Monday, May 25, 2009

Teaching and Learning: The Santa Monica T

Maybe I should just stick to teaching hats. Think about it. Hats more or less fit, minus or plus an inch or so. A beginner can make a cap from start to finish and feel a sense of accomplishment, plus have something that FITS and is cute to wear.

But clothes? Is it possible to make students happy? Can they walk out of the classroom more pleased than peas about what they made? That it doesn't have the homesewn look? That it looks better than something bought at Marshalls, Target or Kohl's? I think this is nearly mission impossible even with a beginner pattern and basic instructions.

The reason I say all this is I had a workshop on the Santa Monica T yesterday. Fantastic pattern in my book. Easy. Four pieces. Hardest part is the dart in the shoulder. All three of my students finish constructing the top, but I'm not sure even one really likes the final product. Two found the top a little too snug. The third walked out mad when I ruined (I wasn't trying to really) the neckline in the last ten minutes before the store closed. The tee was really looking good up until that point. Nice ease, great fit. I offered to do twin-needle top stitching on the neckline. This is an advance technique, something I wouldn't even expect most sewers to know. So I got down to business, whipped out the Wash-Away Solvy. Cut it into strips to use under the stitches. Oh boy, this neckline was going to look great. This tee, out of them all, was going to be the best. The star of the show! So in true "Project Runway: ("You have 10 minutes left!") fashion I worked on that neckline. Got nervous when a needle broke over some bulk. Luckily I had an exact replacement ready. Yippee! Threaded up the needles, and finished it in the nick-o-time!

I held it up. The neck opening looked massive. Like a crater crashed into the pattern. Uh oh. More boat neck than crew-neck. More Marcel Marceau and less Marilyn Monroe. My student looked at it. She was not happy. "I can't wear that," she said. I suggested we could put some stretch lace on to close up the neckline. That didn't go over well. "This was a $100 day, " she complained. "I spent $45 on the class, another $12 on the pattern, another .... on the fabric, and $5 for someone to watch over the dog. I always take classes and come away with something that looks homemade."

She gathered up her stuff, and walked out the door. I felt terrible. I followed her. I apologized and told her the next class would be free if she wanted to take it again. That seem to please her.

In retrospect, we should have staystitched the neckline. But I'm going to blame the instructions here rather than myself. There was nothing about that in there. What do you expect with a cotton jersey? That stuff grows!

So can I say I'm having second thoughts on teaching how to make t-shirts? I'm set to teach the Santa Monica T more than a few times this summer. Maybe teaching something as personal as a top was a bad idea. You know leggings - that's hard to ruin. I think. Underwear? That seems pretty straightforward too. But a t-shirt? What was I thinking?

One of my students modeling her version of the Santa Monica T in a stretch lace knit. $3.99 a yard at Vogue!

Probably the best part of my day was getting on this train. I was able to board within about five minutes of leaving the store. It was freezing and I wasn't dressed properly, but within another seven minutes or so I was inside my apartment.
Yeah, when I really wanted a Guinness to sooth my wounded ego, instead I had a ride on Metra. Sewing teachers, how do make the most of a day that doesn't go quite the way you want? I do have ideas on what I'll do differently next time, but it's Memorial Day today. I don't want to work the brain too hard now.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

A Seam-Ripping Success: the Rogers Park Fabric Swap

Our swap wasn't big. It wasn't tall. It wasn't stout or thin. It was nice and manageable. No shoppers pawing through the fabric, dumping what they didn't like on the floor. No one ate any buttons. No one screamed "Bloody Murder!" and ran off with the one and only Lauren Hutton 70s-era sewing pattern. Nobody. We were nine strong (with two pre-K sewers-in-training). We came, organized, distributed money, redistributed that, ate (or nibbled), gossiped, walked away with some new acquisitions and made new friends. Somewhat in that order. But we cares really? We had fun. And made no money (that's for any Rogers Park librarians who might be snooping and reading, not shushing but checking to see that we're not causing any trouble). Zilch.

