Category Archives: Class Review

I’m back!

Hello world! So, I had a baby. He’s a toddler now. And we moved to a new condo. And I haven’t been sewing at all (thus the total and complete lack of posting).*

However, I have gotten back into knitting!! In August, I knit a pair of toddler legwarmers as part of a swap. They were awesome. Sadly, I forgot to take a picture. But they convinced me to knit regularly again. I started a hat, and then got distracted by moving and life, but I finished it this week. I was inspired by the ridiculously cold weather that suddenly moved in to Chicago.

It’s the Aesderina pattern by Jane Richmond. Yes, I *bought* a pattern (and browsing through her website, I want to buy all of her patterns)!** It was an easy knit (and I learned a new decrease), and the resulting product is quite striking. I’ve gotten lots of compliments. Best of all, it was pretty cheap since I used less than a skein of Cascade 220 (in Spring Green, I think).

I have also started knitting socks!!  I took a 4-week class at Loopy Yarns. If you’re thinking of knitting socks, I really recommend a class. I learned the knitted cast-on (so easy! and stretchy!) and how to turn the heel. And I re-learned things like ssk and kitchener stitch. I’m not sure I would have stuck with it without a class. I now have 1.25 pairs of socks done. Knitting socks is a bit addictive, I think. They’re horribly time-consuming and a little complicated, but it’s so cool to think that I’ll get to wear warms socks that I knit. Still in progress, but here’s a sneak peek:

I’m on a bit of a green kick.

*It’s true that I haven’t been sewing, but I did sew a nursing cover since my last post. I also knitted a couple of diaper covers and took a crochet class (and never finished the crocheted scarf). But since that was all over a year ago, I’m going to skip over it.
**If anyone is looking for Christmas ideas for me…

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An unexpected private knitting lesson

Hey look, a post!

I recently had a sudden and unexpected desire to take some classes. I hadn’t been planning to take any more sewing or knitting classes. I figured after the intro courses I could learn everything else online, and for the most part I do (I taught myself Magic Loop recently!). But I needed to get out of the house, and I guess I’m feeling like this is my last chance to take classes. I know my life won’t end when the baby is here, but I also know that with working full-time, I probably won’t want to spend my off hours away from the kiddo.

So I signed up for an Introductory Lace Knitting class at Loopy Yarns. It’s a one-time course and only costs $15, which I found appealing. It’s also only offered during the day, so I had to take a day off work (which I used to run various other errands too). The intermediate course is also during the day, so I won’t be taking it.

When I showed up for class yesterday it turned out I was the only one enrolled, so I got a private lesson! It was nice. We actually went less than the full 2 hours, but I’m sure I got as much content as if it had been longer with more people.

There’s not a lot to learning lace, which I knew going in. But it was nice to have someone verify that I was doing yarn overs correctly and to remind me to keep counting. I actually bought and used a row counter for the first time! The intro course has you start a feather and fan scarf. It’s a quite lovely and very simple pattern. I bought a second skein of fingering weight yarn (I’m not quite ready for lace weight) and will be making a shawl (a double-width scarf) instead since it seemed more practical.

Since it was just me, the instructor also taught me the knitted cast on (I’d only done long-tail previously) and a different bind off as well. In all, well worth my $15, and I had a really lovely day off of work. I even got to catch up with my Intro Knitting instructor who was working at the store yesterday.

I really wanted to take a sock knitting course before the baby comes, but the final session of the next course is three days before my due date. Even if I’m destined to be overdue, I don’t know that I’ll still want to be taking the bus downtown at that point. So instead I signed up for Intro to Crochet! Yay for learning new things. 🙂

I actually have some finished (knitted) objects to show off too, but that will have to wait until I manage to take pictures of them.

Kelly Learns to Knit!

Last night I had my first Beginning Knitting Class. It was the first of five two-hour sessions. I took the class at Loopy Yarns, based both on location (the closest yarn shop to my house) and the fantastic Yelp reviews.

Loop Yarns Storefront

Cute storefront. Picture from the Loopy Yarns website.

The store is fantastic. It’s a charming storefront in a great historic building in one of the hot neighborhoods in Chicago (South Loop). And it’s almost like you walk into another world when you enter the building. The class started at 6:30, and I got there early, but even so, it was already dark outside and very cold, but you walk in this store, and it’s bright and cheery and warm. I was greeted at the door, and everyone was friendly and welcoming. I had time to kill, so I wandered around the store for a while, and it was clear from the conversations that they have regular customers who stop by frequently.

