Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The Little Dress that Could!

Sometimes a pattern looks so simple you pass it by, opting instead for something with dramatic styling or clever detailing.  Nobody wants to look like a Plain Jane in a garment that perhaps only took a couple hours to make. But we say don't be so quick to dismiss a simple straightforward design—the beauty of simplicity is that with just a few minor changes, pattern hacks, incredible print, or added embellishments you can make it your own style!

We are having a ball seeing the diversity that can be achieved with one classically simple pattern: Dress No.1 from Sonya Philip's indie pattern line, 100 Acts of Sewing. The drawing is deceptively simple, but just like her Pants No.1 pattern that gets our rave reviews. This dress pattern is as versatile as it is simple.

Dress No. 1 is described as a "sleeveless dress with a flattering A-line silhouette and patch pockets."  If you follow the instructions to the letter, the neckline and armholes are simply finished off with bias tape facings.  You can purchase ready-made tape at the store, or you can make your own bias strips out of a contrasting fabric using one of our fat quarters or 1/2 yard of fabric. We love bias tape makers, which are the fastest and easiest way to create your own. Your bias facing can match your fabric to blend in, or choose a contrasting print or color for a fun hidden detail!

If you don't like the look of the bias tape bindings, you can always revert to that tried and true one piece facing for sleeveless dresses, tracing around the pattern's neckline, shoulders and armholes.  We'll do a full tutorial later on this pattern hack later! Our point is, there are a lot of ways to make this little dress unique to you, fitting your sewing ability and style.

Laurel used one of our ikats to make her first Dress No.1.  She also purchased a cotton batik print to make the self facing discussed above, but she could have easily cut her own bias strips according to the pattern instructions. She also prefers a deeper scoop, so she lowered the neckline. It's amazing how simple adjustments can personalize a project!

Patch pockets are just begging to be embellished.

You can't just have one Dress No. 1! The pattern is so versatile that with a few snips of the scissors, you can change the neckline into a V shape or a square. Make it longer or shorter, leave off the pockets, try a knit or one of our beautiful many choices!

Poly knit...Laurel's beading
Nevada Linen...border added.

Claire in her many versions of Dress No. 1
Natalie shows off her layered Dress No. 1 variations.

I had the chance to try on one of Natalie's and I am officially inspired to add Dress No. 1 to my wardrobe. We've picked a linen and a double gauze for my first ones.
Can't wait to show you!

If you haven't been in to Stonemountain & Daughter Fabrics lately, do stop by and check us out!

We have tons of new Designer Fabrics in from the hot showrooms in Italy, Los Angeles and New York - Upstairs is on Fire!!!

We also had the time to move around some shelves in the front of our store by the cutting tables and it looks so open and airy!

Hope to see you soon,

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Mastering the Big Print!

If you're a quilter or a crafter, you're used to working on small prints - the patterns are usually evenly dispersed on the fabrics and have very short repeats, perfect for working in small areas and projects.

If you are a garment sewist as well, these small prints are easy to match. And unless they have an obvious up and down to the pattern, they are easy to lay out on the cutting table. Since many of us love to "power sew" (make an outfit to wear the next day), choosing a small cotton or rayon print is the perfect choice for sewing ease.

But just ask our talented buyers:  when we see a big print fabric, we are immediately drawn to the potential drama. Regardless of the fabric content, these prints can put an exclamation point on even the simplest of pattern designs. In fact, with big prints, the simpler the garment pattern, the greater the flexibility to show off the print. (In a previous post, we showed the challenge of fabric layout with a big print knit)

We knew we hit a bulls eye with another beautiful graphic print in a crinkled rayon. In keeping with the notion of a simple pattern design, we chose The Lela from Green Bee.  The simple lines of this tunic will give us just the framework we need for this big graphic fabric.

It's one thing to see a fabric on a bolt in the store, and it's another matter entirely to then get it home and spread it out on the cutting table.  We knew that the repeat was huge on this fabric, so we sent Laurel home with enough fabric to give her the widest latitude in designing the Lela. On the cutting table, you can see that the pattern graphic is not exactly symmetrical, a common theme with many big graphic prints. We also noted that it had some distracting eyeball-ish circles which if we weren't careful could end up in the wrong place on my body.

The only tried and true way to deal with big graphic prints with big long repeats is to copy your pattern pieces onto tracing paper. (There goes that "finish by morning" goal!) The semi-transparent patterns pieces allow you to move the design over the various parts of the fabric to see which area looks best for each section of the garment. It also allows you to better match at the seams and other areas that require a good connection.

