Virtual Sew Expo 2021 report

This year’s Sew Expo conference was, of course, a virtual affair and I thought the organisers did a superb job of trying to replicate the experience of going to the show, normally held in Puyallup, WA. It’s no mean feat to pull off such a thing online and I was really impressed at the smoothness of the classes as well as the vendor sessions and free stage presentations. With an online kindergarten-from-home situation, I could only attend so much, but appreciate that I have 30 days to catch up on the things I missed! Here’s a little record of what I did, in case you’re interested!

Boro and Sashiko Class – The Shiba Guyz

This was my first class and I hadn’t heard of The Shiba Guyz, but they were a lot of fun. They explained a little about the history of boro and sashiko and were very clear about the do’s and don’ts of this craft, in terms of respecting the cultural guidelines, which I appreciated. Most sewists are familiar, I think, with sashiko stitching, as it’s been very popular worldwide. Traditionally white stitching on an indigo background, sashiko stitching is made using running stitches, which are sewn to form a myriad of designs.

The word “boro” itself can have a few nuanced meanings as I understand it, but literally means “tattered or ragged” and refers to the way clothing was historically repaired and made to last longer in Japan – which was by way of using a small patch or scrap of fabric and sewing with sashiko stitching. As more and more patches were added, the garment took on a very distinctive, layered look, as well as a certain amount of weathering over time. There is an emotive aspect to boro, since originally it was the preserve of the poor, who needed to mend their clothes frequently and so for a while boro fell out of fashion as people distanced themselves from the implication of poverty. In recent years there’s been a resurgence of interest as people recognise the qualities of the garments and value the workmanship that went into them.

Image from
Image from Museum for East Asian Art in Cologne

In the class, we were not repairing or mending and certainly not out of authentic necessity, so it’s fairer to say it’s a boro and sashiko-inspired piece for sure. It was a really interesting process and quite unlike any hand stitching I’ve done before (although I am no expert). We were making a cushion, so first gathered some scraps and spent some time arranging them into some sort of layout. There’s not much time in a class, so it was pretty thrown together, but my scraps probably reflect my favourite garment colours pretty successfully! There are various things to take into consideration, such as how much each piece overlaps the next and so on, so it’s a little more involved than meets the eye.

Next, it was time to start stitching. For this kind of stitching you use a very long needle and a palm thimble, which I’d never seen in my life before and would never have figured out how to use it. The point is that by the time you build up your scraps, you’re stitching through quite a few layers. It’s quite physical work and you use the palm thimble to push your needle through the dense layers as well as protect your hands.

Rather than quilting, where you use a certain rocking motion to move the needle through the layers, in this kind of stitching you are really moving the fabric onto the needle in a kind of push and pull motion. It takes a while to get the hang of it, but I can totally see how you would get into a rhythm and it could be a rather therapeutic thing to do, in the way that knitting and kneading dough can be.

We practised several different types of stitch pattern. There are some rules for “proper” stitching here, such as the fact that your stitches should never cross on the front of the fabric, which was something I hadn’t realised. I tried my best to keep my stitches regular, but it wasn’t easy. It’s such a long needle it feels quite unwieldy until you get into the groove a bit.

For me, it was a really nice dip into the world of sashiko stitching and definitely inspired me to do some research into the subject. Now I just have to finish up that pillow!

Embroidering a desert pin with MCreativeJ

My next class was another type of hand stitching, but this time it was embroidery. Not something I’ve done much of, but I was attracted by the cute landscape pin and also by the fact this project seemed doable in the time. It’s nice to finish something off in class sometimes.

This class was taught by Melissa who is the fibre artist behind MCreativeJ, local to me here in Seattle. She was super laid back and gave us plenty of time to work on each part, so it was a really nice, relaxed vibe. We were provided with a lovely little kit and first attached the canvas to the mini-hoop she sent us. We traced round whichever shape of brooch we’d received and freehanded a couple of slopes for the desert landscape.