 

Inside Loopy Yarns

Inside Loopy Yarns. Picture from the Loopy Yarns website.

I can’t speak for the yarn collection, since I don’t really know much about yarn. It looks to be extensive, but they do not have the kind of cheap yarns that I might want to buy (Red Heart or Lion Brand). The Cascade yarn I picked out for my scarf and hat (included in the cost of the class) was $8 for 220 yards. I assume they had us pick out from the cheapest yarn in the store, and in my browsing I didn’t see anything cheaper.

 

You can’t really tell from the pictures, but the store is enormous for downtown Chicago. Apparently they moved out of a previous State Street location and into this location because they could get three times as much space for the rent. It was a very good move. The most amazing thing is that they actually have a second level!  There’s a downstairs space that’s divided into classrooms. Last night there were at least three classes going on– mine, beginning crochet, and fair isle.

My instructor was male, which was just awesome, and he was great and really helpful. He said he’s only been knitting for three or four years, and his stuff looks great, so perhaps it won’t take too long to get good. I’m not there yet, though. Last night we learned to cast on with a long tail and to do a basic knit stitch. That’s it. We did each thing over and over again so that we wouldn’t forget. And then we ripped it all out. 🙂 Our assignment before the next class (two weeks from now because of Thanksgiving) is to keep practicing.

One  thing I found odd is that we learned the Continental method. I had always heard that the English method was easier, and I think that’s what I’ve learned in the past, so I was surprised that we did this. I found it a little awkward and painful, but hopefully it will get better as I get more used to it and relax more.

No pics yet, since I ripped out my stitches, but hopefully I’ll have something to share soon. By December 22 I should have a finished scarf and hat!

And then on to sweaters…

Clothing Success!

On Sunday I had my second class at The Needle Shop. It was taught by Rachel (not the owner), who was really great and helpful and patient. The course was called Raglan shirt class, and it’s designed to be an entry-level garment-making course, using the ever-popular Simplicity 3835 (with a few changes) to create a shirt. Was it a good course?

Raglan shirt in cool fabric

I wore the shirt in public! To work, even!

Since I created a cute shirt that I was able to wear to work yesterday, I’d say YES! (Gotta love the built-in camera in my work computer.)

We started with the very basics of how to read a commercial pattern. I probably could have figured out most of this on my own, but not so quickly and not without some tears. It was helpful to learn how to correctly lay out the pattern on the fabric, how very many pins need to go in before you cut, how to figure out sizing, etc.

A note on sizing: I don’t get it. First of all, I’m 2-3 sizes bigger in the pattern than in ready-to-wear clothes. Also, I was in between two sizes according to my measurements, but when we tried on the muslins (so helpful!), I was clearly better off in the smaller of the sizes (and frankly, probably could have gone small yet). I really don’t want to have to make muslins for every outfit I make, but it may just be inevitable.

We cut our patterns to the shirt lengths (instead of the dress lengths), with the sleeve lengths we wanted. I saved the pieces we cut to reattach (tape) for when I want to make the dress. I probably would’ve figured out that I could cut the back on the fold since we weren’t adding a zipper, but it was good to hear. We kept the pattern mostly as is, but we did make an adjustment to the sleeves. I had read on Pattern Review that the sleeves were too tight, and our instructor agreed, so we widened them just a touch. I haven’t tried the original sleeves, but these are comfy, so it was probably a good idea. (We also didn’t use elastic in the sleeves.)

Another helpful hint while cutting was to include the notches marked on the pattern. I hadn’t even noticed them until Rachel mentioned them, and they were quite helpful in making sure I didn’t create two left sleeves. 🙂

Once we finally got to sew, it was a breeze. Rachel noticed that we were all more worried about cutting than sewing. And it’s true. After all, you can always rip out a seam; it’s much more difficult to reattach cut fabric.

Stitches

I like looking at neat rows of stitches and realizing, "I did that!"

I used a pretty beige thread that looks nice on the places you can see it. This is the bottom hem, which we did differently than the directions. We used something they call the burrito method, basically meaning you fold the fabric in on itself after basting a line as a rule for where to turn to. I’ve decided I don’t care if hems show, and I am using this method from now on. No more blind hem foot for me!

Gathered Neck

Really like the look of the gathered neckline.

The neckline is done in the same way as the hem, but the elastic is gathered into the casing. It was really pretty easy, and I like the look of the tight gathers.

