Featured Sewist- Rebecca Hamilton

I’m so delighted to share Rebecca’s words with you today. I found her on Sewing Pattern Review and invited her to write about how she learned how to sew, what it’s like to sew for a post-mastectomy body, what she has learned along the way, and whatever else she’d like to share. Thank you so much, Rebecca, for letting us have a glimpse into your life! If you or someone you know would like to write about their experiences sewing for a post-mastectomy body, please contact me (brendamarkssstudio at yahoo dot com). The rest of this post contains her words.

REbecca 1.jpgI began sewing when I was about 15. I went to a store, bought a pattern and fabric and brought it home. I still remember laying the pattern pieces and the fabric out on the living room floor and trying to figure out what to do with them.

It was a tough go, teaching myself to sew. I used my grandmother’s antique Singer from before the turn of the 20th century and basically just muddled through. Over time, I developed the ability to make all of my own clothing.

I lost interest in sewing after I grew up and started making enough money to buy ready-made clothing. I tried it again briefly when I was in my 30s, but had the misfortune to buy a bad machine. I don’t know what happened to that machine. I do know that I quit sewing again and didn’t re-start until just recently.

The trigger for my renewed interest was a breast cancer diagnosis and the realization that I would have a mastectomy. I never considered reconstructive surgery — too many un-needed surgeries, too much unnecessary pain — and I realized that I would never be an off-the-rack girl again.

When I started sewing again after the mastectomy, I had a terrible time fitting myself. I’m overweight. Before the surgery, I was a generous hour glass. After the surgery, I was more of a beaker. Now, after a lot of mistakes and a long learning curve, I’ve gotten better at the fitting, but I’m still way out there when it comes to developing a style that fits my personality and taste and still flatters my new body.

I really wish there was more focus on what works for flat and fabulous women from professional designers and stylists. But I think that is a vain hope, considering that they don’t even spend much time designing and styling for women who haven’t had mastectomies but who have normal, female curves. I don’t have a very high opinion of the fashion industry because of this. I view it as a form of misogyny.

Pattern Review has been a wonderful source of both sewing information and inspiration. It has informed me about everything from sewing basics to the kinds of sewing machines out there to buy. I also use the classes on the Craftsy platform to learn more about sewing.

I realize now that I never knew much about sewing back when I was young. I just plowed in there and taught myself. I learned to avoid difficult patterns and to focus on fabric to get the wow factor in what I made. It worked, but I didn’t really know much. At the same time, some of the techniques I figured out for myself, such as ez ways to put in zippers, I now see being touted as “advanced” techniques used by “industry professionals.” Me, I was just making up cheats to make my life easier.

rebecca 2.jpgThe biggest differences between my sewing then and now are that (1) I’m enjoying it now, whereas I pretty much hated it back then. I just did it so I would have clothes to wear because we couldn’t afford them any other way, and (2) I have the right equipment now. I didn’t even have a pair of sharp scissors back when I was a kid. I remember my hands would be swollen, with dents from the scissors in them after each pattern I cut out. Today, if I need it, I buy it. The right tools make sewing much easier and more rewarding. They make it fun.

I haven’t found any patterns that I would call faves yet. I have found patterns that work, but they aren’t really where I want to end up. I am taking note of what flatters and developing ideas about how to incorporate that into an ultimate “look” that works for me. I am also learning sewing skills. Since I’m enjoying sewing so much, the journey is part of the reward.

This return to sewing has helped me process the trauma of the cancer and its treatment. It has been a way that I can regain control of my life and do something to regain what I’ve lost, plus add a few points to the total. Now that I’ve started on a weight loss journey (Weight Watchers) and combined that with working out six days a week, I’m discovering that this, too, is a way of regaining control and self-esteem.

I felt ugly for a long time after the surgery. I don’t think it was the loss of my breasts. That would be simple to fix with prosthetics. it went deeper than that. I lost something, some part of myself, and it wasn’t a physical attribute. I guess it was the sense of personal invulnerability and a future. I left one big-name hospital and some very high-powered doctors because I found the experience there demeaning. They saw me as a cancer; not a person, not even a patient — just a cancer. That whole experience hurt me deeply.

Sewing, working out, getting fit and strong again, all these things give me back part of what that medical center took from me, which is to say my sense of control and personal autonomy. At their deepest level, they help me assert that I am a person, not a disease.

Rebecca Hamilton

The Double Edged Sword of Breast Cancer Awareness Month

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(Image from  Consensys )

I am very grateful for all of the positive outcomes of the pink ribbon campaign. For example, I know I’m not alone. Additionally, when I discuss my diagnosis, generally people aren’t acting as though they are super uncomfortable. The pink ribbon sticker in the back of a car brought me to tears when I saw it one day as I driving to a medical appointment for breast cancer. I was so sorry that someone else may have had to endure the same treatments I did, and I also felt a kinship.

