Contemplating Coats

IMG_1979Yes, it’s been hot and humid this summer, but we Chicago gals know that won’t last for long. Before we know it, the weather reports will be talking about wind chill. Before that happens is the best time to assess our outerwear for fall and winter and decide whether we need to add to that part of our collection.

To help us plan, Linda walked us through a comprehensive list of practical considerations when constructing a wool coat that can stand up to long waits on an El platform in the worst of Chicago’s winter weather. In addition to warmth, her advice addressed durability so we won’t have to tackle this project again for several years. For greatest durability, Linda recommends sew-in interfacing. Coat designs with single button or no closure are great for those whose only exposure to the elements is the trip across a sidewalk from a limousine, but the rest of us in the Windy City need a full complement of buttons. And don’t forget to check the pocket size on your pattern. You might need to increase it so it can accommodate the warm gloves you’ll need to stow away.

Liz B. brought a gorgeous faux fur-trimmed coat she made and a copy of the Marfy pattern catalogue for us to browse beautiful coat patterns. It was enough to inspire even the most reluctant of us to try our hand at a coat.

Our handout collected information on Wool Melton from More Fabric Savvy by Sandra Bettina and Claire Shaeffer’s Fabric Sewing Guide, off-grain openings and steam shrinking sleeve caps from Couture – The Art of Fine Sewing by Roberta Carr and construction notes Linda took in a class with Marla Kazell. Another highly recommended resource is Tailoring from the Singer Sewing Library.


Sew & Tell included Mollie’s latest beautiful knitted sweater and a fun and practical hat she was inspired to sew after reading an entry on Rhonda Buss’ blog.

Liz B. showed us a great dress she made from fabric reclaimed from a vintage skirt. The “vintage” McCall’s pattern she used for this adorable dress was the pattern Mollie’s bridesmaids used. In the author’s opinion, it looks absolutely perfect to sew and wear today.


Debbie wrapped up our August Sew & Tell with the latest dress she made from her favorite go-to pattern. Don’t you love the pocket detail?


Happy Labor Day weekend to all.

ASG National Conference 2016


Sunrise in Indianapolis

Indianapolis was the birthplace of the American Sewing Guild and it was the site for its 2016 Annual Conference. Four Sew Chicago members were there to meet sewing enthusiasts from all over the country, expand our knowledge of sewing and design and add to our collections of fabric, patterns, books and tools.

We arrived late Wednesday afternoon, just in time to meet Jennifer Stern-Hasemann of J. Stern Designs. Then it was off to dinner with Sarah Veblen and Monica Walker.


On Thursday, three of us took Sarah Veblen’s all-day workshop designing flattering necklines. Monica assisted Sarah in this class. Steph and Wendy were roommates, and we had to test out our jewel-necked mock-ups we brought for class.

Everyone left the workshop with multiple necklines to try out.


Thursday evening was the opening of the vendor hall. The first booth was Anne St. Clair’s Needle Nook Fabrics. Anne had thoughtfully made up kits that are perfect for the lingerie sew-along we’re planning for the Sew Chicago sewing retreat in October.


We also found must-have trims at Soutache Ribbons and Trim and fabric – of course – at Cutting Line Designs and Fabrications.

Fabrications is where we’re having our retreat in October, so we’ll have an opportunity to shop with them again very soon. 

Friday was the official opening of the “core conference.”


Wendy and Liz started off with a hands-on class on Fine Finishes taught by Vaune Pierce. We made samples shown in Vaune’s article that was featured on the cover of this month’s Threads Magazine.

Stephanie took Fabulous Shirts and Blouses with Marla Kazell. Where the class started with a wonderful trunk show of the many ideas that you can make a single, well fitting shirt pattern into. The rest of the class was all about playing with ideas! The kit included quarter scale shirt patterns plus 3 different full scale hidden placket designs.

One of the highlights of Conference this year was the Keynote address by Linda Przbyszewski, Ph.D. (Professor P.), author of The Lost Art of Dress: The Women Who Once Made America Stylish. Those of us who have read the book have been inspired to make and wear day dresses. Her talk was delightful and the pictures she showed were chock full of inspiration. Autographed copies of our books and a picture with her was a must.

Steph & Wendy with Linda P

Friday afternoon saw several of us in the same class, Innovative Set-In Sleeves with Sarah Veblen.


There were over 50 students in the class, and many who hadn’t worked with Sarah before were highly skeptical at the beginning of her lecture. As the class progressed, it was fun to watch Sarah win over the skeptics. The new designs Sarah presented gave us lots of new ideas to try out.

Friday night, we enjoyed a fabulous dinner at St. Elmo’s Restaurant, an Indianapolis tradition.

