Friday, July 24, 2009

Sense and Sensibility Girl's Apron Pattern (TOS Review)

Aunt Sarah had turned a big long attic room into a sewing school where Nan and Mildred had full charge....Mrs. Bobbsey sat at the machine ready to do stitching while Aunt Sarah was busy "cutting out" on a long table in front of the low window.

"Now, young ladies," said Mrs. Bobbsey, "we have ready some blue gingham aprons. You see how they are cut out; two seams, one at each side, then they are to be closed down the back. There will be a pair of strings on each apron, and you may begin by pressing down a narrow hem on these strings. We will not need to baste them, just press them down with the finger this way."
-- The Bobbsey Twins in the Country, 1907

Well, if a bunch of eight-year-olds a hundred years ago could do it...surely I could manage to put together a child's apron of the same era? (My first big TOS Review Crew challenge.)

And designer Jennie Chancey of Sense and Sensibility Patterns (well-known for Regency gowns and other vintage patterns) certainly does try to make it easy and cover everything you need to know...between the pattern (girls' sizes 2-14, available as a download or in envelope), and the e-class (same page, scroll down past the pattern), and four bonus video segments, you would think that there could hardly be anything left out. Plus there are advantages to sewing this sort of apron: there are few extra notions needed; no collars, sleeves, or facings; and the sizes are fairly flexible. The apron itself can adjust as the child grows (you just tie it looser).

So I watched about half the e-class, helped my going-into-third-grade Crayons pick out fabric, thread and bias tape at an outlet store, and spent most of a wet weekend working on it...for her rather than with her. There wasn't much I thought she could help with, this time around...particularly because I was just getting the feel of the pattern too. Bias binding is something I have never had much success with (though Angry Chicken's No-Swearing method helps), and this apron takes a LOT of bias tape.

Actually too much. More than the pattern called for, by my count. That might have been because I completely messed up one pocket and had to discard it, but even so I think I would have been short. [UPDATE: Sense and Sensibility has confirmed that there was an error in the amount of bias tape recommended for sizes 4 and up. This has now been corrected.] So I had to wait most of a week before we could get back to the outlet store and I could finish it. (The pattern gives you a choice of making your own binding, using the same or contrasting fabric, or buying double-fold bias tape. Instructions for making your own are included in the e-class, but I did find some alternative methods online. I might have tried it this time, except that the fabric we bought came from the end of a bolt, and there wasn't enough of it to make self-binding.)

This is what I came up with.

Printing, taping and cutting out the 25-page multi-sized pattern was fairly easy (really, it was); cutting out the fabric was easy; the seam-sewing parts of the apron were easy. Even the small amount of gathering (and I don't like gathering either) turned out all right. But once again it was the bias tape that caused problems (those Edwardian eight-year-olds would have made mincemeat of me, and Cousin Ann--to switch books--would be doing her Look of Scorn). My mother was an impeccable seamstress; I am not. I have a medium amount of sewing knowledge, but my impatience with putting things together often shows in the end result. Especially if you look carefully at the ends of the straps (which go through loops on the back to become a bow). I went as slowly as I could around those corners, but they're still not perfect.

If you've never done something like this, I'd suggest buying (or making) even more binding, and cutting out a third strap just to practice on. (Another idea might be to make a potholder first, or two or three, until you've figured out how to get bias tape around corners as well as curves. Or cut some strap-sized rectangles and trim them for bookmarks.)

All in all, I'm pleased with the apron. It seems to be about the right size for Crayons (it was plenty long, and she is taller than average), although I think she could have used a longer strap length--it would have given a prettier bow in back. The pattern is attractive, and as you can see from the S&S page and from other reviewers' photos of their girls, it looks good made up in anything from old-fashioned prints to brighter colours.

I'd consider making another Sense and Sensibility pattern...actually, the one that interests me most (since I'm not planning on sewing any Regency bridesmaids' dresses) is the Girl's Simple Shift from Jennie's mom's site, Practically Pretty by Design. I think the apron and the dress together, made up in two pretty prints or a print and a solid, would be lovely together for little girls on special days...and then you might not mind spending forty to fifty dollars to make an apron.


