Friday, October 1, 2010


When you last heard from me I was heading off to our library shelves to research an idea I had for an easy starter sewing project for our resident cooking blogger, Julie (641.5 with Julie). As I researched and then executed this project I came to recognize similarities in our crafts: a pattern is much like a recipe! Both involve a collection of items, a series of steps and, if you follow the steps, a product to be proud of (or, in some cases, at least learn from...). If you read my last post you may recall that sewing is not my favorite craft in the world but I do like to cook.  This was therefore, a tremendously helpful epiphany.  Having said all that, here is my recipe for completing a sewn project from scratch.

My sewing machine.  Had it since I was a kid.  Hardly ever used. 
 I'm not sure the stitch selection wheel has ever been changed.
Here goes nothing!

Step One: Decide what you want to make.  This part was a no-brainer.  I decided that an apron would be a relatively easy item to execute and something that Julie might actually use.  It could also be a quick gift to make over a weekend for one of my cooking friends.

Step Two:  Locate a pattern.  Once I realized that I was going to have to produce this sewing project myself (egads!) I set out to find the simplest, most basic pattern possible. This is kind of like looking through cookbooks to find a recipe that suits you.

My initial search led me to 3 books that were not currently checked out. (Clicking on the titles will link you to our card catalogue should you want to place one on hold for yourself).

Seams to Me by Anna Maria Horner
The "Part 1 - Getting Started" section has good coverage of sewing tools and how to use them; the choices of fabrics and how to decide what you need; the how-to descriptions of basic stitches and the techniques one might encounter.
The "Part 2 - Projects" section includes an apron.

Weekend Sewing by Heather Ross
I figured anything that was labeled "weekend" had to be fairly manageable.  Indeed, her pattern for a tie around the waist style apron looked like it would be quick and easy.  It was a definite contender.

Martha Stewart's Encyclopedia of Sewing and Fabric Crafts by Martha Stewart
Even though this title was included in my last posting I thought I would revisit it with more of an in-depth look at how workable her projects are.  She has several apron options to choose from, some as simple as sewing two tea towels together.  I don't think I can get away with that here!

In the end I chose an apron pattern from Martha Stewart's book because it was a full length/chef style apron.  When I cook I get flour all over the place and frequently wash my hands that I dry on my apron.  A pretty, little half apron just doesn't cut it in my kitchen (I can't say what happens in Julie's kitchen...)!

Step Three:  Read the pattern instructions (and in my family, read it at least 3 more times because we're funny that way).  This is so you have a clear understanding of what the steps are and what you will need to purchase.

Step Four:  Shop!! Buy fabric and notions.  (Apparently "notions" doesn't just mean "ideas/whims" it also means "small useful items/sundries". One can have a notion to shop for notions!). At any rate, the pattern lists what you will need to complete the project.  This is probably my favorite step. But it can be daunting as well - so many choices, all ohhhh so pretty!  This is why many crafters often end up with vast "stashes" of fabric/yarns/flosses/patterns, etc. 

The pattern I chose suggested a medium weight fabric such as linen, cotton, denim.  Martha chose linen. Hmmm. I opted for durable denim because it can take lots of abuse (see above note about my cooking style).

You can learn a lot from the label on the end of the fabric bolt - including washing instructions.  It's a good idea to read this as I almost chose a fabric that said "dry clean only" - NOT very appropriate for an apron to say the least!  There is nothing on the label, however, that says "medium weight". Given Martha's examples I looked for denim type weights or something akin to a table cloth.  I steered away from the pretty quilt fabrics which are not medium weight.  When in doubt ask a store employee.

I had no idea there were so many denims to choose from. This display continued on the other side as well!


My notions have been collected and I am ready to go.

Step Five:  Prepare materials.  This is when a cook would start trimming the meat or washing the veggies.  A little less messy for a seamstress.

