Machines & Tools

Favorite Tools: Scissors I Couldn’t Live Without

two favorite scissors | Cloth Habit

In my younger sewing years, I hated cutting. All those chores from ironing a tissue pattern to laying out the fabric were the boring tasks I had to do before getting to the fun job of actual sewing, sitting down at the machine and stitching. Then something shifted over the last few years and, dare I say it, I might love cutting more than the sewing!

The whole cutting/fitting/tracing process goes down a lot smoother if you actually like the materials and tools you are using. I discovered I didn’t like tissue paper, or Swedish tracing paper, or pinning tissue to fabric. I didn’t like using wax paper and wheels to transfer markings. So I went looking for better methods and tools, or ones I’d enjoy using. At the very least, a good pair of scissors went a long way toward pleasurable cutting.

I have quite a stash of cutting tools, including a few truly out-there scissors–like a ginormous pair designed for cutting oak tag pattern paper but feels more like hedge trimmers–but these are the two I use and love the most:

1. Kai 9” professional shears

Kai Scissors | Cloth Habit

For 20 years I’d been using the same pair of Gingher dressmaker shears which my sister bought me as a college gift. They’re great scissors, but after 30 minutes of cutting with them my wrists got very fatigued.

These fit my hand perfectly. I love the angle of the handles, the material grip around them, the weight. They come in different blade lengths and I almost could have gone with the 8″ because I can’t open these all the way with my small hands. (Good things to think about before you buy those ginormous length tailor shears!)

2. Tailor point scissors

tailor point scissors | Cloth Habit

These kind of scissors have a sharp point ending which makes them very useful for snipping into tiny areas (bra seams!). I keep these by my machine or on my cutting area to snip notches, cut loose threads, and trim or grade seam allowances.

The Ginghers are more common in shops but Kai makes a very similar pair called “rag quilt scissors”. I recently added the Kais because I’m often misplacing my other pair, and I’m glad I tried these out. They have the same blade length and style but are a bit lighter and less slippery in my hands.

clipping threads | Cloth Habit

Y’all probably know this but even the best cutting tools make for frustrating cutting when the blades are dull. I was cutting with my original Ginghers for years before I thought to sharpen them and what a difference it made! It doesn’t matter if you cut paper with one pair and fabric with another, your fabric scissors are going to dull eventually. Do you remember what it was like when you bought your first *real* kitchen knife and cut down a tomato? Like cutting through soft butter. I really need to sharpen my knives more often, too…

Have you found a favorite pair of shears, and did it make your cutting a lovelier experience?


Spring Fever & Studio Visit


Patternmaking Rulers | Cloth Habit

Where does March go? It often feels like such a river of activity. Some of you may know that our fair city turns into almost two cities during South by Southwest (in numbers of people, traffic jams, and restaurant openings). And it is always the same week as my man’s birthday, which also happens to be St. Patrick’s Day. Then there is the nonstop everything-is-greening up and I become obsessed my wildflower garden and keeping the weeds out, which seem to be on steroids this year.

The last couple of weeks I have been trying to catch little snippets of time to sew, for the most part I’ve been using my sewing time deep in the hidey hole of drafting and grading bra patterns (I’m really working on large cup sizes–which has been a huge learning curve but I have the assistance of a very helpful fit model). So I thought I’d share some snippets from my new studio! Wanna see?

Studio Visit | Cloth Habit

On the left are fabrics I’ve dyed for lingerie samples. My friend sold me some bonafide store racks so I could hang and see all the fabrics that were normally squished into a closet.

After a month of begging my husband let me buy this amazing vintage hardware store cabinet. We’ve always wanted an old library card catalog to store “little bits”, and this is the next best thing!

Studio Visit | Cloth Habit

I was torn about whether to put this at home or in my studio but now I have a place to store all my elastics, findings… or old bras that I keep to either investigate and salvage findings…

And the icing on the cake: a new machine!

