Archive of ‘Machines & Tools’ category

Reader Question: Sewing Machines for Lingerie

what to look for in sewing machine features for lingerie making | Cloth Habit

Hi Amy, I’m interested in sewing lingerie. Do you recommend a sewing machine or are their special features I should look for?

Over the past year or so I’ve received many questions about how to choose a sewing machine for lingerie or bra making. Some of you feel your old machine is just not up to the job, and some of you are brand new to sewing and possibly picking out a machine for the first time.

I’ll share some features that I appreciate in lingerie sewing but I think it’s important to start here: you don’t need a specialized machine to make lingerie (or bras).

On my particular machine I have sewn leather, wool, fur, silk and delicate lace. Unless you want to start your own lingerie business and plan on doing production sewing (making 100 or so of the same thing in the same fabric over and over), a good domestic sewing machine is all you need!

So what’s good? Well, that depends on your experience and budget.

If you are brand new to sewing and inexperienced with sewing machines, I recommend visiting a local sewing machine dealer. Nowadays a lot of us just want to press buy and get it right on our doorstep! But hear me out: Where you buy your machine is often more important than what brand you buy. A good machine dealer can help walk you through machines, may offer free classes on the one you choose, give you a better price than you’ll get online (true for all three machines I have bought), and more importantly technical support when things go wrong. And trust me, occasionally things do go wrong.

If you have experience with a machine you probably have a good handle on a few things you like or don’t like about your current machine. If this is your situation, test-driving a few machines with your favorite fabrics is going to be your best guide.

For lingerie and bras in particular, here are a few features I would look for:

1. Adjustable foot pressure

If I were to pick one feature I couldn’t live without, this would be it. I have turned away many a beautiful vintage machine because I couldn’t adjust the foot pressure.

Adjustable foot pressure is a great thing to have for any kind of sewing with knits and lightweight silks. I find it invaluable for sewing stretch lace and other light lingerie knits. Loosening foot pressure can help the foot glide over fabric rather than push it and cause mismatched or wavy seams.

2. Easy to fine-tune zig-zag length and width

Some vintage and really low-end sewing machines only offer a few predetermined zig-zag stitches. For underwear and bras, you’ll be using zig-zag stitches a lot! And you’ll want to change and fine-tune the settings for each project.

3. A 3-step zig-zag

This is a fairly common feature on mid-range and up machines, but many older and low-end machines don’t include it.

triple zig-zag stitch | Cloth Habit

A 3-step zig-zag (or triple zig-zag) takes 3 steps up and 3 steps down. For most lingerie and elastic, a regular zig-zag works just fine but a 3-step is extra strong, and useful for areas where you want extra durability in your zig-zag stitches.

4. A straight stitch foot

A straight stitch foot is useful for sewing 1/4″ or 6mm seams. Similar feet go by different names. Look for a foot that has a 1/4″ or 6mm distance between the needle and the edge of the toe. This might be a straight stitch foot, 1/4 foot, or a patchwork foot (this is what I use for my Juki). Whatever it is called, this will be slightly narrower than the “all-purpose foot” that comes with your machine.

The great thing about feet like this is that you can use the foot as a seam guide wherever you are sewing 1/4″ or 6mm seams, which are typical on bras. I also use them to achieve neat topstitching rows.

straight stitch feet for 1/4" seams | Cloth Habit
On the left is my Juki’s patchwork foot and on the right is a generic industrial straight stitch foot that can screw on most industrial and vintage machines.


And that’s it! Just four features I’d consider essential in lingerie or bra sewing.

Of course those aren’t the only things I’d personally look for if I was shopping for a machine right now. For example, I prefer to have a knee lift so that when I am sewing tight curves I can keep my hands on the fabric while occasionally lifting the foot. And good machine light is super important to me! But these features are things I have learned to appreciate with experience.

In case you are curious about the machines I use, I have several but I use a Juki Exceed for all of my lingerie sewing. It has served me happily for about five years. I occasionally use a vintage Bernina 830 that I pull out for regular sewing when I’ve had to service my Juki. It is a fantastic vintage machine that will last forever, but it’s a great example of one that has no presser foot adjustment or triple zig-zag. These were two of the missing features that drove me to a newer machine.

If you sew lingerie, what machine features are important to you? Any tips to offer my international readers?

Other sage sewing machine advice (not just for lingerie):

Choosing a New Serger

It’s that time of year in Austin. It’s getting hotter and hotter and all I want to wear are knits! So this month I’ve been sewing up a bunch of knit projects, and decided it was about time to upgrade my serger.

