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I was born into a long line of family junkers. Today, I am proud to say it taught me to be resourceful and creative. I am honored to share some personal trash to treasure with you!

Finding some old junk in the garage, sewing room or literal trash that you do not have to buy and then making art out of it has a few names. Some call it up cycling, found object art or recycling. I get some kind of weird high from making these things.

This wreath project is entirely all trash, the inside of the wreath is shredded paper bound with bias tape binding. Someone was throwing out a bag of pre-made bows and I owned the wooden spools of thread.

This was my latest project I added some sparkle to a pair of trendy sunglasses. This was so much fun and fast too.

A neighbor moved out and threw away a bunch of high quality professional picture frames.This project is made of screen, S hooks and glue.

In Ohio when people want to get rid of “good” junk they make a pile in their front yard that is acceptable to take. It is not okay to dig in anyones personal trash cans.

Fabric bowls are fun, easy and free if you already own all of the supplies. These were things that were given to me. I watched a tutorial by Crafty Gemini to make these fun and easy bowls.

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Active wear is so comfortable that I’m not surprised leggings and yoga pants have become part of our mainstream fashion culture.

Why is active wear proclaimed to be hard to sew? It’s not the sewing part that is a challenge. Once you know the rules it is easy.

Here are mine.

*No straight stitches on any part that needs to stretch or the stitches will break and pop like crazy.

*Lots of zig zag stitching, double stitching and stitching with a twin needle.

*A walking foot will make all of the sewing stretchy knits much easier and keep the look professional.

*The actual hard part is dealing with each fabric changing the fit with different stretches.

*You push the fabric under the feed dogs instead of holding it taut.

Here are a few reasons why active wear knits are easier than woven fabrics.

*No ironing

*No finishing seams

*The above cuts sewing times in half.

*The best one, if the fit is not perfect it isn’t really noticeable due to the stretch of this fabric.

I chose a pattern that was woven in a smaller size since knit stretches. I still made sure my fabric had enough structure for this look. Understanding what fabrics are appropriate for each design is something all beginners have to learn and I was no stranger to this.

I picked out a good matching thread and filled up 2 bobbins before I started. One so if I run out I do not need to stop, unthread and refill. The other so at the end when I hem those sleeves and the skirt hem with my twin needle I can use the second bobbin as a spool of thread.

I used fusible interfacing for all of my facings and little belt pieces. I sewed it in instead of pressing it in. Ironing polyester will sometimes make little bubbles. You can always test the fabric first on a scrap if you are unsure. Adding interfacing gives the garment structure and a professional look.

I tried using weights instead of pins while cutting for the first time. I still wound up pinning the back pieces to transfer those darts in the proper places. It took just as long but thats the breaks when you are new to something. I will try again.

Fashion history can be everywhere you look. This pattern had an ad in it that explains a few mysteries from the cover. The pattern did not have a normal pattern number and it said it was designed exclusively for McCalls by Fels. Upon further research Fels was a laundry detergent company McCalls was collaborating with in the 1960s. They had some cute stuff too.

I double stitched all vertical stitching and then serged it for extra strength. If something has to stretch a lot, like a waist band, you need to use a zig zag or stretch stitch. This is important. I hear the most complaints about skipped stitches on knit fabric. The best thing I can say is if you have tried all the jersey/ball point needle sizes and you are still having skipped stitches try a stabilizer. They make wash away stabilizers that work well for hemlines.

Setting..

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I interviewed artist Jo Wick about rug hooking. Jo is both extremely talented and very prolific in her field. I think that if you love doing something you will choose do it all the time and in return reach new heights. It’s all about jumping in that rabbit hole and having a good adventure.

Jo, tell us a little more about you? 

Hello Tracy, I am a wife, mother and NaNa who has always had a creative streak running though her hands! There is always something productive coming from my hands, they are not idle for long. In 1994, after a quilting phase in the 70’s & 80’s, another friend & I purchased a couple craft books & a rug hook & began teaching ourselves the creative art of rug hooking.  I was “hooked” and have since attended several workshops, retreats and classes.  I am now retired and able to spend even more time with my favorite hobby.

What is rug hooking? Are there different categories and styles?

