Thursday, June 25, 2009

SAAS (Sewing at Any Size): Cami Variations

Welcome to my Series on Sewing at Any Size. You can access the rest of the SAAS series by clicking on the topic link on the side bar.

The series is a form of peaceful protest against the terrible, cheap, overpriced, ugly stuff that passes for plus size fashion these days. Anyone can make basic wardrobe elements to fit their body without trying to track down commercial patterns (a nightmare for anyone over a US size 24).

As this may eventually become a book, please do not reprint or republish this anywhere else. You may, of course print for your own personal use!

First a quick response to a commenter who asked about purchasing fabric online; I'd highly recommend that at first you use fabric from the store. Once you have made a study of what different fabric types feel and work like, then you can venture online. Personally I still buy everything in person, on a "I'll know it when I see and feel it" basis for selection. The same material can feel radically different as fabric depending on weave and thickness. The only fabrics I've bought online have been linen, broadcloth and quilting cotton since they're generally the same textures and weights across the board. For blend fabrics you'll want to go by feel. If you'd like, make notes on how various compositions hang. Some stores might even send you a "sample book" of scraps for a small charge. Dharma Trading, for example, will send you small squares of every kind of silk or cotton they offer for a small fee plus shipping (and you really learn how different the same composition fabric can feel when you're looking at pieces, all 100% silk, with textures ranging from gauze to burlap.)

PART 2: The Cami Top; Variations on a Theme

Starting with the basic cami design from the last post, you can do a lot of variations to add interest to the design.

Scoop Neck:
The easiest variation is to make the straight neck into a scoop neck. Adjust the original pattern as follows, adding a curve from the point of the shoulder to point A where you’d like the neckline to fall in the center.

The next easiest variation is to add a strip of lace either at the neckline, hem, or both. This is, of course, easier with a straight-neckline cami than a scoopneck. Add ½” to measurement “F”. Instead of binding across the top, simply fold over ¼” , then fold again to tuck the raw edge under. Stitch in place. Take the strip of lace and sew the bottom ¼” onto the wrong side (the side showing the seams) all the way across. When you add the binding, sandwich the edges of the lace along with the fabric for a tailored look.

You can add lace to the bottom hem as well. Before you sew up the sides, fold up the bottom hem of each the front and back pieces by ¼”, then fold again to tuck the raw edge under. Sew the top ¼” of lace onto the wrong side of this hem (the side that shows the seams). Stitch up the sides as usual, then trim the extra lace at the side seam to ¼”.

Remember to include the width of the lace in measurements “F” and “I” when cutting the fabric.

Gathered Neckline:
This adds a bit of ruffle to the neckline know...ruffles (shudder). Construct the original Cami pattern, adding 2” to measurement “F”. Get to where you’ve sewn up the sides but haven’t added any binding.

Next, hem the armholes instead of binding them: fold the fabric to the wrong side (the side showing the seams) by ¼”. Fold again to tuck the raw edge under, then stitch to secure.

Next, still working with the wrong side of the fabric, fold the top 2” of the front half over and stitch along the edge to create a long pocket. Repeat on the back half.

Make a long strip of binding per the instructions in this post, and stitch closed so that you have a long strap. Feed it through both the front and the back pockets (use a safety pin to feed it through, it’s much easier!). Try the cami on with the straps, and adjust their length until the strap on each side hangs evenly on the shoulders and the top hangs where you like it. You’ll be bunching it up a bit on the strap, so keep that in mind. Make sure the seam on the strap is hidden in either the front or back pocket.

With the cami on inside-out, push the fabric together to bunch up on the loops. Decide for yourself how much or little you’d like it to bunch. You may want it to bunch tightly to resemble a halter top, or just let it hang loosely across the front. Once it hangs how you’d like, pin it into place. Take it off and put a few stitches along the pocket every few inches to hold the gathers evenly in place.

Sleeveless Tee: I hate tee shirts, but love the slogans and artwork on a lot of them. Re-print sites like Cafe Press often have a men’s tee as their only plus size offering, when that funny quote would look so awesome on a plus size tank top....

One option for funny sayings is to make your own silk-screens, which I’ve done. The other is to chop that tee down to a tank. If you want to use binding, get about ½ yard of tee-shirt fabric from the fabric store, or (if cheaper) a tee shirt of the right color from Goodwill or garage sale to chop up.

Step one is to turn the shirt inside out and cut off the sleeves and neckband. If you’re starting with a tee that fits you well along the sides, you can simple hem the sleeves and neckline and have a wide-shouldered tank top. If you’re starting with a too large shirt or would like spaghetti straps, carefully lay the shirt (still inside-out) flat, then fold exactly in half. On the fold, trace out the standard pattern: Continue to construct the Cami per the original instructions.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Narfum, Narfus, Narfae, Narfi......


JD (out of nowhere, finishing a conversation in his head): I think it would be quod coitum.
Me: What?
JD: "What the fuck" in Latin.
Me: I wonder if I can get that on a bumper sticker?
JD: Of course I'm assuming "the fuck" acts as a noun in the sentence, hence coitum instead of coitus. I wonder if it maintains gender.
Me: I wonder what some of our friends would say if they knew we were lying around conjugating sex in Latin.
JD: Actually they'd be pretty shocked. Since it's being used as a noun I'm technically 'declining' sex in Latin.

Yeah....he can pun in programming languages too. How delicious is that!? Yeah, W, I can see you shaking your head all the way down here in Kzoo.

And for those who feel inclined (or declined) to jump for Wheelock's looking for the right answer, he's way ahead of you. It's "qui coetus". Or in normal use, "Qui COETUS!?"

And I still want it on a bumper sticker. Or maybe a tee shirt.

Body Awareness: Resentment and Reconnection

As an extension to my post on reconnecting to my body last week, I’d like to talk about resentment. I’ve seen a few posts on other blogs about how we’re used to treating our bodies as liabilities instead of assets. When I used to (and occasionally still do) go clothes shopping and find nothing cute that fits me, I resented my large body for not fitting into those clothes that only went up to a size 22. Because “obviously” it was somehow my body’s fault, rather than the clothing line designers’. As I consciously work to reconnect with my body I’ve noticed other, less obvious signs that I fail to fully appreciate it. For instance I push myself too hard on too little sleep, then get frustrated and angry (even guilty) when I literally make myself sick with exhaustion and have to “waste” an evening in sleep. When I have a project, or are on a walk/ride/hike, I often don’t notice my body’s signals that it’s tired until it forces me to acknowledge it through pain (and then have to limp back over all that distance I covered!). Boy do I grouch at my thighs/back/feet/whatever the next day when they’re too sore to go full blast again!

I resent my body then. I feel like it’s let me down, and I get frustrated when the grand plans in my head cannot be realized because of my all too human limitations.

Part of this is wrapped up in the morality of thinness, which I’m still shaking off. After all we’re familiar enough with the concept of “feel the burn!” and the need to, when you’ve reached your physical limit and your body is screaming, to do “just three more!”. Exercise, we’re told, is supposed to push your body’s limits, punish it for fatness or inability, burn away bits and pieces until it becomes invisible in a crowd. The diet mentality sets up the body as an enemy to be conquered, brought under submission to the mind and its’ desires. But with the body and mind as enemies, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” Sometimes literally if the legs or back are sore enough from yesterday’s workout.

I think that one of the next steps for me in body acceptance might be finding a new level of respect for my body as part of or partner in my life. My mind is just going to have to pace itself, because it’s not like it can go anywhere on it’s own. Maybe I’m curious to see what’s around the next bend on the trail, but if my body is already tired and it means I’ll have to run to get back to work on time, then I need to respect that my mind may be going places my body can’t follow. Maybe I love the clothes I can’t fit into, but my body is not to blame if clothing designers decide to ignore half their market. I need to appropriately channel my frustration into making them aware of their oversight. Maybe I like a clean house, or a perfect yard, but if my body really needs extra sleep or unwinding or time with JD, then going to bed early really is more responsible then getting the laundry done or the garden weeded.

It reminds me of when I first started Intuitive Eating. The first reaction, of course, was to eat all the things I was forbidden while dieting, and in great quantities. This temporary over-adjustment was to teach my brain and body that I really could have anything I felt like eating, anytime, and in any amount. Once the novelty wore off I found myself eating a pretty varied and balanced diet, still based on my body’s signals of what and how much. A happy medium was found, at least when it came to food.

In a similar way, one of my first giant leaps in FA was finding out that my body could do all kinds of physical things I assumed it couldn’t. Suddenly I want to run, build houses, canoe rivers, swim lakes, climb mountains, and make up for all the time I spent convinced that fat people couldn’t. Of course I’m not saying I’m not still occasionally going to ask my body for that extra mile, but instead of punishing it with resentment when it hurts the next day, I can reward it with the R&R it’s asking for through aching muscles. I’ve explored a lot of options, and while there’s still a feeling that I have to somehow make up for lost time, I think it’s finally time to find that happy balance between mind and body that I was looking for in the first place.