Meet my new addition!

my new serger, a Juki MO 1000

I’ve been thinking about upgrading for awhile now. I bought my first serger, a Babylock Imagine, about 13 years ago. It is still a fantastic little machine. I bought it barely used on eBay for an absolute steal–I felt so lucky!

I loved how lightweight and easy it was to set up but over time a few specific things started driving me crazy. Two of them were fixable but others weren’t. I wanted a machine that had better lighting and wouldn’t bounce around my sewing table.

At first I thought it’d be natural to upgrade to another Babylock (you bet I love that jet air threading!). Then I started looking at Juki sergers. They get great reviews and I already own two awesome Juki sewing machines (an Exceed F600 and a TL-2010).

Testing the Juki MO 654DE

Over Christmas I bought and tried the Juki MO 654DE for about a week.

Juki MO-654DE

It’s a super quality serger for the low price, and I understand why the Juki portable series are so popular. It’s lightweight, easy to set up and makes great seams. Contrary to the horror stories I’d heard about threading sergers, I found manual threading to be quite a breeze! Juki machines are all very good about including thread guides with little guide dots so I never got confused about what went where.

However, the deal breaker was the lack of space around the foot and knife. There is a knife cover that goes right up to the edge of the foot and when you pull it away, the machine locks as a precaution.

Juki MO654DE knife cover

This made it impossible lift the presser foot and slip some materials just under the knife to give them a head start. This is a little trick I do for seams on some bulky or slippery knits. If I merely place some of these fabrics at the head of a serger foot and allow the feed dogs to pull them under, the top layer gets pushed back and the seam misaligns.

There were other things that bothered me, including how much I needed to tweak the presser foot pressure, thread tension and differential feed to get mesh knits to stop twisting. I sew these fabrics a lot. On my Imagine, I never had to adjust differential feed, and it also had automatic tension.

After this experience, I knew it might be a good idea to visit a dealer and do some test drives!

And the Winner is… Another Juki!

Before going into the dealer I researched a few machines, including a Babylock Enlighten and a Janome 1200D. I really liked the Janome, at least from what I read about it, but sadly the dealer did not have it in stock.

After looking at some Brother and Singer models I gravitated toward another Juki that I hadn’t heard about–the MO 1000. While pricier than the MO 654DE, it was less than the other two models I was considering.

What I brought with me to practice on: lightweight stretch mesh, sweatshirt knit, cotton jersey, rayon jersey, wool gabardine, and silk crepe. Even without changing needles it handled them all beautifully.

I loved this machine!

First, it is quiet, at least quieter than my Babylock and other machines I tried. It has a nice hum that purrs more than chops. And when it is going fast it does not move. The base is firm and stable.

It has push button threading! I think this is the first non-Babylock machine to offer this feature.

Juki MO-1000 push button threading

It has a nice removable waste catcher. I never thought about this as a feature but it will save me space. (I usually keep a plastic tub next to my serger.)

Juki MO-1000 waste catcher

It’s easy to clean on the front and the sides by swinging out the housing, and very important to me feature–a bright enough LED light.

Juki MO-1000 led light and insides

Overall I’ve been very pleased and more importantly I felt like I knew what I was doing as soon as I started sewing on it. That sort of thing is intangible but if you’ve been sewing for awhile, you know what I mean! I swear I’m not trying to stick with Jukis, but I keep gravitating toward them. They’re doing something right.

Final Thoughts on Machine Shopping

Those of you who are research fanatics like me, I can’t recommend highly enough visiting a dealer to try some machines if you want to upgrade. There’s a good chance you have favorite materials–bring a bag of those scraps with you. There’s no better test than sewing with your usual suspects.

Another plus for dealers–the price. Thankfully the dealer I often frequent is not a “hard seller” where I feel as if I’m being talked into something. I’m not a good haggler so I’ll usually take the price as given or ask to buy the floor model. But even with my meek ways, I got a better deal than the price that’s going on Amazon, for example.

In addition, the salesgirl who walked me through the machines also gave me some new priceless tips on serging I’d never tried before. I figured out a lot of things on my own over the last ten years but all through trial and error. Perhaps a course would have sped that process up!

What serger do you use? I’d love to hear!

A Guide to Dress Forms

Guide to Dress Forms | Cloth Habit

Let’s talk about one of sewing’s favorite subjects—dress forms!

Over the last month I’ve been shopping for a new form, both by doing a bit of online “window shopping” and by asking questions of various dealers and makers. It’s been a fun process!