Rug Hooking is a traditional craft of making rugs with strips of wool that you pull up thru a backing such as linen to make small loops that form a design.  It is different than latch hooking, which a lot of people did in their high school days. Present types of hooking include : Primitive (simple design, no shading), Realistic (usually flowers, fine shading), Pictorial, Geometrics, Oriental, Waldoboro (high pile that is cut) and Grenfell (nylons and silk hooked in straight lines).

We see a lot of symmetry in your art. Is this 1800s folk, Amish or just yours?

I am drawn to the Primitive Style of rug hooking which is a more simple, less detailed design. This style blends in with the antiques and primitives in my home. I tend to hook designs from the 1800’s. Back then women would utilize burlap from empty food and grain bags for their backing.  On several of my rugs you will see a date, such as 1837, 1842, etc. There really is no significance to the date, it just goes along with the primitive style.

How long does the typical piece take?

It depends on the size of the project and also the width of the wool strips.  A large piece for me is a 3 Ft x 5 Ft Rug which would take me approximately 2-4 months to hook.  A small piece, say 15”x 24”, I would be able to hook in 1-2 weeks.  Keep in mind that I hook more in the winter time & mostly in the evenings.  On a rare, cold snowy day I love to sit in front of the fireplace & spend my whole day hooking!

What kinds of tools and supplies do you need and do you use patterns?

Basic tools to begin Rug Hooking consists of a rug hook, which is similar to a crochet hook with a larger handle, and a frame.  A few people begin on a large quilting hoop, but it is much easier to hook on a frame.  My preference is a floor stand which holds my frame that I can pull up to my chair & have both hands free.  A lot of hookers use lap frames. I also have a wool stripper (cutter) which cuts the wool into uniform widths.  However, a basic pair of scissors or rotary cutter can be used or wool tears easily and you can just hand tear the strips. Then there is the wool, which is now available in a multitude of wonderful colors.  I purchase most of my wool by the yard from shops that specialize in having wool made for rug hookers. I do use patterns which are hand drawn on linen that I have purchased from designers.  I also have drawn a few of my own patterns or adapted patterns from antique rugs.  You can also purchase paper patterns and trace them onto your linen.

We have seen enough art from you to fill a solo gallery exhibit, can you explain your drive to make more pieces?

Yes my home is filled with rugs, both on the floor and walls. I use them in my decorating and have a lot of seasonal rugs that I switch to go with the season. There is always another great wool to try for the perfect color and a new pattern I want to hook!  When I sit down to my rug hooking frame, the repetition of pulling loops is a form of relaxation and therapeutic time for me.  We have a saying in our rug hooking groups, “Rug Hooking is cheaper than therapy”!  I’m not sure about that as rug hooking can become an expensive hobby, but I do know it is my relaxing and calm time.


 

What do you do with Carillon Historical Park?

I belong to the Miami Valley Rug Hooking Guild; a group of Hookers in the Dayton area that is a non-profit educational organization formed to promote and encourage interest in the creative art of Rug Hooking. A few of us demonstrate rug hooking at Carillon Park during special events & school field trip days.  We wear period clothing and welcome participation from the guests at Carillon who would like to experience the feel of pulling a few loops. Our goal is to promote interest in the art of traditional rug hooking and to provide educational activities to improve the quality of rug hooking.

You were published in a national magazine. Can you tell us what you featured for?

There is a National magazine published by ATHA, “Association of Traditional Hooking Artists”. As a member of my local guild, I can submit stories & pictures for articles.  The theme of their June/July 2017issue was Children’s Art.  The four rugs I designed & hooked for my grandchildren were featured in the magazine.

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Boom! It all started in 2016 when I did my first Mini Makers Faire at Carillon Historical Park. After the Mini Makers Faire I was asked if I was interested in sewing for the park. I had my first interview with the directer of education and she kindly educated me on how everything works.

Carillon Historical Park is a wonderful place to learn all about Dayton History. It has the only fully functional 1850s brewery, a seasonal 1910 style ice-cream parlor, a merry go round and a train that is 1/8 the size of a real train – that you can also ride!

When I first started I was asked to make sturdy washable aprons, shirts and skirts.  I was given staff measurement sheets to work from for each staff member. I have learned so much along this journey and now we are much more organized. I receive emails with spreadsheets of everything needed in easy basic sizes. I simply move through each list. I have a mens shirt I cut up to use as a pattern and they gave me basic pattern pieces for the women’s shirts.