Bright and early Saturday morning, Stephanie and Wendy took Jen Stern-Hasmann’s class, Beyond the Boatneck, in which she led us through several neckline variations for her flattering knit top pattern.

Then it was off to an early lunch so we could change to model in the fashion show. It was a thrill to be in the line-up with so many nationally-recognized sewing educators and accomplished sewists from around the country. Stephanie and Wendy each modeled two ensembles. We’ll post pictures once they’re available.


Two other members of the ASG Chicago Chapter were in the fashion show. Jeanette, who won the editor’s choice award at the show, and Lori, who modeled the ensemble that won her first place in the Illinois Make it With Wool contest.

On Sunday, Wendy and Stephanie capped off the Conference experience with an all-day workshop with Janet Pray learning the Islander Sewing System method for inserting a zipper and attaching a waistband, all without pins.

We headed home on Monday, but first stopped at The French Seam to buy more fabric.

We had four very full days of learning new things, stretching our creativity, adding to our fabric collections, meeting new people who love to sew as much as we do and hanging out with good friends. What more could we ask for?

Here’s a last look at the view of downtown Indianapolis from our hotel window.


Border Prints Beyond Boho

We are all familiar with the traditional use of border prints in garments – place the border along the hem of a skirt or dress. At our June meeting, Sew Chicago explored other possibilities for using non-directional border prints and some tips about using these fabrics in garments.

Liz H. treated us to a trunk show of her border print creations, which included this silk charmeuse border print dress made from the Fashion in Harmony Magic Bias Dress pattern.

Here are some other pieces from her collection:

Wendy made a handout with inspiration pictures and tips that included some pictures of  auditioning border print placement on a dress form.

Steph was unable to attend, due to a scheduling conflict. But she provided an excellent blog post about summer pants she made from a lovely floral border print.

Linda brought some great border prints from her collection and several patterns that lend themselves to border prints. Thank you for shlepping all that to work so you could share it with us at our meeting, Linda!

For Sew and Tell our newest member, Liz B, wore an example of a directional border print in a skirt she redesigned from a thrift store find.


Liz H. showed a knit and a woven sheath dress made from the same pattern.


Debora showed the one purse she made for herself this year, and Linda showed her completed prototype of the Perfectly Fitted Shirt by the Cup-full by J. Stern Designs, which Jen fitted for Linda at ASG National Conference in St. Louis.

Speaking of ASG National Conference, a group of Sew Chicago members will be there in July. It’s going to be tons of fun!

Finding New Homes for Fabric

For the second year in a row, Sew Chicago teamed up with the Sew Saturday neighborhood group in Elmhurst to exchange fabric, patterns and books.

Our format is informal. We separate out fabric that members are giving away and fabric to be sold. We ask that everyone label the fabric with essential information, including width, yardage and fabric content (if known).

Patterns and magazines are put in a separate room and everyone has the opportunity to go through them and take what they want. These are all free for the taking.  At the end of the day any patterns not claimed are then sent on to be donated or recycled.


It’s nice to know that patterns and fabric that has been languishing in one person’s sewing archives will have an opportunity to be used. It’s also great to catch up with our sewing buddies, some of whom we don’t see that often.

And, speaking of fabrics, there is a brand new online source of lovely fabrics out there. Louis Cutting of Cutting Line Designs has just revamped her web site and added online shopping for the fabulous fabrics she previously offered only at special events such as ASG National Conference and her hands-on workshops. There is lots to choose from. Check it out!

An In-Depth Look at Cuffs

Sew Chicago’s challenge for the Chicago ASG Chapter fashion show in October is to make a tailored shirt or shirt dress with a collar, cuffs, button placket and at least one embellishment.

We’ve already told you about the presentation Linda made on button plackets in April. For our March program, Steph provided us with a close look at shirt cuffs.


Of course, the starting point is the pattern.



Steph prepared a ton of samples to show us each step of the process.

The finished samples included a traditional cuff, a cuff with a continuous bias placket and some cool variations.

Steph also made a sample of a French cuff and a connected pair of buttons that can be used as a cufflink.

We look forward to seeing great tailored shirts in our chapter’s fall fashion show.

Sew Chicago supports Haute Couture Club of Chicago!

Members of Sew Chicago came out enforce to support the Haute Couture Club of Chicago annual fashion show held at the JW Marriott Hotel in Chicago on Sunday April 10th.

Several members of our Sew Chicago group are crossover members into Haute Couture Club of Chicago and participated in this years fashion show. We are very lucky to have such great sewing friends to come out and support each other!


