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Plaid Top Tutorial: Lesson 2-Make a muslin, fitting and sleeves

Tuesday, February 21st, 2023

At the end of Lesson 1, I was showing you how far off the fitting is in this pattern when applied to my body: broad shoulders, small bust.

Please note:  I am affiliated with Janome as a Janome Artisan and am compensated.  However, my reviews are honest and I would say what I say whether affiliated or not.  I’ve also chosen to be affiliated with Janome since 2003 (!!!) because their machines are so good and they are so responsive to the interests and needs of their customers.

There’s a LOT of detail in this post, but if you read through you’ll learn why it’s a joy and a wonder when you can find a pattern that works for your body.  And once you make any necessary changes, it is fairly easy to use that pattern and make variations on the theme.  Somewhere down below I mention taking a WONDERFUL, highly-recommended, can’t say enough good tings about Garment Makers Question Time with Philippa Naylor.  I have been sewing over 55 years.  Others in the class have never made a garment. Yet we ALL are learning and getting good results!    You start out easy with a shift dress, move to a skirt, on up to rain jackets and fancy stuff!   I got sidetracked with life last year but can’t wait to get back to it.  Her work experience in the garment industry long before she became a quilter is golden.

It’s kinda like prepping a house to paint it–you have to do the yucky sanding and spackling and priming or the paint job won’t turn out well now matter how good the paint and painter.  This is the prep work part of a successful garment!

View from the back..see those pull lines across the upper back, that means even with the slices it is still too tight! Part of the problem is that the pattern sleeve pieces are cut without a front/back to the sleeve cap.

A close up of the top…holding a ruler to show how much I need to alter the pattern to make it anywhere near fitting properly. There are many books and videos and workshops to learn how to do this, but the one that finally made it click and work for me was GMQT.  Your mileage may vary, you may grasp the concepts well from some of the tried-and-true books from the 80s even.  But this is how I finally “got it.”

There are MANY resources, from books to youtube to online and in person classes to learn about fitting. A year ago I signed up for Philippa Naylor’s Garment Makers’ Question Time, a 12-month series of classes for a price that is modest, especially considering the vast amount of knowledge and content. I HIGHLY RECOMMEND THIS WORKSHOP (not affiliated, just a happy student). Finally, after making clothes for more than 50 years, I feel confident in making alterations. The caption on the photo explains what I did to make it fit.

The upper bodice area was also too short…not enough room for my arms to move, so I lengthened by 1/2″. You can see the pencil notes… I made the cut perpendicular to the center front, spread the pieces and inserted more paper. I guesstimated where to make this change since the pattern itself does not include the standard lengthen/shorten here markings. I also raised the neckline since this is a winter top and Maine is cold!

I knew that the sleeve pattern was a problem as soon as I saw that it was cut symmetrically.  If you look at a human body from the side, the arm curves to the front.  A sleeve needs to do the same, not hang like a plumb line from the shoulder point.  The fact that the pattern piece was symmetrical (cut on the fold) meant it could never fit properly. I knew I could modify a sleeve pattern piece from another pattern if the length of the seams matched closely enough to make it work.

I used a technique I learned in that is called “walking the seam.”  You measure the length of the SEAM line, not the edge of the pattern piece on, in this case, the armhole opening and the top of the sleeve.  Luckily, my pattern piece from a different garment was within 1/4″.

To “walk the seam” you set your tape measure on its edge, and measure along what will be the seamline.  After adding in the extra 1/2″ length (you can see the taped insert in the photo above), that changed the side seam length, which meant I needed to make sure the front side seam matched the back side seam (easily done since it is just a straight line).  See next photo.  PS–if you want to make pattern weights like mine, my free tutorial is here.


This is the bottom front of the garment. Because of the changes to fix the narrow shoulders and shallow armpit, it altered the side seam, so I had to lengthen the side seam so the front and back side seams would be the same length.

I looked in my collection of patterns–yes, I have patterns going back to the 1970s!–and found one with a sleeve I thought would work. It did!