Let’s start with the biggest first, the WAVES jacket. I was over the moon when they asked me to do this project.

I was given a binder of photographs and a cut up suit jacket to replicate the WAVES jacket. Dayton History owns possibly one of the last cabins the WAVES stayed in. (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) WAVES were an important part of Dayton History because they helped decode the crypto of the German Enigma machine! As you may already know they also worked at NCR building components for the BOMBE machine. I was very excited to be chosen for this project.

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The jacket needed to fit a 42″ bust model. Not easy to do with no real pattern but here is the completed jacket. Just last week I was asked to make a matching skirt to the WAVES jacket. Awesome!

Last summer I was asked to make multiple 1910 styled ice cream parlor costumes for Culp’s Cafe. They had no real patterns. I was given a photo for the shirt and an actual apron and skirt to look at to replicate. I hacked a 1980s pattern to make the shirts. I did quite a few of these and I think they came out so cute!

I also make the breweries 1850s style garments. Now, the thing is, they are not concise to period for safety reasons. The staff works around open flames and runs up and down stairs with full service trays. The skirts can’t be historically floor length and the shirts can’t have huge billowing sleeves. Also, in that period people mostly hand stitched clothing and I am using a machine. Life is just too short to hand stitch the amount of costumes I need to make each week. The costumes have to be durable for todays tough washing machine process so everything is sewn, reinforced and serged.

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Have you ever seen a pattern cover or dress, fell in love with it, only to buy it and realize it was something you would never wear? We have all been there. I bought hundreds of patterns on those 99 cent sales before I realized what my personal style was.  I bought his floor length 1912 replicated design pattern. The floor length lace and the sheer overlay options are just too long for a shorty like me to pull off.

While on a trip to the West Coast my fabric shop radar went off and I found this little gem that was sadly closing. Everything left in the store was 70% off.

First I assessed what was not practical about the pattern but also what I liked about the pattern. I decided the overlay, material and length was too much.

Along the way I found some scraps in my garage from a wedding dress I made a customer years ago. The lace on a black background really added another texture to the look that I love.

Of course for me I had to take the lined top in a bit and let the unlined skirt of the dress out because my hips are larger. Alterations are usually always need done. The pattern is never a perfect fit all over. Like any artist it’s hard not to be critical.

Modeling is Ruby Randall and behind the camera is Sharon Elaine Photography.

Behind the scenes~

My Insta Dress Class has been listed for March 3rd at Creative Communion, Pendleton Art Centre, Middletown, Ohio. There is still time to sign up. We are limited to 8 people so do not wait.

Our Dayton Garment Designers Meet Up Group had movie night and saw the Phantom Thread at the Neon Theatre. The movie was fabulous, I had a wonderful time and The Neon is really the coolest theater in town. They have Esher Price chocolates, coffee and biscotti too.

Thank you for reading!

Tracy McElfresh
Dream it! Sew it!

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Do you ever wonder how I get these dresses done so quickly? After you make something 10-20 times you learn all the short cuts! Today, I share with you just a few of my secrets.

Tip #1 Princess Seams may feel like a lot of work but I do think they are great for letting in and out seams with ease. This means fast and easy alterations. Nothing is ever made with a perfect fit the first time. Handmade garments are almost always tweaked.

My Rosewood Art Studio roomie Sarah Hydell gifted me fabric from a lady that used to frequent the center.
I hope she would’ve been happy with the 1960s fashion I chose to make out of her velvet zebra print sample.

Tip #2 Zip! Put your zipper in the back seam first while the dress is one open flat piece.

Tip #3 Sleeve setting Set your sleeves in before you sew your side seams. I do this because it is easier to sew a flat seam than one in an inclosed circle.

Tip #4 Facings If you are using facings – attach those before sewing the side seams. Again, it’s easier to sew open and flat. This will give you a professional look and save you time.

Here my pattern was missing the size 12 sleeve. I went to another big box pattern with the same size and used that sleeve piece. It fit like a glove!

Behind the Scenes~

I’m honored and flattered to be number 25 on the Blog FeedSpot’s 50 best seamstress blogs.


