Beyond Terry's Old Windows:
 A Teacher's Thoughts 
Between Centuries

Learning All Over Again

Whether it is age, or the cognitive failings that come with multiple sclerosis, or the 'executive functioning' challenges of running a small fabric / quilt shop ... it little matters WHY learning is more difficult for me in this century ... what matters is HOW to move beyond the obstacles I find along the way.

For many years, I taught my elementary and middle school students to overcome their learning challenges by being patient with themselves, and daring to ask for patience from others. I was able to show them the benefit of hearing themselves repeat direction, or even re-phrase the directions in their own terminology, as long as it was still accurate. And I celebrated with them whenever they had that "Aha!" moment.

  I learned to sew when I was nineteen; my then mother-in-law-to-be taught me to use her Brother zig zag machine. Her son and I were married, and had a baby girl a year later. I sewed most of her childhood clothes and many of mine as well. When she went to school, I went to teach, and the sewing time diminished,

I became a quilter when she was quite young, and continued with that work through my teaching years. I'm retired now, and have a small fabric/quilt shop. And only recently, I've had the desire to begin to sew clothing again.

And so I'll write here the Saga of Terry's Shorts ... I've been sending these updates via email to my stitching friends, and they suggested I share more widely.

Part 1: Simplicity and Other Old Friends
Somewhere up in the attic I must have a box or two full of sewing patterns ... McCalls, Simplicity, and maybe even a few Vogue ... children's sizes and my sizes, along with men's ties and shirts...

I went to the online last week rather than tackling the attic heat and obstacles ... and I was astonished at how many patterns are now offered as 'downloads' to be printed out on home printers ... yuck! I would have to buy tissue paper for the printer, and heaven only knows what that might do to our printer's innards...

I wanted to make some simple shorts and Capri-length pants. I was amazed at the helter-skelter arrangement of patterns at that site ... Halloween costumes mixed in with retro-forties-dresses, children and adults mixed together, men with women (not that there is anything wrong with that, said Seinfeld...) And the price of the patterns - well, look at the price of real estate. It is all relative, isn't it?

I did find one REAL, already printed on pattern tissue, pattern for shorts. Of course, it says "below waist" fit, but I will adjust that. I don't really have a waist measurement ... I've become the age appropriate tree-trunk, but all the more reason to at least try to establish where my waist once was...

The pattern I chose is marked "NEW LOOK" from Project Runway ... and was on sale for less than $4.00 ... plus, of course, an equal amount for shipping. I know I ought to have gone to JoAnn's, but traveling there and sitting in their plastic chairs and paging through books and books and books ... the postage was worth it.

My pair of shorts will be longer than the pattern calls for ... and somewhat higher at the top edge... a draw string waist rather than an elastic one, so I can let it out with the whims of the weather and humidity and fluid retention ... and they will be made of quilt quality 100% cotton fabric, perhaps a floral print ...

Now if i can just remember to use a 5/8" seam...


Part 2:  The Pair of Shorts-To-Be

I am re-learning clothing construction.  I opened the Simplicity envelope, unfolded the pattern pieces, put those of short-shorts back into the envelope, and proceeded to trim the extra paper off the edges and separate the pieces. My cutting table in the shop was a perfect height and size ... though I did have to turn the AC to low so the papers would stay on the table. I chose a dark blue small floral inexpensive cotton bolt.  And I began:

  1. First, I forgot to stop at the notches and cut around them, but that's a minor issue. I'll just mark them with a chalk pencil..
  2. Next, I forgot that fabric used to come on the bolt wrong side out, (yes, it has been that long since I'd done sewing with a paper pattern) and proceeded to mark on the right side of the fabric... but that was okay because it's erasable chalk pencil, or at least I thought it was...maybe it will wash out, later.
  3. I did remember how to read the layout directions for cutting the pieces ... and thankfully stopped and re-pinned when I noticed that the facings needed to be cut on the fold...
  4. I knew I wanted to make the shorts higher for a waistline and so I marked the fabric an inch above the pattern, and cut the front piece correctly. Then I remembered to mark the back piece with the extra inch, but proceeded to cut it right off.  Good that I'm using a full bolt of fabric - and the wasted piece was only 24 " long, and of course I'm using fabric I got on sale in Pembroke. I just unpinned the pattern, cut another piece from the bolt, laid the pattern on it and just barely got the extra inch I needed as I cut the new piece by measuring the 'old' piece, which, as I said, was an inch shorter than I wanted.
  5. I remember never quite agreeing with the pattern sizes as printed on the back of the envelope. But I took out a tape measure and checked my measurements. My my my ... I measured again. It's good that I don't have one of those manikin dummies that dressmakers use, because I don't think I could make the poor thing contort to fit my measurements. I did check twice.  And then I checked again. And if I recall correctly (which is always an if) I think I got 41,40, 42.  But I could be wrong. As I said, tree trunk shape. No more hour glass here...
  6. Fortunately, I've adopted the idea of cutting the largest size of the pattern (to save all the sizes' markings for future uses,) and so the size 18 ought to be big enough to begin with. I'll be optimistic and say that I can always take it in here and there if it turns out to be too big. 
  7. I marked the lines for the waistline darts. I read through the pattern so that I wouldn't miss anything. Then I marked them again on the wrong side of the fabric so I could see them as I sewed.
  8. I came into the house then to sew the two darts. I decided I would use this project to work with one of the Featherweights that I hadn't used yet. The one that Laura gave to me last winter, because she had put it away and didn't want to keep it and knew I could get it running. Probably not the best choice to use for a new project I was approaching for the first time in a long time, but optimism and confidence prevailed... there's always that... I named the machine Angelaura..
  9. Featherweight's are opposite all other domestic Singers... their needle goes in flat side to the left, and they thread from right to left, and their bobbin unwinds counterclockwise instead of clockwise ... and no, I didn't remember all of that by myself ... I have three books on Featherweights, and so consulted those.
  10. And then, of course, I consulted Rick, who helped me adjust the bobbin tension with the little tiny Singer screwdriver. Then I decided I needed blue thread, so had to go through all the steps of filling a shiny new bobbin (I bought a dozen from the Featherweight site online.) I won't bore you with the details ... it only took me 45 minutes and might take as long again to write what I did, undid, and did again.
  11. Angelaura has the prettiest sounding motor for a 66 year old machine. I had oiled her and checked the motor and wiring when Laura first brought her here. I adjusted the stitch length and, talking to myself as I talk to my young students, I put the needle down, set the stitch lever to reverse, did a few stitches, set the lever to forward, and sewed the three inch long dart seam. I pulled the needle up, pulled the fabric out and snipped the thread.
  12. When I started to sew the second dart seam I forgot to start with the needle down, and Angelaura unthreaded herself. I began to thread her backwards, left to right, but then remembered, tried again, without getting up to find one of my ten pair of cheater glasses, got it threaded on the fourteenth try.
  13. The second dart was done, and the next step was to stay-stitch the top waistline edge. But it was suppertime, and I felt as though I had already done a week's worth of work... maybe more later tonight. I seem to function better late at night. Maybe some frozen yogurt from Jeff and Maria's first.

It's probably not a coincidence that I stopped at step thirteen ... it's usually my lucky number... I'm obstinate that way.

Laura will be so happy to hear I'm working with her Featherweight.

Part 3: Saga of the Shorts, Day Three

I distinctly remember making matching shorts and midi-blouses for Trish and me in an evening's time.  Granted, she was only two years old and her outfits took barely a yard of fabric and an hour's time (I really could make her something to wear faster than I could wash her clothes and get them dried outdoors... and I knew what size I was then, too, and life was somehow simpler all around.

But here's what I got done today:

Continuing where I left off on day 2, I did the stay stitching across the top edge of the fronts and backs, it always seems a waste of thread to do that, but I'm following the directions like a re-born beginner.

  • I attached the pocket facing to the front; I had to read those direction only four times to understand the three short sentences. I do persist. Reading is more of a challenge now a days... Good that I taught all those strategies to my students for all those years. I'm reading aloud and repeating to myself now...
  • Then I attached the pocket itself to the facing, and realized that the "extra inch for a decent waistline" I had chosen to add on day 1 to the top at the pattern would place the waistline of the shorts above the pocket's top edge ~ but no matter, I thought. I don't mind if the pocket is a bit low on the sides of the shorts.
  • Oh... yes, it would matter, as that would leave a raw edge at the top of the pocket, below the facing as well as the waistline ~ but again, no matter... I just cut that extra inch off the front and back waistlines. I'm making a size 18, so I'm now thinking it will be long enough as is, as I'm typically a size 12-14 in Walmart and Marshall's sizes .. Guess I didn't need to re-cut the back of the shorts to add that now troublesome inch ... but I'll make quilt scraps out of those extra short backs I'd cut first.
  • Of course, that means the darts I did the other day in the back waistline were now cut in half ... ~ but no matter. I think I’ll be taking these shorts in somewhere anyway... might as well be there! I already had to rip out the stay stitching, as I'd pressed the darts out instead of in ... who decides these things, anyway? Must make a note on the pattern ... guess I only read that part twice, silently. Doesn't work that way anymore. Isn't life ironic? 
  • I'm now missing only the waistband facing, interfacing, the left side's seam, and the hem.
  • Wait - there must be elastic or a draw string somewhere to be made ... I better take those other pattern pieces that I stuffed back into the envelope out, and look at them again...
  • But I’m tired. I'll take a nap, as Rick is gone to an officers' meeting at Erie 4. He'll wake me when he comes in, and maybe I'll work more on them.



Part 4: And the Beat Goes On, On, On, On...

If you recall, I'd finished through step eight of the pattern; the front and back were sewn together at the right side, with the center seam closed as well. 

The puzzle had then become ... where are the directions for the elastic or drawstring?  All I had left were cut pieces for the yoke's facing and interfacing...