In the next photo you will see notches and dots.  These are standard in the pattern industry.  One notch on a sleeve usually means the front of the sleeve, two notches is the back side of the sleeve.  Dots are used for various purposes.  Sometimes they show where to run gathers from one spot to the next.  Other times they indicate where you match up the shoulder seam.  That means you can distribute the easing/gathering on the sleeve cap so the sleeve actually FITS and runs around the body in a way that allows you to move your arm.  Sorry–but I was just SO frustrated with this pattern.  It is, sadly, destined to make new sewers think they can’t do anything right, when the error lies in the pattern!

Notches, dots and lengthen/shorten lines actually make it EASIER for a newbie to figure out what goes where. Eliminating those marks does not help!

I have cut a sleeve pattern that merges the 100 Acts of Sewing pattern and the Simplicity sleeve pattern. I removed (yellow) from the sleeve cap to eliminate the bubble in the front of the sleeve and added (pink) to add room to move your arms forward. The sleeves on the pattern are described as long, but doesn’t specify if that is halfway down the forearm, 3/4 and/or bracelet length, or full length. I needed to add more, but not quite as much as pictured here.

Flare at the hem, you ask?  Why yes…if your sleeve angles out (or pants leg) and gets wider as it goes up, you need to have a hem that does the same.  Once you have figured out the correct spot to hem, fold the fabric up on the hemline and trim to match the angle of the seam.

PHEW.  So…that’s a lot.  Thanks for reading this far–so you get another shot of the finished top, with the infinity scarf on my arm so you can see the top better. Next up:  seam finishes, with a couple short videos!

I had just enough leftover that I was able to make myself an infinity scarf to keep my neck warm.

Here are the links to all the posts in this series of lessons, techniques that can be applied to virtually any garment and many home dec projects.   Let me know what you’d like to learn and see here on the blog.  Cheers and thanks, Sarah

Lesson 1:   Choosing a Pattern and Starting Tips

Lesson 2:   Making a Muslin, Fitting and Sleeves

Lesson 3:   Matching Plaids, Cutting out Your Garment Pieces

Lesson 4:  Overcast Seams, just like Serged Seams

Lesson 5:   French Seams

Lesson 6:  Lapped and Flat-felled Seams

Lesson 7:  Hong Kong Finish for Seams

Lesson 8:  Lined Patch Pocket Tutorial

Lesson 9:  Hems and Scarf

When to pre-shrink!

Thursday, January 23rd, 2020

Over the past week to two weeks, I have been working on ….sit down and prepare yourselves for this… a **pieced** quilt. Yes, me. A very simple pieced quilt, but nonetheless.

Eye-candy…my 214 colors, test-driving super wide borders with possible squares or rectangles. I’m going with nothing to distract from that glorious grid of color. Hopefully the quilting will make the wide borders look good. Want them that big so they will fit on a king size bed–we’ve got a queen but the pug takes up a ridiculous amount of room for such a small dog! The center is 72″ and overall I’m hoping for about 100″ square.

I’ve also been experimenting with the AccuQuiltGO! that was given to this year’s crop of Michael Miller Fabrics Brand Ambassadors. To my distress my block was not perfect–too small! I KNEW it had to be something on my end (it was), so I triple checked my seams (perfect to scant). I checked the size of the fabric cut on the dies: perfect. I checked that I used the correct dies: I did. Then I noticed something. After ironing, the block seemed off. Look at what I discovered:

First I placed my half square triangles on the dies, and look how much smaller the pieces are after sewing and ironing! So then I checked the start of the square-in-a-square center of the block. Same thing: after steam ironing/pressing, a unit that finishes at 2″ and one that finishes at 3 1/4″ are each 1/16-1/8″ smaller!

I decided to get a bit more scientific about it: Cut, measure, dry iron, measure, steam iron, measure. Here is what happened with the Cotton Couture, a delightful solid with a glorious feel in the hand:

Batiks are made using hand-dyeing processes that include a resist being applied (usually wax of some sort), then the wax is washed out, more dye applied, and so on. This means some of the shrinkage should already have happened.

