Class · Event

Sew Expo Recap: Classes and Fabric and People, Oh My!


Photo of Helena of Gray All Day, Leah of Away I Sew!, and me at the Sew Expo

Sunday, March 2nd

It’s 5:45 am, and I am up, which is unsurprising these days thanks to our precious baby girl.  But, this morning I’m actually excited to get out of bed while it’s still dark.  Today I finally get to see what the Sewing and Stitchery Expo is all about.

After a quick shower and an even quicker breakfast, capped on all sides by some not-so-quick tending to the baby girl, we’re off to Puyallup.  This morning “we” not only includes baby girl but also includes my husband.  As we pack all of baby girl’s things in the car, I can’t help but be so very grateful that he decided to tag along and get a bit of work done while we were at the Expo.  I know having him there will make me feel so much better about being away from home for so long with our one-month-old child. As we pull into the fairgrounds, we’re greeted by masses of people crossing the street from the parking lot into the expo.  Even though I should have expected it, I’m still a bit surprised by the gender ratio I see headed that way – it seems like there are hundreds of women for every one man!  It’s quite the opposite of my experience in graduate school!  But, nonetheless, I have to admit to myself that I thought an event like this would pull all kinds out of the woodwork, resulting in a less extreme gender ratio.  But, then again, weren’t most of the teachers and featured guests women?

We are on time for my first class, and I’m eager to get in and see what it’s all about.  Baby girl has other plans though, and we’re not out of the car until we go through two diaper changes and a long bout of feeding.  The friendly parking attendant seems keen on chatting up my husband while he’s standing in the rain trying to help me change a diaper awkwardly in the car.  I hear the attendant telling my husband how he’d typically expect hundreds of more cars by now, but he thinks the weather combined with a bit of expo fatigue has kept many people away.  Yet, to me it feels like we’re already parked really far away from the expo entrance, so I’m thankful that some of the area’s sewing enthusiasts decided to sleep in this morning.

Once baby girl is in order, I think we are golden… until I can’t find my expo ticket.  As I stand in the rain emptying all of my pockets looking for the pinkish colored slip of paper – with the gate keeper yelling at me to get in, get covered, and get that baby out of the rain – I can’t for the life of me recall where I might have left the ticket.  I swear I had it just before we left the car.  As my husband starts backtracking, I follow the gate keeper’s advice and get in, get covered, and get my baby out of the rain.  And, wouldn’t you know, as soon I’m safely out of the weather and can slow my frantic searching, I see that the missing pink ticket is sitting right at the top of my diaper bag.  Crisis averted, just in time to catch my husband before he crosses back over to the parking lot on a wild goose chase.

Entering the expo for the first time is an awesome experience.  There are booths filled with fabrics and patterns and machines and notions as far as the eye can see.  I do my best to take it all in as I speed walk towards my first class, for which I am now extremely late. I enter the Strategic Sewing class taught by Nancy Nix-Rice just as she is talking about the benefits of accessorizing the neck.  And columns.  Inside and outside columns created by pants or skirts and tops or jackets in similar colors that together make a column of color that draws a viewer’s eye up to the face and serves to make the wearer look taller and thinner. I later learn that you’re best served if the color of said column is similar in shade to your face and hair. The class is loosely structured around Nancy’s new book:  Looking Good… Every Day: Style Solutions for Real Women.  I learn that her book covers various techniques to flatter and enhance a multitude of different body types, but today we focus more on generalities, sticking mainly to her method for planning twelve garments that can combine to make over 96 outfits.  The key to the wardrobe is finding a print fabric that you love and that flatters your face.  From it you make a top and a skirt.  You pull colors from the print to make ten other pieces, which include two pants in two different neutrals; two skirts in the same two neutrals; four tops in the same two neutrals and two complimentary accent colors; and three over layers in the same two neutrals and one of the two complimentary accent colors. Nancy explains how to pull these twelve pieces together to make outfits that fit and flatter.  Interestingly, it’s not a matter of just mixing and matching exactly, there are other little details that she’s learned over the years that make a lot of difference in how the outfits work.

Sew Well - Nancy Nix-Rice's Strategic Sewing

Image above from the Sewing and Stitchery Expo’s website

I chose this class because I was hoping it would help me tackle my second resewlution for 2014:  be more conscious of sewing with fabrics and patterns that flatter and fit my lifestyle.  When I listen to the lessons, I try to think about how they might apply to my own particular wardrobe. Black is one of Nancy’s no-nos, and I know that my wardrobe is filled with black (note my black sweater, black baby carrier, black bag, and black Converse in the photo above!).  But, interestingly, last fall after delving a bit into seasonal color analysis thanks to this post on color by Thewallinna, I had already begun to question whether black was a great color for me. I find it hard to believe black is universally bad, especially when Nancy says not to listen to anyone who says “always” and “never” in regards to fashion, but the idea of minimizing black still resonates with me personally.

