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Janome Jem

Renee of Miss Celie’s Pants fame convinced me to write a little blog post on my experience with the Janome Jem since there are not a whole lot of info/reviews about it online, and she is basically my all-things-sewing-blog guru, so of course I had to do it!

Back in August I found out that I would be living in Savannah, GA for three months. I travel a lot for work, but I hadn’t had to do an extended stay out of town in several years, so I was ill prepared to say the least. Although I have owned at least one sewing machine since my college days, it is only in the past 4 years that sewing has become an indispensable artistic outlet for me, so my first thought was to get my hands on a travel sewing machine that I could tote around with me on this and all future out-of-town jobs lasting longer than a week. Although production hours are generally long and arduous, there can be a lot of down time in between shooting days, and being bored on location is something I have struggled with in the past, so I was excited to have something fun to do with all my extra time in Savannah.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BJ0g9X5hzaA/?taken-by=jasikaistrycurious

I did a bit of googling online to try and find a machine that stood out to me, but I was overwhelmed. I like to do a lot of research and price checking before I make almost any online purchase, but with less than a week til I was leaving LA and with so much packing to do, I didn’t have as much time I would have liked. But Renee came to the rescue!!!! She is that one friend who keeps her eyes and ears out for virtually any item at any time and stores it all in some file cabinet in her brain, just in case she or someone else needs the information in the future. This has worked out in my favor more than once in our friendship so far and I feel very thankful for her friendship and know-how!

I wrote an IG post (which is the social media outlet that has also become indispensable to me ever since I got rid of my facebook account) asking if anyone had suggestions on a good travel sewing machine and of course Renee piped in with a few great ideas. I am a bit of a sucker for cute design aesthetics, and if you do a simple google search for “mini sewing machine” you can see how inundated I was with tiny machines in bright pastel colors with adorably rounded edges. The mini John Lewis machine in particular caught my eye and was co-signed by a couple of my IG followers, but Renee steered me clear of that one (I’m sure it’s a great machine, but I needed something I could make JEANS on!)

I tried to focus less on the appearance of the machine and instead on how well it worked and how many bells and whistles it could combine with a lightweight body. I knew that at the end of the day I would rather have a regular-looking workhorse sewing machine that could do almost everything my Bernina 350 does than one that was super cute but couldn’t handle the type of sewing I would need it for. And that’s how I we settled on the Janome Jem, which was Renee’s very first suggestion. I have a Janome serger that I bought used on CL several years ago that I LOVELOVELOVE (it took everything in my power not to pack it up and bring it with me on my travels) so I knew what a fine name it was, but not all machines, even within the same brand, are created equal. Thankfully the Janome Jem Gold did not disappoint!

I can’t remember why Renee had this machine on her radar, but we talked about a few other machines when we were trying to narrow my options, specifically trying to get my hands on a Singer featherweight. Obviously I would love to own such a machine at some point in my life, but finding one in the used-machine market that was affordable and didn’t need a lot of work during my time restraints seemed like an arduous task, and I still hadn’t even finished packing! Ultimately we also decided that, although used machines are awesome and I personally prefer to buy used over new, it made more sense to get a new machine for my needs. Buying new took out a lot of the guesswork and since I didn’t have a car in Savannah, it would not have been easy to get a vintage or used machine tuned up or fixed if something went awry with it. The price point for the Janome Jem was right in line with what I was looking to spend (I paid less than $250 for it on amazon) and it offered a decent selection of stitches without adding too much weight/bulk to the body. This machine has 8 stitches which you can access manually by turning a dial, including 2 stretch stitches/ zigzags and an overlock stitch, and it also had a button hole maker, which was a necessity for me since my first project was to complete six Grainline Archer button down shirts for Claire (one is not pictured below because it got finished after this photo was taken).

Speaking of bulk/weight, this was my main concern when buying a travel sewing machine- I really wanted it to be lightweight. I didn’t want a toy machine that was 6 pounds or anything, but I wanted something that I could conceivably put in a carry-on suitcase that wouldn’t slow me down too much. A lot of the “travel” and “mini” sewing machines that I found online were actually much heavier than I imagined they would be, but the Janome Jem came in at 14.1 pounds, which was one of the most lightweight machines I read about that combined as many bells and whistles as it did: again, 8 stitches and a 4 step buttonhole maker, plus a bobbin winder, needle threader, top loading bobbin, and (some) metal parts.