The first time I went shopping for a dress form, circa 2002, I had access to very little information about them. The little that was out there on the internet about patternmaking and draping seemed to reinforce the mystique of, or my need for, a dress form. I was convinced that I needed one for any kind of serious sewing work.

Of course this was fueled in no small part by my lifelong romantic ideals of fashion designers all draping away on their dress forms. When I was a teenager, I used to imagine that a vintage Wolf form was something Molly Ringwald’s Pretty in Pink character might have kept in the corner of her bedroom. And I adored that character (what she did to that prom dress!).

I now own two dress forms. I bought one for personal use and one for professional pattern work and display photography. However, neither fills the specific need I have at the moment.

So before I dive into dress form specifics, let’s talk about all the reasons one might want a dress form:

  1. You are a professional custom dressmaker or fashion design student who needs a form, or several forms, for patternmaking and draping. Chances are you already know what kind of forms work for you, based on your training, your clients, or what your school recommended to you.
  2. You often make very fitted patterns with a lot of design details, and want a form to assess style lines, or play with the drape of fabric.
  3. You draft your own patterns but prefer draping as part of the drafting process, rather than only working with flat patternmaking. It helps you visualize ideas.
  4. You want a form to mimic your body so you can use it as a fitting tool.
  5. You are a blogger or shop owner who needs a prop for styling and taking photographs.
  6. You are a collector! Or you simply want a fun clothes/jewelry showpiece in your house.

Do any of these stand out for you?

Knowing what you really want to use it for can help you choose from among the various dress form styles.

So for example, when I look at this list, I’m most drawn to a form that works for both blog photo styling and makes an interesting collector’s piece. I’d also like the ability to pad the form for fitting purposes in the future. So I’m interested in looks as much as function.

Clearly I don’t prioritize having a form for fitting or draping purposes, which is probably the biggest reason many sewists want a dress form. The truth is, even if I had a better form or a totally customized body cast I don’t think I would use it very much for fitting. I prefer to fit directly on my body, and I can often visualize what flat pattern adjustments are going to do.

However, if you have trouble visualizing adjustments or pattern lines, a form might be a helpful tool!

Types of Forms

Now let’s have a look at some of the different form types out there.

1. Professional form with cast iron base. These kind of forms are usually made with papier mache, padded with a few layers of cotton wadding and covered in linen. These are usually available either as a classic dressmaker form with a skirt cage or as a full body with legs.

Among these kind of forms is a huge variety in quality, and I’ll talk more specifics about these forms in my next post.

Guide to Dress Forms | Cloth Habit

2. Display form. These forms are often designed to look just like sewing forms but they are really produced for display purposes. The form is usually made from either foam or fiberglass, and have a more simplified body shape to them.

Some dress forms cover a middle ground between professional sewing form and display form. For example, Urban Outfitters is selling this dress form, which was probably produced as an inexpensive form by one of the major form makers:

Guide to Dress Forms | Cloth Habit

Although it is advertised as a sewing tool, it doesn’t have collapsible shoulders, is made from foam, and the stand has a height pedal that is purely decorative. You’ll also notice that the body shape is quite simplified, with absolutely no butt.

3. Adjustable form. These are the forms with dials that allow you to expand and contract the form as needed for different measurements.

4. Handmade form. There are a lot of fun methods for making a totally customized body form: plaster-casting, duct-tape and papier mache. Among these methods I’d include the mother of all crazy inventions, the Uniquely You form, which is a compressible foam form that you squeeze into a custom-fitted cover. Whoever first came up with the name “torpedo boobs” for this form deserves a sewing hall of fame star! I own one of these babies, too. A story for another day.

An important thing to keep in mind is that most dress forms can’t totally replace the work of fitting on an actual body. Bodies move and breathe. Most of these forms need work in order to replicate important body measurements and posture.

If you don’t need to do a lot of heavy fitting work, almost any of these will work for light sewing purposes. What you choose depends on budget, how much you need to fit precisely, or whether or not the form is for other non-sewing purposes.


So after all this you may wonder what I’ve chosen for myself! As I mentioned I have a very specific need and I’ve narrowed it down to a few options. I’ll share more about that, along with what I loved and disliked about particular forms, in my next post.

Do you have a form? What do you use it for? What do love or wish you could change about it? And if you’ve blogged about your form, do share a link. I love reading dress form posts!

Guest Post: Make Your Own Bra Pressing Curve

I love making up sewing tools. There are times a tweezer works better than a bone folder, and a rubber hammer works better than an iron. I have a pencil that works great for spaghetti straps and probably do “wet finger” pressing on silk more times than I care to admit.

