Meet Fran Kitty!

Today, I wanted to take a few minutes to introduce you to our primary teacher for the Fix It, Copy It, Love It: Stitch to Get the Most Out of Your Closet event on November 3. Registrations are still available at $150 until October 18, 2019.

Fran is pictured on the right, one foot on the floor

I thought I’d share her background in her own words: 

“My life with needle and thread started at age 4, when my Mom refused to buy commercially made (and to her, ridiculously pricey,) diapers for my favorite baby doll.  She purchased a yard of diaper fabric for 10 cents at the local five-and-dime, cut out the doll-sized diapers for me, and proceeded to teach me how to sew and embroider by hand.  Once the fabric was hemmed to her satisfaction, I picked out blue six-strand embroidery floss, and quickly learned stem and blanket stitch, and a simple French knot. My dolly had the fanciest diapers in the neighborhood, edged with blanket stitch and monogrammed!

Mom was a seamstress, specializing in fine hand finishing, and an accomplished needlewoman. Watching her ply a needle always fascinated me, so a year later, for Christmas, I received my first beginner’s embroidery kit, one made especially to teach children, made up of punched stiff paper with the designs painted on, and floss to match the paint colors.  I was overjoyed! Mom showed me how to do the crossstitch and backstitch to work the designs, carefully checking the back of my work to make sure that it was as neat as the front. I was enthralled by the rhythm of the work, and watching the designs evolve!  

Years later, when I wanted to learn to use her sewing machine, Mom was too terrified that I would either break the machine, or sew up my fingers, to let me get my hands on the machine!  So, the next summer I took a basic sewing class. Loved it! During the six weeks of the class I made two sheath-style dresses, and my first square dance dress. By Halloween I was making a Civil war gown for my costume.  Mom, when I showed her the pattern and asked for help, had told me that I couldn’t do it! Really? That was all the challenge I needed. So, I took part of my allowance, bought 10 yards of unbleached muslin for $1.00, swore my Dad to secrecy, and got to work.  When the dress was complete except for the zipper and hem, I needed Mom’s help to fit do the final fit. She was so surprised, and impressed with what I had done, that she went out and bought grosgrain and velvet ribbon to trim the gown, spending far more per yard than what I had paid for the entire 10 yards of fabric, zippers, pattern and thread!  From then, I never looked back

After some more advanced sewing courses I began to make most of my own clothes, including pleated plaid skirts, coats, jackets, and even trimming matching hats.  And started teaching others to sew, one-on-one. A few years later I went to work at a local Singer Sewing Machine Store. In addition to teaching new machine classes, and doing some minor repairs, I ended up teaching all of that store’s summer teen sewing classes, and organizing the end-of-summer fashion show for my students.  One of them made it to the State level competition.

Over a few decades, in addition to making my own clothes, including everything from bathing suits to evening gowns, doing some sewing for, and teaching, friends, I didn’t get back into the sewing business until teaching at G Street Fabrics about 15 years ago.  Best, and most fun job I ever had, and I reveled in it. I most enjoyed teaching beginning sewing and patternless garments. 

Although I have done period garb from different eras, my specially is Regency/War of 1812 era. I have made one of my Regency dresses entirely by hand, and made a Civil War junior officer’s coat entirely by hand.  I made my Norwegian West Telemark bunad, several Finnish Feresi costumes, and most of my German dance dirndls, including a Miesbacher festtracht. Currently I am working on another Feresi, and doing restoration, repairs, and alterations on another Norwegian bunad.

In addition to counted crossstitch embroidery I do and teach Hardanger embroidery, various types of needlepoint, knit, crochet and quilting.  My Hardanger work has taken awards at a number of juried shows, including Sons of Norway International, Woodlawn Plantation, Montpelier NeedleArts, and Sotterly Plantation.  Not satisfied with simply making my own dirndls, I have also learned to make the basic seven trims, and taught them.  

Currently, in addition to the Scandinavian costumes, and two dirndls of my own, I am making a little dress for a 1-year-old, finishing up some crossstitch heart jewelry, and finishing up two red, white and blue quilts for presentation to Veterans next month.  Sometimes I actually take time out to breathe!”


Pattern Spotlight: Stretch and Sew 738 Pant Collection

Pants fitting isn’t just good luck, it usually takes a muslin (or two) to get what you want.

I used Stretch and Sew 738 as the base pattern for these lounge shorts. I was intrigued by a construction detail. In three of the views, the pants open through one of the pockets. No zippers. No buttons. Just a hook to hold the waistband closed.

I wanted to further simplify things by using a cut-on waistband and incorporating a partial-elastic drawstring as the closure, instead of the hook. That meant I could also skip sewing the darts. The gathering on the drawstring works as shaping, in this case.

The first muslin (which you can see on my Instagram page) fit pretty well in front but didn’t have nearly enough room in the center back seam. So, I added a little more to the crotch curve by tracing it out to two sizes larger on the pattern.