  • I had learned, back in high school chemistry class with Mr. Miele, to never complete a project without first reading through the instructions step by step. (A life lesson never forgotten. Because, indeed, step 9 might be to stand up and announce to the class "I am almost done!" and step 10 would, of course, say skip step 9.) And yes, I had read (re-read and restated aloud to myself) all of the directions for the pants.
  • Pants style A (very short shorts) had the drawstring pattern included, but no elastic. I was making pants style B (no drawstring shown.)
  • But, as I have no short term memory left, the Instructions I had read (re-read and restated aloud to myself) were no longer accessible to me, so I proceeded to read (re-read and restate those instructions aloud to myself) again. And, to be sure, twice again,.
  • There are no directions for style B that refer to either elastic or drawstring closures. None. Nada. And as Dickens so assuredly wrote: 
  • '...  to begin with ... This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate.'
    • Yes, he was writing of the dead Marley.
    • '... There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. 
  • And as assuredly as Marley was dead, the pattern was, in fact, void of any mention of the elastic or drawstring for style 
    • Yes, just as Santa does, I checked it once, and twice more
    • I have no doubt that such patterns are put through a rigorous editing process, read by the copy writer, the illustrator, the proofreader and the data entry clerk who long ago replaced the typesetter...
  • Scrooge signed it. And Scrooge's name was good upon 'change for anything he chose to put his hand to. Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail.”
  • Simplicity had put their name on this Project Runway New Look pattern. How disappointing to their reputation! The pattern was incomplete. Faulty. Imperfect.

But so am I. Imperfect, I mean. For I also learned, long ago in the seventies while sewing outfits for Trish and myself (and with those matching accessories for Rick,) that one must not only read the full pattern before beginning a project ... one must read the full back of the envelope before leaving the fabric store ... I turned to the back of the envelope, and read down, down, down to the bottom ... after the fabric measurements for style A, and those for style B ... and the measurements for the lightweight interfacing (for the waistband facing) and there, at the very bottom, I found the words: " 7 inch zipper."

Back to the two sheets of instructions ... I must have missed it! I did not miss it - there is, truly, no mention of a zipper ANYWHERE in the pattern. Not in style A's instruction. Not in style B's instruction. Apparently, the world has progressed beyond my re-born beginning life cycle stage. Apparently, when it comes to a zipper, (video of “You’re on your own.”)

Fortunately, I have nylon zippers in the shop that can be cut to any length. And I did find a navy blue one, to match the fabric. Sheer luck!

 I'll work on installing that later. Right after I find a You-Tube video to walk me through the once-so-familiar process. It's a new century, and video instructions are far superior to the written word.

 And I'll let you know how it goes.



How Hard Can It Be?

 Truly, how hard could it be to get pattern makers like Simplicity and Vogue begin designing and modeling clothing patterns for the tree trunk generation?

Yes, we're probably not their intended audience. We're on fixed incomes, quite out of line with the inflationary prices of patterns and fabrics,.

 We have, in our "one closet holds all sizes and seasons" lifestyle, plenty of clothes from decades past that we cycle in and out of as our body mass changes at will. And the patterns would need to be in large print for our fading eyesight which, of course, would mean additional tissue paper expense, however steep that might be now-a-days.

So I say, let's do it ourselves! We can call ourselves the TREE TRUNK DESIGNER LINE OF SEASONAL PATTERNS ... OR ... THE ARBORISTAS~FASHIONISTAS~

All it would take is someone willing to become (anonymously, of course) a chalk-line drawing on a 60" x 60" piece of black felt, to begin.  Say, some of a 42"-42"-42" moderate proportion.

 We could then lay some lightweight (of course, doesn't that sound inviting and appropriate) interfacing over the black felt and begin adding multi-colored lines ... perhaps at one inch intervals, labeling the lines to match the sizes ... by tree names rather than the arbitrary numbers currently used by clothiers today. After all, if today's size 0 is actually fifty years ago's size 6, which was eighty year's ago size 10, what is the point of those numbers?


  •  We could start,inward, by adding two lines and labeling the innermost line, representing a 38"-38"-38" trunk size,TWIG
  • then, at the 39" line,  BIRCH
  • progressing kindly outward, labeling our 40" line as PINE
  • and next, CHERRY
  • ELM
  • OAK
  • and ending gently with WEEPING WILLOW
If we decide to go international with our patterns, converting some of our size labels to European and Asian species, we'll have to research trees abroad; that will, of course, require tax-deductible travel.
Maybe we'll be able to engage some corporate sponsors for our research and development costs ... Alden Merrill comes to mind, and Ghiradelli's or Lady Godiva Chocolates ... Ben and Jerry's or Hood Dairy ..,. the Cheesecake Factory ... surely we can think of more.
But first, I'm going to have some lunch. I'l start with dessert. 
Oh, the shorts? Yes, they are still waiting for completion. I'll be back tomorrow! 




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