Sleeves were much easier than expected. I had to wrap my brain around how the sleeve had to hang to sew it, but then it was like a breeze. I love that I won’t be limited to sleeves garments. 🙂

Sleeve of Raglan Top

I think my sleeve attachment looks pretty good. I heart sleeves. 🙂

I really really loved my fabric, a cotton lawn from The Needle Shop. Apparently, working with $12/yard fabric is worth it. Also 58″ wide fabric leaves lots of leftover fabric! I was able to fit the sleeves next to the bodice when laying it out, which left me with probably half a yard of fabric (plus scraps). I don’t have a plan for it yet, but it will be used! It’s so soft and drapey, and it looked great at work.

Shirt

Pair it with brown pants, and presto, work outfit!

The class, in addition to being helpful, was a lot of fun. Besides Devon and me, there were two other women in the class, and they were also friends. We all shared where we worked and told other stories while we did things that didn’t required full concentration, like pinning. I wish I could afford to take more Needle Shop class because I really enjoy them, and I walk out much more confident about my sewing.

One of the other students in the class mentioned that she buys a lot of fabric at the Fabric shack, which I had never heard of. They do seem to have cheap fabric and cheap shipping, but I can quite figure out the organization of the site!

Floral fabric

Pretty flowers.

Next up: I am making another shirt from this pattern, using another $2/yard quilting fabrics from JoAnn Fabrics. I know it won’t drape quite the way this one did, but it’s cute, and hopefully it will work well enough. I might make the sleeves shorter and with elastic to change things up.

Sewing 101 at The Needle Shop

Yesterday morning was my first sewing class, Sewing 101, at The Needle Shop in Bucktown.

(As a side note, I hadn’t ever spent much time in Bucktown and hadn’t been there at all in six or seven years, and I was surprised to see how trendy it was. I was wondering whether I’d feel comfortable walking from the shop to the Damen stop on the blue line if I took a class that ended at 10pm, and the answer is certainly yes.)

It was a beautiful day outside, with a hint of crisp fall air as I was traveling by bus and train. I had considered driving, but I really hate driving in the city, and I was looking forward to reading while traveling. The instructions that The Needle Shop sent me implored:

Being on time is essential! Students who are more than 15 minutes late will not be allowed in class and will lose their payment. Please leave plenty of travel time and let us know if you need more specific directions.

And I wanted to show up a few minutes early to have time to pick out my pillow fabric, so I gave myself two hours to get there. Even after the inevitable blue line delay as we sat on the tracks while the conductor fixed something, I was still very early, so I had coffee at the very cute Bucktown Beanery, which would be an ideal place to write/study. (Side note: don’t drink coffee before sewing unless you want your stitches to be jittery.) Since I also ate lunch at the BB, I want to say a few words about it. First, the service in the morning was maddeningly slow, but the coffee was good and tasted fresh. For lunch I had the mozzarella sandwich and the water lemon freeze (?), a watermelon lemonade slushee. Both were terrific but really overpriced. And the bathroom was clean and frankly nicer than my bathroom at home.

Bucktown Beanery

Trendy coffee shop in a trendy neighborhood.

Anyway, on to The Needle Shop. I was the first to arrive. Although the store technically opens at 10am on Saturdays, they propped open the doors at 9:45 so that people like me who needed to buy fabrics before a ten o’clock class could do so. The woman working the register was super nice and very helpful in pointing out which fabrics would work well. The fabric there is beautiful and a far cry from anything you’ll find at JoAnn Fabrics. But it’s pricey, too. For the bolts hanging on the walls, I wasn’t even sure how to determine the price. I lucked out and picked a pillow fabric that was only (only!) $9.50/yd. She also pulled together the pillow insert and sewing kit I needed. Since I was spending money anyway, I also purchased the materials for my next class (Raglan Shirt)–fabric, elastic, and the pattern–so I could pre-wash the fabric. Although I love the fabric I chose and think it will make a great, work-appropriate shirt, it was $11/yard, and I needed two yards (ouch). Clothes at Old Navy really are a lot cheaper than making your own!

Fabric

The cotton lawn fabric I chose for my shirt, after they didn't have enough of my first choice. The draping is fantastic. At $11/yd, I'm glad someone will be helping me with construction!