It’s really fun and easy to make your own pressing tools, and this week I’m pleased to share a guest tutorial on making your own bra pressing curve from my fellow lingerie-making addict Maddie Flanigan! You may know her from her blog Madalynne, gorgeous sewing photography and brand-new bra making workshops in her Philly studio. So let me step aside as Maddie brings on the drill…


Make Your Own Bra Pressing Curve | Cloth Habit

Based on a similar item sold at Bra-makers Supply, my bra pressing curve has become a
valuable tool. I first came across it when Beverly Johnson mentioned it during her class
on Craftsy. She said it was easy to make and she was right. All it took was a trip to the
hardware store and about 30 minutes. I use it mostly to press cross cup seams without
touching other parts of the bra.

All supplies except for round ball can be sourced at most hardware stores such as Home
Depot and Lowes.

  • Power drill
  • 3″ wood round ball
  • 5.5″ x 5.5″ wood square
  • 1 1/4″ diameter wood dowel
  • Dowel center pins
  • Brad point or dowelling drill bit
  • Just like bra making, sourcing all those little bits can be intimidating. To make it easier, you can buy a dowel kit such as this one.
  • Regular drill bit
  • Pencil
  • Masking or painters tape
  • Wood glue

Make a Bra Pressing Curve | Cloth Habit

Prep: Most likely, your hardware store will sell long, rectangular pieces of wood, not one that is exactly 5.5″ x 5.5″. The same goes for dowels. Having it cut down isn’t a hassle. The hardware store should do it for free. Ask to have extras pieces cut so you have a spare in case you mess up.

Step 1: Using a pencil, mark the center of the sphere, the center of the dowel at the top and bottom, and the center of the square at the top and bottom as well. Mark all of these points with a cross mark.

Make a Bra Pressing Curve | Cloth Habit

Make a Bra Pressing Curve | Cloth Habit

Step 2: Mark the center of the dowel pin and then place it next to the drill bit as shown. Using masking or painters tape, wrap the drill bit at the point where the center point is on the dowel pin. Why? Because you don’t want to drill too far into the ball or the dowel.

Make a Bra Pressing Curve | Cloth Habit

Make a Bra Pressing Curve | Cloth Habit

Step 3: Use power drill to drill a hole into the ball and the dowel at both top and bottom. To ensure that you drill straight down, use a quick grip clamp or have someone hold the ball and the dowel while you drill.

Make a Bra Pressing Curve | Cloth Habit

Step 4: Connect the ball with the dowel by placing a thin coat of wood glue on the dowel pin and inserting one end into the ball and the other into one end of the dowel.

Make a Bra Pressing Curve | Cloth Habit

Step 5: The final step is to connect the dowel/sphere (which is now one) to the wood square. Using a regular drill bit, drill from the bottom of the square block up through the bottom of the down with a regular screw.

Make a Bra Pressing Curve | Cloth Habit

Make a Bra Pressing Curve | Cloth Habit

Adventures in Cutting Mats

caring for a cutting mat | Cloth Habit

Over the last month I’ve been in a mood to upgrade and tend to my sewing tools. I acquired some new marking tools, sharpened my shears, cleaned and oiled my sewing machines, and biggest of all, DIY-ed a proper cutting height table from an old dining table top. That last one has been a life-saver!

While I was at it, I had a good look at my rotary cutting situation. I’m not a big rotary cutter user. I love my shears and always feel like I have so much more cutting control with them, especially when going around tight curves. However, there are times when a rotary cutter comes in handy, especially when I’m cutting lace, or more recently, five yards of silk bias binding.

I kept feeling like I was missing out on some big secret because my cutter never seemed to cut all the way through fabrics. It did not matter if I had a new blade or a more expensive blade. Any time I used it I’d have to run back through the pattern piece with my scissors to cut any bits the rotary skipped.

After awhile I began to think the problem might be my cutting mat.

I had two large Olfa green cutting self-healing mats that I could piece together for one large mat if needed. I liked that because it made for easier storage, but my new cutting table allows me have a “full-time” cutting mat!

While wading through the many choices in cutting mats, I came across a few interesting discoveries but I wanted more technical information on mat types. I wrote Mike Barnette, owner of, a big online shop devoted to drafting and cutting tools. I figured that might be the place to get the lowdown!

Self-Healing Mats

Most of us are familiar with “self-healing” mats but did you know these mats don’t technically heal? The scratches remain but close back up by virtue of the surface being softer.