I chuckle as Nancy breaks her rule again with another always-and-never situation:  hourglass and pear-shaped women should tuck in their shirts, while rectangular women such as me should not.  Yet, this again resonates with me.  Over and over I try to pull off the skirt-at-the-natural-waist look, and over and over I wonder why it just doesn’t feel like it flatters me the way that it does for so many others.  And, lest you think I’m being overly self-critical, though my husband is quick to praise, he often questions my judgement when I try to walk out of the house with my shirt tucked in to a skirt.

My mind wanders as I dream of going through my closet with an eye for garments that I already own that would fit into Nancy’s strategy while also working with my body type and current lifestyle.  What prints do I have that I love that could be a basis for one of these mini-wardrobes? What are my neutrals? Nancy returns back to neck accessories and drawing the eye up.  I scribble notes as she further praises scarves, twin-sets, matte jersey dresses, shoulder pads, and three-quarter-length sleeves. Even though I can’t remember the last time I thought of using shoulder pads in anything other than a tailored jacket or the last time I owned a twin set, Nancy does such a great job selling me on both of their merits, as well as the merits of her new book, that I make sure to write down her booth number before heading out of the lecture hall at the end of the class.

I have just a few minutes before my next class.  I find my husband and drag him around to a few of the booths, trying to get a better idea of what this expo is really all about.  My husband points out a cute crafty pattern in one of the more quilting-focused booths, and I am tempted, but I don’t want to break out my wallet just yet since I know that once it’s out, it’ll stay out!

Before too long I have to make my way back over to the class area for the Couture Finishing Techniques class taught by Lorene Bonewitz of Sew It Up.  I again seem to be late though as she’s already discussing needles and stitch length when I enter.  She quickly moves to the importance of not only directional sewing but also directional cutting and pressing.  We then whiz through turn of cloth and six different kinds of seam finishes.  I’m writing as fast as I can while again standing and bouncing at the back of the classroom…  …Press only after a collar has been turned so as not to undo the work you put into creating the proper turn of cloth… …Sew first from breakpoint of lapel down with front facing against the feed dogs…  …Remove the needles from your serger and then use the blade to trim the seam allowance when making French seams… …Try to find rayon seam binding for Hong Kong seams…

Next we’re on to hems.  She discusses many different types of hems, but I try to focus in on her tips for rolled hems.  For a serged rolled hem, I note that she suggests that you fuse 1/2″ strips of French tricot something or other along the fabric’s edge, that you use wooly nylon thread, and that you run the edge through the serger a second time without the knife for a more finished look.  Or, if you’re making a rolled hem using your machine, I learned that you start by sewing with a short, 1.8 stitch length all around the hem.  Then you fold the hem over on that line, press, and trim.  Finally, you roll and sew the hem again, using the line as a string and working two to three inches at a time.

We move on to pressing, and I make a mental note to find my pressing cloth, which went missing last summer after the move, and to make sure to let a garment cool before moving it back to the machine.  Then I’m frantically scribbling again until the end of the class.  When Lorene starts wrapping up, I glance back through my notes and marvel at how much information was packed into less than an hour. I had low expectations since the class only cost $5. I actually even thought I might already know a decent amount of what would be taught, but as I stand at the back of the lecture hall bouncing with my baby girl strapped to my chest, I realize I have quite a bit to learn when it comes to sewing.  I’m still very much a novice!

Then, to finish the class, there appears to be a raffle.  I can’t even believe my fortune when they announce my number as the first of two winners! What a pleasant surprise, and a great end to a great class.

As I pack up my expanse of baby things littering the back corner of the lecture hall, I notice two very familiar faces walking towards me.  I’m pleasantly surprised to learn that Helena of Gray All Day and Leah of Away I Sew! were also in the class.  As we are introducing ourselves and chatting it up, Far of Memoryseed also appears.  She, too, was in the class, but she can’t say much more than hello since she has to run off to a fitting session she scheduled with a teacher earlier in the day.

I’m tempted to skip my next class to go tour the expo with Helena and Leah, but like the diligent student that I am, I leave them to their fun and head over to the Sew Instantly Slimming Pants class taught by Kathy Ruddy.  She launches right into tricks to get great fitting pants.  I note her trick for getting the bagginess out of the under seat area is a different than the method I learned in Kenneth D. King’s Jean-ius class, though I decide it probably removes fabric in mostly the same way.  I also note the simple tricks she learned by dissecting a pair of Not Your Daughter’s Jeans.  Though the denim they use is very stretchy, the front pockets, which are sewn from side seam all the way to the front, are made of a woven fabric.  Kathy explains that the clever design uses the woven to cinch you in at the front, while lifting the back as the woven pulls the stretchy denim forward.  I smile from ear to ear when she pulls out an SA Curve Ruler to mark the seam allowances of the pattern she’s drafting at the front of the room.  I’ve written about those rulers many times on the blog (most recently here), and I love knowing they’re used by the big names as well!

