Ah, spring. It feels so good to feel the sun, even on a cold day, and look at the clock at 6 p.m. and be amazed that there is still light.
One side effect of spring, for me, is a powerful case of Knitting All the Things. Sometimes this means casting on new projects like a drunken sailor (as my Grandma Mabel would say) (no offense to sailors, drunken or otherwise), without a thought for my pile of nearly-there WIPs.
Other years, like this one, spring just makes me feel like Doing Stuff, in a randomly productive way. Dusting and organizing the bookshelves (seriously, this is a thrill, don’t knock it until you try it), sewing down the binding on a quilt made years ago, scrubbing various sections of grayed-out shower tile grout that never bothered me until just this minute. I also feel an impulse to look at hand-thrown flower pots on the internet, and develop strong opinions about them. Who even am I?
Over the Edge
When you’re in the full flow of springtime ambition, and someone you admire publishes her first sewing book, it inevitably leads to one thing:
On Saturday, I cut out the top from The Act of Sewing by Sonya Philip.
Note: The MDK Shop sold through our first copies of The Act of Sewing, but more are on the way.
The fabric is from a length of precious-precious cotton jersey that I had dyed in a vat of woad in 2016, in France, with friends, in one of the giddiest crafting moments of my life.
For years I’d been wanting to combine one of Sonya’s 100 Acts of Sewing patterns—which are designed for machine sewing, I’m aware—with Natalie Chanin’s method for handsewn construction and embellishment of garments. The two styles—Sonya’s and Natalie’s—seemed perfect for each other. And this past weekend, with springtime and my excitement for Sonya’s new book beneath my wings, I finally did it.
Construction seams done, edgings basted on.
It took less than an hour to sew and fell the four seams that hold Sonya’s top pattern together, and another half hour or so to baste on the self-bindings at neck and arm edgings. (I’m not fast—running stitch is fast.)
I had to pull out the first basting of the neck, which is A Hard Thing for Me to Do, because I’d attached it too loosely, so the binding flopped over. But I couldn’t stand to ruin my precious fabric with a visible error like that, so I tried it again, this time gently stretching the binding as I basted, just the way Natalie told me to do back in 2016 when I was basting foldover elastic onto a waistband.
Then, again out of a desire to live up to my materials, I made the choice to use my old adversary Cretan Stitch on the bindings, instead of an easier stretchy stitch like parallel whip stitch.
Hello, Newman. Kay 1, Cretan Stitch 0.
Cretan Stitch has the look of couture. It’s hard for me to get my Cretan Stitch to look as leggy and nonchalant as the artisans of Alabama Chanin do, but I am definitely getting better at it with practice. Embroidery can be counterintuitive—in the case of Cretan Stitch, to make the legs longer, you have to make the short outside-edge stitches shorter. Technical pointer: You’ll know you’ve got it right when your Cretan Stitches walk into the party like they’re walking onto a yacht.
By Sunday night it was finished.
I love this top. It’s plain and simple, but if you look closely, the Cretan Stitch tells you all you need to know about the refined taste of the wearer. (You’re meant to laugh at my delusions of grandeur here, but please trust that I am dead serious.)
We are heading into prime t-shirt season, and I am so short of t-shirts right now (unless I count the ones with holes worn in the lower front, where apparently I rub up against kitchen counters A LOT) that as soon as I finished this one, I rummaged for more cotton jersey and cut out another one, in a mousy taupe that I think Alabama Chanin calls concrete.
Pantry supplies for the win—parchment paper for tracing patterns and canned goods for holding them down while you chalk and cut.
At this moment, cotton jersey, in any form including the shirts of family members living and dead, is not safe from me and my big dressmaker’s shears.
For this, I thank Sonya Philip and Natalie Chanin.