I had tremendous mixed feelings last year as I walked around Salem Health and was confronted with life sized cut outs of women that had meassages about breast cancer. Many of these were statistics about factors that people do not have control over. While I think information is generally a helpful thing, these troubled me. (They disappeared at the end of October, so they were part of an awareness campaign.)

I have some problems with the pink tide that rises in October. It seems like a marketing bonanza for many companies, which feels exploitative. Consumers may assume that buying a product with a pink ribbon means a donation will be made toward a breast cancer organization, but that’s not always true.  Another example is from several years ago, there were popular pink wrist bands touting “I love boobies”, which the boys in my class could point to and claim to support breast cancer awareness. I’m still dubious.

My final comment (for today) is that I want to avoid being reduced to a pink ribbon or a single issue, which I fear can happen when bumper sticker politics take over a complex issue.

 

New-ish pattern releases

Why did I only just now think of selecting some new pattern releases that the flat-chested of us might want? I think it’s because I generally take a pattern that fits and add the details that I want. However, not everyone does that! Here are some recent pattern releases that may work for post-mastectomy, non-reconstructed bodies. I’ve added a few comments about why I think they could be a good idea. Many of these seem to not have a dart and/or have distracting elements to the top half.

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McCalls 7655  is an on-trend dress with layers that can distract the eye from the bust.

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Mccalls 7658  is another on-trend pattern with a capelet feature. This can add some layers to the top half and add the illusion of a bust.  Butterick.6479 is another variation and includes a dress.

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With the off-the-shoulder look, Butterick 6495 is a fun choice since I/we don’t have to concern ourselves with bra straps!

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Butterick 6496 has interesting style lines that look like they could add interest and distract from a flat chest.

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Vogue 1554 has tucks along the bust, adding some visual bulk.

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I bought Vogue 9266 at one of the recent on-line sales and can’t wait to try it out. My first one will be in a beefy t-shirt knit. I think this cute topper would add to the top without being too obvious.

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Vogue 9276 is another pattern I recently bought. I think it will be good either dressed up or dressed down. I think I’ll be narrowing the sleeves. These ones make me think of cuffs in my dinner, which is not a good look on New Year’s Eve!

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The ruffled version of Burda 6456 adds some distraction to the area. You may need to eliminate the dart for a good fit. Alternately, you can sew “the essence of a dart” by sewing it more like a small tuck. (Then you’d probably have to eliminate some length in the front to have it match the back.)

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What caught my eye with Burda 6475 is the seam over the bust. There may be some bust shaping in that seam that you may want to adjust, but the seam creates the illusion of a larger bust area.

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Burda 6455 reminds me of good ideas from the early 80’s. I really like the soft drape and the shawl collar. I may be buying this one.

I’ve not included Simplicity or New Look patterns because I think that website is a disaster. Burda is so well drafted that I look at these releases (usually on Sewing Pattern Review).

What patterns do you suggest for a flat chested gal?

 

Connections made through sewing

My clothes might have seven degrees of separation from you! I’m inspired by so many people in person and on line – the style, fabric, color, detail, etc. of what I see.

As I posted for Tribute Month in response to the Sewcialists challenge, I began to think about the ways that sewing makes me feel connected to all kinds of people. (And I’m hoping that this blog is reaching out with helpful information to my new, breastless tribe.)

The first photo above is my second grade school picture, and the dress was made by my friend (former step-mom) who is in the second picture. She sewed all kinds of clothes for me over the years, and sewing can bring me back to those happy moments of creating together. In the second picture, she’s cutting out a t-shirt using a pattern that I adjusted for her. I was so happy to be able to give a little back to her!

My sewing machine choices also illustrate my connections with others. I’ve never had a new machine. In the second photo, I’m about 22 years old, sewing on a hand-me-down from my friend’s (former step-mom’s) sister. Later in life, when a machine of mine was beyond repair, I searched out and bought sewing machines that I learned to sew on. They were familiar and engendered a feeling of connection.

The first photo is a machine that I recently bought from a neighbor down the street who moved into a retirement place. I have fond memories of her and will enjoy using her machine, too.

Recently, two people I adore in the sewing world were connected to me through this coat. Anne Whalley from Australia made the coat, and Ryliss Bod of Sewing and Design School bought it from Anne. I was able to try on the coat when I was with Ryliss for a sewing workshop. (The coat is made from a table cloth! I’m thinking that the design could be replicated printed through Spoonflower.)

indigo VerbI also am inspired by other’s passion. In this case, I bought a piece of indigo-dyed fabric from A Verb For Keeping Warm. (The skirt of this dress was made from the indigo fabric.) I am inspired by Kristine Vejar’s commitment to exploring how to come back to local resources to use in our knitting and sewing projects.