As cut with the AccuQuiltGO! Perfect 4 1/2″
One last image: Here I created the center square-in-a-square for a pieced block. I cut the purple fabric to 4 1/2″ thinking that might help my accuracy, and sewed on two half square triangles. I then used navy for the central square and piled on identical half square triangles. All are cut with the lengthwise grain as suggested by Accuquilt for accuracy. LOOK at how much smaller due to more pressing and moisture from the iron. ERK!

So my lesson is, when I am not fusing things up, I really need to either pre-steam-iron everything, or prewash and mostly-dry it and then iron dry and smooth. I can now use the perfection of the AccuquiltGO and actually achieve as close to perfect as I will ever get! Now, off to order backing fabric for my BIG quilt.

Copyright and Copy-Wrong–someone’s work looks SO like mine

Wednesday, March 4th, 2015

Well, it finally happened.   Someone has made a couple quilts that look exactly as if the person saw my two quilts pictured here and copied them without permission.   And she is calling them “original art” and protected by “her copyright.”  Sigh.  I asked her nicely to give credit, she refused (letter below and boy is it mean–letter removed under threat of legal action by the author), so have written to Etsy to request removal of the two “copy” quilts.  Like I really wanted or needed this headache?  So I decided to write this post to share what has happened to me so that both new and experienced artists might learn from what has happened.  I would add that I totally *encourage* my students to use my patterns and make copies–that permission is given in the pattern.  But these are my original art, not patterened, and may NOT be copied nor derivative works made.  Read on!

I made this quilt, A Sense of Place::The Wall, in late 2006/early 2007.  It was published in 500 Art Quilts (ed. Karey Bresenhan, Lark Books), has been exhibited and is on my website and on my professional member gallery at

I made this quilt, A Sense of Place::The Wall, in late 2006/early 2007. It was published in 500 Art Quilts (ed. Karey Bresenhan, Lark Books), has been exhibited and is on my website and on my professional member gallery at

This is a companion piece, The Tree, which was in the FiberArt For a Cause cancer fundraiser (and sold on Gold Donor Day, thank you again K. McNeese!)

This is a companion piece, The Tree, which was in the FiberArt For a Cause cancer fundraiser (and sold on Gold Donor Day, thank you again K. McNeese!)

From the artist’s Etsy shop and website, it looks as though she is serious about starting a career in textile art (good for her), is working at it (ditto), but is still on the first part of the learning curve and hasn’t quite figured out what is “her.”  That’s fine–all of us have been at that point!  That’s how we learn.

QUICK UPDATE:  both Etsy and Pinterest reviewed the person’s postings, my work, and have removed the two items that were problems.  I have to give BIG kudos to Pinterest, which removed the pins of the two quilts in question in less than 3 hours!  and to Etsy.  Etsy responded so kindly — really impressed.  End of Update.  Moving on!

This kerfuffle started on Sunday evening when I received an email from someone I know by name and have met once, briefly, in person.  She wrote to tell me she had seen a piece that she thought looked just like mine and  the artist in question had them for sale on Etsy.  After checking out the Etsy shop and the artist’s website,   I then wrote to said artist and offered to let her continue to sell these works as long as she removed the “original art” and copyright notices since they appear to be clearly derivative of my work and credit me with the original design (and link to my website).   I’ll post my letter to her in at the end of this post, then her reply to me below that, but I will NOT publish her name, Etsy shop or website here. I SO wish I could share a link to her Etsy and Website because you’d see clearly why I feel the works, while not identical, are so clearly derivative (and yes, I have screen shots of her Etsy and web pages on my computer in case she decides to get litigious).  Once you read her letter, you’ll understand why–talk about vicious.  Sheesh.  Anyway, I feel fine publishing the content of the email because it was sent to me, and is therefore for me to do with as I see fit despite her request that I not go public with it (why?  wonder if she realizes how bad it makes her look?).  Unfortunately, she declined my  offer that could have solved this whole mess. I don’t know how I could have been any more gracious or helpful while still defending my own rights politely but firmly.

