Julie Bowersett


Blog Writing Course Alumni

From Guide to Art Schools



Storm Blue Alabama Chanin Paisley Skirt

When I attended the workshop at Alabama Chanin's Factory in November 2011, I chose for my project a blue dress (which I have yet to post pictures of the completed garment) with a backstitched reverse applique design.  Here's what that technique looks like:

At the workshop Natalie Chanin told me that the backstitch would take three times as much thread and three times as long as the running stitch reverse applique technique (both techniques are covered in their three books).  She was probably right about the thread, but I believe she underestimated the time commitment.  At least for me it seemed like this project took a very, very long time (over one year, as a matter of fact). 

During one of their terrific sales around the 2012 holidays, I ordered a kit for a skirt stenciled with the Paisley design and using the negative reverse applique technique.  I was really amazed at how fast this stitched up, especially compared to the previous garment that I worked on.  I started this skirt in the airport on a trip I took (alone, without my kids) and by the time I returned home two days later I had finished the stitching on one panel.

This skirt was created from the lightweight cotton jersey and was the first time I had used that fabric.  It makes a really nice light weight summer skirt, especially when you remove most of the top layer by cutting away the background from the design.  The resulting pattern develops a lot of textural interest as the tips and edges of the paisley design curl.

It was on this waistband that I first tried my homemade tiger tape to aid in keeping the stitches even.

I have really enjoyed wearing this skirt and can recommend this particular technique (or the standard reverse applique with a running stitch) if you are looking for a project that works up fast.


Stars and Stripes Tank 

Over the last several weeks I have been inspired by some posts I've read on Alabama Chanin's site about their version of Old Glory.  It just so happened that I had been working on some pattern fitting based on the fitted top/dress pattern in Alabama Studio Sewing + Design.  I had just finished making a muslin from some inexpensive knit fabric and tweaking it to fit me well.  A real benefit of this was that I was able to mark directly on the almost-floor length dress where I wanted certain seam or hem lines to land (empire, skirt waist, short, mid- and full length dresses) and then transfer these markings to my pattern, resulting in a master pattern that will eventually make any number of garments.  After this exercise I wanted to test the pattern in real life.  With the July 4th holiday coming up it seemed the perfect time to make a top that I could celebrate in while testing out my pattern alterations.

The top consists of four upper bodice pieces and four lower bodice pieces.  I decided to applique the red stripes onto a white foundation.  It took a little math to figure out the stripe widths and general proportions.  Here are the lower bodice portions:

I used a water-soluble marker to mark the grainline on the fabric (recycled t-shirts) and then drew perpendicular lines for placement of the red stripes.

I used a straight stitch to applique the stripes onto the foundation and then trimmed them even with the underlying fabric.

About halfway through this project I realized that sewing the stripes on with a straight stitch would eliminate most of the stretch from the shirt.  I decided I would have to add a closure.  I have a small collection of vintage metal zippers and thought this might be a good project to use one on.  I found one in a Copenhagen blue:

and inserted it into the side seam leaving the tape exposed:

I chose to applique one star on the blue portion using a parallel whipstitch:

Binding the neck and armholes on projects like this is the most time consuming part for me.  I have learned a few things over time and will share some tips with you here.

My favorite stitch for binding is the Cretan stitch (used here) but it is a very slow stitch for me to accomplish.  I am VERY right handed and in order to make this stitch I have to turn the garment 180o for each stitch which really slows me down.  So recently I decided to try the herringbone stitch which works up really, really fast.  My first attempts at this stitch, however, left something to be desired.  The stitches were all very uneven and unattractive.  That's when I remembered a little trick I learned from my sewing mentor years ago:  homemade Tiger Tape.

Tiger Tape has been used by hand quilters for years as a guide to keep their stitches uniform.  The 1/4-inch tape is marked in small increments, and it is very easy to make your own version.

I typically use paper adhesive tape (from the first aid section of the drug store).  Use caution when applying the tape to fabrics with a surface that might be easily marred by tape.  I usually stick the tape to my t-shirt and pull it off several times to reduce the tackiness.  Using a Sharpie or other permanent marker, mark the tape with whatever increment you choose; I used 1/2 inch for mine.

I then cut the tape in two pieces as I find a thinner width allows more flexibility around curves.

You can now apply this tape wherever you need some help in keeping your stitches even.  It is a great application for hand-picked zippers.

Here you can see that I have aligned the tape with the cut edge of the binding.  I take one stitch in line with a marking and the next stitch halfway between two marks.

(One reason I like this stitch (and the Cretan) so much is that the stitches formed on the back of the binding securely hold the binding in place.  In the background above you can see the little pick stitches along the inside of the binding, one row along the top edge of the binding and the other row along the bottom edge.)

Another hint for the herringbone stitch is a little mnemonic I use to remember where to lay my thread when I am taking a stitch.  It goes like this:  when you're down, you're up and when you're up you're down.  This means that when you are taking the stitch along the bottom you will hold your thread to the top and vice versa.  Here are some pictures:

In this picture I am taking a stitch along the bottom edge of the binding so my thread is laid above.

In the picture above I am taking a stitch along the top edge of the binding so my thread is held below.  An additional tip is to always place your knots in the bottom row of stitching.  This puts the knots and their thread tails on the inner edge which will prevent the thread tails from peeking out of the neckline or armhole.

Here's a shot of the completed top, finished just in time to wear for July 4th.  This project reminded me that last year I had the idea of making a flag bunting to hang from my porch for Independence day.  I think I have enough scraps left to give me a good head start.  Wishing all of my US friends a happy and safe holiday weekend.