Monday, June 22, 2009

SAAS (Sewing at Any Size): Basic Camisole Top

Welcome to my Series on Sewing at Any Size. You can access the rest of the SAAS series by clicking on the topic link on the side bar.

The series is a form of peaceful protest against the terrible, cheap, overpriced, ugly stuff that passes for plus size fashion these days. Anyone can make basic wardrobe elements to fit their body without trying to track down commercial patterns (a nightmare for anyone over a US size 24).

As this may eventually become a book, please do not reprint or republish this anywhere else. You may, of course print for your own personal use!

Note that I'm not ignoring requests in comments. I'll get around to most of them as I have time to figure out answers. In the meantime I'm still running with what I already know!


And now we venture into curves! This basic cami top will be the first in the SAAS series where we will be using more than just straight lines. As in the super-fab retro halter in the last entry, this could be make easily into the top for a swimsuit by constructing with lycra and adding a ready-made bra insert available in some sewing stores and online. As requested I will be doing an entry on swimsuits.

While cami’s are one of the few basics still available in most colors, I find that my biggest problem is finding the right length (I’ve ranted before about having a longer waist. Regular cut shirts are cut to look like belly shirts on me).

You’ll need stretchy fabric on this one. Look for high lycra or spandex content, or knit fabrics with a lot of stretch but that spring back into shape well after stretching. Stretch fabrics are trickier to work with, so get a little extra to practice your stitches. You can still use a straight stitch with the fabric pulled slightly tight (practice to get this without puckering) or you can use a zig-zag or stretch stitch on your sewing machine.

This is a very basic straight-front spaghetti strap camisole or tank top. As a part two (variations on a theme), I’ll show to make camis with scooped necklines, gathered necklines, gathered fronts, lace insets and how to turn that favorite tee shirt into any of these.

You’ll need a few measurements: This pattern assumes stretch fabric so it doesn't include any "ease" or fit-room. Measure with the tape close but not tight.

· Decide where you want the neckline to be on your chest. This will be “Point A”. Either mark it on your skin somehow or remember where it is.

· Run a measuring tape around right under your armpits. Divide this number by 4 and add 1”. We’ll call this measurement “B”.

· Run the measuring tape around the largest part of the chest. Divide this number by 4 and add 1”. We’ll call this measurement “C”.

· Measure your waist (where you normally wear the waistband of clothes) . Divide this number by 4 and add 1”. We’ll call this measurement “D”.

· Decide where you want the hem to fall and measure around your body at that point. Divide this number by 4 and add 1”. We’ll call this measurement “E”.

· Measure the distance between “A” and “B” . We’ll call this measurement “F”.

· Measure the distance between “B” and “C”. We’ll call this number “G”.

· Measure the distance between “C” and “D”. We’ll call this number “H”.

· Measure the distance between “D” and “E” and add ½”. We’ll call this number “I”.

These measurements are assuming you’re using stretch fabric and want it to be fitted. If you’re using non-stretch fabric (as for a silk camisole, etc.) add an additional ½” to measurements B, C, D, and E. This will give you what’s called “ease”, otherwise known as “can actually move while wearing”. You may want to make your test garment with up to 2” ease on each of the four pieces, then cut it down to fit comfortably once you try it on. It will help to write all these numbers down.
Take your test fabric (you are using cheap and ugly test fabric to experiment on before sewing on your expensive stuff right? Knits are a PITA to rip stitches out of later). Fold the fabric in half so that the stretchiest part is running horizontally. Sketch out the following shape to the measurements you wrote down earlier. (Trace and cut on the bold red lines. Approximate the general shape; doesn’t have to be exact)

Cut out two copies of the shape you’ve traced. Because you’ve cut it on the fold you should now have two symmetrical pieces for the front and back of the tank. Unfold them and lay them together with the right side (the side you want showing when you wear them) together. Line up the corners and pin together. Stitch the sides from “B” down to “E” (per red dotted lines below). If you’re using test fabric or you’re not sure of the fit, use basting stitches (long, loose stitches) so that you can rip them out later if needed.

Slip it on and check it for fit, adjusting as needed.

We’ll be using Binding again for this top. See the entry on making a 70’s style halter top for instructions on how to make the binding. You can use the same or different color fabric for the binding, but make sure it has at least the same amount of stretch as the fabric for the top. It can have more, but less stretchy binding can affect the fit. Experiment at your own leisure though!

Sandwich a strip of binding across the flat edge at the top of the front layer of the cami, then another across the top of the back layer. Trim each so that the binding goes right to the edge on the sides. Determine how long you want the shoulder straps to be in order for the cami to hang where you took your original measurements. Remember that the straps will go all the way around to the side seam (“B”). Add ½” to this measurement. (You can try pinning the strap and trying it on to make sure it’s the right length).

Lay each strip of armhole binding open and create a loop with the folded edge on the outside. Stitch the two ends together ¼” from the edge (red line in figure below).
Turn the loop back right-side out. Line the seam of the loop up with the seam on the side of the cami (at the outside edge “B”). It helps to pin it in place first. Following the sleeve hole on the front, sandwich the binding over the raw edge of the cami up to the neckline, overlapping the edge of the binding across the front neckline. Repeat at the back. When you get to the top of the garment continue stitching the binding closed all the way up and over the shoulder (red line).
Now hem the bottom edge by folding ¼” of fabric up, then folding again to tuck the raw edge under. Iron the fold, pin to make sure it lays flat, then stitch.

That's it! By the way, save your pattern pieces made from the scrap fabric (I put them in labeled plastic baggies). This basic shape is the building block for almost any top you make, so you'll benefit from having a piece already cut to your body shape.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

SAAS (Sewing at any size): Super Fab Retro Halter Top

Welcome to my Series on Sewing at Any Size. You can access the rest of the SAAS series by clicking on the topic link on the side bar.

The series is a form of peaceful protest against the terrible, cheap, overpriced, ugly stuff that passes for plus size fashion these days. Anyone can make basic wardrobe elements to fit their body without trying to track down commercial patterns (a nightmare for anyone over a US size 24).

As this may eventually become a book, please do not reprint or republish this anywhere else. You may, of course print for your own personal use!

Super-easy Super-Fab 70's Retro Halter Top

The challenge in this top is not so much making it as wearing it in public. It is the classic 1970’s halter that ties in the back and has a string loop around the neck. The primary drawback for large-breased women is that it’s really hard to wear this by itself with a bra, unless you have some kind of fabulous specialty bra with transparant or halter-style straps and a transparent back (if so, please share where you got it!). One option, if a bra is a must, is to wear this under a jacket or sweater. The other option is to take the same basic design but turn it into a cute wrap blouse with the halter neck. I’ll address that later.

Here’s the basic thing you’re making: You need two measurements on this one. First the distance from your throat to wherever you want the top to hang (waist, top of hips, etc.) plus 3 inches (we’ll call this number L for length). Then the measurement around of the place you wanted it to hang to (waist, hips, etc.). We’ll call this W for width.

You need a triangle W x L

Now of course this was meant to fit the skinny flat-chested woman idealized in the 70’s, so if you have what so many lovingly call a “rack of doom”, (or as my mom puts it, were “blessed by the hooter fairy”) feel free to adjust the fit. If this really doesn’t cover your front, try this adjustment:

We still want the measurements L and W from above, but add a third measurement that is 2/3 of your bust measurement (we’ll call this B) and the distance between the hem and where you measured to get B, plus half an inch (we’ll call this X). Adjust your shape as so:

If it’s still not going to cover you, make the W measurement based on your bust and use darts (instructions in this entry) to fit it to your waist.

You’ve noticed that we didn’t add hem allowances to anything. That’s because we’re going to experiment with binding. You can buy ready-made binding at the fabric store, or you can make your own out of funky colors or better fabric than commercial binding (usually made from cheap broadcloth). You need a fabric that will crease well, whether it’s silk, cotton or synthetic.

To make your own binding for this shirt, measure the distance along each side. Remember your geometry and don’t assume it’s the same as “L”, as the hypotenuse of a triangle is always longer than a straight side. Measure your side and cut two 1” wide strips of fabric of that length.

With a hot iron to crease, fold each side in towards the middle, leaving a small gap.

If you’re using a delicate fabric, remember to put a piece of cotton or paper bag between the iron and the fabric to prevent scorching.

When you’ve creased both sides in towards the middle, fold the strip in half so that the two flaps touch.

Sandwich the raw edge of the fabric into the “fabric taco” you’ve created and stitch it closed.

Sew binding along the two short edges, trimming it to be even with the fabric. Then add binding to the long edge, but let the binding extend past the edge by at least six inches on either side (this is your tie).
For the neckline, fold under 3” of fabric (so that the extra fabric is on the back side) from the peak of the triangle. Stitch approx 1” from the fold.