The artist, in her reply to my inquiry to her (through her website), was very angry, spoke about synchronicity (when two people in different places do the same sort of thing at the same time) and more.  I agree that synchronicity happens, but in this case the two pieces I found are so similar to mine which were made years earlier than hers:  colors, composition, subject matter (trees in winter), down to a wall of colorful stones fused onto black, a wall that extends across from one side to the other, that it defies credulity that this could be synchronicity.  Are winter scenes of trees with bare branches in snow common?  Sure!   Am I the only one who plays with a colorful palette?  Of course not!   But all of those things, down to the stone wall constructed in an identical manner?  Nope.  I’m not buying that one.  It is entirely possible she saw my quilt in the 500 Art Quilts book and was not aware that it was in her mind when she made her pieces.  But to say the similarity is synchronicity strains credulity beyond the breaking point.

There is a ton of stuff on the internet about copyright law in general and US copyright law specifically.  And I am NOT a lawyer.   But I do know that I and anyone I know who has seen her works and mine have immediately seen that her works **appear to be** a blatant copy.   I’m OK with people copying provided they do so with permission (she did not ask or have that), such as my students and people who purchase my patterns, and they respect the original artist and her legal rights.  In fact, I asked a few folks I know (some who know my work well, one who doesn’t) to make sure they see her Etsy listing to corroborate my version of events and tell me that they feel the works are copies–not identical but clearly copies. The artist –in her letter to me below (NOTE:  letter removed due to thread of legal action by the author)– even said perhaps I copied her and noted  that she made her pieces “a few years ago.”  Mine were made in late 2006, years before “a few years ago,” and the copyright statement on her Etsy listing says copyright 2013-2015.  Clearly I could not have copied what she made years later.  Whether she copied intentionally or unwittingly is not the point; she simply refused to acknowledge that her works are derivative.

Tuesday I wrote to Etsy to ask them to remove the two items in question since clearly the person who made them has furiously rejected my offer (see below) and won’t make things right on her own.  I don’t know what will come of it, but I am pleased to say that within two hours of hitting “send” on my email to the Etsy legal department I had an initial response.  I’ll post later with whatever transpires.


LESSON:  Go through the hassle of learning technology.  Just this past few weeks, in an online Photography class with Ricky Tims, I’ve learned how to embed my copyright information in photos, so henceforward all photos I post will have the copyright in the digital metadata.

LESSON:  Nothing will keep people from copying, or help those who don’t wish to listen or understand that what they have done is wrong.

LESSON:  You just gotta keep making your art and move on.  But you DO need to speak up, loudly, and defend your work and your rights.  So that’s what I’m doing.

LESSON:  For those of you new to art and art quilting, learn.  Learn all that you can.  Copy if you need to do so to learn, but be respectful.  And learn about copyright.  There are links below in my letter to the artist that take you to the source (for those of us in the US):  the US Copyright Office.

LESSON:  Document everything.  The fact that I blogged about these quilts in 2007 helps.  The fact that the metadata (digital encoding) on my photo files shows they were taken in late January 2007 helps.  I keep all my working drawings, patternings and notes in a manila envelope for each quilt, dated and tucked into a file cabinet.  Glad I do!  These two quilts were more spontaneous, but I do have the blog and photo info.

LESSON:  If something happens and one is as upset as this person clearly is in her letter below, perhaps one should stop and wonder WHY.  Perhaps she deep down realizes that the similarity is more than accidental and is upset that she has been caught out and called on it?  Who knows?

LESSON:  There are good people out there who alerted me to this.  We take care of each other.

So if you’re up for reading even more of this stuff,   my letter is below, followed by her response.  I leave you to draw your own conclusions.   Her words speak very loudly, but they may not be saying what she hopes.  They do say a lot about her.  It’s a shame, because she is clearly working hard and diligently at something she loves.  I hope she will learn from her mistake, and also learn that this is a small community and word gets around.  Again, I will NOT share her name.