The second muslin (shown above) was more comfortable in the rear, but the center back seam didn’t come up as high as the front seam or side seams. I slashed the pattern at the hip adjustment line and spread it to get the vertical height I needed. I made sure the front waist and back waist were the same width, shortened the pattern to the leg length I wanted, and trued up the inner leg seams. I should have checked the length on the side seams – they ended up being off by about a quarter inch. I flared the legs out, overall, by having the side, front, and back seams fall more-or-less straight down along the straight of grain down from their widest points.

I then made a small style change by lowering the entire waistline (and, as a result, the pocket placements) by about 2 inches, since I don’t like to wear much of anything at my natural waist.


I pretty much followed the pattern instructions for assembly. One thing to watch if you choose to do a cut-on waistband with this pattern is finishing the top on the back piece of the pocket that opens. It’s meant to lay as an underlap, so it needs to be finished. I cut a piece of on-grain fabric and used it as a binding. This method probably created more bulk than would be ideal, but considering that it’s going behind an edge that’s already gathered, I think it looks fine.

I hemmed the shorts using my rolled-hem foot. It was fast and easy, but it could have been tidier. I need more practice using that.

FAQ on Sewing in the Cemetery

We have been getting some questions about the event we have scheduled with the Congressional Cemetery in Washington, DC on November 3, 2019.
Some of the people asking questions may be getting very into the fall spirit, and are picturing a site like this:
As much as we might like that (we were really into the Phantom of the Opera in high school)…the lighting is bad and the space is really cramped. We’d only be able to fit about 4 people in the public vault. By the way, the vault is actually rent-able and has been refurbished as a little “green room”, so we’re not knocking it, but it’s not suitable for this class.

On to the FAQ:

Is this a casual gathering of people who enjoy sewing or a sewing class?

This event will be a formal class focusing on hand sewing techniques with an introduction to basic pattern-making off of existing clothes, with Fran Kitty and Lisa Neel offering instruction.
The course will be roughly:

10-11: Introduction to embroidery stitches and visible mending

11-12:15: Hand-sewn repair and hemming stitches

12:15-1: Lunch and Optional Self Guided Tour of the Cemetery

1-2:30: Samples and practice of above techniques, specific garment consultation

2:30-4: Copying clothes without destruction

I am a beginner and don’t have a fancy sewing kit. What do I bring?

We will have an assortment of notions available for sale from the Twins N Needles shop (and some free samples!). You could bring just yourself and still get full instruction and samples from us. Contact us at ahead of time if you want something specific or help finding just the right thing for your sewing kit.

Where is the event?

We will be meeting at the Congressional Cemetery. The address is;
1801 E Street, SE
Washington, DC  20003

Is this Rain or Shine?

We will not literally be sitting among graves or in the chapel, but in a fully renovated Victorian-era Gate House attached to the main gate.  During the week, this is the office building where the volunteers and employees of the cemetery’s nonprofit work. We will be in a comfortable conference room with great natural light and table space for our participants to practice their stitching in comfort.
Here is the conference room, including the Twins N Needles unofficial Director of Fun in a rain coat. It will look like this, but tidier (this was right after another event and the staff hadn’t had time to put everything away).

What about lunch?

Participants will have access to a small kitchen to store and warm up lunch. Alternatively, many local restaurants deliver to the gate house.  We will have a break for lunch with enough time for participants to take a brief tour of the cemetery if they are interested in the site.
We will offer complementary tea, coffee, and filtered water all day.

Is there parking? How else can I get there?

There is street parking very near the gate house.  Street parking is free on Sundays in the District.
The cemetery is near the Stadium-Armory metro stop (7 minute walk), and the Potomac Avenue metro stop (10 minute walk).

Do I need tickets to attend this event?

Yes. Tickets are $150 and will be available until they sell out or until October 18, 2019.

I don’t have PayPal, how can I buy tickets?

PayPal is our ticket processing vendor and can accept any debit or credit card. We also take personal checks if mailed to:
Twins N Needles
891-I Rockville Pike
Rockville, MD  20852
If you register with a check, please be sure to include a letter with your name and contact information, so we can contact you if we need to put you on a waiting list if the class has filled while it was in the mail.

Why a graveyard?!?!?!

The Congressional Cemetery is a National Historic Landmark, with restored brick pathways and slate walks. The site’s historical significance, accessible location in the heart of the District, and beautiful gate house made it a space we wanted to use for one of our unique sewing events.
If the cemetery location turns you off, we hope you will enjoy another event of ours. We hold events in community centers, museums, textile centers, museums, club houses, and historic homes. Please consider following us on facebook or instagram for further details of what we have to offer.

Pattern Spotlight: Adding a Zipper to the Sweet Sixteen Bralette


I suppose it turns out that, when I find a pattern I like, I still can’t leave well enough alone.