Susan and Wendy

Susan Gerbosi and Wendy Grossman not only participated in this years HCCC fashion show but they were also the co-chairs for the entire show! What a great job they did in putting together a wonderful treat for us all. The venue was beautiful, the food was quite enjoyable and what a treat to get to see 75 lovely garments walk the runway.

















Liz H

PTPE.Haute Couture Fashion Show.2016-193


Four of our regular members had garments for the runway this year. Wendy Grossman, Susan Gerbosi, Liz Houlihan and Steph King.

Those of us who walked the runway want to give a great warm thank you to the members of Sew Chicago that came out in support of not only us but for the Haute Couture Club of Chicago. Thank you to Linda Anders, Carolyn Angelopoulos, Nancy Snead, Elizabeth Smartt, Liz Cohen, Mary ALice Mayer, Mary Fran McMahon and Debbie Walker.


Wendy and Susan with Sew Chicago friend Sarah Veblen. (center)

To learn more about the Haute Couture Club of Chicago please visit the website at

Impressive Plackets!

The Sew Chicago April meeting was all about shirt plackets. The group continues to get ready for our button down shirt challenge for the Chicago ASG fashion show in the fall.

Member, Linda Anders, took us through a wealth of information on shirt front button plackets. She started by sharing her expertise from years of sewing on the different methods of creating and sewing plackets.SC4-16a

Several of these included:

  • sew-on plackets
  • cut-on plackets
  • hidden placket variations
  • fabric matching on plackets
  • dealing with sheer fabrics and prints
  • contrast plackets
  • tips for keeping finished plackets even lengths
  • tips for taming bias plackets
  • discussion on buttonhole direction

Along with an informative handout, Linda also brought sample shirts with different plackets to discuss and a large selection of patterns. Linda explained that while some of these patterns may be outdated or that she may never sew up some of them as designed that she keeps them because they have a wealth of different details that can be used to mix and match to create many different designs.

After we finished with all the technical discussions Linda had us get into a fun exercise! Imagine if the only top you were allowed to wear was a button up shirt. How many ways could you change it up so you would never get bored?


Armed with copies of a basic shirt drawing, an easel and some markers Linda got to work showing us her ideas and then had us all get in on the brainstorming. What a great way to get the creative ideas flowing! Everyone had a great time coming up with different embellishment ideas, piping, placket shapes, use of asymmetry, fabric manipulation and so much more!

I know that I left friday evenings meeting with a head full of great ideas to jazz up my basic button up shirt.



Field Trip to Downton Abbey

Downton Field trip

Well, we didn’t exactly visit Downton Abbey, but the exhibit “Dressing Downton, Changing Fashions for Changing Times” at the Driehaus Museum here in Chicago made it feel pretty close to the real thing. The gorgeous former home of Samuel Mayo Nickerson, which has been meticulously restored and beautifully furnished, made the perfect setting for the fabulous costumes on display.

Here is a small sampling of what inspired us.

We ended the morning with shopping at the gift shop and a delightful lunch at Troquet River North. An added bonus was that the sun was shining and the temperature is climbing toward sixty degrees. All in all, a perfectly lovely day.


Our members requested a program devoted to learning about the different types of lace and how to work with it. February seemed to be the perfect month for this exploration.

Research for this presentation uncovered a ton of resources, from in-depth histories of the various types of lace to advice about how to work with lace that ranges from couture to kitschy and everything in between. Here are some resources we found helpful.

The gold standard when it comes to working with fine lace in the couture manner is Susan Khaljie’s classic book, Bridal Couture, Fine Sewing Techniques for Wedding Gowns and Evening Wear. This classic reference is no longer in print in hard copy and a used copy can set you back about $100 or so. But don’t despair. You can buy the electronic version of the book on CD from Susan’s web site at the link above. The book has an entire chapter devoted to lace.

Another authoritative resource that explains the differences in various types of lace, provides a full lace vocabulary and gives helpful guidance for working with lace is Claire Shaeffer’s Fabric Sewing Guide. The second edition was published in 2008 and it is available in paperback and electronic formats. Claire Shaeffer also talks about working with lace in the revised and updated edition of her book Couture Sewing Techniques.

Surprisingly, you don’t have to look to couture technique books to develop a solid foundation for working with lace. A comprehensive chapter on lace is in the Singer Reference Library’s Sewing Specialty Fabrics. This out-of-print book is widely available from used bookstores that sell on the web and is an excellent reference. Some of the other books from the Singer Reference Library series include part of the content from the Specialty Fabrics title, but that one is the most complete.  There are lots of pictures and very clear instructions that are easy to follow.

If you prefer to learn from video instruction, Alison Smith has a Craftsy course called “The Essential Guide to Sewing with Lace.”

For in-depth information about the origins of lace, how lace is made and pretty much anything having to do with lace that you might be curious about, check out The Lace Guild website.