In the pattern I have chosen, Martha first recommends that you wash the fabric.  Why, I ask?  It looks pretty good to me.  I turn to her section "Preparing Fabric for Sewing" where she explains that washing "will prevent your finished project from shrinking in the wash after it's sewn and prevent puckering along seam lines."  Not necessarily a vital problem for my apron but probably a good habit to get used to (not that I intend to do a lot more machine sewing...) Since I am committed to this project I might as well do it right.  Who wants to cook in an apron with puckered seams after all? This same section of her book also instructs that you:

  • Press the fabric so the wrinkles don't "distort the fabric enough to throw off the sizes and shapes when it comes time to sew"

  • Find the grain (more kinship to cooking!) because the "grain of the woven fabrics influence both the drape and durability of a finished project

  • Determine the "right and wrong sides of fabric." Always a good idea. Guess you can't just flip it inside out... 
That Martha Stewart is thorough!!

Speaking of thorough, this book includes a CD with all the pattern templates on it, which is nice. But I decided not to print the template. The diagrams in the book show all the measurements I needed (famous last words).

My pieces all cut out.
I decided not to include a pocket and opted for it to be
shorter and slightly more narrow.

Note: remember when you are cutting out the 2 ties that the fabric is folded, ie. doubled. You only need to mark and cut each once. I almost ended up with 4 waist and 4 neck ties.

Step Six:  Create.  This is the time of truth.  The pieces are cut, there is no going back.  Commitment.  Deep sigh.   It is at this point that the cooking and sewing processes divide a little. Many cooks I know sip a little wine while they create.  Vast amounts of coffee however appears to accompany the creative process of most of the seamstresses I know. Hmmmm, again.

I look at the pieces, at The Machine and then to the pattern where I read (yes again but somehow it only enters my awareness now) that I can still avoid The Machine for a little bit because the next instruction requires ironing.  Now, to be honest here, what I feel towards ironing is akin to how I feel about machine sewing but I am at least a little more familiar with it.  So, off I run, pieces in hand, to the ironing board.  While the iron heats to the proper temperature for my fabric I read on (mm hmm, again - if I procrastinate long enough maybe the project will magically complete itself!).  I see why this instruction hadn't impinged itself on my awareness before:  Martha instructs "Sew double hems" but then follows it with an explanation of how to create a double hem (which requires folding in and pressing, then folding over and pressing again).

Martha's directions are complete and all terms that are unexplained within the pattern are easy to find in the other sections of her book when/if necessary - such as I did with "Preparing the fabric", or now, "edge-stitching" the double hem.  What?!

Edge-stitching means sewing very close to the inner edge of the hem.

My completed edge-stitch is a thing of beauty that I pause to admire.  I must admit there is a certain level of pride in this small accomplishment.

I can't be too smug however, because I did discover that you need to do this at a relatively slow and steady pace.  If you get too cocky and go too fast you just might go off the edge. 

My neck and waist ties all ironed and ready to edge-stitch.

All that is left to do is to attach the ties as instructed, using a "boxstitch" which is a fancy name for stitching what is essentially a square around the edges to secure the pieces together.  A figure to the side of the page depicts the step well.

My completed boxstitch.

Ta Da!!! Project Apron complete!!

This wasn't so bad after all!  I even made some changes to the pattern (shorter, narrower, no pocket) and came out the other end with a viable product.  Not too shabby.  If you choose to do this as well, take note: you will need to buy less fabric - I ended up with a whole extra yard left over.  Another thought: for today's "green" movement recycle an old tablecloth instead of purchasing fabric.

I don't know if my apron would pass Martha Stewart's inspection but my seamstress friends showed appreciation as they inspected it and that works for me.  (A completed recipe would certainly taste better at this point but now I am prepared to cook anyway.  Guess I can put the coffee cup away and pick up the wine glass. Maybe I will try one of Julie's recipes.)

If I can do this, so can you.  Work the steps and let me know how you did.  Best wishes for happy sewing, The Crafty Librarian.


  1. Some day, I swear, I will sew myself an apron. I really need one. Especially since you make it look so easy! (The recipe analogy is a good way to get me to try this. I'm just worried now that I may absentmindedly eat the fabric scraps.)

  2. This blog is terrific! It is certainly not just sew-sew.

  3. I read the blog, very good reading ..... I loved it.