Studio Visit | Cloth Habit

You may remember that a month or so ago, I busted my Juki F600 topstitching a pair of jeans. It is still in the process of repair so Derek gave me his blessing to hunt for a new one. At first I was looking for a rental to tide me over, but after spending an afternoon at Austin’s Northwest Sewing Center trying out the Juki TL-2010, I was sold and bought the floor model right off their hands (better price).

Studio Visit | Cloth Habit

This is a straight-stitch only machine. It is traditionally marketed as a quilter’s machine, but I think it makes an amazing dedicated dressmaking machine if you already have another for zig-zag stitching. I have always wanted an industrial machine and could certainly fit one in this space, but I think this machine makes a great substitute. It doesn’t go as fast as an industrial but at 2000 stitches per minute is much faster than most home machines, which do about 800 stitches per minute. It also takes industrial machine feet and attachments, which is a big bonus for me as I’ve collected quite a few.

I started moving into this space two months ago but it has taken me some time getting used to organizing sewing and project time outside the house. The positives: It’s HUGE. Way more space than I needed, actually, but it’s so great to spread everything out. And it makes the possibility of hosting open studios or lingerie sewing workshops (a goal of mine) much more imminent. And when I’m home I don’t obsess (as much) on sewing and get important stuff done (taxes. laundry. see how easy it is to sew instead?). I spend more time in my garden. The negatives: I can’t just get some wild idea and run over to my sewing machine or cutting table with my pjs on. And I still would rather work on fitting projects in the privacy of my home.

But… if you have tried to start a business or art practice from home, I’m sure you know how difficult it is to separate the personal household work from business work or “studio time”. My hobbies, creative work and my household keeping are all blended so I have always struggled with time management, and having a separate physical space is helping me organize.

My other big issue is light–there are no windows with natural light. But I love taking pictures in the privacy of my own space so much more than “location shooting”. I was kind of shocked at how cool my iPhone photos turned out, even at their usual jacked up ISO, which inspired me to join Instagram. Maybe it will force me to practice impromptu photography a bit more. Anyone have tips for a newbie Instagrammer?

Happy spring!


Me & My Juki

sewing elastic!

I’ve been giving my sewing machine a pretty good workout the last week so I thought I’d introduce you! I know machines are personal things–whether it’s a brand or a vintage or whatever, the important thing is that you have to love sewing on it. And I really love sewing on mine!

No machine is perfect. I’ve been known to yell some not-so-choice words at all my machines. I had the same ole mega-cheap Brother machine for 15 years. I can’t really say it did anything well, but it went with me everywhere, from college to my first midwest apartment, to Europe, back to Texas. And finally about ten years ago, after the bobbin winder cracked off and then part of the machine bed went missing, Derek finally talked me into buying a new one and adding a serger into the mix. Well, not that he had to talk me into either! I didn’t do any research and the extent of my machine knowledge went something like: “Singer=good brand” and “Bernina=better brand but expensive”. So I bought a low-end basic Singer.

Since then I’ve gotten a little smarter. Or the internet got smarter, and overwhelmed me with machine options. I read about vintage machines and cried a little when I realized my mom no longer owned the very machine on which I’d learned to sew, an all-metal Singer in a solid wood cabinet that these days would probably drive an $800 price tag on ebay. After a couple of years of sewing on my new Singer, something went haywire. The zig-zag stopped working. I’m sort of a wannabe gearhead so I took apart the entire machine in search of the problem. Trouble is, I’m usually clueless about how to put things back together once I get them apart. Here was my excuse at last to get a machine that I’d fully researched.

My biggest beef with machines so far had been buttonholes and their feed. There’s nothing more frustrating than sewing two layers together, and watching the top layer creep longer and longer. I like sewing without pins so I didn’t want to use pins to ease everything together all the time.

my Juki F600

Those features are how I landed on the Juki F600. It was either that or an industrial machine–if only I had the space for one! There’s a mechanism in the Juki feed that makes it turn in a box rather than back and forward. I wasn’t sure exactly how this would improve sewing, but it does seem to feed fabrics much better than my previous machines. I can also loosen the foot pressure, another feature I never had on my others. This has become an almost essential adjustment in sewing slippery lycra or just about any stretchy lingerie fabric. The heavier the foot pressure, the more the foot pushes and stretches the top layer.

