Etymology Notes: Is DIY the new Amateur?

As an English professor, I spend a lot of time thinking about words, definitions, and phraseology. I am especially interested in observing how language changes over time. Something I have noticed lately is that the word DIY (or DIYer) keeps popping up in descriptions for sewing-related books, equipment, TV shows, etc. I am extremely confused by the phrase “DIY sewer” – if you are sewing, a sewist, a sewer, a seamstress, or a tailor, doesn’t that inherently mean that you are doing-it-yourself? Why the need for redundancy?

That got me to thinking about the advent of the modern DIY movement and the creation of the DIY network (a spin-off from HGtv). When those shows were using the term DIY, it was to differentiate between a professional who is paid to do the job versus a person who does the work as a hobby or sideline interest, just for their own applications.

Funny, though, we already had a word that meant “unpaid work” – Amateur. An amateur artist is someone who paints for enjoyment and not as their paid profession; an amateur carpenter does woodworking as a hobby and not their primary source of income; an amateur seamstress sews for herself and her family and not as a commercial enterprise. Frequently, amateurs can be just as technically skilled as professionals. The only difference is that an amateur does NOT use their skills as their source of income. That is it. That’s the only difference.

The problem is that amateur has been used as a disparaging term often enough that it has become negatively connotated. That is, it comes with a negative emotional “flavor” that is not inherently part of the dictionary (i.e., denotative) definition of the word. So there have been enough times that someone said, “pfft, what an AMATEUR.” or “wow, that is so amateurish,” that the word can no longer be used as a matter-of-fact label that simply means unpaid. Thus, the need for a new word that can mean unpaid and does not have the emotional baggage of amateur is what led to the term DIYer.

I still maintain that it’s kind of silly to say DIY sewer, though. If you aren’t doing it yourself, then how can you be sewing? But that’s a [word] problem for another day.

~ Julia


Analysis Paralysis, Procrastination, and Other Excuses (Grey Aurora Tee)

Y’all! I finished a project AND took pictures of me wearing it! And now I’m writing a blog post about it! WHO AM I?! But seriously, this is something that I would like to get better about in 2018. I want to finish more “cake” projects that I can incorporate into my daily wear, plus I want to get better about documenting the things that I make so that I have a better record of what works, what doesn’t, and what I would like to do differently next time.

This project is the Aurora Tee (view A) by Hey June Patterns in a deep stash marled grey mystery jersey with good drape and high polyester content. Knowing my old fabric buying habits, it was likely acquired from Denver Fabrics or at least 7 years ago, but I’m sure it would be relatively easy to find a similar fabric now. I had about a yard and a half of it, which ended up being the perfect amount for me to cut out the pieces for a size S. Because the marl runs at an acute angle to the grain of the fabric, it was a major pain in the ass to get the fabric laid out flat for cutting so that I wouldn’t end up with twisted side seams; I have enough twisted ready-to-wear t-shirts, so it’s something I want to avoid in my sewing.


(Insert typical disclaimer about ignoring my un-fixed hair and boring makeup)

I LOVE this top! It’s similar to one that I bought at the Lucky Brand outlet a few years ago which gets a ton of wear, so I plan to make several more. The fit is loose, but the side seams are curved in at the waist so that it doesn’t look completely shapeless. I did not make any alterations to the pattern and I sewed it exactly as the instructions specify, to include using the interfaced facing for the neckline rather than a neckband.


Most of the other people who have made up this pattern have swapped the facings out for a neckband, which would make this shirt more like a RTW tee. However, the facing gave me a good place to put my label and helps to further stabilize the neckline so that it doesn’t get overly stretched – it is already a nice, wide neck (not quite a boatneck, but close) and if it wasn’t stabilized with the knit interfacing, there would be increased likelihood of bra-strap-peek. As it is, I had no problems with that particular issue while doing my usual activities in this top.


I love a shirttail hem because I am a curvy girl with a shelf-ass, so without some extra length I end up doing a plumber whenever I sit/bend/move. I don’t necessarily need the curved hem in the front, but I do like the style. I might try a hi-low hem hack on a future make.


The lower sleeves are fitted, but without being constricting. I plan to give this shirt to my BFF because polyester makes me overheat something awful, and I’m confident that the sleeves will not be tight enough to trigger her tactile sensitivity. Hopefully she’ll get plenty of wear out of this t-shirt!