At the time, I thought the downside of the machine was that you couldn’t change the length or width on the stitches, which seemed limiting- the machine offers a tight straight stitch, a regular straight stitch and a basting stitch, with about the same amount of options for zigzags (although surprisingly this machine does come with a triple zigzag, something even my Bernina doesn’t have). I wondered how much this would affect my sewing, in the event that I needed more than three lengths of a straight or zigzag stitch for a project. But after using the machine for a few weeks, I realized this wasn’t a downside at all; in reality I didn’t need any more options than what came with the machine. Obviously I used the regular straight stitch and the basting stitches most often, and I used the tighter straight stitch once or twice, but the real surprise was getting so much good use out of the zig zag stitches.

Because I didn’t have a serger with me, I had assumed that I wouldn’t even attempt to sew knits, but somehow I ended up packing in my sewing suitcase a fresh cut of a Liberty floral knit that The Fabric Store started carrying right before I left town, and I couldn’t bear to let it sit so long untouched! I know how to sew knits on a regular machine, I just never have the need for it because my serger does it so much better, but for the sake of turning that fabric into something wearable, I dusted off my knit-sewing skills and zigzagged my way through a Closet Case Files’ Sallie Maxi Dress. And you know what? The dress came out great! It doesn’t have the same streamlined look on the insides as it would had I used a serger, but it still looks tidy and it has held up beautifully with a lot of wear!

In addition to sewing the knit maxi, I also used the zig zag functions to sew up a couple of bra and panty sets and a Named Patterns Sointu Tee– all came out really beautifully. But my most impressive project was to sew a pair of jeans from start to finish on this machine. As anyone who has sewn jeans can attest to, working on a sturdy, powerful machine is half the battle; those denim layers get really thick and hard to navigate under a sewing foot. But the Janome Jem handled my medium weight denim like a champ, including all the top stitching, and I actually had more trouble pounding my rivets and buttons in without my normal tools than I had constructing the actual pants.

Finally, it’s important to note what the machine feels like to sew on. Because it’s fairly lightweight I was worried it would be jumping and dancing around my sewing table as soon as I pressed the pedal, but that was not the case at all. It is a surprisingly sturdy machine, and the one I bought came with a special rubber mat to use underneath it, keeping it from sliding around on slippery surfaces. The machine is quieter than I thought it would be, and really smooth. It came equipped with a couple of feet but I had others to use on it too (they are snap-on) and everything worked well. I was particularly fond of the ease with which it makes its zig zags; some machines can be a little jerky when the needle is operating in anything other than a straight stitch, but this beauty zig zagged efficiently and smoothly. Compared to my Bernina, this machine was just as smooth to sew on and only a tiny bit louder, but compared to my 1950’s Singer, it is practically silent!

So YAY for the Janome Jem! I plan to use this machine to loan out to friends who might need to use one short term or who are looking to learn on something simple and user-friendly.

Now, aside from reviewing the sewing machine, I also wanted to write a little about my adventures in sewing “on the road” as it were, although technically I wasn’t really on the road very often, but rather stationary in a place that was not my craft room. I tried to be very deliberate in how and what I packed for my three months away because I tend to overpack, which is something I am very self conscious about, being that I am married to someone who could probably travel with little more than a knapsack on a 2 month long journey (this past Christmas is the first time I have checked a bag on a non-business trip in like 7 years, and it was all because I couldn’t fit my Vogue coat in anything smaller).

 

Anyways, one suitcase (the larger one) was all clothes, shoes, accessories and toiletries, and the medium sized suitcase was all sewing stuff- fabric, notions, tools, etc. I packed my sewing machine into my carry-on along with my portable rice cooker (who can spend three months without perfect rice??) Three suitcases for three months- not bad considering I was bringing along half my craft room!

 

In being deliberate about what I packed, I also made sure to plan out what projects I could conceivably tackle while I was away. I brought a pattern for every cut of fabric I packed, plus a couple more in case I bought any fabric while in Savannah (which I did). I knew I wanted to work on perfecting my boned bodice construction, so I brought steel boning in addition to wire cutters- that was the one “splurge” in my suitcase. Everything else I brought was for general sewing and I used almost every single item at least once. My sewing box included but was not limited to:

  • chalk pens
  • needles and magnetic holder
  • safety pins
  • machine needles for stretch, silk, denim and regular cotton fabrics
  • a couple of zippers that matched the fabric I brought
  • thread in several shaded
  • enough buttons for 6 Archer shirts
  • tape for PDF patterns
  • Fray-Stop fabric glue for buttonholes
  • seam ripper
  • separate scissors for fabric and paper
  • ribbon for waist stays (I just realized that I didn’t end up using these!)
  • horse hair braid for stabilizing a hem (didn’t use this either)
  • clothing tags
  • transfer paper
  • beeswax
  • a sewing gift from Oona
  • boning casing

I used every single fabric I originally brought with me except for one, although when I got to go back to LA briefly after a month in Savannah, I got more fabric to bring back with me, and not all of that got used- but it was close! For a bunch of reasons that I wont get into here, I ended up moving 5 times during my first month in Savannah before I got settled in a very cute (and possibly haunted, even though I don’t really believe in ghosts) apartment downtown. So my efficient packing was put to the test several times as I changed rooms and hotels. But sewing in a hotel room was not nearly as painful as I thought it would be, and was actually fairly comfortable.

My first order of business was to make sure everything had a place and there was no clutter, so I got rid of everything the hotel likes to stack on the desk (phone, hotel services binder, notepads and pens, etc.) and put my machine and mat there. I used the tiny coffee table as my main cutting/construction area, but I would occasionally have to move to the floor, which I hated because hotel carpets are sketchy and it would wreak havoc on my back. I placed a couple of plastic bags around the room so that I could put my threads, scraps and sewing detritus in them easily- I didn’t want the people who cleaned the hotel rooms to have extra work to do on account of my hobby. And that was pretty much all she wrote!

After I moved out of the hotel and into my apartment, sewing got even easier because the space was bigger and there was a ribs-high dining table that I could cut my fabric on, which meant I could stand up while doing it (less floor cutting for me). There was also a large desk in the living room which could hold my machine and my sewing box with plenty of extra space left over. It was a super comfortable set up, and although I missed my large cutting table and my rotary cutter like nobody’s business, I was able to get a lot of really great sewing done during my three months. I never figured out a good way to photograph myself wearing my makes because I didn’t bring our good camera or the tripod, and I was usually too embarrassed to ask someone to take photos of me (one of my many downfalls). So a lot of the photos of my completed projects were taken once I was back home. But below is a play-by-play of everything that got made on Savannah soil. Hopefully this can serve as a little inspiration for any of you other sewcialists interested in making things #sewnawayfromhome!

Lemon Print Jaquard Dress:

Svaneke No. 8 Dress in Swan fabric (haven’t blogged this yet):

Pink Wool Kelly Anorak:

Bleached Denim High-Waist Morgan Jeans:

Alamada Kimono Robe:

Striped Organza Party Dress:

Brillant Bouquet Dress:

Kimono Tee by Named Patterns (unblogged):

https://www.instagram.com/p/BNBHg_GBi75/?taken-by=jasikaistrycurious

These Cloth Habit Watson Bra and Panty sets (unblogged):

Black&Blue&Luxe #watsonbraandbikini with lace from @tailormadeshop ❤️

A photo posted by Jasika Nicole (@jasikaistrycurious) on

https://www.instagram.com/p/BMUhItzBV7C/?taken-by=jasikaistrycurious

my first pair of knitted socks (unblogged):

Obligatory Sock Finishment Photo ™

A photo posted by Jasika Nicole (@jasikaistrycurious) on

Sallie Maxi Dress (unblogged):

 

 

 

 

 

Brillant Bouquet

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This dress is BRILLIANT (hence it’s name) and it is hands-down the fabric (from none other than The Fabric Store!) that makes it so exceptional. I am unsure of the fiber content of this textile so I wont even speculate about it here, but I can tell you how it handles and looks in person: it has a significant amount of body, is sturdy but soft to the touch (not scratchy like some textiles of it’s ilk), it holds its shape well with no folding or creasing, and it has a very delicate sheen on its surface without looking glittery or shiny.

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This is the first panel fabric that I have ever sewn and I couldn’t have chosen a better material to start with, but, like many memorable relationships, I’m not sure if I chose this fabric or it chose me! It grabbed my attention from across the store because of the bright orange flowers and interesting color combination- I would never imagine that lavender, orange and deep blue would work so well together, but I guess that’s why I’m not a fabric designer! HA!