Nail File Holders: DIY Teacher Gifts

Our family is sliding into summer.  My youngest's last day of preschool was last week, and in two weeks' time I will have both boys at home with me for several months.  I am hoping to build some structure into our days to prevent the grumpies (for both mom and kids) that come with too much boredom. You can bet that I'm going to build in some creative time each day, especially for me.

The end of the year also brings about the time for little farewell gifts for teachers and friends.  This year I celebrated the end of the preschool year with a number of friends who I have been spending afternoons with on the playground, a group we have christened "The Village" (in the spirit of "it takes a village to raise a child").  Most of us will be moving on to new schools or states next fall, so this celebration had a bittersweet quality to it.  I wanted to make a little memento for these friends, something that would remind them of our time together every time they used it.

I had long ago bookmarked (in the old fashioned way) some pages in a Quilting Arts Gifts magazine (Holiday 2011-2012) for later reference.  The article, Emery Board Holders, by Deb O'Keefe Hysack, outlined the steps for making three different types of nail file holders.  I love what Deb has to say about these little creations:  "I like the idea of reaching into my purse and taking out a small piece of art for an everyday purpose".  As I have written before, I am always on the lookout for little tiny gifts for giving that do not come with a big obligatory price to the recipient, something that says "I am thinking about you" or "please remember me".  These fit the bill wonderfully:  they can be made in very short order with scraps of fabric, are lovely to look at and are practical (one friend commented it would allow her to carry an emery board in her purse without scratching her phone screen).

The holders I made are even tinier than those in the article with a finished size of 4" x 1.5".  Here is how I created my version.

Cut three rectangles of fabric, 3" x 4".  This can be three different fabrics or, as I did, two rectangles of one fabric and one of another.  Fold one piece in half to form a 2" x 3" rectangle to use as the pocket.  Also cut one 3" x 4" piece of heavy interfacing (I used Timtex).  Sandwich the interfacing between the two larger rectangles of fabric and quilt them together in whatever manner you wish.  I used decorative stitches built into my machine or channel stitching but you could also free-motion the stitching. 

Next, place the folded piece of fabric on top of the quilted piece, at the bottom, matching the raw edges with the bottom and sides and with the fold at the top of the pocket.  Baste the raw edges together through all layers and stitch securely through the center of the pocket, forming two openings.  Be sure to backstitch at the top of the pocket to reinforce that edge.  Check the placement of your nail files to make sure they fit the pockets.

Set your machine for a dense zigzag (W 6, L 0.4).  Stitch around the perimeter of the piece to finish all of the raw edges, allowing the needle to just swing off the edge of the fabric on one side. 

Cut a piece of narrow ribbon 15" long and hand tack it to the outside of the case just at the point where you backstitched the pocket. 

Insert the emery boards (I used mini emery boards that are 3" long) and tie the ribbon to close the case.


I made a couple of extras to include in a card to my older son's teachers at the end of the year.  These would make great teacher gifts.

I hope you enjoyed this little project and that you will find time to make a few.  I would love for you to share other DIY Teacher Gift ideas here.


Beaded Bolero

Hello friends.  I cannot believe how long it has been since I last posted on this blog.  Many, many factors have conspired to prevent me from writing and also from having anything to write about.  This was a tough winter for my family.  There was a five-week period where my kids were trading germs back and forth, occasionally sharing with me or my husband.  During that period I believe there were only 4 days when both boys were in school at the same time.  Also during this time I had been bitten badly by the nesting bug, the one that causes you to clean out closets and boxes and reorganize your storage space.  Lastly, I seem to have misplaced my sewing mojo along with my camera.  I am hoping I find both soon but it's not looking good for the camera which has been MIA for more than a month.

I have been plugging along on some hand sewing projects and recently finished one that I can share with you.  This is a sleeveless bolero that I made using the pattern in Alabama Chanin's third book, Alabama Studio Sewing and Design. (This book is currently on sale on the Alabama Chanin site).  The stencil design is Angie's Fall worked in the Special Angie pattern.  The large floral designs are worked in the Relief Applique technique where the appliqued pieces are cut larger than the space where they are to appliqued.  The extra fabric creates a beautifully textured surface that I really love.  The other elements were backstitched before being filled in with black beads.  I love this bolero pattern.  It is so quick to stitch up, the surface embellishment notwithstanding. 

I realize I have yet to share my blue embroidered dress on the blog.  Now that the weather is looking conducive to wearing it I am hoping to get some real-life action shots and post them soon.  And, as soon as I find the time to clean my studio to the point where I can get some work done I am hoping to get back to my sewing machine, too.  Perhaps by then my camera will materialize.


Masks for Mardi Gras

I've been working on these masks for a couple of weeks.  They are for a couple of friends' daughters.  The embroidery designs come from Embroitique and stitch out very nicely.  There are no instructions accompanying the designs, so beginners might have some trouble with this project.  The designer did write a blog post which helped me quite a bit.

My original idea was to make these masks from lamé and other sparkly fabrics but I came to my senses in time and opted for easy-to-work-with quilting cottons.  Even so, I made the blue mask three times.  I would recommend doing a sample to determine how close to trim the fabrics for optimal results.

I hooped two layers of water soluble stabilizer and then used a layer of Floriani's Stitch and Shape which was fantastic for the backing of the mask though fairly difficult to trim away close to the stitching line.  I will experiment with something slightly thinner next time.  After the stitching was complete, I soaked the masks to remove the stabilizer and then shaped them by air drying them wrapped around a cylinder -- I used a rubber band to hold the mask in place on a plastic "jar". 

To attach the elastic band I fed the elastic through one of the stitched (and punched) holes, then through a bead and back through the hole, tying it on the inside.

I am also celebrating Fat Tuesday by baking a King Cake.  You can read my post from last year with all of the details about baking your own.

Laissez les bons temps rouler!