Finally, the header of this blog is a photo of silk thread from my former mother-in-law’s estate. I wonder where it’s been (she’d lived so many places!) and what she made with it.

When you are sewing, in what ways do you feel connected?

 

A dress for a warm day

FullSizeRender.jpgI can imagine myself sweating to death in Thailand. Is that a little overly dramatic? Maybe so. I describe myself as a forest trillium, not a tropical orchid, so I need clothes that will help me stay as cool as possible. I’m working on sewing dresses that will be comfortable in heat and humidity. Step 1 – get fabric that will work. Step 2 – get a pattern that will work.

I bought this Japanese cotton (they know how to deal with heat and humidity, right?) from The Sewing Workshop when I had the pleasure of visiting the store. The design is reminiscent of kimono, and the pattern is printed on an aubergine-colored cloth. (I don’t see it on the website, so you can call if you want some.) The pattern is my self-drafted princess seam woven dress pattern. The dress pattern is semi-fitted, but the fabric has relaxed some so that there’s close to 6″ of ease in the torso above where it starts to flare.

(I’m still working on lighting and taking good pics. I’ve decided that a less desirable picture is better than no picture, so this is what we get for now.)

dressjacket2.jpgAs many of you have experienced, air conditioning can be down right uncomfortable in the summer, so I tried my new dress with a cropped jacket. The jacket is Marcy Tilton’s V9190, which is adjusted by shortening the collar by about 2 inches and leaving off the ties.

I like this color combination, but I think it’s a little “out there” for some people. The colors remind me of a traditional Japanese palette, so I’m going to try it out. I think I’ll put on some shoes, too. lol

The tribute dress is another one I made for hot weather. It’s made from cotton double gauze.

I also bought two pieces of lightweight linen from Fabrics-Store. It looks like a very nice quality. I’ll report back when I sew it up (after the new washing machine shows up so I can pre-wash the fabric…).

Any other suggestions for fabric for hot and humid climates?

 

 

 

 

When sleeves won’t ease in…

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If it’s not going right, setting in sleeves is one of the most irritating parts of garment construction for me. How about you? There are several helpful techniques to assist in this process, including crimping and ease stitching. (Here’s another good post about setting in a sleeve. This post is about re-drafting the sleeve to have it better fit the armscye.

First you measure the armscye at the seam allowance on the front and measure the sleeve at the seam from the shoulder to the underarm seam. (Either measure from the seam allowance to the seam allowance or subtract out the seam allowance.) Record the distance of the seam lines for each area. If you have a plain sleeve that sits on the shoulder, you could have 1/2″-1 1/2″ total ease (or 1/4″ to 5/8″ in the front). In my case, I had 1″ to ease in the front, which can be difficult in a more structured fabric (such as Liberty lawn).

Measure the armscye and sleeve for the back and record those measurements.

Determine how much ease you want to remove. In my case, I decided to remove approximately 5/8″ from the front and 5/8″ from the back.

I drew a line from the shoulder point to the hem, and the line was on the straight of grain. Next, I marked 5/8″ on either side of the line (to remove that amount from the front and back). At this point, you could make the lines into a dart; however, I think it’s much easier to sew a seam than a dart. (Is that lazy or couture? You decide! lol)

I cut on the new seam lines and added in the seam allowance. Then I labeled the pieces to make sure I knew what was a front and a back! Et voila – a sleeve with a seam that is easier to set in. Also, in the “year of the sleeve”, this drafting gives easy options for making design changes, such as the split sleeve above.

Another advantage of this type of sleeve is that it can be cut out of smaller pieces of fabric. You may need to do that some day when you get a short cut for some reason.

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Tribute Month Sewing

Considering all fabric choices, pattern choices and sewists I follow, picking one person for a tribute is a challenge. However, it’s got to be Carolyn of Diary of a Sewing Fanatic for a variety of  reasons. First, she had a great set of patterns that worked for her, and then she needed to start from scratch because her body transformed (me, too, but in a different way). Second, she takes patterns that fit and adds details from photos or designer inspiration (me, to). Third, she loves to wear dresses (me, too). Finally, she has a substantial fabric resource center (mine is not quite comparable, but I certainly have my share). Also, I am happy to say that I briefly introduced myself a couple of years ago at the Sew Expo in Puyallup, and Carolyn was so gracious.

This is a self-drafted dress based on a princess seam woven pattern. The sleeves are inspired by a Pinterest image (as split sleeve that joins at the bottom with a button). The fabric is a Nani Iro double gauze that I was going to give away, but I decided to give it a try. It was in the give-away pile because of the color, which seems like an dark, potentially drab color for a warm climate/summer dress. However, I keep reading about how double gauze is really comfortable for the heat, so I decided to give it a try.

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Thank you, Carolyn, for inspiring me to be the best sewist I can be!