Once you have all the pattern pieces recreated in tracing paper, the fun begins as you move the pieces around on the fabric to determine the perfect placement. With wovens such as this rayon, it is fine to even try the crossgrain of the fabric if you like the design better.

Not a fan of these "eyeballs". All kidding aside, we girls have to be careful about where certain shapes are placed in our garments, if you catch my drift...navel area, chest, etc...need I go further?  

I ended up sticking to the length of the grain line and placing the large diamond shaped down the middle, carefully avoiding the circles and trying to make it as symmetrical as possible.

Once the tunic front placement was determined, it was easy to plan the the two yoked panels in the front and the cuffs on the sleeves.

Even despite our best efforts, we don't always get the outcome we want.  When Laurel started to attach the front yoke, it became apparent that she didn't quite get the fabric design EXACTLY in the center front.  Whoopsie! Fortunately, she was able to adjust the sizing of the tunic down, shifting the design slightly to the left. (The Lela tunic is very generous in sizing!)

The result for the front was better, but the back section was still a tad off - she didn't make any adjustments to the back. This off-center thing can happen with big prints, especially when the design is not symmetrical—sometimes you just have to do your best to center it. In other words, just let it go.  You are probably the only one who would ever notice. We don't always sew to win the county fair's first prize...we sew because we love it!

Check it out!!!

A 8" slit up the sides for this tunic!

The sleeves had to be adjusted because of the front tunic shift (smaller, shorter)
The Lela is a great pattern; it's easy and fast to work up. You could easily add length to the hem and use it for an "apres-pool" dress...and of course the blouse length would be perfect with jeans or crop pants this summer.  you could also shorten the sleeves by leaving off the band.

Come in and check out our summer fabrics - we'd love to show you some other fabrics for the Lela!

Creatively Yours,

One of our Stonemountain staff, Claire, shows off her use of big prints!

Upcoming Fabric Lady blog where we will cover 
the cutting and sewing of this Big Print for my wrap skirt!

Friday, June 10, 2016

Mad Crush on T-Shirts!

We have a mad crush on t-shirts here at Stonemountain, so whenever one of our independent pattern companies comes out with a new tee, we have to try it out! And since summer is just around the corner, the casual styling of a t-shirt is the perfect match for many of our new summer knits. We might also point out that most of the t-shirt patterns available don't take very long to make, even for our beginning sewists!

One of our newer t-shirt patterns is the Lark Tee from Grainline Studio. There are sixteen different ways to make up this simple tee-shirt with its modern, slim styling.

Four sleeve lengths and four necklines!

I chose the v-neck and the three-quarter length sleeves for my shirt.  Because I try to avoid deep necklines, Laurel, my seamstress, cut the v-neck a little higher.  This is a simple adjustment that you can make, especially when you're using a knit fabric.  Otherwise, we used the pattern as directed.

With something as simple as a t-shirt, it's all about fabric choice. The simple lines of the Lark Tee allow you to be the designer, making the t-shirt uniquely you. The fabric I chose was a bold, graphic rayon knit with a huge border and repeat of the design. Understandably, it took Laurel a bit of time deciding on the best utilization of the print's graphic patterns.

We initially thought that the "plain" sections of the fabric would make the best sleeves, but when we tried placing the tee-shirt front on the bold graphics, it looked a little skeletal, which was not the biker chick look I was going for.  We ended up using the plain part of the design for the front and back of the tee and the bold pattern on the sleeves.

The sleeves, using the bold graphic sections of the fabric.

One way to work with a fabric like this is to layout and cut your pattern pieces one layer at a time.  In that way, you can kind of design as you go.  Here's the final design we settled on, being careful to match the graphic designs as best we could.

The v-neck line is finished with a neck band, so Laurel used the graphic lines in the fabric to add great detail to the neckline.

The finished Lark Tee looked great on Zanikan, and it fit me like a glove!  I love that it's longer than most tees for a very flattering silhouette. And isn't that the most important part of wearing a t-shirt, besides being oh so comfortable?

Keeping to our emphasis on Indie patterns, we wanted to give Sewaholic's Renfrew Tee a spin around the sewing machine. This t-shirt is a fitted top that features banded hems on the sleeves and hemline.  Like the Lark, the Refrew has several variations of sleeves and necklines.

I chose a rayon knit, using the short sleeves and the v-neck styling.  Again, Laurel adjusted the deep v-neckline to suit my preference for a higher look. (It's not that I can't appreciate a pretty d├ęcolletage, but I'm constantly hovering over desks, cutting tables, and low shelves at work and the world doesn't need to see mine!)