I had no idea what I would make with this fabric when it came home with me, but I knew my choices of pattern would be narrowed down considerably because of the unique qualities of the print and the hand. The fabric is stable without being crispy and it also has a lot of volume, so drape-y, flowy and gathered designs were out of the question. The panel flowers also needed to be taken into consideration- I needed a pattern that would let the bright print of the flowers take center stage. I rifled through my pinterest boards for pattern inspiration but didn’t find anything that grabbed me, so on a whim I decided to take a look at the By Hand London catalogue. I had most recently made the Anna dress to tremendous success and I wanted to see what other patterns I might have overlooked that would work for my unique fabric.

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I had seen the Flora dress before but it didn’t really stand out to me at the time, probably because the dress on the model is cut fairly short and I generally stay away from those lengths on my frame- I also have a love/hate relationship with high-low skirts and dresses. But this time around, armed with a specific fabric in mind, the Flora dress pattern seemed like the perfect partner to my Brilliant Bouquet fabric. The pattern has wide pleats at the waist instead of darts, which, depending on my panel placement, was a must since I didn’t want to break up the line of the flowers if possible. I also thought that pleats would create a more interesting look with my full-bodied fabric than darts would. The bodice I chose for the Flora dress (there are two options) was simple and understated, which seemed like a nice contrast to the drama of the skirt, and I thought that keeping the flower print at the bottom of the skirt and having it complete before the start of the bodice would look nice.

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The majority of my mental concentration came when trying to place the skirt properly on the print. The skirt, which is essentially a 3/4 circle, is made of three pieces- one for the front which is cut on the fold, and two for the back. The waistband of the skirt is curved but the panel print is placed straight across the fabric, perpendicular to the straight grain, so trying to determine the smartest way to take advantage of pattern placement without having the line of the flowers broken up was nearly impossible. At this point I realized that having a dart in the skirt as opposed to pleats would have been helpful in terms of keeping the flower print continuous across the skirt. But ultimately I decided that the break in print placement could be an intentional design choice, especially coupled with the full folds of the pleats, so I forged ahead and cut out my pattern pieces as planned (but not before taking several deep breaths!).

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I cut the front piece of the skirt a couple of inches longer than the pattern called for and I extended the length of the back pieces to give a more dramatic look to the skirt’s silhouette. This design choice was inspired by a photo I had come across a while ago on tumblr:

I am OBSESSED with the look of the main fabric contrasted with the printed lining, and I thought I could try it out with my Flora dress by lining the back skirt pieces with the main fabric so that the panel print was visible underneath, too, but, for several reasons, it didn’t quite work out. For one thing, my Brilliant Bouquet fabric has way too much body for a lining of the same material- it would have created even more volume and the pleats would not have formed properly. Secondly, the high-low length of the skirt of my Flora dress isn’t dramatic enough for you to see the lining beneath it- to accomplish this look I would have needed to make the dress almost floor length, and there was not enough room between the panel prints to accommodate that much fabric.

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In the end, everything worked out for the best- I love how the Flora dress came out even without a special lining, and I am excited to try and recreate the above look on a future garment (and hopefully in that same lemon color because OMG it’s stunning). The only thing I wish I had done differently is put pockets in the dress, because they would have worked so well coupled with the volume of the skirt, and who doesn’t love pockets when they don’t interfere with the silhouette of a garment?? The dress is super comfortable and the fit is wonderful, which is an impressive feat for me since the entire thing was sewn in my temporary apartment in Savannah without a proper standing mirror or dress form- there was lot’s of arm-contortion involved when trying to get my zipper placement right, but I must say that I am getting pretty good at it!

Love for The Fabric Store with a Liberty Make

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After Claire and I moved to LA from Vancouver a few years ago, my sewing habit accelerated tremendously. There were plenty of reasons for this, but a big one was The Fabric Store. Based out of Australia, their LA store opening coincided with our arrival to the city, and walking through it’s doors was a revelation.

My past fabric shopping experiences had been limited to gigantic storefronts like Joann’s, a national chain, and Dress-Sew, a Vancouver staple. I liked being able to buy so many tools and notions at these places, but when it came to fabric, shopping was a chore. These stores try to pack so much into it’s walls that the fabric displays always seemed to be sloppy and disorganized, which wasn’t conducive to walking through the aisles and waiting to see “what grabbed you”, (one of my personal favorite methods of shopping). And even if I did walk into these stores with a specific type of fabric in mind, it took a while to hunt down the section I needed and even longer to sort through all the cheap, poor quality fabrics to find something suitable for my project. It didn’t help that I was still learning about textiles and had lots of questions to ask that no one ever seemed to be available to answer. At this point I had had so many poor customer service experiences with MOOD that I vowed never to shop there again, so big box stores and online retailers seemed to be my only resort.