As far as construction details, I ended up using all three of my machines so that I could get a clean, simple finish. Of note, the seam allowances are 1/2in and not the 5/8in that is standard with Big 4 patterns. I serged the pieces together, top-stitched the facing down to the neckline with a plain straight stitch and used a few tailor’s tacks on the shoulder seams to hold it in place, then coverstitched the hem and sleeves.



The most important part of hemming is always to get it nicely turned and pressed before you sew/serge/coverstitch anything. That way, you can see the finished length and ensure an even edge before you secure it in place; this saves a lot of ripping and unpicking. And it may seem silly to press a t-shirt while you’re sewing it – let’s be honest, it’ll never be touched by an iron ever again – but it really does help with getting a clean, professional look on the finished garment.

Overall, I am extremely happy with my Aurora tee and will be making many more out of several types of drapey knits that I have had in my stash for years. I will probably make a few with neckbands just for variety (and once I run out of knit interfacing), but I highly recommend making at least one with a facing to see how you like it. Much like the difference between a coverstitched hem, a raw hem, a turned plain hem, or a serged hem, it’s really more about the look you like and what techniques you prefer to use. One more technique tool for the toolbox!

Hopefully I’ll be able to ride my finished-project high from this t-shirt and not go for another month without making anything. Fingers crossed =)

~ Julia


#2018MakeNine My Way

Instead of setting specific goals (sewing and otherwise) for 2018, I’m trying to keep things a bit more loose. I’ve realized that the more specific my queue gets, the less likely I am to make any progress and the more likely I am to feel guilty about that lack of progress. So… if the game sucks, change the rules! My two pseudo-resolutions for 2018 are:

1. Do new things incrementally and at a more gradually increasing level of difficulty rather than starting at expert/insanity level and burning out after one week.

2. Be more deliberate and intentional with food choices instead of just eating whatever I feel like eating when I’m hungry.

Now that I’ve got that down, I’ll move on to my sewing-specific 2018 pseudo-resolutions and my version of the #MakeNine challenge. Instead of picking nine specific patterns, I’ve decided to go with nine categories and give myself plenty of wiggle room in picking patterns and fabrics to fit those categories. I’m not going to work on these projects in any particular order – these are just the areas in which I would like to add to my wardrobe over the course of the year.

And because I’m both a Navy officer and a college professor…I made a powerpoint to help me organize my thoughts! *geek*


Now that I’ve got all of that down on “paper” and in one place, I can get on with the actual sewing.

Well, after I clean up the workroom. That’s step One. =)

– Julia

Popeye’s Red Beans and Rice Knockoff Recipe

I am a true southern gal – I love comfort food, especially if it is fried, uses lots of butter, involves gravy, or is otherwise unhealthy in some way. So naturally I’m a big fan of Popeye’s fried chicken and biscuits. My favorite side has always been their red beans and rice, which is just the right mix of salty, savory, spicy and wonderful. But come on, it’s just beans and rice, right? Surely I could make something at home that is just as good.

WELL, I have finally sorted out just how to do that! It may not be exactly the same in terms of taste, but gosh darn it, these beans were SO good that I almost couldn’t stop eating them. And that is the true test of deliciousness, in my opinion. For anyone else who would like to try making Popeye’s-style red beans* and rice at home, here’s how I did it:

*IMPORTANT – for the love of all that is holy and good, do NOT USE KIDNEY BEANS! They taste entirely different! Red Beans are RED BEANS. I get so pissed when I see a recipe for red beans and rice that uses kidney beans. It’s not called kidney beans and rice! DO NOT USE KIDNEY BEANS! If you cannot find red beans for whatever reason, the closest substitute would be pinto beans.

For the Red Beans:

2 cans of red beans, drained

1c water

1 tsp of Better Than Bullion ham base

1/4tsp liquid smoke

1/2tsp onion powder

1/2tsp garlic salt

1/4tsp white pepper

Mix the water and Better Than Bullion in a 2qt pot and let it boil so that it gets incorporated, then added the seasonings and stir it around to get everything evenly combined. Add the two cans of beans, then lower the temp and let everything simmer for about 40min. Turn off the burner, mash the beans with a potato masher, then use an immersion hand blender to give the beans more of a refried consistency (obviously you don’t have to do this if you want the beans to be chunkier; the Popeye’s version is more like refried beans). Put the burner back on low to cook off a bit more of the remaining liquid so that the beans will thicken up some more, about 15min.