String a ribbon, necklace chain, choker, or more (stitched) edging through the gap created. This ties behind your neck.

That’s the simple version of course. Here’s how to turn it into a wrap to give you a bit more coverage (while still baring those shoulders for summer!).

We’re still working with a triangle, but to help shape it we’ll be making the triangle out of three pieces. Note that there is a seam allowance, so you can't just just a large triangle into three pieces. Once you re-connect them they won't match up. Cut each piece seperately, but make sure any fabric pattern is facing the same direction on each.

Now this is a case where you’ll definitely want to make a test piece first, before using your final fabric. I highly recommend buying up old bedsheets and fabric at garage sales all summer (you can’t beat 10 cents for several yards of fabric). You can also often find cheap sheets or rolls of fabric at Goodwill or other re-sale shops, or ugly fabric on super-markdown at fabric stores. The practice version allows you to adjust fit. If you’re going to find out you cut something too small, it’s better to do so on throwaway fabric than the pricey stuff.

Lecture over :-)

For the width of each piece:

Take the larger of your bust or waist measurement, multiply by 1.5 (this is W). The math gets kind of tricky here on out. The width of all three pieces should each measure 1/3 W plus 1”.

For the height of each piece:

The peak of piece #2 should be from where you want the hem to the throat, plus 3” (we’ll call this F for front length) The highest points of #1 and #3 and the lowest points of #2 should be the distance from where you want the hem to just under the armpit (the top of a well fitting bra) (we’ll call this S for side length).
Now that you’ve cut these pieces from your test fabric (you’re using test fabric, right?) pin or stitch the two seams (where “S” is in the above diagram) loosely together and check the fit. The “S’ seams should come down your sides, while the corners of pieces #1 and #3 should wrap over each other and come right to the “S” seam without the whole thing being baggy. (note: if the difference between your bust and waist is large, you may need to add darts to make the shirt really fit your body well. See the instructions on darts in this entry on problem solving.) The back should cover the strap of your bra but the sides should not bunch under the armpits. Adjust the size and shape of the pieces until it’s comfortable, cutting new pieces from your test fabric as needed (which is why we use test fabric).

Once you have the fit right, un-pin or tear out the stitches holding the test pieces together and use them as a pattern to cut the pieces from your final garment.

Assemble as described for the original version above, sewing the two side seams together, adding binding to all the edges and creating the neckline fold. The difference is that you’ll want to make the ties along the bottom much longer, at least 2x your waist (longer depending on if you want it to tie in the back or front. Experiment!) .

Once you have all the binding on, put the garment on, folding piece #1 around to one side and piece #3 over the top around to the other side. You should at this point be able to determine where the long tie on the end of piece #1 wants to come through the seam in order to wrap around and lie evenly. Make sure the shirt is hanging how you want it to fit, then mark this spot on the seam with a safety pin.

From the reverse side of the shirt, iron the seam between pieces #2 and #3 so that each side folds back on itself. (fig. 1 below). Place a few reinforcing stitches at the top and bottom of where the hole will go, about 1” apart. (fig. 2 below). Then cut the seam stitches between the reinforcing stitches (fig 3 below). When you put the shirt on you’ll feed the tie string of piece #1 through that hole, wrap both strings around you and tie.


You could also get the back coverage without the wraparound ties by sewing buttons onto the corners of #1 and #3 so that the buttons come through the hole in the seam, rather than the tie ends. You may want to stitch all around the sides of the opening to reinforce, and remember to choose buttons that just barely fit through the hole so that they don’t come undone by themselves. If you’re using a stretchy fabric you could even remove the ties altogether and simply stitch the corners to the opposite seams, making it a shirt you can just pull on and off.

You can also buy lycra/spandex and make this into a great swimsuit top as part of a two-piece. If you need extra support you can buy bra inserts to sew to the inside of the front.

Friday, June 12, 2009

WLS may increase bone fractures

A small study by the Mayo clinic as reported on showed that one in five people they reviewed after weight loss surgery suffered a bone fracture within 7 years, on average, after having the surgery. The group showed nearly double the fracture rate in post-WLS patients as in other patients.

"We knew there was a dramatic and extensive bone turnover and loss of bone density after bariatric surgery," study senior author Dr. Jackie Clowes, a Mayo rheumatologist, said in a Mayo news release. "But we didn't know what that meant in terms of fractures."

You mean they really didn't realize that an extensive loss of bone density would lead to more fractures? Isn't that, you know, why osteoperosis is a concern in the first place, because the loss of bone density leads to increased fractures? They didn't realize that by putting people through radical surgery that reduced their ability to get proper nutrition might, you know, also prevent them from getting proper nutrition? Like Calcium and vitamin D? That makes for the strong bones? really? Never occured to them?

"Additional study is needed to determine what causes the increased risk for fractures, the researchers said."

Really? That's very cautious and scientific of them, considering they already know that poor nutrition makes bones brittle. If only they could show the same caution in assuming the benefits of WLS in the first place, or weight loss in general. Or whether the supposed benefits of weight loss were really from the increased exercise, rather than the actual reduction in adipose tissue, since the benefits of moderate exercise have been shown to apply regardless of weight or whether they result in weight loss. But maybe that's too much to expect. Concepts that challenge the paradigm will always be received with more caution that those that support it. I suppose we should be happy that the article exists at all, or ecstatic that, aside from the link at the bottom, it's refreshingly free of the "ooga-booga FAT KILZ" moral panic mythology.

Recipe Box: Lemon sauteed asparagus

I think I might cry when asparagus goes out of season here in Michigan. It's the first actual vegetable to come in, so it becomes cheap and plentiful at the farmer's market and roadside stands, and oh-so-delicious. I got two half-pound bundles for $2.00 each. Each one was plenty enough as a side for JD and me.

When picking out asparagus, look for smaller, thinner stalks, not larger. As it gets larger it gets woody and tough. They should be a rich dark green with purplish tones on the tip. Your thumbnail should easily pierce the skin on the bottom 1/2" of the stalk with a crisp snap, and they should not be limp or yellowed (unless you're buying white asparagus of course). If you're buying from a roadside stand or farmer's market, look for the ones who store and display with the bottom of the stalks in in a pan of cool water. This keeps them fresh longer. Avoid the ones that have been sitting out on a table in the sun all day.

BTW, don't stick your nail into the stalk higher then the bottom 1/2" of the stalk. Someone else might buy them and fingernails are just gross.

Mine kept in the fridge for a week just fine, by the way, so you don't absolutely have to cook them right away. Of course mine were picked by a local farmer two hours before I bought them instead of their sitting on a truck from California for five days.

Wash well. Chop the bottom inch or so off the stalks (more if the stalks seem fiberous/woody.) Cut the stalks in half.

To cook up 1/2 pound (a good double-handful of stalks): Mix 3 tablespoons olive oil, 2 teaspoons lemon juice, 1 teaspoon soy sauce (optional: add 1 tablespoon sesame seeds to add a nutty overtone). I like to use a wok or non-stick heavy-bottomed pan for even heating. Heat the mixture on high until a drop of water sizzles violently. Watch this carefully as it goes from hot to burned pretty quickly.

Toss the asparagus into the pan and stir briskly and constantly. If the mixture starts to smoke lift the pan off the burner for a five seconds, still stirring, then put it back. The asparagus is done when it becomes a little bit flexible (but not limp); maybe 3-5 minutes. Pull a stalk out, run it under cold water for a second to cool, then bite to test. It should be crisp on the outside but yummy and smooth on the inside. Once you're happy with the texture, take it off the heat and serve.

I made this last night as a side for blackened burgers with melted feta cheese and black olives. mmmmm..... tastes like summer.....

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Welcome New Readers!

I’ve had a few new readers around, both familiar with and stranger to the concept of Fat Acceptance. Welcome! It’s always humbling to find out that someone I don’t know enjoys my writing or cares what I think. I want to post a little bit about me and the purpose of this blog for those new to some of the concepts I discuss. That way I can hopefully avoid offending anyone when I have to delete certain comments.

This is a blog about me and my interests, but generally tied to the concept of FA or Fat Acceptance. This means that I will frequently refer to dieting, weight-loss, weight bias in medical science, the “obesity scare” and similar concepts in negative terms, contrary to their general social acceptance. FA, in a nutshell, is the concept that fat people are human beings, due the same respect and rights as every other human being. Frequently covered concepts are: fat discrimination in health care, employment, legal rights, education and businesses; the socioeconomic bias inherent in the modern “obesity” scare; disputing health myths about fat; critiquing badly done research or findings with inherent conflict of interest (i.e. performed by or funded by companies who sell weight loss drugs or techniques); and accepting the body’s natural weight regardless of where that weight falls on the BMI chart. Many books have been written on the subject so I can’t possibly cover everything, but a good place to start understanding where I’m coming from would be to read the links to “Fat Acceptance 101” at the top of the sidebar. They will cover most of the immediate arguments most people put forward when they first learn about the concept of FA.

