denim with .00002 % stretch? Check. Fooled around on the computer with the PDF pattern, whiting out markings I "didn't need" in order to save printer ink, thereby forgetting that I was supposed to leave the fly extension off one side, creating THREE extra hours of zipper installation, seam ripping, and head scratching? SO MUCH CHECK. Took four inches of length out of the pattern and then completely lost all sewing sense, adding width back to the pattern between the lengthen/shorten lines? YEP! CHECKITY CHECK CHECK!!! IT'S NOT LIKE I'VE BEEN SEWING FOR EIGHT YEARS OR ANYTHING.

I soldiered on. On the final day of our holiday, sure that these were a total loss, and had served only to create a sense of Fun Holiday Chaos for Mama Ruggy, I put the basted jeans on... and ran full speed into the living room. 

oonaballoona | a blog by marcy harriell | sewing the baste + gather birkin flares

I think I made jeans, I scream breathed.

Chaos Ensued.

Now, let's be real, these are too tight. I made a 28, based on Lauren's instructions (and excellent frigging instructions they are). They fit like a glove. If I'd used the proper denim, I do believe I'd be golden. This, however, is a fairly heavy weight denim with only the teeniest bit of stretch, scored at the local Hancock's on the remnant table. Two-fifty a yard, yo. No stretch? No care. Sold. 

Of course I did not spring for proper pocket lining (see "attempts to thwart my own self" above). Nope, I used the heavyweight demin for that. So, yeah, there's three layers of this hardworking stuff around my abdomen. RIGHT WHERE YOU WANT IT. Arriving home, I lopped off a curve out of the front pocket facing and overlocked it shut. It's a TV trick, costumers will often remove pocket bags from pants, and topstitch the pocket curve shut-- the look of a pocket, with no lines. I got so used to it, I never use my front pockets even when I have them. 

It's pretty genius, actually-- I should get in there and go all the way with it, as there's still plenty of denim lining to lop off. I will forsake front pockets for a smidge more room.

oonaballoona | a blog by marcy harriell | sewing the baste + gather birkin flares

Other things I have forsaken, other than sense: Belt loops. Rivets. Post button. Back pockets. Yeah, I'm going to see if embroidery inspiration strikes for my bum. And belt loops? Who needs belt loops? These are staying up all on their own, baby!

Take it from me, if you're firmly sitting in the never-gonna-make-jeans wagon, jump on off and jump in these. I feel like a rock star in these! This shot was taken when a family of four shouted their love for my look. Ruggy was quite proud of himself for capturing my "thank you" (It's good to capture those real moments, he said. SMELL YOU, SCORSESE). 

I'm sold, hook line and sinker. I have proper fabric on the way for a second pair: same size, adding back length...and using ALL OF MY SENSE.



Just last Friday, I hit play on the entire catalog of David Bowie and culled my closet, in the hopes that his supreme domain over the word cool would somehow seep out of the speakers and guide me as I determined the fate of each garment. Friday was also his birthday, and the day he released his 28th album. It was his final album release, as he fell back away from Earth this morning. 

I don't so much think I have the right to wax on about the loss of Bowie. Although he was a god to many, he was a human to many more, and that deeply personal loss is theirs. But he always has (and will continue to) inspire (really the word inspire doesn't cover it), so I thought it would be fitting to simply look back on a Bowie inspired creation of the past. I wrote the following post in April 2013. 

I love every glittering hard edged sexy speck that is David Bowie. In fact, I've been known to get into serious arguments with close friends about the neverending cool that is Bowie. I defy you to find a rocker that has always been as undyingly cool as Bowie. I'll fight you. EVEN LABYRINTH COULD NOT STOP HIM.

So when that wildfire storm of a bloggess Tempest Devyne announced a Bowie sewalong, I was aaaaaaaaaall in. Bowie sewie, baby. The only problem was too many ideas. Glam rock outfit...punk acid rock leather...slick R&B gospel suit...I landed on the look from "Jump They Say," from the album Black Tie/White Noise. VERY COOL VIDEO. He's on skyscraper rooftops, being pushed and pulled in medical rooms and elevators by sharp suits and pale nurses...the tune was written about his half brother, who, I believe, did jump. To me, it always sounded like an admonishment, a commendation, and a warning at the same time. VERY COOL SONG.

But I couldn't seal the deal, as the fashion was clean lines, tailored coats, and, well, black and white. 