After this class finishes, I find my husband again, and we talk food as we’re both starving.  He runs off to get us something to eat, and I snag another peek at the expo.  I notice that most of the women with babies or toddlers are pushing them around in strollers.  I laugh at myself for never having even considered a stroller, which would have made touring the expo so much easier, but I know it’s because baby girl has trained me to carry her at all costs.

My break quickly ends, and I run off to my next class, Tailored Jackets Made the Modern Way taught by Nancy Siefert.  I realize it’s not only me that’s hungry – baby girl is as well.  As I sit on the ground at the back of the hall and secretly nurse baby girl, I still try to take a few notes.  I learn that a favorite detail of Nancy’s is the inner cell phone pocket, that sleeve length is set by where the sleeve hits the top of your hand as your hand is pressed flat against a table, and that by modern tailored jacket she means one that uses fusible interfacing to direct its shape.  I note that you use heavier fusible interfacing on the front and under-collar, lighter fusible interfacing on the facing and over-collar, and sew-in interfacing for the back stay.  I also learn that you should always test fuse your interfacing to your fashion fabric to test its drape and stiffness, and then you can then use that sample to make test buttonholes.  And, I learn that before fusing your interfacing to the actual cut fashion fabric, you should check for any distortion since you’ll lock them in once you fuse.

In fact, I learn quite a lot:  how to cut and add extra oomph to the under-collar, tips on pressing, how to sew a welt pocket, how to sew the roll line as well as the neckline, how to clip the arm seam, how to ease in the sleeve using a bit of bias self-fabric, and more.  I do get bit lost when she’s covering mitered corners and bagged linings though, a bit due to subject overload and a bit due to baby girl.

After the tailored jacket class ends and I inhale the food that my husband brought me, I head off to another class by Nancy Nix-Rice, Sew Skinny.  This class starts off very similar to the first by covering shoulder pads and color continuity, but I figure I’m getting to hear a bit of what I probably missed this morning.  Then we dive into color and dressing for body types.  Since the lessons on color are all relative and seem to be set by what looks best on each individual, it’s hard to take too many notes for what might work for me per se.

But, I do try to take a lot of notes on what flatters a rectangular shape:  straight, semi-fitted silhouettes; no color break at the waist; long column of color with a small amount of shaping; long jackets that hit at the hip; skinny pants; over-layer tops; untucked shirts; details that give motion…  I can’t catch it all, but I think I get the general gist.

After another quick glimpse at the expo, I head to my last class of the day:  Sew Like a Pro with Connie Crawford.  Connie starts off by sharing her path into fashion design, and I’m nearly knocked off my feet when she gets to the part where she explains that she learned on day one in the industry that you should cut your fashion fabric when it is pinned to a paper backing since the paper backing serves to keep the fabric perfectly in place.  Supposedly fabric and paper together won’t dull your shears any more than fabric alone will.

Furthermore, she goes on to knock down so many other of my home-sewing truisms.  You should not use tracing paper.  You should use 1/4″ seam allowances instead of 5/8″.  You should not clip into your seam allowances.  You can sew over your pins when they are properly inserted into the fabric.  You should not use a basting stitch in order to set in a shoulder but instead “crimp” it prior to setting it in.  You should not gather anything at all period with a basting stitch but instead use a gathering foot… I scramble to write down technique after technique, but, as the list goes on and on, baby girl let’s me know that she is finally done with classes.  She’s awake, and she’s ready to go home.  Leah is also in the class with me, and though I had started off the class hopeful that I would get at least a quick little tour of the expo with her, I realize instead that I’m going to be headed home sooner rather than later.

After the class is over I do catch Leah for a few minutes in the hopes that a bit of walking will help calm baby girl down.  We run into Far again and start talking fabric as we head over to the American Sewing Guild booth.  Baby girl doesn’t last long though, and after Far leaves, I say my goodbyes as well.  It’s been a long but very good day.  I know I’ve learned a lot, and I’m hopeful I’ll be able to come back again next year.

My little family packs up and heads out without buying a single thing at the expo.  Except for a strawberry shortcake.  There just wasn’t enough time to even consider buying the books and notions I was so convinced I needed during the earlier classes.  I am not leaving empty handed though.  My raffle prize from the Couture Finishing Techniques class was a cute little tailor’s ham.  My third, in fact.  I think I may need to have a tailor’s ham giveaway here pretty soon…  Does anyone out there need a tailor’s ham?!