The unique requirements of working with guipure lace are covered in Susan Khaljie’s article “Couture Lace Skirt” in the October/November 2014 issue of Threads Magazine, as well as in her Bridal Couture book. In addition, Lisa Hawkes documented the process by which she made a stunning guipure lace graduation dress for her daughter in a three-part blog post four years ago. She has since launched a new web site at  and, in response to requests from us as well as many others, has republished the posts with an updated introduction. Here is a direct link to Part 1 of the series.

As part of the program we had a variety of laces to show off and to pass around.

Look at these 4 beautiful swatches! 

Wendy showed us some of her interesting laces as well as some examples of how to use lace in projects Bottom left is a sample Wendy made in a Susan Khalje workshop at COD several years ago, showing using lace as an appliqué. The bottom right is a sample made to show how easy it is to add lace to silk. Great for use in lingerie and other undergarments. 
Stephanie brought the top to her 2 piece wedding dress that she made back in 1994 to show off sewing with lace. Goes to show you that anyone can work with lace! This was made with her mother and without any lace working experience. I think it came out quite beautiful.

We had a full house of members to enjoy the excellent lace program.

The beautiful sunset colors reflecting off the clouds over the lake. Such a beautiful evening to get together with friends to talk sewing!

We also had several members who had sew and tell this evening. Sew and tell is always a very popular segment of our monthly programs. It is inspiring to see what everyone is working on and it is also a great place to ask for opinions and ideas of works in progress.

Liz brought us a shirt that she has been working on. Look at those lovely striped details and hidden button placket! 
Nancy showed off her lovely shirt, gave us a demonstration of self measuring measuring tapes. Making it easier for one to take accurate measurements by yourself. She brought 4 with her and they were quickly gobbled up! Nancy also shared dates for upcoming fitting seminars. 

It was a great evening learning about lace. Wendy has inspired us all to go home and dream of ways to add some beautiful lace garments to our wardrobes!

Keep an eye on the calendar page for upcoming dates! March program will be all about cuffs.

Happy Sewing!

Sew Chicago rings in 2016 with buttonholes!

Sew Chicago enjoyed a full house for the January Sew Chicago Eplores Buttonholes meeting! It was so great to see everyone post holidays, spend some time chatting about our latest sewing projects and enjoy the lovely snacks that Liz C. generously provided.

January’s presentation was all about buttonholes. Wendy presented us with several options of types of buttonholes. 

Many of the newer sewing machines come with a choice of buttonholes. For example, Wendy’s machine has 9 different automatic buttonholes pre-programmed. Most of us usually stick to just one or two of these. Wendy stitched them all out so that we could see them and the differences between them. Along with the samples, she handed out copies of what these were called in her sewing machine handbook so that we could compare them to what is available on our own sewing machines. Wendy’s samples launched us into a lively discussions around placket size, horizontal vs. vertical buttonholes, best way to sew on buttons and etcetera, etcetera. 

My favorite example of the night was how to incorporate slot buttonholes into a garment. In the picture above you can see how sophisticated a slot buttonhole can look! 

These examples also included different types of interfacing that can be used and how to cut open buttonholes. No one really wants to make the mistake of slashing through a buttonhole when it’s the last step on a garment! Carolyn demonstrated a nifty way to use a buttonhole cutter on a pice of wood that is a pretty darn foolproof way to keep from slicing open the bartacks on the buttonholes. Instead of laying the fabric flat over the piece of wood, in this case the apple shaped wood, you hold it up and let half the buttonhole drop off the edge and only cut half the buttonhole at a time.

Wendy’s handouts included different machine buttonhole variations, a basic directory of buttonholes and buttonhole loops, detailed instructions on how to sew hand worked buttonholes along with a sample where we each got to try our hand at sewing on a hand worked buttonhole and a comprehensive handout on Buttons and Buttonholes from the University of Kentucky Cooperative extension service.

Sew and Tell followed up our monthly programming, It is one of our favorite parts of the evening!

Wendy wore her beautiful new knit top with mesh sleeves and yoke, quite a lovely top and very sophisticated looking. ( see photos at top)

Left to right: Stephanie with a 4 fabric infinity scarf and an Appleton wrap dress. Mollie showing off her new pants and jacket and recalling her woes with buttonholes! Visitor, Mary Beth, showing off her knit dress and a hand knit bolero (not shown)  
 Mollie showing one of two sweaters that she knit! So impressive 🙂 and Stephanie showing a new lace knit cardigan and recalling woes of finding a run in the fabric. 
Please join us next month as Sew Chicago works with Choosing and Sewing with Lace. See the event page for additional information.

Happy Sewing!

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