And the buttonholes are to die for. This machine does every type, both boxed and keyhole buttonholes. Light-stitched buttonholes for shirts, and heavy-weight buttonholes for coats. I haven’t sworn once at a buttonhole in progress since I got this puppy three years ago.

A coincidental bonus was the bright lighting. There are two led lights, which make the bed very bright. I have poor vision even with correction, and tend to turn on as many lights as possible when I’m sewing. The Juki has a lot of features which I’ve never touched and probably won’t, like all the fancy lettering stitches. But it’s my first machine that stops needle down, unless I tell it not to. It’s quiet. And the automatic thread-trimmer makes life a little easier. None of these are deal-breakers but I have to say, this is the first machine that I have loved and look forward to sewing on. Sometimes emotional attachments are hard to measure.

All my sticky notes, reminding me stitch lengths and widths for lingerie…

machine sticky notes

I gave up trying to be neat about my elastic. This is a little cotton bralette I was working on over the weekend…



Small Space Sewing

This week I slowly pulled out my cameras and sewing machine again, but I still need to find the right set-up. At the moment we are both out of workspace, which in our life also equals creative space. Up till a year ago, we both shared studio rooms in a coop and after that I was able to spread out most of my sewing over a spare bedroom in our rental. So a big part of this move has been paring things down to the bare, bare essentials!


The second bedroom is an all-purpose office and cat hangout. It looks pink and it is pink! This was also taken in the dead of afternoon, when the bright Texas light was blinging everything out. I dreamed about watermelon walls with white linen curtains for something like, oh, five years.

At the moment I’ve squeezed an old drafting table in the corner next to my writing desk, to double as a cutting and machine-sewing area. It’s not feng shui but will have to do till we get the rest of the boxes unpacked, and it is the perfect cutting height for now. Cutting on the floor back in the day just killed my back and my wrists. And I do love to cut! Probably more than sewing…

my sewing machine

Then I had to narrow down my machines. My sewing machine was a birthday present for my big 4-0 a couple of years ago. It’s a Juki F600, which I chose after much research and review-reading. I love this machine so much so that I sold off two of my old machines in the move, including the halfway disassembled 1987 Brother on which I made half my college wardrobe. Moving involves so much sentimental sorting, and I’m a terribly sentimental keeper.

Sewing in a small space is quite okay at the moment since I’m doing a lot of pattern work, mostly on the computer. In the meantime, I’ve been trawling Apartment Therapy and Ikea for ideas on small space organization. What I really need is a way to get my thread high and away from kitties.


This is T-Bone. We’ll see how long the curtains survive the claws… I once caught him swinging halfway up a curtain after an hour of parkour with his brothers. I have hours of free entertainment with them, to say the least!


Sewing On the Road

During the first two years Derek and I were married, we were traveling almost non-stop. How it all ended up this way is a long story but the short version is that I fell in love with a man who has a huge taste for adventure. We had a whirlwind courtship, a two-week engagement, and were married in Prague. In the beginning our apartment felt more like a playground than a home. We wanted to sleep on the beach in Barcelona more than own furniture. Our Czech apartment on our wedding day, ten years ago this summer:

{The groom wore a white silk suit that he calls his Pentecostal preacher suit. I still have no idea where he found this and think he had the better costume! I scrounged mine up from a sale at Zara.}

I really like being a homebody now, so much so that when we travel I tend to want to bring my homesteader hobbies with me. And Derek likes to remind me I don’t have lightweight hobbies. I know with a little ingenuity some folks can make great art with an phone camera but sigh, I’m not one of those people. I like tools. I hauled a 40-lb bag of compost from Belgium to Poland during my phase of “pretend gardening” with little potted plants when we were making lots of road trips. I attracted a lot of affectionate looks toting a massive purple metal watering can through Heathrow airport. (I just had to have it, and the English have THE BEST gardening tools.) And so lately I’ve been wanting to take my sewing whenever I go somewhere.

