Last Friday at noon I completely filled the car trunk with sewing machines, project boxes, and notions and drove 95 miles northeast to Toccoa, in the North Georgia Mountains. An all sewing weekend – no cooking, dishes, laundry, or housework.
The Atlanta chapter of the American Sewing Guild holds sewing retreats twice a year. I joined about 28 women at the Georgia Baptist Conference Center. The location is very pretty, and the facility is good for this type of event with plenty of sleeping rooms (relatively spartan hotel rooms with no TVs), big workrooms, and a mess-style dining hall. It all reminded me of summer camp!
This event has a communal feel – everyone contributes to the Snack Room, the irons and cutting tables are shared, scraps of fabric are free for the taking. I learned a couple of tricks … you can purchase plastic risers to elevate a folding table so it’s the right height for cutting and doesn’t make your back ache, Panasonic makes a steam iron with stand that kicks out plenty of steam, and I get more accomplished without the distraction of a television.
I had come prepared with fabric, patterns and notions for four projects (the Jalie Eleanore jeans, McCalls blouse, Tillie & the Buttons top) and at the last minute I threw in a stretch cotton and Vogue pattern for a tunic.
Project 1 : Jeans
First project was the Jalie Eleanore jeans. The pattern was traced and cut in advance so it was a matter of just cutting the fabric and getting to work. I was intimidated by the thought of working with denim, and all of that top stitching. As it turned out, I shouldn’t have hesitated. The pattern is simple and easy to follow. I followed the instructions to a certain extent, but also took this opportunity to use a couple of tips from the Craftsy “Sew Faster, Sew Better. Garment Industry Secrets with Janet Pray” class.
- Do ‘like’ work together: Stitch as many seams as possible, then press, then topstitch, serge, etc. This was very helpful when you’re sharing an iron and cutting table.
- When topstitching denim, place the first line of stitching one needle width from the seam. This looked really slick and my topstitching was dramatically straighter!
By the time I headed up to my sleeping room on Friday night the jeans were finished with only the hem and trimming threads left for Saturday morning. Between chatting and eating, I’d guesstimate total time invested was about 6 hours.
Pattern: Jalie Eleanore
Fabric: 20% Stretch Denim (Source: Emma One Sock)
- I cut to my waist size (which is larger than my hip size). These jeans are tight – okay if you like jeggings, but I wanted jeans so next time I will go up a size. Fortunately I have fabric waiting in the closet for the next pair!
- My calves are absolutely huge. I took the advice of another blogger and cut to the largest size below the knees this worked.
- The pattern says the inseam is 32″ but it is not. Measure the inseam carefully if you don’t like the high water look.
- Don’t be afraid of this pattern!
Project 2: Long-Sleeved Tunic
I really debated which project to cut next. The weather was cooler on Saturday and I was thinking ‘fall’ so I wanted to make something cozier, which meant using a luscious cotton knit to make a long-sleeved tunic. I used this pattern a few weeks ago for a short-sleeved top, so knew what adjustments I had to make prior to cutting the fabric.
- Shortened shoulder length by 3/4″
- Added bust dart
- Added 8″ total length to the scarf so it will wrap around my neck twice
This fabric was a dream to work with – easy to sew, doesn’t fray. Since this was the second time I used this pattern it was quick to put together.
After finishing everything but the hems, I decided to make the sleeves slimmer. A few months ago I read an article that suggested making sleeves slimmer for a RTW look – so I took off about three-quarters of an inch from each sleeve, starting at the cuff and tapering to the body.
For the narrow hems on the sleeves and hem I stitched a line using fusible thread in the bobbin, then folded up once and pressed, then folded up again and topstitched. This was helpful and certainly saved time. I think this technique may work better on a lighter weight fabric, or a rolled hem.
I dawdled more on this project. In addition to more chatting, I took a long walk in the morning and got some great photos of the lake as the fog burned off. It took me all day and part of the evening to cut and sew the pattern, but by bedtime I had only to handstitch the collar edge, finish the seams and hem the bottom of the tunic.
Pattern: Vogue 9204
Fabric: Cotton Knit (Source: Elliott Berman)
Notes: Simple pattern. Easy to put together and looks very on-trend with the scarf that can be tied into a pussy bow.
Sunday morning I decided not to start another project so packed up and headed home with a new pair of jeans and new tunic. For a slow sewist – that’s an amazing amount of production for a weekend!
Why a Sewing Retreat?
So what’s the benefit of going to a Sewing Retreat? There’s the obvious – unrestricted time to work (the sewing rooms were available 24×7 and some women sewed until 4 a.m.). But there is also time with people who enjoy the same hobby. And everyone was very generous with their talent and experience, which was super helpful if you got into a tight spot, or needed help with fitting. Best of all, I was able to walk out the door and head down to the lake and enjoy a bit of fall weather.