For the Rice:

I ate mine with brown rice, specifically Texmati brown rice cooked in my rice cooker. For those who use a rice cooker, you can certainly use the cheaper models to cook brown rice even though it cooks differently than white rice – the trick is to use the PORRIDGE setting. Just put the recommended amount of rice and water in the rice cooker according to the package instructions (2 1/4c water for each cup of rice for Texmati), select the porridge setting, and start the cooker.

I’d post a picture, but I already ate the evidence… 😉

Creativity, Productivity, and Self-Sabotage

I’ve begun to suspect that the reason I spend so little of my available time working on my sewing, knitting, and crochet projects is because of the restrictions I’ve placed on myself. The irony is that I put those restrictions in place to make me MORE productive. And you know what they say: Repeating the same action and expecting different results is insanity. Thus, I’ve decided to revise my approach to creating in the hopes that I will, you know, actually create things.

The Current Rule: NO multiple WIPs!

I am a product maker, not a process maker. This gets discussed quite a bit among knitters, but I don’t see it brought up as much among seamstresses. As my goal is to actually finish projects that I start so that I can have a useful finished object, I’ve tried to limit the number of things I have in progress so that I will put all of my efforts into one project at a time: One knitting project, one crochet project, and one sewing project. That’s it. That’s all I’m allowed to have in the works at any given time.

The problem with this approach is that if I don’t feel like working on the one project that I have in progress, I don’t have any other projects to put my efforts into…so I end up procrastinating, usually by going online and looking at other people’s projects or ideas for future projects. The fallacy of my one-project-productivity-push mentality is that if I only have one project, that is what I will work on. However, there actually is another option: To not work on anything. And that seems to be the option I choose most often.

The opposite side of the fence, and the one I am desperately trying to avoid, is having eight thousand projects in various stages of completion and with little hope that any of them will ever be finished. In my early 20s, I would frequently start projects and not finish them; that is what I am desperately trying to avoid. HOWEVER, upon reflection, I have realized that there was something significant about the projects that I never finished – they were items that, once finished, I never would have actually worn. As a 20-something, I knew that I wouldn’t wear or use the finished object, which eliminated my desire to put any effort into the item. I didn’t know that at the time, but now I see the pattern.

Right now, my reason for not working on a project usually involves whatever stage of production I am at – the shirt I am sewing needs the collar attached, and I don’t feel like doing anything fiddly, or the sweater I’m knitting is at the “yards of stockinette” stage and I don’t want to do something mindless. Eventually I will work on these projects because I do want the finished object. But I *do* consider sewing, knitting, and crochet to be my hobbies (i.e., things I do for enjoyment) rather than work, so if they feel like work, I won’t want to do them. My “One WIP only” rule has turned my hobbies into work. So, what is the solution?

The New Rule: Multiple WIPs Allowed*

Obviously there must be some caveats. All good rules have fine print, right?

– There must be variety in the types of WIPs

I’m not a good assembly line sewer. I’ve tried, and it basically exacerbates the issues I have with avoidance and procrastination. If I am going to have multiple projects in progress, they must be varied in terms of techniques and difficulty.

– If I realize that I am avoiding a project because I have decided that I don’t want the finished product, I will get rid of the project.

There is no joy in finishing something that I am just going to get rid of. It is wasted effort, and no wonder I don’t want to work on a project if I know the effort is going to waste. Better to just pitch the whole thing and get on with another project that I do want to finish.

I occasionally read articles and blog posts about lost knitting mojo or “sewjo” and how to get it back. But I don’t think I’ve ever seen an article about what to do if you have the mojo but cannot seem to get yourself to actually work on your projects. Hopefully this nitpicky analysis of my approach to productivity will help some other makers realize that they have self-sabotaged in a similar way, so that we can all get back to enjoying our hobbies instead of accidentally turning them into work that we avoid.