By the time I had finally made my choices, the other students were starting to show up. I would like to note that at least one of them was definitely late (although maybe not 15 minutes late), and we did not start promptly. So much for my concerted efforts to be on time. While I waited for my classmates to make their purchases, I perused the pattern selection in the tiny back room. In addition to a few choice Simplicity and McCalls patterns, there’s a prominent display of Amy Butler and the like ($15-20 for a pattern? No, thank you!). There are also sample items from their courses and their patterns hanging throughout the two rooms. The back room also had a wall of sewing books, along the lines of Sew Liberated. There’s not much in the way of notions, just a small display behind the register. For me, this is the kind of store you go to to find a special fabric for a nice outfit, not where you do all your sewing shopping. (Which is why I walked to JoAnn Fabrics after class to purchase zippers, thread, magnetic snaps, etc.)

Interior of The Needle Shop

You're basically seeing the whole fabric room here. The hidden long wall also has fabric, but that's it. (Photo stolen from theneedleshop.net.)

Once everyone was situated, we finally made our way down the narrow stairs to the bright sewing room (one of two in the basement). The sewing tables were set up in a rectangle all facing in to the center, and there were machines at each station. There were a few different styles of machine (all Kenmore), so I chose the simplest one that looked the most similar to mine (vertical bobbin loading and all). Two of the five students in the class (all female) had brought their own machines, so the machines at their stations were moved off to the side. The room was bright and cheery, and the finished projects hanging on the walls were inspirational (and instructional, in the case of the pillow).

The Needle Shop Sewing Class

A TNS sewing class (not mine). Note the all-female class roster. Photo stolen from theneedleshop.net.

We spent the first hour-plus of the class learning the very basics of what the machine parts do, how to thread the needle, how to wind the bobbin, how to load the bobbin (both for vertical and horizontal machines), how to change the feet, etc. My instructor, Alison, was very clear and walked us through everything, showing us each step and then having us try on our own machines. I learned more in that hour than I had in weeks of reading about sewing. Although I was the only person in the class who had never sewn before, I never felt lost, and the pace seemed just right to me.

After practicing stitching and turning corners on scrap fabric, we moved on to the pillows themselves. There was no pattern for the pillow, but there was a detailed instruction sheet that we then got to take home. I finally really learned the concept of length versus width of fabric, what selvage is, and that I could just rip fabric to the correct size, rather than cut. Who knew?

We spent a great deal of time on the zipper end of the pillow. Although my zipper section is not perfect, it is functional (and pretty, with a green zipper!), and I feel like I have a good understanding of how to install zippers and why not to be afraid of them. When we finally finished the zipper end, it was like, “Okay, just sew up the other sides,” which I did. Easily.

Although there were five students in the class, rather than the four that TNS says is the limit, I felt like I got a lot of hands-on help. Alison was constantly walking around, noting our progress, and making suggestions. She even showed me how to iron the final product correctly (I suck at ironing). I also really appreciated that they had snacks and water for us to take at any time. I ate before class, but 10-2 is not a time when I can go completely without food, especially when working on something that requires fine motor control. The snacks were crucial, for me anyway.

I walked out of class with a finished pillow that actually looks pretty good, complete with corners that are purposely not 90-degree angles. I know where the problems are in the pillow, but it’s nice enough to keep on the couch in the living room, even when guests come over. I’ll post a better picture of my pillow when I have a chance to upload pictures (my computer is freaking out at the moment). For now, you can see a bad picture in yesterday’s post.

I can’t imagine an introductory class being a better start to sewing. The only thing I would change about the class would be the price. Was it worth the $70 (plus materials)? Yes. (It helps that it wasn’t my $70 since it was a birthday present from my mom–actually a birthday present for my husband, but that’s a different story!) Before the class, I spent a lot of time reading the manual, watching youtube videos, reading tutorials, etc, and there were really important things I never figured out, like properly threading the machine. Without this course, I’d probably still be in the dark. That alone makes the course worth it to me. The added bonus of having completed a project and the confidence that gives me is huge.

Unfortunately, when I returned home, excited about sewing and finally able to properly thread my sewing machine, I discovered that it’s broken. My test stitches did not look like the stitches I had done in class. Upon consulting the manual, I learned that the upper tension was too high. Unfortunately, the tension is already set to zero, so there’s no way to turn it down further. I’m sure a sewing machine repair shop can fix it, but the nearest shop I know about is pretty far away, and I don’t have access to our car during the week. A lot more went into this decision, but tomorrow you will get to read about my new sewing machine. (Sad and happy faces.)