This blog is a no-diet zone, as is my life. That means that even if a comment is wonderfully thoughtful and well-written, I have to delete it if it ventures into “I lost X amount of weight” or “I’ll bet XYZ would help someone lose a lot of weight” or anything I believe promotes weight loss, dieting or restricted eating. Even if that part is only a small part of the comment. That is my way of creating a safe space for people recovering from the diet culture (including myself). See the “101” topic on why diets fail to get an understanding of why. Neither I nor most of my regular readers are interested in losing weight, and most of us do not consider deliberate weight loss beyond your body’s natural set point either healthy or something to be proud of. I rather believe that accepting and loving your body, and deliberately working to change it, are mutually exclusive concepts.

Needless to say, I am not on a diet. You’ll see posts talking about healthy habits I try to cultivate in my life (i.e. a variety of good food, intuitive eating, exercise, quitting smoking, seeking mental well-being, etc.) and while these are usually associated with attempts to lose weight, that is not the case here. I try to practice a concept known as HAES (Health At Every Size). This concept isn’t a rigid system, but a way to be healthy within each person’s means and abilities (without the assumption that healthy = thin). It’s based on recent research that shows individual health is not dependent on weight or body size, but on lifestyle (which is not a determinant of weight or body size), genetics (which IS a determinant of weight and body size), and basic bloody-minded chance. I have been the same relative weight since third grade, despite many rounds of every form of dieting known to humanity (even dieting disguised as “lifestyle changes”) loss, re-gain, etc. I have given up the fantasy of ever being in a different body, and am learning to be healthy and happy in the body I was given.

A lot of the posts here don’t seem to be directly related to FA, because this is, above all, a personal blog. My life is more than my weight, so you’ll see series on cooking, sewing, friends, self-reflection and other aspects of my life. I try to relate them somehow to FA, but most of it is just living my life as my life, instead of defining my life by the number on a scale.

Please read the comments policy before posting comments. I do welcome positive comments! I also welcome certain disputes, although the core beliefs of FA (dangers of dieting, amorality of food, that fat in itself is not a health risk, that I don't need you to be attracted to me in order to be happy, etc.) are not subjects where you’re going to change my mind. Trust me, I’ve heard every possible argument you could make and repeating it isn’t going to convince me. It will, of course, force me to delete or reject the comment.

There are many posts on this blog that I hope can be enjoyed regardless of the reader’s support of FA. If you strongly disagree with FA, then there will be posts that may upset you. That’s really not my problem. Remember you were warned, and don’t try to vent your spleen in my comments section.

Finally, to give you other perspectives on FA (and to prove that I'm not a lone nutter) you may want to check out the many other blogs on what's known as "the Fatosphere". See the link on the sidebar for two RSS feeds, one for the original Fatosphere, the other for a group of blogs known as Fat Chat.

SAAS (Sewing at Every Size): Half-Circle Cloak

This is my SAAS (Sewing at Any Size) series on basic clothes that can be made for any size body without a commercial pattern. For other entries in the series, you can click on the SAAS topic in the sidebar category list.

As this will eventually become a book, please do not reprint or republish anywhere. You are welcome to copy/print/save for your own personal use.

I'm dipping briefly into costumes now, in time for the rennaissance fair season in the U.S. I'll get back to everyday wear (tops and dresses) next week after I've had time to do some up and double-check my instructions.


The cloak is the easiest, most ridiculously overpriced costume element you can find. The half circle cloak is the easiest cloak to make, and gives you a very full, swishy circular look with a front you can pull around and close in front.

If you’re under 5’ tall you can use 45” wide fabric for a basic circle cloak. 5’ to probably about 6’4” you can use 60” fabric. Anyone taller than that can try to hunt down wider fabric (shoot for a width about from your shoulder to your ankle) or deal with the fact that you will have seams in your cloak.

Cloaks need a LOT of fabric for that full swishy look. You need a piece of fabric twice as long as it is wide for the main cloak, plus some for the hood. If you’re using 45” fabric, get at least 3 yards (might be a good idea to get 3.5 so that you have a safety margin). If you’re using 60” fabric you’ll need 4 yards (or 4.5 with safety margin). This also means that you’ll need a big flat area to work on. I’ve found it’s easiest to vaccuum the floor, lock the cat in the bedroom and just spread the fabric out on the carpet. (Trust me on locking the cat up, they’re fascinated and tend to sprawl on the fabric just when you need to move it.)

Wash and dry the fabric (if washable!) before working with it, to prevent shrinkage. Cut the fabric down to double the width (90" for 45” fabric, 120" for 60” fabric). The extra will be used later for the hood. Iron out any creases or wrinkles.

Fold the entire piece of fabric in half to create a large square. Select one of the corners on the fold. From that corner along the unfolded edge, measure the length you want the cloak, plus 6" or 8" for the hood, plus 3" for seams.  Make a mark at this point.  Take a long piece of string and tie a piece of chalk or a pencil to one end. Secure the other end at the corner of the fabric (I safety-pin it to the carpet, but if you have someone to help you just have them hold the string down at the corner.) Make sure that when you hold the chalk with the string taut the chalk just reaches the mark you made for the length of the cloak. You’re essentially creating a giant compass. Keeping the string taut, trace a line from one corner to the next, creating an arc.
Shorten the string to 6” and make a smaller arc near the corner. This will be the opening for the neck. (Note: if you have a thick neck or broad shoulders you may want to make this 8”)

Cut along both these lines. Open up the piece and hem the bottom and side edges by ½”. If you want a cleaner edge, consider folding the fabric up ¼”, then folding over again another ¼” to fold the raw edge under. Pin this, iron to crease and stitch.

If you made the neck opening 6”, you’ll want 19” of fabric for the hood. If you made it 8”, you’ll want 26” of fabric. Use whatever width your fabric is for the width. Cut the piece and fold it in half with the right side (the side you want to show) together (or use a french seam as explained in the next paragraph). Stitch one long open side (red line) and hem the other (black line). When hemming the open end, hide the raw edge by folding under ¼”, then folding ¼” over that. Iron and pin before stitching for more even results.

Since the seam at the back of the hood (red line) will be visible with the hood down, you may want to do what’s called a french seam. Put the fabric WRONG side together, so the part you want on the inside when wearing the cloak is on the inside. Stitch a ¼ inch seam along the long end. Snip any stray threads and make sure the fabric is cut as close to the stitches as possible without them actually coming undone. Fold the hood inside out so that the seam you just made is on the inside. Along the same seam, use basting stitches (long, loose stitches) a little over ¼” from the edge so that your original seam is tucked inside. When you turn the fabric again you should have a clean seam on one side and just a fold of fabric on the other. If you see the raw edge sticking out of your french seam, undo the basting stitches and try again a little further from the edge. Otherwise go back over your basting stitches with a straight stitch to close the seam.
You’ll attach the unfinished short edge of the hood to the neck opening of the cloak itself. Use the french seam described in the above paragraph, but make your second seam at least ½” to ¾” away from the first, so that a tube or pocket is created for a drawstring.

Since there may be a difference between the size of the hood and the neck opening of the cloak, begin by pinning the corners together. Then find the center of each fabric and pin again, then divide each gap in half and pin again, etc. Any remaining gaps can be captured in small pleats or folds when you sew the fabric together, but pinning first will make sure that they’re even.

To make a drawstring, you can either use a ribbon, leather cord, or a piece of the same fabric as the cloak. To do the last, cut a 1 ¼ ” wide strip of the fabric. Fold each short end in ¼” and hem. Fold the strip in half lengthwise with right side folded together. Stitch all the way down to create a long tube. Attach a safety pin to one end and feed the safety pin down inside the tube. As it works it’s way along it will pull the end with it to turn the entire tube inside out. When it is inside out, iron it flat and stitch both ends to close the tube.

Attach a safety pin to one end of your drawstring. Feed it through the tube created by your french seam when you attached the hood. Push it all the way through until you can pull it out the other side. Adjust the two ends to be even, and you’re done!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Body Consciousness

I went riding this morning, after a week of being thwarted by the weather and lack of sleep. Yesterday I decided that my body needed the extra hour and a half sleep much more than it needed to get up at 5am and drive out to the barn. I was off kilter all day. I was trapped in a staff luncheon and couldn’t go walking at noon, then over to a friend’s house that evening. This morning it felt really good to make my body move.

I’m not a morning person by any means, but I love the cool, quiet wet solitude of 6am in the country. No one’s awake, the deer are still in the fields, and Sunshine and I are the first living creatures to knock the dew off the grass along the pasture that day. Riding is hard work, if done right. For me it’s also centering and meditative. I can’t disconnect from my body when I ride. I have to be right there observing my posture and position and balance. I have to pay attention to which muscles are tight or loose, what bones I’m sitting on, and how I’m holding my arms. If I lose track of my body and drift, the horse responds with mischief.