The Fabric Store changed everything for me. I had been in lots of cute neighborhood fabric stores with beautifully arranged bolts lining the walls, but these shops almost exclusively sold quilting cottons- great for when I started out, but limiting when I wanted to expand my wardrobe beyond the cutesy prints that quilting cottons offer. The Fabric Store had everything great about these smaller independent stores (helpful employees, easy to navigate aisles, fabric that was reachable and viewable, clean and tidy space) but it also had a huge range of fabric! And not just fabric, GLORIOUS fabric! High quality silks, laces, apparel cottons, jewel colored merino wools from NZ, selvage denim, knits, brocades, charmeuse- literally everything you could think of, The Fabric Store had it. The store was wonderfully curated, as if your designer friend with impeccable taste pulled all her favorite fabrics into one room and invited you to worship her textile palate. As soon as I entered the store for the first time, my heart sank a little as I whispered to Claire “Oh, no…this place is going to be way too expensive for me.” I had assumed that a store this clean, this classy, this light-filled (what, no flourescents??) would be way out of my price range, so you can imagine my shock when I glanced at a few price tags and realized that they had a healthy range of prices, with some cottons starting as low as $8, higher prices for designer prints, and everything else falling in mid-range.

My makes immediately improved once I started buying fabric from a store that provided such high quality and inspiring textiles, and this in turn encouraged me to create even more, so it is a genuine pleasure to team up with them as an official ambassador for their brand and share some new makes with you- after all, I’ve been doing it for years!

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I was really excited to get my hands on some Liberty of London prints since The Fabric Store started carrying them in stores a couple of months ago. In person, these fabrics did not disappoint, and I was surprised to see so many different designs within their brand- I had no idea that they made prints outside of the floral genre! So many stunning pieces, so little time! Thankfully I had Claire around to help me narrow down my selection, and one of the winners was this incredible Liberty silk which features an abstracted cityscape in shades of pink and mint green on a black background. The fabric is truly luxurious, one of those supple, smooth, glide-y silks that you want to live against your skin. I’m still not a fan of working with silks, but with a fabric this great you kind of have to get past your personal issues and just vow to work carefully and slowly.

After a quick, completely un-scientific poll on instagram, I decided to make the Anna dress by By Hand London. In the past, I have had trouble getting their designs to fit my buxom bottom, but because this dress features a high waistline with a flared skirt, I took a chance that it would suit my shape well without a ton of adjustments, and I was totally right!

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I made a muslin in a size 6 for the bust and 8 for the waist and hips, and it fit pretty great after I took in the back bodice pieces slightly. Because this is such a high quality fabric and because this garment will be added to my #redcarpetDIY trove, I wanted to make sure the finishing inside was very neat, pretty and professional looking. I, like Renee (my new sewing friend- whom you all might know as Miss Celie’s Pants – that I got to hang out with in real life a couple of weeks ago!!!!!) am a real big fan of quick and dirty serging to finish seams, but I pulled it together, took my time, and did this dress justice.

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All inside skirt seams are french seamed, except for the back seam with the zipper (which is a Hong Kong seam) and the seam with the thigh slit, which is just turned under itself twice and sewn down. The bodice is finished with Hong Kong seams as well, and umm…does anyone have a good tip for finishing a clipped curved seam?? I usually just sew the bias binding onto it with all these gaps going through it and it doesn’t look very good but I don’t know what else to do!

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The Anna Dress, like all By Hand London patterns, was very easy to follow and construction was a breeze, even with all the french and Hong Kong seams. From starting the muslin to finishing the final garment, it took a total of about 3 days, and that’s with extra careful, very slow sewing with the slippery silk I had to contend with. I must be getting better at sewing with finicky fabrics because this garment didn’t give me much trouble at all and I didn’t feel like burning it in a fire when it was all done.

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I am in absolute love with the dress and I cannot WAIT to wear it to a function. I love the bold print and the unique color combination and I love how well the pattern is suited to the Liberty print- it really lets the drama of the textile design take center stage, while still feeling sexy and comfortable. I definitely want to make this Anna in a see-through lace like in one of the pattern samples on By Hand London’s site, so of course I will be keeping my eye out for a perfect match at The Fabric Store 🙂

(photos by the lovely and talented Claire J. Savage!)