First round of props goes to Lisa Mitchell Utter (above). She helped me get this swap off the ground, gamely launching a Facebook group, sending out 800+ invites. And she brought food for the hungry shoppers! A tray of fresh fruit (yum). Another with veggies, cheese, and dip as well as some fresh chocolate chip cookies from Dominicks'. Now can you tell me shopping at Target is this fun? Or even Marshall's? If you snack there, especially from the goods on the rack, you might end up in the manager's office talking to the security officer. Not here at the Rogers Park Public Library meeting room. We don't operate that way. We're benevolent vendors - we feed (and extremely well at that) our customers. And we don't expect you to pay. In fact, we insist you don't (library rules). It's okay. Instead we had sewing dollars (who doesn't have a new currency these days? Whole neighborhoods have their own during this recession. It's time that sewers got on the stick and stimulated the economy with their self-made cash.)

That said, we share our currency. It's not illegal to print it out. Just don't to try to pass it off as the real deal, okay? Here's one file, which you can turn into a PDF file on your computer and print and reprint. Here's another Chicagoan, who would like to remain anonymous, organizing the patterns, which sorely needed work. We had a lot of 1970s, a good assortment of 1980s and a smattering of some representing the 21st century. As you can see, she is smiling here, probably because she already knows which patterns she wants. It's just a guess, but this table was popular. We all spent a fair amount of time hovering over these gems. Our nameless swapper was our mint - she printed out the money, and we adore her for that generosity. And her creativity! My favorite was the $20 bill with the pin cushion.

Carolyn Angelopoulos, also grinning. Most likely because she's glad to get rid of her polyester (pictured above). Finally. Not sure who grabbed it or if it went to the SalvationArmy. It was so great to see Carolyn, who braved the treacherous and sloooow roadway known as Devon Avenue to get this part of Chicago. We thank her kindly for her valor and good cheer and carting leftovers in her Subaru Forester to the local Salvation Army.

Not pictured: Ruth Zajiceck, fellow sewer and neighbor. She brought her two daughters. Newborn Eleanor slept through nearly the entire event, only to wake up for a mommy snack. I took daughter no. 1 around shopping. She held the money, and generally helped herself to any change she needed from the un-manned bank. I figured I was just training her for future Monopoly games. It's never to early to start this kind of training, IMO.

Also not pictured: Stefanie (last name not available), who I actually met a while back at the Jo-Ann Superstore in the pattern section. I admired her Central Park hoodie, which she knitted. I learned she's made a third hoodie, same pattern. Golly, I wish I was that fast with my needles. Not surprisingly, she's also an ace seamstress!

Finally, Ann Marie McManus, who took the no. 147 bus from downtown to Chicago, walked in 70 degrees hot weather, with bagsful of wool to the library. Trooper, indeedy! I'm not sure what all she took on her bus ride hometown, but the last I saw of her she was inside an elevator with the abovementioned ladies, laughing as the doors closed. She was happy, which is all that matters really.

Oh, I was there. I enjoyed organizing the swap and I'd be thrilled to do it again, perhaps in a month. Next time I plan to post on Craiglist (duh!). That will surely bring shoppers galore, but more importantly, kindred spirits - fellow knitters and sewers, helping each other out. I didn't bring anything to swap, next time I will. I swear. I need to part with at least some of my stash. I'm not going to sew it all. Pry it out of my hands. Come on.

Thanks again to Erin and Tina for donating prizes!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Fabric Swap Today!

For those of you who are coming to the Rogers Park Public Library this evening, you are in for a special evening with prizes galore! We have:
  • gift certificates from on-line stores.
  • Dress-A-Day tape measures (especially handy for entertaining babies and toddlers) from Erin McKean.
  • Patterns (including Advance 5155, Simplicity 2884, Advance 2920. (also from Erin)
I'm hoping at least 10 people show up; even with that number, I'm sure there will be plenty of fabric, patterns and notions to go around. If you come, we'll be up on the second floor...just listen for the room with the loudest laughter. No one will 'shushing' us if we can help it. 6 there or be a T-square.

Friday, May 15, 2009

From North to South Side: Vogue Fabrics, Roosevelt Road

When you live on the North side of Chicago, it takes considerable effort to get downtown. Considerable. As in "It's going to take me at least an hour to get downtown," said with a sigh and a vision of a Starbucks coffee in your hand while you're mired in highway traffic. Of course, then you have to go to the bathroom badly, and you're lucky if you can get off the Kennedy quick enough to answer nature's call.