I’m just starting to learn the difference between self-consciousness and body-consciousness. The former is tied to shame. You are hyper aware, not of your body but of how others might see or think about it (usually by assuming their reaction will be negative). While it may feel like your body is exposed, I don’t think your awareness of it is the same. There is an awkward level of double-vision, where the illusion overlays the reality of your shape and movement and your body struggles to decide which one it wants to live up to.

Body-consciousness, for me, is the act of connecting to the reality of your body without value judgement. There are thousands of automatic functions and movements ongoing in your body that you cannot possibly be aware of or control. As you type, the muscles of each individual finger contracts and releases with machine-like precision to strike each key in order to form words that express your thought, all without conscious control. How amazing is that?

I have the privilege of not living with chronic pain or disability that limits what my body can do. Unfortunately I’ve also reached a point where I have let too many things become automatic. I’ve distanced myself from my own body because I don’t have to think about it. Of course there are some hormonal complications from PCOS that interfere, but part of it is that I stopped paying as much attention to my body’s signals of pleasure, pain, wants or needs. My mind acknowledges that something feels or looks or tastes “good”, but I don’t actually stop and feel the sensation itself. Later I may have the memory of pleasure, but as if it was someone else’s memory. I am trapped in my own head and the litany of external concerns that occupy my waking hours.

Last Friday when I went out on my lunch hour to go walking on the Kal-Haven trail, my legs just took off under me and ran. I was walking where the trail bends through a woods by a little stream, and it seemed like suddenly the muscles in my body were all working together to propel me down this path faster and faster until I couldn’t help but run. I also had to laugh, because what a picture I must have made in my skirt, blouse and bright white sneakers, tearing down the trail like I was being chased and grinning like mad. It felt really good, and I actually felt it. All alone and away from anyone else’s eyes, I could pay attention to movement and balance and all the moving parts of my body involved in running. All of a sudden, with my mind connected to my body, I could feel the pleasure of the movement.

That’s what I mean by body-consciousness.

I’m still working on connecting outside of those moments of physical activity where I’m forced to be aware. I’d like to also learn to connect to thirst, hunger, rest and sensation. I’d like to be more aware of the little things I experience on automatic without awareness, like a breeze, or the texture of the carpet under bare feet, or the weight of the water when I shower or swim. All this towards the goal of getting out of the trap in my head and developing an awareness of the rest of my body, as an antidote for the half-lifetime I spent rejecting it as a place to exist.

SAAS (Sewing at Every Size): Men’s Ren: Peasant Pants and Tunic

This is my SAAS (Sewing at Any Size) series on basic clothes that can be made for any size body without a commercial pattern. For other entries in the series, you can click on the SAAS topic in the sidebar category list.

As this will eventually become a book, please do not reprint or republish anywhere. You are welcome to copy/print/save for your own personal use.

I'm dipping briefly into costumes now, in time for the rennaissance fair season in the U.S. I'll get back to everyday wear (tops and dresses) next week after I've had time to do some up and double-check my instructions. I'll also see what I can do about adding to part 2 of the Fixes for existing clothes, although some of the requests are going to be a challenge!

As with the skirts, I'll start with the very simplest Ren Faire costumes and move up from there.

Peasant Pants and Tunic

JD was quite a good sport and actually wore an outfit to the renaissance fair that I’d made up in two hours the night before. Then again he was probably the most comfortable person in the group both temperature and fit-wise. This is a very simple knock-off-in-an-evening peasant outfit that anyone of any age, sex or gender can pull off at a ren fair. Although I have to say that you can get away with wearing wearing almost anything at a ren faire if you carry a big enough sword. Nobody says Boo to authenticity when I have a five-foot claymore (named Clyde) strapped to my back.

The pants are the trickiest part, but as you’re going for a very simple baggy look they’re very forgiving of bad math. The basic shape you’re looking for is an upside-down L, like this:

A is the larger of your waist or hip measurement, plus six inches, divided by four.
B is the length from your waist to the top of your foot, plus 2”
C is the distance from your waistband to the crotch seam (put on a pair of comfortable jeans and measure from the waistband to the seam that runs down the inside of each leg and meets in the crotch), plus 2”.
D is the circumference of the top of your thigh, plus two inches, divided by two.

You will need 4 pieces cut as above (two for each leg). Use test fabric for the first draft and make sure it fits comfortably. Sew two panels together at C to create front and back pieces. Place the two pieces right-side together (the side that will be right-side out when you wear them) and sew the seams at B, e and f. Try the pants on for fit.

When the pants are comfortable, hem up the ankle cuffs by ½” and (with the pants still inside out) sew across each leg at the dotted line to make them taper at the ankle (make sure you leave room to get your feet in and out).

Fold down the top 1.5” of the waistband and stitch all around the waist to create a pocket for a drawstring. Follow the instructions in the entry on Making a Gored Skirt to add a drawstring waist to the pants.

For the Tunic, simply measure across the shoulders. Take 1.5 times that number, add 1” and we’ll call it W. Measure from the top of the shoulder to just below the hips and add 1”. We’ll call that number L.

Cut two pieces of fabric L x W. Hem them both on all four sides so that they’re all clean edges. Now place them right-side together (hems facing out) and stitch them together from the outside of the top edge across to about 1/3 of the way across. Do the same from the other edge. Turn it right-side out and make sure the opening comfortably fits your head and neck.

Now you’ll need a sash. I like to use the same material as the pants so that it coordinates, but you can use anything. Cut a strip 12” wide, long enough to wrap around the waist and tie. Hem the two short ends. Fold the sash in half (hemmed side facing outwards) and sew the two long sides together. Turn the sash inside out, then stitch the two short ends closed.

To assemble: Put on the pants first. Put the tunic over the head. Below each arm, fold the excess fabric from the back flap forward around your waist, tucking it beneath the front flap. Then take the excess fabric in the front half and fold it back over the back half. Secure at the waist with the sash. You are officially a ren peasant. You can generally get away with leather sandles and still look, if not official enough for the SCA, at least authentic and comfortable enough for a day throwing axes at hay bales and watching the wenches dance.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Recipe Box: Old Fashioned Chicken Noodle Soup

It’s cold and raining and my allergies are finally driving me to confront needles (i.e. allergy shots). I also had the remains of a roast chicken from our dinner Friday night. So I called my mom and got her recipe for real homemade chicken noodle soup. This was a mainstay comfort food of our childhood, and every Thanksgiving after the carcass had been plucked nearly clean she would get out the stock pot and make gallons of turkey noodle soup for the freezer.

You’ll need:

leftover boned chicken, whether it’s the remains of a bucket or a roast
4 carrots
3-5 stalks of celery
1 large onion
2 cloves garlic
either noodles or rice. I highly recommend the polish kluski noodles, but you can use plain egg noodles, homemade pasta, gnocchi, whole-wheat pasta or a wild-rice mix.

Large stock pot with lid.

If you’re making it with noodles use 3 stalks of celery. If you’re using rice, use the 5 stalks. As mom put it, “for some reason rice always wants more celery.” Use the whole celery stalk (leaves and all) for best flavor.

Strip any pieces of meat left on the bones. You can use the remains of a takeout fried chicken bucket, but pick off and toss any breading. Discard any stuffing or herbs still in the cavity. I stuffed this chicken with fresh chives and thyme from my garden when I roasted it, so that had to be scooped out and tossed so it wouldn't affect the flavor of the stock. Otherwise skin, bones, leftover pan drippings and nameless wobbly bits go in the stock pot, meat goes in a separate bowl you stick in the fridge until the stock (broth) is made.

Chop the carrots, celery and onion into big chunks (about 1”) and toss into the stock pot with the bones etc. Peel and crush the cloves of garlic and add that as well.

Add water until everything’s covered. Heat to a simmer then cover, turn down to low and let simmer for 3-4 hours. You can also toss everything in the crock pot and let simmer all day or overnight, but you won't get as much stock unless you have a very large crock pot. I make this during the week in stages, first night I make the stock, the next night I make the soup.

Strain through a colander into a bowl. Go through the colander and pick off any additional bits of meat you missed the first time. Toss them in the stock pot, then discard everything else you strained out. Pour the contents of the bowl back into the stock pot or freeze to use later.

Turn the heat back up to medium until the stock is simmering. Add the meat you set aside earlier plus noodles or rice, and simmer for an additional 20 minutes (longer for wild-rice mixes; use package directions). Salt and pepper to taste. Serve with crackers or bread.

Either the stock or the soup can be frozen in freezer-bags. It’ll last longer if you make sure there’s no air trapped in the bag. The stock can be frozen in ice cube trays, then bagged for use in flavoring rice, pasta or sauces.

The traditional chicken soup recipe leaves a lot of room to play with flavors. Try adding artichoke hearts or spinach in the last ten minutes of cooking, or maybe a little lemon juice, black pepper, wild rice and fresh asparagus. Up the garlic content and add cilantro and chili peppers for a tried-and-true cure for the common cold.

