Sewing For My Sister

I’ve been doing a bit of sewing for my sister. She used to sew for herself (we both did), but as her MS (Multiple Sclerosis) has advanced, she’s no longer able to work her machine. Instead we have fun planning small projects together.

Sharon loves animal prints, specifically leopard and zebra, so we find ways to incorporate those when we can. She also loves purple and black.

I spotted this print (wink, wink) at a local fabric store and I knew Sharon would love it. The fabric is weighty with a nice drape, and blends leopard and cheetah-like spots with a hint of zebra thrown in. The fabric has a thin gold thread running through it to add a bit of sparkle.

leopard chetah zebra print dress

The Dress

My sister is small, but she wears several layers to keep warm, so we opted for a large-sized pattern to cover the bulky layers.  This left too much fabric along the yoke, though it was easily fixed with a row of gathering along the bodice.

She wears the dress over a pair of black sweaters with her knee-high boots. She hates posing for pictures, unless she’s dressed for Halloween, so you’ll have to use your imagination. (She’s adorable)

leopard dress full length

Full length view

The next sewing project involved modifying a vest. Sharon uses a heating pad at work for warmth and back pain, but she had no way of keeping it in place. I came up with the idea of making a pocket (using a scrap of leopard print of course) that would hold the heating pad against her back without shifting. The pad proved too heavy to stay in place, so I modified the idea by adding a strip of velcro along the inside. She can remove and warm the heating pad, then tuck it back into the pocket. The vest keeps it close and cozy.

Next up, modifying a terry robe for the pool. Sharon swims at the YMCA seven days a week. When she gets out of the pool, she moves directly to her motorized scooter. Since she uses the scooter throughout the day, she needs the seat to stay dry. Their was also an issue with pool water possibly draining into the scooter’s battery compartment directly below the seat.

After looking at dozens of robes on-line, I learned that “short” is a standard size but far too long for this purpose. I couldn’t find any pretty terry cloth in town, surmising that it has somehow fallen out of favor. Everything we see is velour. Velour is soft and pretty but it’s not absorbent. I eventually found this gorgeous purple terry robe online, and altered it by cutting off the extra length and over-locking a hem to reduce bulk.

That extra length of terry will make it into a future cat bed.

altered purple terry robe

That’s Tessa in the lower, left corner

purple terry robe

Hemmed and ready to wear

We have one more project in the works. It’s also soft, warm and purple and flew home with me from my visit to Portland earlier this year. My friend, Marlene, took me to an enormous fabric store called Fabric Depot where I bought two yards of this lovely Minky chenille. Marlene even had a generous coupon. I’d never seen this pretty pattern before.

I was thinking “blanket” but Sharon requested a loose-fitting bolero. We found the perfect used pattern on-line, so as time allows I’ll be threading my Bernina with purple thread once again.

It’s been fun sewing for my sister.

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When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Sewing

Major Barbara: San Jose State

Costume Design by Deborah Slate
I spent 40 hours sewing this costume

Wedding and birthday anniversaries are fun.  When it’s the anniversary of a death, clouds descend. My mom passed three days after Christmas in 2008, so in addition to my usual seasonal blahs, feelings of loss prevail.

This year, I spent the day sewing, something my mom taught me as a girl.  I remember the moment clearly, though I was only six.  It started at school.

During arts and crafts time, they gave us sewing cards, cardboard pictures punched with holes and a shoe lace. We were to thread the lace in and out of the holes to frame the picture. Though mesmerized, I was also annoyed that I had to take it apart when done.  I went home and asked my mom if I could sew.

She found the largest needle she had and an old sock.  I sat by her knee on the floor, cutting the sock into shapes and then sewing them together.  I completely lost myself in the activity.

I made a lot of my clothes in high school, and sewed for friends as well.  I attended community college where I got an associate degree in fashion merchandising, taking classes in fine sewing and design. From there I transferred to San Jose State where I studied costume design, graduating with a BS in theater.  I worked as a ‘stitcher’ at San Jose Repertory Theater, my first professional experience.  I also spent three summers doing summer stock in Santa Rosa, working as an assistant cutter and later cutter for summer shows.

summer stock theater

Summer Stock Theater

Making a living in the arts is hard work.  I admire my friends that stuck with it, many of them working in academia to make ends meet.  I drifted into different things, when the challenge of always looking for that next job, contract or summer gig started to wear on me.  I miss it.  You meet incredibly talented and creative people in theater, and you meet prima donnas and sociopaths as well.  Everyone’s welcome. No judgment.

These days I sew for myself once a year at Halloween.  It’s a wonderfully creative outlet.  Whenever I haul out my machine, I wonder why I don’t find the time to do it more often.

During my day of sewing, I repaired a dress for my sister. Sharon is also a good seamstress, but her MS makes sewing a challenge these days. I did a bit of mending for my son, then learned how to use the overlock stitch on my machine.  Oh happy day!

mending seams

Mended seams

Two summers ago I made a slip cover for my garden swing.  I piped most of the edges, but the two side panels were simply pinked (with my mom’s pinking shears).  The loose weave of the fabric didn’t hold up in the wash, unfortunately, so the pinked edges frayed.  I trimmed the edges even, then went to town with the over lock stitch.  Be still my heart: it worked!  I laundered the cover and put it away for the season.  For some reason that really made me happy.

overlocked seams

Over-locked seams

garden swing cover

Garden swing cover

Last on the list for my sewing day: a pillow.  My friend Melanie had a beloved canvas bag from her summer camp days.  Her well-loved bag sported torn seams and a few holes, but it had great sentimental value.  I offered to turn it into a pillow.

I found the perfect trim at my local craft store to add a bit of texture.  Within no time the bag transformed.

duffel bag pillow

Camp Seafarer pillow

The day was cathartic.  I sewed for myself, my family and my friends and I sewed for the memory of mom.  I used her pinking shears that day too, and believe it or not, a spool of black thread that once lived in her sewing box.

As I put all this into words, I wonder if I’ve hit upon an annual tradition.

What helps you get through a ‘loaded’ anniversary?