The Concept of Fit – Part 2

Gawd, where did August go? I hope I’m not the only one who blinked and missed it. In fact, this entire year has been sailing by at light speed. My sewing (and knitting, reading, gaming…basically anything that takes time) goals are also speeding by, unmet. Probably because I spend way too much time online, looking at other patterns and fabric and blog posts rather than working with what is actually in my stash. And I KNOW I’m not the only one guilty of that, either. 😉

But one of the things that I’ve noticed from all of my studying of other seamstresses’ completed projects, as well as looking through RTW websites for ideas, is that there are certain aspects of fit that are non-negotiable. Essentially, regardless of a person’s style and fit preferences, there are a few key areas of garment fitting that will automatically make a person look as if they are wearing the wrong size, period. So, in order to avoid looking like your clothes shrank, or that you are in denial about your true body shape/size, here are what I consider to be the non-negotiable aspects of fit:

1. Sleeve length on jackets, blazers, and coats

This is something that I deal with frequently as a petite woman, and I know that tall ladies with long arms have it even worse than I do. The full-length sleeve on a tailored outer garment (i.e., NOT hoodies, slouchy sweaters, sweatshirts, etc.) should always end somewhere between the first and last joints of the wearer’s thumb. This allows for the sleeve to rise with the bending of the elbows without flashing shirtsleeves or forearm. Anything longer than this and you look like you borrowed your dad’s suit jacket (ask me how I know!), while any shorter and it appears as if your blazer shrunk in the dryer and you haven’t yet bought a replacement.

A perfect example of the sleeve-too-short problem can be seen in the model photo for this suede jacket for sale on the White House Black Market website:

The end of the sleeve does not even cover the model’s entire wrist, which means that when she bends her elbow or does anything besides letting her arms hang straight down, the cuff is going to expose a large portion of her forearm. Aside from it not looking correct, it is also impractical for cold weather wear. Wrist drafts suck, right?

NOTE: Obviously this aspect of fit only applies to full-length sleeves and not 3/4 or half-sleeve lengths. So if you find a jacket that you adore, but the sleeves are wrist-length, consider cutting them to 3/4 or half length so that it looks intentional.

2. Puckers around button plackets over the bust

I see this so often lately, particularly from seamstresses who prefer vintage styles and like to eliminate all of the ease from the patterns before even making a muslin. I enjoy showing off my figure, but I also like to look as if my clothes fit properly. We can display our figures just fine without also blinding people when our buttons give up and bail out due to lack of ease.

This picture from a She Finds article about fixing button gaps shows what I mean:

While there are certainly quick, temporary fixes for button gaps, the correct way to fix the issue is to avoid it entirely. Including enough ease in the construction of shirts with button plackets is a requirement for proper fit. If you are looking for something more fitted, try patterns with princess seams and bust darts to add shaping around the bust and waist curves. Do not rely on removing ease to “fit” a shirt to your figure, unless the shirt is made from knit fabric and does not involve a button placket.

3. Pants hem length

Another area that I am more than familiar with, although my legs are somewhat long for my height. This can be more tricky for those who like to alternate between heels and flats, but it really does make a difference in whether your pants look correctly fitted or not.

According to the United States Navy uniform regulations, our dress pants should be long enough to just touch the tops of the soles of our shoes. There should be a slight break (aka, wrinkle) in the front of the leg, as it will need to extend past the instep in order to be the correct length in the back.

I like to use this standard as the best practice for my professional wear, as well. Ideally, my hems end about 1/2″ – 1″ above the floor, which keeps my legs from drowning in a floor-length pant leg. Taller ladies frequently have the opposite issue, or what I would call “unintentional floods”. Do y’all remember the floods trend from back in the 90s/early 2000s? Do people still do that on purpose?

Oh, apparently they do:

My grandfather (God rest his soul) used to wear this exact combination of pants, socks, and shoes. While I loved him dearly, I did not use him as a personal style guide. Go for a midi-length skirt or some capri pants if you want to show off your socks and shoes – much like the issue with jacket sleeve lengths, what matters is that the length looks intentional rather than accidental.

4. Misplaced shoulder seams

I love a good dolman sleeve. Raglans are awesome, too. As a wide/square-shouldered petite gal, it is hard to find a jacket that fits my arm length (see issue 1) and is not also too narrow across the shoulders. And this is an issue that not only affects the appearance of the garment, but also the practicality – if the shoulders of a jacket or shirt are too narrow, it will not allow for full range of arm motion.

Conversely, a jacket with shoulder seams that are too wide will end up making the wearer look like an inverted triangle – this is especially bad for those who are naturally inverted triangles, who will thus look like a pair of shoulders mounted on top of a broomstick.