So that's why it's so fantastic, so wonderful that I have a Metra train stop a block away. I'm always bragging, "I can get downtown in 20 minutes flat!" Naturally when I needed to visit Vogue Fabrics' Chicago store, I turned to Metra. I mean there's no way I'm going to sit through all 20 stops (an exaggeration) on the Red line to get my destination. No way. None! So here's what I did, clever me. I took the Metra into Ogilvy Transportation Center. From there I boarded a westbound Madison No. 20 bus, which took me to Halsted St.

Here I boarded the no. 8 Halsted bus, which took me and my body to Roosevelt Road, the outer limits of the University of Illinois Chicago campus. From there I walked east to Vogue Fabrics, crossing the on ramp for the Dan Ryan expressway (a little scary with all those cars).

After making it across the intersection intact, this is what I found. I've lived in Chicago a long time, but this is my first visit to Vogue's southern outpost! First. What struck me about the store's appearance? How locked into the 1950s it looks. The black awnings with Vogue Fabrics written in white cursive struck me as quaint, the backlit signs in an Art Deco slate blue font, a throwback to another time when women wore dresses, high heels, carried black leather purses to shop.

I did go inside to explore, recognizing a lot of fabric from the Evanston store, but everything I know and call familiar is in a different spot, so I did feel a bit discombobulated. Isn't this normal for a sewers among textiles? I'm still digesting and weighing in my mind what I like about this store vs. the other near my 'hood. It's kind of the Cubs vs. White Sox, North Side vs. South Siders argument (and there is friendly rivalry. People really do identify themselves as North Siders or South Siders. Bizarre but true. It's like we live in two countries in the same city). I'll write more about Vogue Fabrics south tomorrow. Before I go...I'll leave you with a picture of Manny's (most famous for a certain President-Elect's visit in November). Across the street from Vogue Fabrics. (you people used to crossing a two-lane Main Street in Evanston with well-mannered drivers - try doing the same across Roosevelt Road with the wacko motorists intent on getting on the highway.) Anyhow, to reward yourself from your roadway bravery, here's the Manny's menu. Now, I don't care for a corned beef sandwich. It's not my thing. Wait, wait, wait! I don't see any juicy hamburgers. Never mind. I'll find something I like. Now tell me wouldn't eating at this deli be a great way to unwind after teaching women how to sew underwear for 3.5 hours (which is what I'll be doing this summer)? I'll need to chase my fries with a Guinness, for sure. What do you like to eat after shopping for fabric?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Fabric Swap Update: Free Prizes!*

It's absolutely amazing how people have been so supportive of the fabric swap I'm organizing. I've had at least 5 readers who want to drive leftover fabric to the local Salvation Army, another two who are donating stuff (a $25 gift certificate from Tina Sutherland at and snackies from Miss Helene's.) More than a few have emailed me off the list and to tell me they really really wish they could come but a myriad reasons hold them back. To those who aren't able to make it: just get the word out about this exchange to make it super-successful and you can bet your buttons there'll be another swap soon enough. Oh yes, Erin, over at won't be able to participate in person, but I'll be bringing some of her stash to the library. Oh yes, Miss Helene has been an extremely helpful promoter: she's set up a Facebook fan page for the event. Isn't that nice? So if you're on FB, become a friend. Look up Chicago area fabric swap.

For those of who want to help but don't know what to do, there are plenty of jobs. We need cashiers, we need Fake Money, fabric organizers, a "barker" (someone to call out lottery numbers to prevent mass rioting over fabric) and a show-and-tell coordinator. If any of those jobs sound remotely appealing, please email me ASAP. The big day is rapidly approaching in a sort of a "the Wedding is When?" way. Yikes, this means I have to exhume my closet. Crud. I don't like that part, at all. I have to commune with the dust-mites. It's all for a good cause, I know. Sneezing for something great is minor compared to the big picture: smaller stashes (Wait: what I am talking about? We're exchanging fabric, not selling. Stash size will likely remain the same, it'll just be different stuff. Duh.) Just think: you could also get new zippers and buttons (Miss Helene is parting ways with some of her collection) for your next project. Think of the 'new' patterns you could pick up for free. You could create a brand-new summer wardrobe from what you acquire at the swap. All that's required now are some sewing machines, interfacing, and a few irons. That has me thinking: I wonder if this library room could be used for sewing? We'll have to see how many outlets there are. There are plenty of tables, I mean enough, you could get several classes of students eating lunch in there, so it would be fantastic for cutting out fabric. Anyway, I'm getting ahead of myself. I must stay focused on the swap. Must. Back on task: Anyone got a spare set of Monopoly money? Email me off the list.
* Image is from a pattern for sale on Imagine it could be yours if you buy now or win the gift certificate.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Chicago Fabric Swap, Tuesday, May 19

Time: 6-8:30 p.m.