Check out a full list of my events and classes for winter 2018.

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Up until 2 years ago I was scared to sew sweater knit fabrics. Sweater knit is really stretchy like regular sweaters. The edges fray like crazy and hemlines can be a challenge. Sizing can be a problem too.

My first knit dress was a total accident. I ordered knit fabric that said medium weight from a popular online store that I’ve named, “Throw Anything in a Box”. When I got my fabric it was anything but regular knit. It was loose weave scary sweater knit. It was supposed to be a cute little 1960s Jackie O suit. I decided I owned the fabric so I should go ahead and try and make something out of it.

I mostly used my serger for construction. If you do not have a serger it helps to have a walking foot and use a zig zag stitch.
To avoid those hems I cut strips and made bindings/casings.

My second project was to take ugly sweaters and make something out of them. On my serger with the differential feed turned up this was an easy fun practice. This is fearless when you have little investment.

My 3rd sweater knit dress I replicated another dress I owned. I was ready to tackle those hemlines. After serging to finish the edges I pressed hemlines with half inch stitch witchery or fusible binding. This stabilized the hem and held it together really well to give a crisp clean hemline. I also did this on the sleeve hems.

At this point I was starting to get creative. I realized I could make pieces double the widths, fold them in half and they would be lined. This dress was just 3 simple pieces, 2 rectangles folded in half and a circle. It is also a good idea to seam in stay tape or ribbon into parts that you do not want to continue to stretch such as shoulders and waistline seams.

This year I am all about the sweater knits. If you can find them woven with double sided prints they are a lot of fun to play with. This was all one fabric piece. I think I used a big box tank pattern, cut my pieces larger and longer to make my black stripe.

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With a decade of sewing custom dresses under my belt I am here to share some helpful tips about sewing for the public when they are not local. Starting with best tip I can give you – have a written contract with your client.

The sewing part of owning a service business is not always the largest part of the job. My job is also great communication and customer service through emails, texts and conversation. The custom order usually starts with an email request, questions and an inspiration photo. The photo should tell you if it is in your skill level and something you would be happy to make.

Hi, my name is …., I am graduating nursing school this December. Would it be possible for you to make me this vintage inspired nursing frock for my big day? If so what is the cost and how does it all work?

The date they need the garment finished should be the first real conversation. This will tell if expectations are realistic with any current work load.

I find it easier to send a link I copy and paste that has details, basic prices, turn around times, who buys the fabric and general information. Consider this an outline of your contract as you may expect the general public not to understand exactly how your business and custom sewing works.

Once the work is accepted it is on to the finer details, “The picture is what we are making?” is not enough. I draw a picture of exactly what we are making with details labeled in writing such as the style name, length, closures, pockets and type of fabric for repeat confirmation. This again confirms that we are both on the same page and is also the best time for changes so you will have something in writing.

After everyone has agreed on a contract for timeline, price and style guidelines I suggest getting the money up front. You do not want to learn this the hard way. If you have a good honest business, great references and can confidently make the garment you will find most people do not mind trusting you and paying up front.

The next step is to get those measurements.

1.Remind them to wear the under garments and shoes they will be wearing with the finished garment.

2.Wear tight fitting clothing when getting measured.

3. Have them get someone else measure them twice for accuracy. A professional seamstress will do this accurately for a small fee. They should not be taking their own measurements.

These are the bare minimum measurements.

Bust at the apex
Waist at the smallest part
Hip at the widest part
Length from nape of neck to waist
Length from waist to hemline
Length from collar bone on one side to waist

Always get the measurements in writing. It’s a good idea to add them to the designer sketch. This way you have all of your notes in one place. Send it all back for a 2nd confirmation.

For most orders I have my client pick/purchase the pattern and fabric.  Once I get the fabric I prewash and give it a good press if care method is suitable. Occasionally when a customer is unable to find a patten I raid my vintage pattern collection.

This nursing frock was a simple shirt dress with a gathered half circle skirt that I could hack from any shirt pattern into a dress. I study the patterns and look for the one that comes closest to their measurements. Then I send my client a photo of the pattern and again repeat their order with all the details. This is really important from my experience as this is the last time to make changes. If we make changes once we have cut fabric (aka committed) it will cost more money. Make sure these details are in your contract.