This is the Sweet Sixteen Bralette Pattern, with a few alterations:

– zipper in front (back still has hooks, so that the band size adjusts)

– no rings for front strap attachment, they’re just sewn on

– there are rings on the back at the strap attachment point

– bottom band changed from fold over elastic/lace treatment to allow for 1-inch-wide elastic (the elastic is narrowed under the cups)

One change I wish I had made: I could have used underwire channeling along the cup/band seam. I don’t want to add underwires, but if I added that, it would have made the elastic more secure where I cut it and provided even more stability to the band.

When you add a zipper to anything there are a lot of ways to do it. Do you want the zipper tape completely exposed? Do you want the back of the zipper tape covered, if it’s not exposed to the front? Do you want a zipper guard?

I’ve made, loved, and worn my Greenstyle Endurance Sports Bras for a long time, so I decided to basically use the zipper technique from that pattern. For it to work, the front edge of the bralette has to be finished (with fold over elastic, for example). So, here are the steps I used for making this alteration.

Step 1: Cut down the center front (maybe)

If you’re testing your bralette for size, you might want to baste the center front and try it on before removing anything for the zipper. In this case, I’d made this size before and it fit well, so I didn’t do that. I removed the seam allowance, plus half the total width of the zipper teeth on each side of the center front. For this zipper, that meant slicing off 1/2 an inch, total, from each side.

Step 1.5: Stabilize

If you’re worried that the slightly stretchy nature of the bralette fabric will make it hard to sew it to a non-stretchy zipper, you could stabilize those front edges with either a fusible or sewn-in stabilizer such as stay tape.

Step 2: Finish the edge

I used fold over elastic. You could also use a binding or anything else that doesn’t require the edge to turn down or over.

Step 3: Measure for your zipper length and zipper guard

If you are finicky, you may want to measure the pattern piece to get your zipper length, remembering to take into account if you have folded the bottom band edge or used fold over elastic for the bottom band edge. If you’re less finicky, measure the edge you just finished.

Most zippers will need to be shortened to work. Separating zippers have to be shortened from the top. I haven’t tried these amazing locking zippers from bra-makers supply, but I will as soon as I run out of zippers. If you want a front-closing bra without a zipper that separates, I don’t understand your life.

If I remember correctly, my zipper needed to be 9 inches long, so I cut my zipper guard 11 inches long. This is so that it has just enough room to wrap around the top and the bottom of the zipper. I cut my guard from a relatively thick knit fabric that doesn’t curl and doesn’t fray, so there were no edges to finish on the guard. I curved the edges of the guard by just cutting it freehand, but you can leave it straight across or cut it on the diagonal.

Step 4: Baste the zipper guard to one side of the zipper tape

Use either machine basting or washaway wonder tape. Important note: Don’t baste the guard into its final position, yet. Simply center the zipper on the guard and baste it, flat. Don’t fold the top and bottom edges over. They need to fold over later.

Step 5: Install the zipper

If you’re feeling confident, you can fold the ends of the zipper guard into their final position and get all of this stitching done in one fell swoop. If not, simply sew in the zipper and then stitch the zipper guard ends by hand or machine.

That’s it! Enjoy your zip-front bralette!

Extra note: As I was stuffing the bralette for this photo (my dress form is a  b cup and the bralette is really, really, not a b cup), I noticed that, when it wasn’t stuffed enough, the front seam looked very wavy and lumpy. So, if that’s happened when you’ve made a bralette, you may want to try sizing down on the cup.


Muslins, Chainstitch, and Machines

If you are making muslins and don’t love using a seam ripper, you may want to look into having a machine in your arsenal that can perform a chain stitch. Chain stitching is very easy to pull out, so is convenient if you may have to open up seams. It can also be used to make very pretty machine embroidery.
Some, but not all, sergers are capable of making a chain stitch. I get the impression that you should expect chain stitch capabilities if your machine is also a coverstitch machine. As far as I know, a single-needle coverstitch is indistinguishable from a chain stitch.
There are dedicated chain stitch sewing machines, most of them early models, like Singer’s 20 and 24, Wilcox and Gibbs machines, and a whole bunch of others. Then you have lock-stitch machines (what most of us consider a “normal” stitch in a sewing machine) capable of chain stitch if you have the correct attachments, accessories and needle plates. Some industrial machines are dedicated chain stitchers. I see their work every time I open a bag of cat litter.
I’ve done cursory googling and searches of Facebook boards, so I’m not an expert, and you should read a manual for any machine you’re looking to purchase to see if it is supposed to be able to produce a chain stitch. It appears that almost all of the Singer Touch and Sew machines will chain stitch, with the correct attachments. These machines get a bad rap in some people’s books because not all of them have metal gears. If that matters a lot to you, they can certainly be found with metal gears – just bring a screwdriver when you’re buying and be ready to check! If nylon gears are ok with you, be prepared to replace them, if needed. I’m highly-motivated and I love bringing sewing machines back to life, so I don’t consider nylon gears a deal-breaker. (We’ll see if I still feel that way if the nylon gears I just replaced in a machine only last a year._