Mike told me, “Most self healing mats have a hard plastic core with layers of other plastic materials.” Usually the top and bottom surface is a softer vinyl layer. “When the knife blade is removed from the cut, the vinyl layer appears to ‘heal’ itself.”

Among self-healing mats, there are various qualities and thicknesses. For instance, most Olfa mats advertised for rotary cutting are 1.5mm thick. These are the standard type you find in craft stores. Olfa also makes a more “professional quality” self-healing mat that is 3mm thick. Thicker means longer-lasting and Mike advised me to pay attention to the thickness above all else. If you are a crafter or sewist that uses a mat daily, you may want to look into a mat that is thicker than the typical 1.5mm hobby mats.

Solid Plastic Mats

A step up from the self-healing mats are those made from solid plastic instead of multiple plies of poly material.

According to Mike, these “hard surface” mats are made from solid polyethylene plastic (they do not have a vinyl surface). He says that these mats can have some self-healing properties, although they are not advertised as such.

Prolonging a Mat’s Life

Most importantly, I learned that all mats have a lifespan (just like needles and pins–we all change those, right?) and eventually lose their cutting mojo. According to Mike, “many variables affect a mat’s lifespan, including type of material being cut, type of knife used, sharpness of cutting blade, cutting pressure by user, or how often mat is rotated during repetitive cuts.”

His top piece of advice? “ALWAYS change your blade often. It makes no sense to pay $100-300 for a cutting mat and not change a $3 blade.”

To preserve the lifespan of a mat it’s important to:

  • Change blades often.
  • Rotate the mat regularly.
  • Clean regularly with warm soapy water. (I also find a lint roller useful, which helps pick up “invisible” fibers.)
  • Don’t use more cutting pressure than is necessary. I’m in the habit of pressing extremely hard in order to cut and I’m going to have to train myself to cut a little more lightly or whatever is required by a certain fabric.

choosing and caring for a cutting mat | Cloth Habit

I had already purchased my mat before my emails with Mike but I am very happy with my choice so far. It is a Mega Mat in the exact size of my cutting table. (I later learned that Mike’s company will cut custom mats to your size at no extra charge.) My new mat is a solid plastic mat, and about 2.5mm thick, and is advertised as “pinnable”, which I think just means the plastic is soft enough to hold a pin.

While not as thick as some Alvin self-healing mats or very thick solid plastic mats I hope this provides me with some good cutting for a few years! Just by virtue of being new, I could immediately tell the difference in cutting. My rotary cutter works SO MUCH better. I’m ready to start cutting some bias tape!

Do you have any secret tips to happy rotary cutting? I’d love to hear them!

Quick Fabric Prep with a Steamer

Although I’m a big presser in the process of sewing, I rarely press my actual clothes. (Confession: I wear rumpled buttondown shirts quite a bit.) My husband, on the other hand, loves pressing and especially loves spending time getting all his shirts and jackets ready the night before a big trip. He travels a lot, so a few years ago I bought him an inexpensive travel steamer.

mini steamer | Cloth Habit

(I don’t remember where I bought it but it’s this one.)

And this gadget turned out to be a huge time saver for sewing, too. When faced with long yardages of silk, the thought of pressing it all over an iron board caused me to procrastinate on projects to no end.

Now I just steam it! Welcome to my teensy weensy bathroom.
steaming wrinkles | Cloth Habit

These won’t be the best photos but you get the picture. It’s super overcast today and I don’t have a lot of bathroom light!

I’m working on the Archer shirt pattern and want to make it from this lovely pumpkin rayon challis I’ve had in the stash for a couple of years. Rayon challis wrinkles as soon as you look at it, right? I knew it would have a party slithering all over my ironing board while trying to press two yards of it.

So this is how I deal with long yardages of slithery fabric: I drape them over the shower rod, turn on the little steamer and run it all over the fabric.


steaming wrinkles | Cloth Habit

And 30 seconds later:

steaming wrinkles | Cloth Habit

A little steamer like this is not going to “press”, but it does relax all the wrinkles and folds, making it flat enough for cutting. If your iron puts out enough steam, you could probably hook it up and do the same thing. I like this one because it has a head that points the steam jets directly at the fabric.

Once I’m done, I let the fabric hang till it is fairly dry. With a thin rayon challis like this that’s about 5 to 10 minutes. (I live in a dry climate so your mileage may vary.)

Have your tried using steamers in your sewing? They’re great little tools to add to the arsenal!

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!

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