My letter to her and her reply (with identifying information removed) are quoted below in their entirety.

On Mon, Mar 2, 2015 at 8:57 AM, Sarah Ann Smith <my email removed to nix more spam> wrote:
From: Sarah Ann Smith <my email removed to nix more spam>

Subject: HerWEBSITE Contact Form

Message Body:
Hi NAME!  Welcome to the world of art quilting!   I stumbled across your Etsy listing of a couple quilts, the XXX-NAME-XXX series, that look exactly like copies of my A Sense of Place: The Wall and A Sense of Place:  The Tree works.   Hmmm…  not good!  Especially since you are claiming copyright to these as original works when they are clearly derivative of my copyrighted original works.

I’m not about to be a big bad meanie.  I understand that you are somewhat new to art quilts and perhaps don’t understand copyright, copyright law, and some of the nuances because, frankly, it is somewhat complicated.  I’ll add a few hotlinks to US government sites that explain it at the end of this message.

Someone who saw your work immediately recognized the pieces as a take-off of my work, so it is clear that you were inspired by my work.  THANK YOU for liking it so much you wanted to copy these pieces.  We all learn by copying those who came before us.  However, to be blunt, it is not right for you to state that your SERIES NAME pieces are original artworks and subject to your copyright.  In fact, that is illegal (check those links at the end of this message).  In asserting such a claim you are in fact infringing on my copyright on my original artwork, created in 2004.

Because you are just starting out and probably do not understand fully how copyright works (for example, changing something 10 percent is a fallacy, copyright is still copyright), I am willing to let you display these works on your website and sell the existing works if, and only if in any place where they are published (including your website and Etsy shop), you remove the statement that they are original and copyrighted by you , and add a statement that they are “based on original artwork by Sarah Ann Smith at” and that I have “given NAME  permission to sell these three works only.”  Further, you may not make any further works based on my artwork.   I know each piece takes a lot of time, and respect your right to earn a living.  But I also need to protect my own ability to make a living from my art.

Here are three hotlinks that may help you understand copyright:

This link  talks about Copyright Basics and is quite helpful.  It says in part   “Section 106 of the 1976 Copyright Act generally gives the owner of copyright the exclusiveright to do and to authorize others to do the following:
• reproduce the work in copies or  phonorecords
• prepare derivative works based  upon the works”

Your quilts fall into the “derivative works,” and are therefore not legal.  As I said, I’m willing to let you sell these, as long as you remove the statement that they are original to you and add a statement that they are based on my work, with a link to my website.  These statements need to appear any place on the web or in a gallery/craft show/shop, wherever, that you display or sell your NAME OF SERIES pieces.

Your work is lovely, you clearly love color and fabric as much as I do.   I’d like to encourage you to keep learning and listen to your own muse.  No one can make YOUR art as well as YOU do.   Copying is a good way to learn, but making your own original art is even better.

I’ll check your website to make sure you have complied.   Thank you for attending to this promptly!  We’ve all got better stuff to do –like make art– than deal with copyright violations!  Cheers, Sarah Ann Smith.
This e-mail was sent from Artist’s WEBSITE

And here is her astonishingly virulent reply to me, in its entirety, but I have removed names ( it’ll be obvious where):


LETTER REMOVED, 3:37 pm March 13, 2015 under thread of legal action by the author.


And back to me:

Enough said!  I find it curious that she refused to even go look at my works, since she would have seen the similarity instantly.  Maybe she didn’t want to know the truth???  At coffee with my BFF yesterday, I showed her the other person’s pieces on my phone, and (because they were little on the phone screen) my BFF at first thought they were mine!   How clear is that?   Anyway, let’s hope Etsy does the right thing.  I am sure the artist will not remove  one that is on her website, but frankly that one is simple a generic winter scene and doesn’t have the stone wall, so it doesn’t bother me.  It’s the two on Etsy that are clearly deriative.  Now, on to more fun things to do with my life!