I probably should have picked a darker part of the canvas for more background colour, but I wasn’t really thinking

We learnt three different stitches in the class – the satin stitch, the backstitch (offset) and the reverse chain stitch. The latter was the trickiest for me as I think you can tell in the piece (it’s the lightest yellow one), but they were all very doable and the thread is so beautiful, it’s hard to stitch something ugly.

Once we were done we cut out our piece and popped it into the brooch setting and we were done! Loved it and am of course definitely more interested in doing more embroidery, along with the 5,437 other crafts I admire. Hah.

Bound buttonhole class with Janet Pray

My third hands-on class was actually garment-related! It was learning how to stitch a perfect bound buttonhole with Janet Pray from Islander Sewing.

We sewed the buttonholes on some beautiful boucle wool we’d been sent – the idea being to simulate sewing buttonholes on a classic jacket. This class really taught me a few things about precise sewing. I wouldn’t say I’m totally slapdash, but enthusiasm can certainly get in the way of precision on many occasions. Here, were were slowing it right down and doing every step exactly.

All measurements were checked and sewing lines were marked. Needles were dropped in exactly the right spot and it was interesting to me that we shortened the stitch length to make sure we hit EXACTLY the right spot when sewing.

If you’ve sewn a welt pocket, it’s rather similar, but in a much smaller version of course. My favourite tip that I shall try to commit to memory was that when you snip out your rectangle for turning the welts through, you should have a very short straight snip in the middle and longer diagonal snips to the corner. Usually you see it the other way round, with short diagonal snips to the corner, but I got a much better result this way.

The inside, which would be hidden when the jacket is finished

As well as the actual buttonhole we made a window as if there were a lapel to button through. I am not posh enough to have ever encountered this in a jacket before, but it was very interesting to see it done.

The window

All in all, a very satisfying class, which resulted in – I guess – a pretty perfect buttonhole.

Fat quarter Storage Container with Clearview Designs

I made my first quilt just before Christmas and… well… I have to be honest. I’ve gone completely down that rabbithole now. I will never give up garment-making ( as you can tell I’m sure) but I am currently working on three other quilts. Haha! And let’s just say that while I have been quite good at working on reducing my fabric stash for garments, I seem to have acquired a need for fat quarter storage of late. All those beautifully colourful bundles are just soooo tempting.

This seemed like a fun class and it was! I was running late with organisation for this one, so just grabbed a random couple of fabric pieces I had lying around. And the resulting container turned out, like everything with sewing, to be much more than a sum of its parts. It doesn’t sound too inspiring, making a storage container, but it’s so beautiful.

I’m afraid I didn’t really take any process pics with this one, but it was constructed using some foam sandwiched between two pieces of fabric and quilted with one inch straight lines.

There were some nifty tips and some precise stitching to create rigidity, such as the 1/8-inch topstitching around the seams you can see. We added handles and finished the top with self-made binding, although there’s an option in the pattern to bind all the seams too. Lois from Clearview Design kept us moving at a good pace, so this was also a project I finished the same day. Now I just need to make four or five more! Lol.

More classes!

I also did a great coverstitching class with Gail Yellen, which was really useful. She had an absolute TON of tips on coverstitching and we undertook various exercises, including attaching a zip, sewing the round, and binding necklines. I have done a few of those before, but she really took it to the next level, with lots of great info on tension and technique.

As well as these hands-on classes I signed up for a few shorter, theoretical classes, including Draping Pants and Sleeve and Armscye Relationships. I watched bits and pieces, but the rigours of having a kindergartner learning from home meant I couldn’t fully concentrate. Luckily, Sew Expo have provided access to all classes for 30 days, so I am going to make sure to rewatch and take some notes. As well as the ones I signed up for, there were many, many free presentations and so I know there are a few of those that I had earmarked to check out. Exciting!

Overall, I really enjoyed the Expo. It was a different kind of show and I missed stroking fabrics (although they had lots and lots of vendor presentations with show discounts), but it was a great alternative and I think it’s super that so many people from further away could join. It would be great if they could retain some sort of virtual component going forward, but let’s see!

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