Friday, June 5, 2009

SAAS (Sewing at Any Size): Making Bad Clothes Better

I'm doing a couple of entries in my Sewing at Any Size series on troubleshooting existing clothes. I hear a lot about how there's great clothes out there that just don't fit anyone; here's a few tricks you might be able to use to widen your options. I would practice these first before buying brand-new clothes with the intention of hacking them up. Garage sale season is a perfect opportunity, as are clothes you would normally throw away or donate because of their lack of perfectness.

You can access the rest of the SAAS series by clicking on the topic link on the side bar. As this may eventually become a book, please do not reprint or republish this anywhere else. You may, of course print for your own personal use!
TROUBLESHOOTING 101 (Making the Best of Bad Clothes):

Part 1 of 2 part series. If you have specific fit issues you run into often, please post a comment and I'll see if it's something I can write out a fix for!

Problem: The Infamous Button Gap

I’ve been in the try-on room with the MOST ABSOLUTELY DIVINE OMG PERFECT BLOUSE, only to find out that when the shirt goes on over actual breasts there’s a big gap between buttons right at cleavage level. There are two easy fixes for this. They both begin by buttoning the shirt on a flat surface and pinning the area where it gaps so that it remains closed with the button line lying flat down the front of the garment.

Fix one is appropriate if you don’t mind pulling the shirt on and off over your head instead of unbuttoning it. Basically you take some thread the same color as the fabric (or transparent nylon thread) and make several small overlaping stitches at the gap. You may be able to hide the fix further by catching only the bottom layer of fabric on the side with the buttonholes, but this also has the potential to tear away on delicate fabric when it goes through the washer.

Fix 2 allows you to wear the shirt unbuttoned or take it off without pulling it over your head. Go to the fabric store and get sets of “hook and eye”connectors. They’re essentially the same thing you use to fasten a bra. Turn the shirt inside out (remember the spot is pinned into the position you want it). On the edge of the strip that goes under the other (the side with buttons), stitch the hook part of the hook and eye to the fabric with the hook facing out towards the front of the shirt. Your stitches go through the little flat loops attached to the hook (see drawing). Hook the “eye” (loop) part through the attached hook and make sure it lays flat. Stitch in place to the side of the shirt with the button holes. Try it on with the loop hooked and see if it lies flat (you may have to adjust it).

(Note: Fix 2 assumes that the gap is over the cleavage where the hook and eye won’t rub on skin and create a sore spot).

Problem: They Never Make Clothes in Good Colors

The fix here is obvious, in that the clothes may need to be dyed. If it’s cotton, hemp or linen then you can use the RIT dyes available at any fabric store. If it’s wool, silk or other natural animal fiber (other than leather or hide), you’ll need what’s called an “acid dye”. There are other specific dyes for leather and suede, and even for rayon. I’ve found the best source for specialty dyes is Dharma Trading, . They even carry natural vegetable dyes and ready-to-dye natural fiber fabrics (cotton, linen, hemp, silk) by the yard.
If you dye a lot, I'd recommend investing in a big stainless steel or ceramic coated stock pot that is entirely dedicated to dying. Don't use aluminum, it can react to certain dyes to create toxic fumes. This will save a lot of wear and tear on your washing machine.

Problem: They Only Make Clothes to Fit Tall Women!

The answer is to hem it, whether it’s the sleeves or bottom hem. If it only needs to come up a little bit you can just fold and stitch. If it needs to come up more than ½” then you may need to cut. There are several options for a finished look:

If you’d like a clean edge to the hem or don’t have a sewing machine, cut the fabric 1” below where you want it to hang. Fold under ½”, then fold again to tuck the raw edge under. Iron the folds for a crease and/or pin, then stitch.

If you’d like a cuff or visible hem you would follow the same process, except folding up in the opposite direction (towards the outside of the garment). Stitch at the top and bottom of the fold.

If you have knit fabric (such as a tee shirt), cut the hem ½” below where you’d like it to hang. Overstitch the raw edge. This means a series of small stitches right at the edge, with a perpendicular stitch looping over the raw edge of the fabric for each straight stitch. This keeps the fabric (especially knits) from unravelling and helps it wear longer. The overstitch function on your sewing machine should look like one of these:

After overstitching the edge, fold up ½” to the inside, iron to crease, pin and stitch.

Knits are hard because the stitches need to stretch with the fabric. If you have a sewing machine that can handle a double-needle you can use a double-needle straight stitch to give a tee shirt hem a factory- look finish. If you have a sewing machine with a stretch stitch (/\/\/\/\) then you can use that to finish the hem and it will look just fine. If you have to hand-sew, consider stretching out the fabric while you sew a straight-stitch so that the stitching has give. Practice on some throwaway fabric to get the right amount of stretch without the stitches bunching.

Sometimes you can’t hem from the bottom because of a print or pattern. Unfortunately this will take more sewing skill to solve since it means you must go to the nearest seam (armhole, waistband, etc.), cut or pluck out the stitches (there’s a tool called a seam-ripper that’s designed specifically for this), note how the seam attaches and take in more fabric. Re-attach the seam lower on the skirt using basting stitches (long loose stitches easy to rip out) BEFORE cutting any fabric; you’ll probably need to make adjustments. If this is the issues remember that there may be a limit as to how much you can take in before the look and fit of the garment is lost.

Problem: They Only Make Clothes to Fit Short Women!

This is one I run into a lot because I’m tall. Shirts that are designed to fall to the hips only reach my waist. Skirts meant to hit the ankle get me at mid-calf. Sometimes it’s hopeless, but sometimes I can fix it. Basically the fix is to add fabric. Some really high-quality well made tailored outfits are made to be let out an inch or so, but they’re not going to waste fabric in sweatshops making the clothes adjustable.

For too-short sleeves you have two options. One is to shorten the sleeves (see the last section) so that they’re ¾ or short-sleeve instead of long. The other is to find matching or contrasting fabric and add it to the sleeve. Hemlines are pretty much a matter of adding fabric, as are too-low necklines on shirts designed for the tiny-busted.

Fabric can be added anywhere: top, bottom or middle. Too-short sleeves are always a problem for me, so I’ve experimented a lot. For one design I cut the sleeve back to a little below the elbow, added a strip of lace (hem the raw edge of the sleeve fabric, then stitch the lace to the underside/hemmed side) then made a bell sleeve of a coordinating color. This is a bit of a romantic and flamboyant look, but might work for you. The strip of lace could also be a stripe of contrasting or coordinating fabric or ribbon. The same technique can also be used to lengthen the torso of a shirt or length of a skirt.

Sleeve Construction:

L is length from existing sleeve cutoff to desired cuff. Remember to consider ½” will be taken off each piece of fabric every time fabric meets, and allow hem or cuff fabric at wrist opening.

W is the circumference of the opening of the existing sleeve. Remember to add 1” of fabric for a seam when you sew the fabric into a tube.

F is the Flare, or however much you want the wrist cuff to differ from the point where you attach the sleeve extension. If you want a fitted cuff, make this a negative number (i.e. reverse the trapezoid).

Of course if you only have an inch or so to add, it’s much simpler just to attach something at the wrist to lengthen the sleeve. Check a fabric store for interesting trims, like lace, crochet, ribbon and other fun notions.

Problem: They Only Make Clothes for Gigantic Boobs!

The Dart is your friend. Not the kind you throw at photos of major clothing line designers who think all women look like fit models, but elongated triangles that make two-dimensional fabric follow a three-dimensional form.

The most common type of dart begins at a seam and comes out into a point. This forces the fabric to “bend” around the dart, create a form that hopefully follows your body. Not all shirts or tops lend themselves to darting, but quite a few can use darts to adapt to your body shape.

If a garment fits you everywhere except for being too baggy in the breasts, for instance, you’ll want to use horizontal darts to take up the extra fabric. The downside is that this may also make the garment shorter (particularly at the sides), so be forewarned. This is much easier with a friend to help, but can be done in front of a mirror.

First turn the shirt inside out and put it on. Use your fingers to pinch together equal folds of fabric at the side seams until the shirt feels like a better fit. Experiment with both the width and length of the fold, which should be wider at the seam and fold as a triangle with the point no further towards the buttons than your nipple. When you have the perfect amount of fabric pinched to make the garment fit you, pin it in place. This is your dart. Stitch along the line of pins, check it again for fit, then iron the fold to one side or the other so that it lies flat.

The problem now is that you've shortened the front of the garment, but not the back. You need to carefully remove the stitches from the side seam (again, using a seam ripper) up to the dart. Hem the back of the shirt to the same length as the front and re-attach the side seams.

Problem: They Only Make Clothes For Tiny Boobs!