I cut all of my pieces measuring each one a couple of times for fit. Then I send the client progress photos.

Once I sew the garment I put it on my dress form with the measurements they gave me dialed in. I try to get a good picture to send them at this point.

Sometimes the freshly made garment will have transfer marks and need to be washed and pressed again. Just before shipping it out I take a few final photos with a tape measure as proof I had the correct measurements.

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Retail is no joke with the amount of hours you put in. 2017 led to a huge purge, a minimalist approach to my lifestyle, daily chore list and defining the places we want to travel to. Pittsburgh was our first culture hop. Photos, art, people watching and coffee are some of my favorite attractions. I am always conscious of what people are wearing.

My priorities were to find the indie fabric shops and the best coffee shops. Facebook is great for recommendations. I quickly found The Fabric Place and made sure I was one of their first customers. Tami, the owner, was friendly and extremely knowledgeable about her products plus really cool to talk to. She was kind enough to let me take a photo. The Fabric Place has awesome couture fabric!
Jeffrey is finally getting his Betty Ford Clinic robe without being admitted!! and I’m getting Versace purple wool something for Christmas.

The Warhol museum was fantastic as well as inspiring! Prolific as he was he truly loved his work and tried all kinds of mediums including pencil drawing, figure drawings, fashion drawings, stamping, stenciling, screen printing, collaborations, record album art, photography, music, film and more.  The museum has 7 floors, you start at the top and work your way down. There is even a taxidermist stuffed African lion that was gifted to Warhol from a friend. A couple of things that surprised me was that he hired his mother to sign his art work because she had such nice hand writing and that he was obsessed with collecting and the documentation of EVERYTHING. I am also obsessed with documentation of my work.

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Alert, this interview is not about sewing! I am writing about Erica because I feel her growth in the art field since meeting her is very inspiring. This cocoon to butterfly change is so beautiful when you get to see it in action. This can hold true to all media, art forms and of course sewing. As you will see – she has been so fun to follow over the years! Thank you Erica!
Introduce yourself and tell us and how many years you have been an artist?
My name is Erica Blackstock and I’ve been creating my whole life. It started consuming me in high school. I had an amazing art teacher that inspired me and pushed me to create. A lot of my work is dark art, including high school, she was the first person to tell me that dark art was ok. I’m not content with one medium, acrylics, watercolor, plaster, making dolls -to dollhouses. My work is very dark … and some not.
I would describe your art as fun, whimsical and a little creepy. Can you tell me more about your work. I know your art used to be more horror themed, did you have a turning point? 
For a long time I created dark art because I enjoyed the shock value. No one was looking at the technicalities but were reacting to the gore and reaction. I have the privilege of showing my work next to some brilliant artists in Dayton and I wanted to stand out. 
My love has always been with surrealism and in my head I felt this was the surreal way to display myself. For a while I was not as comfortable painting as I am now. I worked on mostly vintage mannequins, trying to top myself with everything new creation. How I chose what medium I use depends on what I’m creating it for. I participate in every themed show I can and sometimes I feel a doll or a mannequin or a painting fits best.
My turning point came 3 years ago when I was asked to be part of an amazing fundraiser event, the Dayton surrrealist ball. I was asked to create things weird beyond weird but not crossing over to the dark side of my art. It was hard. Dark art was my comfort zone and surrealism is my love. The ball set my mind free. I was able to obtain the shock value without grossing people out. It was an incredible sense of pride.
By the third year of the ball, I was the head art director. My art began to change after the first ball. By the second surrealist ball, my brain was really exploding.
My main task is to create art out of a secondary upstairs kitchen. So I have kept the kitchen as a theme in that room through out the years. Each year having a table setting. The second year I made the choice to create the eyeball family. Which consisted of a mom and dad with an eyeball head and a baby with a eyeball face. I made the two parents heads out of plaster but I had a blank muslin doll at home where I just painted an eye on it… the room turned out amazing and the eye people were a big hit… so after that night I bought 5 or 6 blank muslin dolls and painted eyes on them and I started collecting doll hair and doll clothes. I took the dolls to a couple conventions and sell them every now and then. I can make 3-6 in one night. I do not like creating the same thing twice, this year I had to do something different.
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