Something like this poor model on the Zara website:

In theory, the fit-and-flare princess seams at the waist of the jacket would balance out the shoulders (which they refer to as “dropped” – no, that’s not what a proper dropped shoulder looks like, Zara. This is just piss-poor fit). But this model has a long torso, so the faux hips fall about a foot above where her actual hips are. And her shoulders are about 3″ narrower than the shoulders of the jacket would lead you to believe.

Ideal shoulder seam fit places the seams just above the outer edge of the shoulder. This allows for full range of motion and shows the actual shape of the shoulders beneath the jacket. If you have sloping shoulders and would like to look more square, small shoulder pads under a correctly aligned shoulder seam will do the trick. If you have narrow shoulders and would like more width at the shoulder line to balance out wide hips, go for a jacket with a shoulder detail like a ruffle or a puffed/gathered sleeve cap like Vogue 9016 View D (OoP):

In summary – choose style elements to correct or accentuate aspects of your figure without compromising on fit. Style is a matter of choice and what works for your taste and your shape. Fit is about looking like your clothes were made for your body rather than someone else’s.

Honestly, one of the main reasons why I make my own clothes is because my figure is difficult to fit in RTW. I am 4’11”, with a short torso and a big difference between my bust, waist, and hip measurements. And I know from reading many, many sewing blogs that there are others among us who sew for the same reasons. Since we have the power to fix these fit issues, they should not be in our finished handmade garments; that is the type of poor fitting that we should expect in clothes made for other people’s bodies.

There are many resources both in print and online that teach alteration methods to allow seamstresses to attain the ever-elusive perfect fit for our own figures. A lot of them are free, too! Huzzah!


The Concept of Fit – Part 1

After reading Allie Jackson’s comparison of the Colette Sorbetto top’s original draft and the newer version, along with most of the comments, I found myself again thinking about the idea of fit. Those of us who sew clothes are obviously interested in sewing clothes that fit, but what does that even mean? Clearly just being able to fit INTO them is not the idea; there’s definitely more to it than that.

Fit is about measurements: the garments’ and our own. Whether the item fits well is based on how the garments’ measurements match up to our own. That much seems to be a “truth universally acknowledged,” as Jane Austen would say. HOWEVER…the part that is also true but is much less talked about in the sewing community is the amount of ease that the wearer wants and is comfortable with in contrast to what is required for the pattern to hang/drape on the body and maintain the integrity of the original design.

To further illustrate the point that I’m trying to make, I will use the example of Hey June’s Biscayne Blouse:


Looking at the style of the sample that is shown, some adjectives that describe the fit would be loose, flowy, drapey (ok, why does spell check say that isn’t a word?! It’s totally a word), particularly through the waist. The bust is a bit more fitted, but still loose, and the hemline falls moderately close around the hips. Bottom line: this design is not meant to be form-fitting, curve-hugging, or tight in any way. Ideally, if you were to find your measurements on the size chart and then grade between sizes where necessary, you would end up with a top that is drapey in the bust, loose in the waist, and moderately fitted through the hip. That is what I will refer to as the DESIGNER’S INTENDED FIT.

Now, if I want to make adjustments to the Designer’s Intended Fit to make it more closely match up with my own preferred fit, that’s fine. Hell, that’s the whole point of sewing for yourself – to have the ability to make those kinds of changes to a garment. BUT – and here’s the major point that I’m trying to make – if I, as the seamstress, end up making so many changes to the Designer’s Intended Fit that my finished garment’s fit doesn’t correspond to the Designer’s Intended Fit in any way…**I really should have just picked a different pattern to start with.**

In practice, this would look like a finished Biscayne blouse that is form-fitting through the bust and waist. Or, really, the Biscayne that I made out of mauve satin a few months ago
Mauve Biscayne

If you read my project notes, you’ll see that I spewed quite a bit about making modifications to the pattern to “suit my preferred silhouette.” The problem (and the reason why I really don’t like this top and don’t ever wear it) is that the hourglass fit I *thought* I preferred is completely different than the Designer’s Intended Fit for this top. When I think about why I bought this pattern in the first place, I can admit that I was drawn to the loose style and the collar/placket detailing. So why the eff did I alter it to take away one of the main parts of the Designer’s Intended Fit? Well, that’s another post entirely. More to come on that topic. =)