For the opposite problem (fits the breasts, too loose below them) begin your dart from the bottom hem and keep it fairly straight until just below where it hits the breasts, then taper to a triangle (see second graphic above). This is a much easier adjustment as you don't have to rip any seams out!

If the clothes are baggy everywhere, the solution is to buy clothes that fit you .

Problem: They Only Make Bras For Tiny Boobs!

Darts can also be used to adjust a bra. If a bra is the right band size but just barely too large in the cup, take a small dart on both sides of both cups to bring it in and fit you comfortably. If it's considerably too big, consider taking a solid seam across the front. The downside is that the extra fabric from the dart might rub or create an uneven shape. It’s always better to get bras that fit, but for those of us who don’t have a week’s grocery money to blow on one, this is a good cheater.

End of Part 1
If you have fit issues you'd like me to tackle in part 2, please post them in comments. No guarantees that I'll be able to, but I'll give it a shot!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

SAAS (Sewing at Any Size): The Peasant Skirt


This is another in my series called SAAS: Sewing at Any Size. It's also the last style of skirt I'll be covering, but hopefully with the half-dozen already described you can have almost any skirt your heart desires.

I hope to help women of all sizes thumb their noses at the overpriced poor-quality ugly crap found in mainstream stores this year. Quite a few basic wardrobe items can be made without commercial patterns, just by applying a little basic math and undertanding how things are shaped.

You can follow the SAAS series by clicking on the SAAS topic on the blog sidebar. As this will eventually be a book, please do not re-print or publish this information anywhere. You can, of course, print it for your own personal use!

I love peasant skirts, usually because they’re one of the few styles that are long enough to hit my ankles instead of mid-calf. While the traditional peasant skirt would be made out of light cotton or linen that crinkles and floats, experimenting sometimes offers interesting results. This is actually what sparked the idea for this series, because Fashion Bug wanted $60 for a knee-length peasant skirt made out grey sweatpant material. Seriously. It did look cute and I might have paid up to $20 to save myself the work, but no more than that.

This pattern made up in knit will give you a more form-following skirt that falls down instead of out. You may have to adjust the height of each panel to compensate, so if you’re using knit try to use basting stitches at first in case it needs to be taken up. Heavier material is fun to work with too. I made this pattern up in a medium weight white canvas-type material (like that used in cargo pants) so that I had a hippie skirt sturdy enough to wear to Pagan events that call for camping, light in color (biting black flies are attracted to dark colors) but thick enough that I didn’t have to wear anything under it to keep it from being see-through (a must in hot weather!). I’m thinking of making a corduroy version just to see how it turns out.

I’ll start with the assumption that you want to make an ankle-length, 4-tier peasant skirt in lightweight fabric. If you’d like to vary this, use test fabric (such as cheap fabric or old bedsheets) to experiment until you have the look you’re going for, and use that as a pattern. Remember to use long, loose stitches (basting stitches) to assemble test fabric garments so that you can easily take them apart later.

We’re going to use the larger of your waist or hip measurement. Your waist is where you normally wear the waistband of a skirt; the hips would be the largest point below that. Pick one. We’ll call this number W for Width.

Now measure from your waist to the point where you want the hemline of the skirt to be. We’ll assume that all the seams between two tiers are going to be ½”. We also want to add ½” for the hem at the bottom and top and subtract for the waistband, so take your length and add 3”. This total number will be called L for Length.

You’ll be cutting 8 pieces of fabric for the main skirt, as each tier will be two pieces. Here’s how to calculate their size (and remember your high school math):

I used decimals instead of fractions so that you can hopefully work these measurements out on a simple calculator. Round up each measurement to the nearest ¼ inch to make it easy on yourself. I’ll give you an example:

For a woman with a 60” Waist (assuming waist is larger than hips) wanting a skirt 33” Long, cut the following pieces:

Piece 1: Cut 2 pieces at 32” by 8”
Piece 2: Cut 2 pieces at 48.75” by 9”
Piece 3: Cut 2 pieces at 63” by 9”
Piece 4: Cut 2 pieces at 80” by 10”

Now this would give me an A-line peasant skirt with a very full bottom. If I wanted something less bulky I would reduce the lower three tiers a bit, but never making a tier smaller than the one above it. I might do 32”, 40”, 50” and 60” to wind up with a bottom tier about twice my waist and reducing the bulk of the skirt.

Remember that if you’re making each tier out of the same fabric you need to cut all the pieces with the fabric facing the same direction. If your largest tier is longer than the fabric is wide, you’ll need to cut them lengthwise. You can stagger them to use the fabric efficiently, like this:

This means that when buying your fabric, you’ll want to get a length at least equal to the length of pieces 1 and 4. Make sure it’s wide enough to also do a 2” waistband.

Take the two halves of piece 1, lay them “right side” together (i.e. the side you want visible when wearing the skirt). Sew each end together to create a loop.

Repeat for each set of pieces, so that you have four fabric loops (we’ll call them loops 1-4 instead of pieces 1-4 from here).

On the wrong side /inside of each loop (the side with the seams sticking up) make 16 marks with pencil, chalk or fabric marker, about the same distance apart, beginning with the seams (8 on each piece). This doesn’t have to be exact, but try to get them relatively evenly spaced.

Take loops 1 and 2 and lay them right-side together (the side you want showing when you wear the skirt) with the top of each loop matched up. Rotate them so that the seams do NOT line up, but each fall about ¼ of the way around the circle from each other. Pin the seam on loop 1 to the nearest mark on loop 2.

Find the mark on loop 2 opposite the one you just pinned, so that there’s an equal amount of “loose” fabric on either side of loop 1. Pin the other seam of loop one to this opposite mark.

Find the marks halfway around on each loop and pin them together so that the inside loop is attached in four places:

Find the marks halfway between each pinned mark on each loop, match them up and pin. Repeat so that all 16 points are pinned together.

Using the sewing machine or hand-stitching, run a straight stitch around the loops, catching the extra fabric in the outer loop as small folds or pleats. The sixteen divisions are to make sure that the extra fabric is taken up evenly throughout the loop and not bunching up anywhere. Try to spread the pleats evenly in each section, but a peasant skirt style is much more forgiving of uneveness than a pleated skirt, and you may actually want to mix up the size and directon of the folds for a more freestyle look.

An alternate way to do this is to run very long basting stitches around the top of the larger loop using strong thread, and use the thread as a drawstring to bunch and adjust the fabric until it matches up in size with the smaller loop, then stitch it on gathers and all. I find that the pin method gives more even folds all around without the risk of the thread snapping while you’re adjusting the drawstring and making you start all over again. (This happened twice the first time I made a peasant skirt, which is why I came up with the pin method.)

Fold the fabric down and iron flat. Repeat for the next two loops.

Hem the bottom loop up by ½” from the bottom edge (either before or after attaching the top edge to the skirt).

Follow the instructions in Making a Gored Skirt for creating a waistband for your peasant skirt.


Add lace, ribbon or other trim to each tier of the skirt. If the trim has two finished edges (such as lace or ribbon) you can simply stitch it onto the skirt at the seam. If the trim is meant to be tucked, or has a raw edge, you can sandwich it between the tiers when you attach them to each other, so that the part of the trim you’d like visible hangs out of the seam on the right side of the skirt.

For fewer tiers or a shorter skirt, use test fabric to adjust the pieces until you have what you want. Just remember that each tier needs to be larger than the one above it for the gathered, peasant skirt look.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

SAAS (Sewing at Any Size): Pleated Skirt (and curtains)

Yep, it's definitely skirt week! Since they're the easiest thing to sew I thought I'd get them all out of the way before moving on to more complicated things. The same basic concept can be used to make your own pleated curtains and valances, so I've included the basic instructions for that at the bottom.

For those of you first joining me with this post, I'm doing a series on Sewing at Any Size to address the general ugliness of clothes this year, unavailability of certain sizes, and the over-complicatedness of sewing patterns. My goal is to help people who've never sewn before actually make basic clothes to fit them without having to learn complicated techniques. You can follow the series by clicking on the SAAS topic link on the sidebar.

As this will eventually be a book, please don't reproduce or re-print it anywhere. You can certainly print for your own personal use (that's what it's for).


Once you get the pleating down, this is actually one of the easiest skirts to make. Choose fabric that will hold a crease when you iron it (cotton, linen or blends with high cotton/linen content). You'll need to reference the information on waistbands in the first skirt entry here.

For the basic skirt you will want your waist measurement (where you normally wear a skirt or pant’s waistband) your hip measurement (widest point below the waist) and the length from the waist to where you want the hemline (we’ll call this last number L for Length).

Of your waist and hip measurements, which is larger? You want this to fit you comfortably everywhere, so no cheating! My waist is larger than my hips due to a belly, so I use that measurement. Multiply the number by three and add 3” (we’ll call the total number W for waist).

Cut a rectangle of fabric W by L. (remember to use test fabric, like old bedsheet material or pennies by the yard type clearance fabric, so that you can practice without ruining the expensive stuff!)