Well, the E-class bundled with the pattern is U.S.$24.95. (The pattern by itself costs $12.95, plus shipping if you want a paper pattern instead of a download. If you're a good sewer or just like to figure things out for yourself, skip the e-class--the directions that come with the pattern are quite clear.) I bought three yards of fabric, at $4.50 a yard (half price), for a total of $13.48 Canadian. (I had to buy new fabric because I never have three full yards of anything in my scrap box, and unlike my friend the DHM I don't find entire bolts of fabric at yard sales.) I bought three-and-a-quarter yards of bulk bias tape at 50 cents a yard, for $1.53. The spool of thread was $5.50 (yes, even at the outlet store). And then I went back and bought four more yards of bias tape for $2. I used maybe a dollar's worth of that. So with tax, the materials came to $24.

That's a fifty-dollar apron.

I don't know exactly what comparable American fabric costs (a decent-weight cotton print that won't shrink too much), and maybe you can find a better price on thread, but I'd guess you'd still spend at least $15 on materials, if you have to buy new fabric.

That isn't a criticism of Sense and Sensibility, just the sad truth that sewing...unless you're using "found" materials and free patterns...costs money. But look on the package as a sewing class, for you and any younger people around you who would like to learn to sew. You'd pay that much for a real-life class anyway. Look on it as a pattern that you can use to make adorable toddler aprons for gifts. Look on it as part of your homeschooling, with the fact that you get an apron at the end kind of a nice bonus. Because otherwise that price might seem just a bit too steep for something to cover you while you cook.

Check out more reviews of this product (most made by much more talented seamstresses than Mama Squirrel) on the TOS Homeschool Crew site.

Dewey's Disclaimer: This pattern was provided free for review purposes, but no other payment was made.


Birdie said...

I love the apron! You did a wonderful job.

I have been amazed at just how available fabrics, yarns, trims, stuffing, thread and other crafting and sewing items are at thrift shops and garage sales. I buy as much as I can at those places to save money. I'm about a third of the way through my holiday sewing using items mostly acquired from garage sales and thrift shops. I did have to buy some gray thread today, however.

Mama Squirrel said...

Birdie: I have seen a couple of bags of stuffing recently; I have bought whole bags of ribbon ends and bulky yarn. The Apprentice has acquired many of her knitting needles at yard sales too. And sometimes I find useable fabric scraps (the yellow gingham we used for Crayons' Snowflake Cloth cost next to nothing at a church sale). When the Apprentice was really small, I bought some adult clothes and remade them into little jumpers and other things. But I have never found much new fabric in anything more than scrap-sized pieces.

christinethecurious said...

If your library has a copy of Couture The Art of Fine Sewing
by Roberta C. Carr

It has a whole chapter on working with the bias, but the big breakthrough for me was when my mother-in-law bought me a set of clover bias tube makers

That and using a rotory cutter with a measuring device on the side for cutting the strips before feeding them through the bias tube maker.

Having these tools lets me use up extras to pre-make trim, to either match or contrast with sewing projects. I don't bother with facings or sleeve hems, I bind everything. I have a shell that is older than my 11 year old son finished in this way, it will wear out at the underarm before the edge treatments go!

Sometimes it's in the tools, not the seamstress.

I remember my first few attempts to bind with the bias when I didn't have the bias tube makers, and I think your apron project is light years better than mine was!

Christine in Massachusetts

Debra said...

Love the colors! Winced at the price breakdown. I hadn't thought of it quite that way. Though mine was only about a $34 apron. And since I made a size 4, I'm quite sure the pattern will be used again... but still, yikes.

Though really, to take a class for me would cost at least as much, plus gas. I much prefer a class we can use 24/7 to one that requires me to get up and drive to town.

*Anyway* very cute apron. Great job :)

Mama Squirrel said...

Thanks, Debra! And Christine, thanks for the tips about bias binding--something to try next time around!

Michelle said...

True about the price if you only use the pattern once. If you calculate how much you can save by tracing the pattern and reusing it for many years, it is a wonderful money saver in the long run. You can also keep your eye out for fabric or buy it on sale.

Your apron came out very nice!

Mama Squirrel said...

Michelle: Thanks for your comments. As I mentioned, I did buy the fabric at half price, but you need quite a bit of it to make a full-length apron. I don't think that S&S's patterns are that much more expensive than any other pattern company--all patterns seem to cost quite a lot. If you can re-use them, that certainly helps. Those of us who are more occasional sewers sometimes don't get as much of our money's worth out of it.

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