Summer's coming, I can smell it in the air, it makes me feel alive, and I'm hellbound for color. Enter Nicole's (of You sew girl!holyfrig amazing Drape t-shirt dress pattern. This is "pattern magic," with no magic required. I'm of the no-thank-you camp when it comes to figuring those bad boys out, so imagine my delight when I had an artsy draped dress in UNDER AN HOUR. My first crack was made up in silky grey jersey, in the hopes of a slim resemblance to Monochrome Tailored Jazz Bowie... and I would've went with it, but I really needed to shoot it on top of a building (seriously, you gotta watch the video).  

But then I remembered this magnificent print, picked up at Spandex House. Or maybe it was World. Whichever one, IT HAS A SIX DOLLAR A YARD RACK. I had enough of this fabric fulla colors-to-light up-your-face to extend Nicole's pattern to maxi proportions. I believe there's even some serious moonlight in there. Definitely some blues for those red hues. And nothin says sway like jersey. The "Let's Dance" dress was on.

Big Daddy was always quite fond of this tune, we'd duet often. And Bowie is just, as always, the coolest. I revisited the video: a sweaty, white gloved Bowie lolls against a plaster wall with a lone upright bassist, a disinterested yet slightly worried singer, squinting into the sun bleached distance, as bar patrons of all ages drink and shimmy. You feel like you're in a mix of present and past Mexico, and Bowie is so cool, he doesn't even need to be in the video. You leave him halfway through the first verse and follow a young girl who happens upon a pair of patent leather red shoes, and then it all goes wrong in that Bowie video way: a mushroom cloud blossoms in the distance, and she and her beau are transported to some kind of New York (I may be projecting here), where they find themselves scrubbing streets, thoughtlessly spending, and dragging mechanical factory inventions around like packhorses. In the end, she ditches the shoes, and they snap out of it, back dancing barefoot atop their mountain, the sharp city intact in the distance across the water, the red shoes abandoned.

Appropriately, I went sans shoes for these photos, taken while away this weekend with Hollow Leg Dad, Hot Mama, and The Child(ren). Also appropriately, I would rather be dancing barefoot in their sun bleached backyard than heading back to the sharp city.

I'll put on some Bowie tonight for sure. It's the best for dancing when you have the blues.

2016: This dress has since been shortened to mini length, and now graces the (over 6 foot tall) frame of a stunning actress/singer/dancer who exudes joy twenty four seven. I don't regret the giving of it-- it was an excellent reincarnation. And there will always be Bowie in my closet.


The Diana Dress

oonaballoona | a blog by marcy harriell | sewing mccalls 6884, the diana dress

If Diana Ross circa 1970s lived in the woods, I'm pretty sure she'd wear wrap maxi dresses twenty-four-seven.

oonaballoona | a blog by marcy harriell | sewing mccalls 6884, the diana dress

She would never be caught in a pose that did not show off the vented sleeves with curved cuffs.

oonaballoona | a blog by marcy harriell | sewing mccalls 6884, the diana dress

She would know at all times how she looked from every angle.

oonaballoona | a blog by marcy harriell | sewing mccalls 6884, the diana dress

What's that you're gazing at, Diana? The mist on the mountains? The sun casting its glow on all your gold records? The murderous peacock inching ever closer? Who can tell?

oonaballoona | a blog by marcy harriell | sewing mccalls 6884, the diana dress

Here's what gives me away. Diana would never show her chompers in a high fashion photo shoot.

oonaballoona | a blog by marcy harriell | sewing mccalls 6884, the diana dress


Faux Diana is wearing a Faux Wrap Maxi dress, McCalls 6884, with a few modifications and some hefty sleeve changes. Great pattern! Speaking of sewing, hey guess what! I made a couple of bloggish New Year's resolutions! I have an idea brewing for a new series in 2016, having to do with construction shots, and probably liquid shots (that's a lie, one should always sip, never shoot). It's going to have its very own blog button and everything, should you wish to join in. Details to come. 

And that's about as far as I've gotten with bloggish resolutions and wrap ups and the like. Listen, I spent several hours trying to make a 2015 collage of the 43 things I managed to document, here & on Instagram, and it just made me mad. So to close out the year, I give you my uber hot husband...

oonaballoona | rob & marcy harriell


The hottie to the left is wearing a hand tied, hand made bow tie (ETA: pattern here), the better to rock it unfurled at the end of the evening... and the secret pajamas felt delicious all the way till sunrise.

Happy first Monday of the New Year, y'all. May it be supreme!