There are two types of pleat that work for this. One is the knife pleat and the other is the box pleat. The knift pleat will give you a more form-following pleat as it’s designed to fall straight down along the pleat lines. The box pleat will cause the skirt to flare out from the waistline, like a tennis skirt. Try them on your test fabric to see which you like better.

First decide which of the two long sides is the bottom hem. Fold up ½” of fabric, iron it to lie flat, and sew it closed (essentially, hem it). Hemming will be much more awkward once the pleats are in place.

Using a ruler or measuring tape along the top (unhemmed) long edge, make a mark every 1 inch with a marker, pencil or chalk. Number them from left to right starting with the first pencil mark (1,2,3,4,5,6,7)

Have a hot iron and ironing board ready.

This may be a tough visual, but look at the numbered marks on your fabric and follow along.

For the knife pleat: fold the fabric so that mark 2 touches mark 4. Iron down the crease all the way to the hem and pin at the top. Then fold the fabric so that mark 5 touches mark 7. Repeat the iron/pin.

If you notice the pattern so far, you skip one inch, then accordian-fold the next three marks together, then skip a mark and repeat. The final result should look something like this:

Note: While my lack of drafting skills makes the pleats look slightly uneven, try to make your’s as even as possible for a finished look.

For the Box Pleat, you still want to have your 1 inch marks numbered. Take marks 1 and 5 and bring them in so that they touch at mark 3. Iron the seams flat and pin at the top. Take marks 7 and 11 and bring them in to touch mark 9. Iron the crease and pin. Continue the pattern all the way across the fabric. The end result should look something like this:

Using a straight stitch, run a line of long, loose stitches (a.k.a. basting) about an inch from the top of the fabric, capturing the pleats

Now, using the larger of your waist/hip measurement, measure along the top of the fabric and make sure the finished size is correct. Pin the short ends together (leaving ½” seam) and hold the skirt about an inch below your waist. If it’s too large, trim a few pleats off to fit. If it’s too long, run another line of basting stitches an inch below the desired length to hold the pleats in place and cut away above the new row of stitches. Remember that you’ll have a 1” waistband at the top.

Check for fit again, then close the skirt by putting the two ends together with the right side of the fabric (the side you want visible when you’re wearing the skirt) facing each other and stitching ½” from the fabric edge. This will create a seam that is only visible on the inside of the skirt.

Follow the instructions in the entry on gored/panel skirts for making an elastic or drawstring waistband for your pleated skirt. When using test/practice fabric be sure to use basting stitches so that you can tear it apart later and use it as a pattern.

When you’ve assembled the entire skirt using test fabric, mastered the art of pleating and made any adjustments to the size and fit, tear it apart and use the pieces as a pattern for making the final skirt out of good fabric.

Note: you can experiment with the size of the pleat by making the mark increments larger or smaller (1/2”, 2”, etc.). Use test fabric to see what the final result will look like!


The same pleating methods can be used to make curtains and valances for your windows. For a set of two curtains, measure the window you’d like to cover. Take the width, multiply it by 1.3 (so that the curtains gather and overhang the sides of the windows), then multiply that number by three and divide by two. We’ll call this number W for width.

Determine your length (usually a few inches below the sill, but could also be floor length to add height to the room). Figure out what you’re using as a curtain rod (for instance I use eyehooks and lengths of ½” thick bamboo. It’s cheap and looks interesting.). Hang the curtain rod above the window. Take a measuring tape, drape the end around the curtain rod in a loop until you like how it hangs (remember to leave it loose enough to get the rod in and out of the fabric). Find the point on the measuring tape where you want the hem to hang and add ½”. We’ll call this total number L for Length. Look at where the tape looped over the curtain rod meets itself and note this number. This is the amount of fabric you’ll need for the curtain rod sleeve at the top of the panel.

Cut a rectangle of fabric WxL. Hem the sides and bottom of the curtain panel and follow the pleating instructions above. When you’re done, measure down the fabric by the amount you determined you’d need for the curtain rod sleeve. If you’d like to double check you can actually hang the curtains, pin them onto the rod and check the length. Run a line of basting stitches across the fabric where the loop will join to hold the pleats in place.

Make sure the top (rod sleeve) is folded in the same direction as the bottom and side hems. Stitch it onto the main curtain. Slide it through the rod pocket and you’re done!

Monday, June 1, 2009

Sewing at Any Size (SAAS): Variations on the Gored/Panel Skirt

VARIATIONS ON A THEME (Skirts, Gored/Paneled)

The first entries in my SAAS series (Sewing at any size) gave instructions for a gored (paneled) skirt without needing a commercial pattern. This is part 2 of the same theme, with variations on the same basic process. I’ll cover making an inset skirt, wrap skirt and a lined or reversible skirt.

This is where you have wedges of contrasting fabric texture or color between the gores to widen the hem and create a “flippy skirt” look. The insets should be the same weight or lighter weight than the fabric of the skirt. The idea that these insets are invisible at rest, but when you move they flip open and flash the constrasting color or texture, then close again. This is best accomplished using 6 or more gores.

Follow directions for the basic gore skirt panels. When you connect the panels together, only stitch 2/3 or 3/4 down the trapezoid and leave the bottom unhemmed.

Flip the panels over and open the seam, folding the seam of each gore back onto itself. Continue this seam all the way down the skirt.
Measure the length of the opening from where you left off stitching and add 1” (we’ll call this L). Cut the contrasting/inset fabric into a trapezoid 4” wide and (L) inches long. We’ll call this the Inset. If the fabric is a kind that frays/shreds easily, use pinking shears to keep it under control. These are scissors that cut in a zig-zag pattern like /\/\/\/\/\/\ . You can also put a row of stitches about 1/2" in from the edge to control fray.

Place the skirt seam-side (wrong side) up in front of you. Place the Inset fabric right-side down on top of it. Pull the seam of the skirt open 3” at the bottom and pin it to the Inset fabric, leaving ½” of inset fabric overlapping as a seam.

Trim away the extra fabric from the inset (up to any fray-control stitches you added) and finish the skirt as usual.


Make the skirt gores as above but leave one seam between gores unsewn and add an extra panel. (if using 6+ gores, add two or more extra panels).

Instead of closing the last seam to make a round skirt, just fold the raw edges of the two end panels under ½” and sew. You can also create a contrasting trim on what will be the outside/visible edge by taking a 2” strip of another fabric, folding both sides into the middle (iron to crease), sandwiching it over the raw edge and stitching into place.
Hem ½” from the bottom of all panels. Hem ½” from the top as well.

The waistband will be a little different and a lot longer. Use the instructions on how to make a drawstring in the section on waistbands, but use a wider (2”) piece of fabric with a length three times your waist measurement. Turn it inside out and iron it so that it lies flat. Attach as you would a waistband (but before sewing the skirt into a circle) so that equal lengths are left dangling on each end.

For a faux wrap skirt that stays closed, take the edge you want on the underside of the wrap and pin it to the second panel from the finished end. Stitch ½ to 2/3 of the way down the seam, letting the rest stay open. For a regular open-wrap skirt, skip this step and proceed to the next.

Where the two ends connect behind the wrap front, use a pin or seam ripper to pick just enough stitches below where the waistband meets the skirt panel to thread one end of the long tail through the hole. You may want to use a needle and thread to make a few extra stitches on either side of the hole to help reinforce it. Thread the inside waistband tail through the hole.

Wrap the two tail ends of the waistband around you in opposite directions and tie.


The technique is the same to make the basic gore skirt with a liner, or to make a reversible skirt that can be worn either side out. As the waistband will be a single material you may want to choose fabric that coordinates with it for the reverse side.

First you use the basic gore skirt pattern above to make two sets of gores. The second set of gores will be made either from lining material or coordinating material for a reversible look. Sew each set together seperately and iron the bottom edge as if hemming (do not stitch the hem yet).

Place the two skirts one inside the other with the seams facing each other. Match up the hems as precisely as possible and pin to hold in place. Try to get the gore seams to match up as well to prevent pulling.

Very carefully stitch the two hems together, close to the crease.

Make a waistband per the normal instructions, using whichever fabric you want to be visible from both sides. (note: you can also put a strip of this near the hem of the coordinating side for a cute retro look. See instructions for making contrasting trim in the section for a faux wrap skirt).

To attach the waistband, fold each layer inward/towards each other ½” and sandwich the raw edge of the waistband between them. Iron the layers for a crease and pin the layers in this position. Put on the skirt and check for fit and that both layers lay flat without bunching or bagging. Unpin and adjust as necessary before stitching close to crease.
Insert elastic or drawstring per the waistband instructions for the gore skirt. If you’re making a reversible skirt I’d recommend elastic, as the drawstring will be on the inside when you reverse the skirt.

That's it! You should now be able to make a wide variety of skirts of any size or length without ever touching a commercial pattern.