And, my other big question – what do you think about cutting out your fashion fabric when it’s pinned to paper?  If I had any paper large enough, I just might be tempted to try it on the silk blouse that’s currently on my sewing table.  Too bad I stopped getting the newspaper years ago…  Though, who knows, maybe my shears are rejoicing that the only paper I have around is 8 1/2″ by 11″…

Helena’s write up on the Sew Expo can be found here. Leah’s Sew Expo sewing celebrity (sewlebrity?!) posts are here and here.

UPDATE:  Ever since the birth of baby girl, I hardly have any time to read blogs (you don’t even want to know how many unread posts I have!), so I only now found Sham of Communing with Fabric‘s posts on her trip to the Sew Expo:  why she went, her whirlwind day, her meeting with Vogue, and the inspiring garments she saw.

19 thoughts on “Sew Expo Recap: Classes and Fabric and People, Oh My!

  1. You learned more in one day with a baby strapped on your chest than I do with two free hands in two days!! Thanks for sharing and for taking such great notes!

  2. What a great first Expo, Amy! And I am so impressed that you braved it with your new baby! It is too bad that we didn’t go the same day – it would have been nice to see you again.

  3. I am really impressed you managed to fit in so many classes and retain so much new knowledge with “baby girl” and being a new mom, Well done. I learned new things after reading this. Thanks for sharing because I was unable to go this year and last year only toured the expo. It sounds like the classed were very good.

  4. I enjoyed reading about your experience at Sewing Expo and the classes you took. I have yet to take a class there; I usually browse and shop.

  5. I went to the expo too! Interesting to hear about your classes. One of my classes too mentioned the paper fabric sandwich. I will try it. I went to a few fitting classes and they all contradicted each other lol! I felt like I was not really the target demographic at all and that was sort of a bummer. If you are looking for some really up to date fashion advice, I highly recommend Angie does talk about body types except she does not make rules and doesn’t use the word never. She says the devil is in the details and makes suggestions for how to make certain things work for your body.She is a fashion stylist that lives in Seattle and has many years in the business. She is a breath of fresh air in the world of shouldn’t ,age appropriateness etc….

  6. I am so impressed by your energy to attend the expo and soak up all the knowledge from all those classes with your new baby in tow. And your dedication to share all of it with us. I really enjoyed reading this post. Thank you.

  7. Oh my! What an intense day! I’m impressed you and baby girl lasted the whole day! The courses sound really interesting and very thought provoking. I’m not sure I’d cut my fabric on paper. Mainly because I don’t have paper big enough and for something stable like cotton or wool I’m not sure it’s needed. Silk on the other hand, yes, paper is a must!
    My mind is blown just reading your recap! I bet you’re still reeling!

  8. I got an end roll of paper from a printer and it works perfect, but is a little on the think side. I use it mostly for tracing. I think your best bet would be go to a beauty supply store and buy a roll of examination paper, it is thinner and I think that would work well.

  9. Congratulations on the birth of baby girl, and thank you for sharing your experience. I agree with your take on “Always” and “Never”–and find it quite comical that the click-thru to Nancy’s website shows her resplendent in BLACK. Just sayin’. Conni provides the other odd platitude–paper in most forms really does dull shears meant for fabric. Tracing paper and pattern paper is technically paper, so we all cut through “paper” with our shears. Using tracing paper as a backing and sew thru stabilizer for slippery fabrics such as charmeuse is helpful, but not a mandate for most other fabrics. A corrugated cardboard cuttingboard with inch and yard markings is helpful for straightening goods, and a few pins holding the selvedge to the edge while pinning pattern pieces will keep most fabrics from shifting. We must all temper “expert input” with experience, confidence and common sense.

  10. Amy, it was great finally meeting you and your family last Sunday 🙂 That little baby is just too cute! I’m still recuperating from the expo – sore to the bones still. But very happy nonetheless. So glad you took great notes and share them with us! 😉 I will definitely refer to yours like a lazy student I am! I like what Bernadette in the comment above concluded: “we must all temper “expert input” with experience, confidence and common sense.” She puts it so succinctly 🙂

  11. My 13 yo daughter had sleep apnea until she had her tonsils out at age 3.5 so I understand your sleep deprivation.

    You can cut silk layered over paper and not dull your scissors if you use examining room paper, which my doctor sells to me at her cost ($3/roll). Ask your doctor.

  12. What a great post! I felt like I was there with you. I am so impressed that you were able to go (many thanks to the helpful hubby!) and absorb so much. When my daughter was that age, I carried her everywhere, too. I think carrying is easier than a stroller! Until you get tired, that is 😉
    Congratulations on your lovely little bundle of joy.

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