The bands on the sleeves and hemline add a nice styling element ordinarily.  But I have to say that because of the print on this knit, they don't show off this detailing as much as a solid colored knit might. You could easily color-block this design as well, making the bands a totally different color or print.

If you look at the finished inside of the Refrew, you can see the bands on the sleeves and hemline.  Laurel finished the edges with her serger, making for a clean seam finish. She used a stretch stitch for sewing the seams and a "Jersey" machine needle (#80).

When you add a mitered bias neck facing, be sure to stay-stitch the "V" at the center front first!

Slouchy or form-fitting, graphic or plain, the t-shirt continues to be one of the most enduring pieces of clothing in our wardrobe. T-shirt trends go in and out of style as quickly as hemlines, but the simple, classic t-shirt is as essential to our everyday dress as hangers are to our closet.

I hope that this has inspired you to leap forward and sew up your own custom Tee! I know they can be inexpensive to buy ready made, but the feel of wearing one you have made out of great quality fabric cannot be beat!

Sending each of you my gratitude,


Wednesday, June 1, 2016

What's next for Stonemountain?

Dream buying team!
Dear Students and Community of SM&D!
These last four months have been a roller coaster of change both personally and collectively. June is here, and we are dedicated in our mission for Stonemountain & Daughter Fabrics to be a community center for the Garment Sewer, Quilter, and Crafter; a Berkeley institution since 1981.

My buying team and I have been bringing in the finest fabric collections for our diverse community to our Berkeley store and our new updated website. In July, the upstairs will be full of designer fabrics from New York, Italy, and more!

Our social media outreach is a main focus for us, and it is so exciting! Follow us on Instagram, Facebook, our Newsletter (sign up and get a coupon for in-store and online purchases), and our Stonemountain blog for the latest photos, info, and happenings.

Exciting new events!

We have always been dedicated to our educational program at SM&D and are beginning our next phase this week. We have been busy moving shelves of fabric and opening up space in the front of the store to make room for community events. Free live demos, craft fairs, and trunk shows are just the beginning! Make sure you sign up for our email newsletters to be informed of these live events.

Come check out Tilden on Friday at 11 am till 2 pm for Live Sewing!

This Friday, June 3rd, we will welcome our first designer to sew in our front window! Tilden Yamamoto lives and works in Oakland, California.  He is a graduate of the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising, San Francisco.  For eighteen years he has practiced and studied traditional sewing techniques and construction, and it shows. His work is impeccable! We can't wait to see him work his magic in our window. Stay tuned for more Live Sewing and Demos to be scheduled each month!


The end of an era and on to new beginnings

Back in February we stepped forward with courage and made the decision to listen to all the “signals” suggesting it was time to let go of our class program at the end of June, even at the height of our "success." It has been an amazing 20 years of building our school from nothing to one of the most successful teaching programs in the country in any fabric store ever! With 1-3 classes daily—mostly full with waiting lists—we gave over 400 classes and served 2,500 students each year!

As I have shared before (here and here), when we started this school, most of the sewing educational programs in our community were closing or slowing down. Daily, our customers were asking where they could learn to sew. Sadly there was very little. “Find a need and fill it!” has always been my key to business success. I proceeded to model our classes after programs like G Street, Vogue Fabrics, and The Sewing Workshop, who were offering classes at that time. We moved the fabric out of the upstairs and brought in tables, sewing machines, and all the other goodies needed for a wonderful, ever-evolving studio for our students. It worked! It grew based on a high level of caring and dedication.

Over the years, we have supported the home garment sewing movement. In the last 3 decades, more sewists moved away from garment sewing to quilting and knitting, while many people stopped sewing all together. But recently, we have seen a comeback with the popularity of indie patterns and sewing communities coming together in the blogosphere and on social media. Stores like ours, who love to buy and sell fashion fabrics, are diminishing, but our passion for these fabrics and fashion sewing is wholehearted. We are excited to grow our community even more and reach out to sewists who share our enthusiasm for sewing.

Teaching in our Berkeley fabric store for 20 years has ignited thousands of sewists to gain confidence in cutting, fitting, and sewing on fine fabric. Some have gone on to be wonderful designers, teachers, or manufacturers! All will remember their classes in our upstairs. It is and has been a special honor to host these classes and events. I have so much gratitude for all the fabulous instructors, students, and the whole Stonemountain Team who have helped me grow this part of our business and give back to a community which has given us so much!

Your guide to the next sewing adventure! 