Date: Tuesday, May 19

Location: Rogers Park Public Library
6907 N. Clark St
Chicago, IL 60626
2nd floor, south room

What?: Fabric Swap

What's a Fabric Swap?: We'll be exchanging fabric, notions, patterns using play money, probably Monopoly dollars. During the set-up, we'll have a little show and tell. Wear your favorite sew garment for prizes.

Anything Else I should Know?: Since this is a swap, no money/check can be exchanged on the premises. This is important. Anybody caught paying real U.S. dollars for items in the swap will be lashed with a tape measure or forced to count pattern pieces.

What can I bring?: Any type of fabric that's at least 1 yard long, 45 inches wide (I don't want to deal with remnants), notions, patterns are acceptable.

How can I help?: Thanks for asking. Here are some specific jobs we need:

1. Several cashiers' to help establish a 'value' to the fabric and pass out Monopoly money to 'sellers'
2. Several organizers to put fabric on various tables tagged according to fabric type (silk, cotton, polyester, knits, etc.).
3. A barker to call out lottery numbers so 'shoppers' can orderly browse items in the swap.
4. Someone to organize show and tell part of the swap.
5. Foodie to round up snacks for hungry shoppers. "Shoppers" are encouraged to bring chips, beverages, paper plates, and napkins.
5. A driver with enough room in the car to cart leftover unwanted fabric to local Salvation Army.

Where can I park if I drive? What about public transportation?: There's a parking lot behind the library. Call for details. You can easily get to the Rogers Park Public Library on the no. 22 bus. It's also two blocks west of the Morse Red line stop, a block east of the Rogers Park stop on the Union Pacific North Metra line. For those of you with horses, there is no place to park your animal. Sorry.

Ok, what next?: Email marybeth.klatt @@@gmail DOT com with Fabric Swap in the subject line, let me know you're coming and how you'd like to help OR leave a comment underneath this blog post. I'll be checking it regularly.

I have a few more questions!: Email marybeth.klatt @@@ gmail dot com OR leave a comment on my blog.

Busing It To Vogue Fabrics

I'm so lucky that I have about four different ways I can travel on public transportation to Vogue Fabrics. The most immediate, and quickest, is the Metra commuter (diesel) locomotive on the Union Pacific North line. The depot's one block away from home, I hop on, three minutes later, I jump off at the Main Street stop. Scoot down the stairs, cross the street west, half-block later I'm inside Vogue Fabrics. The other, more leisurely and more affordable way is to pick up the No. 22 (here I picked it on Clark near the Rogers Park Public Library).

I take the No. 22 to the end of the line at Howard Street, where I pick up the no. 205 CTA bus, which actually runs parallel to the electric rail on Clark Street (which becomes Chicago Avenue in Evanston). It's actually faster than the El train. It drops me off at the corner of Chicago and Main, across from the legendary new stand of the same name. I walk beneath the bridges for the El and the Metra trains to...

get to Vogue Fabrics, where I just looked at the fabrics, but didn't buy. I saw a new supersoft brown and tan flower print jersey in the $3.99 yard pile in the main room. It looks like it's going fast judging from what's left on the cardboard spool. Oh well. If there's some left next week after my next visit, I'll buy a bit. If not, it wasn't meant to be.
I took the Purple line (the electric train) to head back into the city. I actually prefer to take the aforementioned bus, but it wasn't in sight, besides, I was late in meeting a friend at the new Hop Haus restaurant. Two rides on two bus, fabric shopping (even though I didn't add to my stash), a burger bought with a $5 off coupon, great company, twasn't a bad Thursday night, even if it did rain a little. How many different ways can you get to your favorite fabric store using public transportation?