Have you seen these before? Derek’s so cool, he looked at the box and said, “Look at that, it’s a Ja-NOH-mee Mini!” I never knew that’s how you pronounced Janome. And there ya go.

This is a $50 machine and weighs less than a pair of shoes and is about twice the width of my hand. I’d read about it on a couple of quilty blogs as being a decent machine to tote around so I thought, why not? It actually has a nice feed, although it’s verrry slow and there’s no speed control. There’s no light, but it has six stitches, including 3 zig-zags, goes backwards and forwards and that’s pretty much all I really need!

Of course I probably should’ve packed it better because it begs to be broken. Have you seen the way those guys throw suitcases onto the conveyer? The plastic bobbin winder broke off in my suitcase, and I ran out of bobbin thread before I could finish my project. But if any of you have a hankering for a travel machine, I’d definitely give this a cute and very useful thumbs up.

See, I got my lingerie-sewing fix.

And it sure beats hauling compost for a sense of home.


Shopping, To Cure What Ails Ya…

For some reason I’m weirdly thrifty about thread. There are gadgets and patterns and buttons overflowing my drawers but when it comes to thread I always buy exactly the color I need and usually just one spool of it. Why I thought a half-spool was going to last me through my coat, who knows. And since driving twenty minutes to the store just for black thread in my semi-feverish state seemed so pointless, I figured I might as well poke around for a few toys.

This is how I end up with all kinds of odd sewing tools. Go for last-minute thread, walk out with gadgets. Every time I walk through Joann’s, past the fake flowers and reams of paper-craft aisles, I discover some new sticky tape or loop-turner that needs trying. This time it was the jean-a-ma-jig:

Have you tried this? I love it! You can see here how I already used it to sew over bulky seams on my leather. I’ll write more about that later…

And then, ooh, there was this cone-spool holder:

I’m sure I could’ve gotten this cheaper on Amazon but ah well. I have a couple of industrial-size spools of white thread (my one thread backstock) I bought last year that don’t fit on my machine. I’m not sure what I was thinking when I got them, but this kind of spool holder might inspire me to buy bigger cones of the basic colors I’ll always need.

And then of course there were patterns. It just so happened that they were having a sale on Vogues so I bought two. It’s been awhile since I’ve bought new Vogue designer patterns. Way back in the day before ebay and etsy, I used to stalk the pattern sales with my mom. And when the designer ones went on sale for $3.99, it was a pretty sweet deal. It still is.

I don’t wear many fitted dresses, but you never know. Plus I just wanted something to look at while laying in bed. Actually, I’d go for the draped top in the Donna Karan pattern… very Helmut Lang-ish and right up my alley. The Tracey Reese pattern has 21 pieces! And would need a serious muslin to get a proper fit with all the straps and bust shape, but can you imagine a 21-piece muslin?!

And last but not least, Amy’s enthusiasm for Craftsy courses inspired me to sign up for Susan Khalje’s Couture Dress course. I’ve been really curious about the class format, probably more than the dress. The whole presentation is so elegant–great videos, really nice graphic interface, well organized. A nice way to spend a sick day, browsing through videos!

I don’t find myself gravitating to the couture process much but I like picking up ideas from all kinds of processes. And I like her teaching personality–she’s very jolly and easy to follow. So if you are interested in couture-ing, paying $39 (thanks to Marina’s sweet offer!) for like eight hours of video instruction can’t be beat. If you’re interested in this particular course, Susan recommends several other patterns if you don’t like the course’s free pattern. The wide square neckline is my least favorite, so I’ve been hunting through my Burdas for a suitable alternative.

And thanks for the well wishes! I’m feeling much better today… (although I had to go back and make sure I didn’t post anything strange last night out of delirium.)