Check out our Guide to Bay Area Sewing Classes! I have personally met and talked with each of the teachers and schools listed here. With this great group of educators in our area, we are excited to partner with them and provide students with fabric, notions, and patterns, no matter where they're learning. Each teacher or school has access to a special SM&D 20% off student coupon for you to buy your supplies from us, as our way of saying thank you! Please reach out to them and support them as you can. This is a growing community, and it's vital for us all to step forward together in this beginning phase. Please take a look at this link to see all the classes being offered all around us! You can also pick up a flier print out in the store.

I love being here after 35+ years, dreaming into what Stonemountain can still become! After the countless personal hours devoted to the development, scheduling, and administration of these classes, I'm looking forward to refocusing that energy into my other dreams and organizations. It feels courageous to let go and "float in" to the challenge of surrender and not knowing.

In letting go of our current structure of classes, we are opening ourselves up for something new and exciting for our community. We step forward with an open heart and ask, "What more is possible?" Where can we create more joy and creativity in our lives?

Thanks for sharing this ride with me!

Blessings and Love,

Suzan Steinberg
Owner, Stonemountain & Daughter Fabrics, 1981 - Present and Onward!
Founder, Stonemountain Sewing Classes, 1996 - 2016
Director, Brightest Little Star Blanket Volunteer Project for Alta Bates/Summit NICU
Director, FineFabricStores Collective of Independently Owned Fashion Fabric Retail Stores in North America

Certified Shamanic Astrologer and Board Member of the Shamanic Astrology Mystery School

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Crazy-Making Patterns - What was I thinking?

Fact: Not all patterns are created equal from a design perspective.
Fact No 2: Not all patterns instructions are correct.
And Fact No. 3: Tastes and preferences change over time

Some background:  We made a decision a few months ago to focus on Independent Designers. We  had some pricing issues with a couple of the Big 4 pattern makers and it just seemed the right time to let them ease out of our pattern drawers. We continue to support our favorite mainstream designers from the Vogue pattern line, specifically Sandra Betzina and the Tilton designers.

So even though we have been focused on promoting our Indies since January, we had some hanger-oners in the project pile that for whatever reason, Laurel just hadn't got to yet. One garment was this Vogue 9124 Dress, which we picked out last Fall. We chose to make it in a beautiful rayon border print.  So before Laurel had a chance to start the sewing of this garment, the weather turned and it seemed fitting to save it for this Spring. And since she had already cut the pattern out last Fall, there was no going back now.

Skip forward to this week when she actually started sewing on the dress. Vogue patterns are not always suitable for beginners, but if you look at the drawing on the pattern, it looks rather straight forward, especially for an advanced seamstress like Laurel. The pattern features a button fly front, which for someone who has done a lot of plackets should not be that difficult.

Here's where the "Crazy-Making" started. According to Laurel, who always tries to work up our patterns as they are designed, her sewing day went rapidly downhill. "Worst placket directions ever!"

After a sleepless night trying to wrap her brain around their instructions AND scouring the Internet for some pointers, she scrapped the instructions and, as she says, "I did it MY way". She wasn't alone, as others had the very same trouble with these overly complex instructions and bad drawings.  (Not to mention, one whole section is totally out of order!)

So we're thinking that if you do choose this pattern, just go back to the fly-front technique that you already know. On a blouse fly front, the center front on the right side is normally cut about 6" wider and just "folded" to form the placket.  Since she had already cut out the bodice months ago, Laurel cut a section of fabric and just added it to the right front of the bodice, to form the hidden placket.

The placket is then created by folding the fabric in an accordion-like fashion. The inside (hidden) portion of the placket is interfaced - this is the portion that has the buttonholes down the front.

The outside portion of the placket hides the buttonholes down the front of the bodice and is not interfaced. The left side of the bodice is interfaced to add some stability - this is the side for the buttons.

Narrow bias bands like this neckline band can tend to stretch as you are trying attach it to the gathered bodice.  Cool trick: Laurel marked a piece of bias tape with the various pattern markings on the narrow band around the neckline, just to make the gathered bodice a little easier to assemble. The bias tape also made the gathered neckline more stable.

A word of warning - these tiny bands are not easy to master - they're not for the beginner or the faint-hearted. And even though gathering a skirt is something you might learn in your first years of sewing, they can be a pain on lovely silk or rayon like this fabric - they're slippery and they ravel, so serge the edge first before gathering.

I have a spring wedding to attend, so this little spring number might be just the trick. Either that or I might have to find someplace to have afternoon tea...maybe add a big flouncy hat??? Just kidding...if you know me at all :) 

Don't you love the pretty belt Laurel made for me!
We love border prints and all the design options they give us!

My buying team and my pretty new dress!!! 
Given the "issues" inherent with this Vogue pattern, 
I'm thinking I made a great decision to GO INDIE!!

Cheers to Sewing!