Sunday, May 15, 2011

My Just-Sew Story

I've decided to get back into sewing a bit - I have my sewing machine here after all!  I used to do quite a bit, including prom dresses, and my wedding dress.  But all that was in the states, where the art of sewing is managed a bit differently.  There, you walk into a store armed with your measurements and some idea of what you want to make.  You pour over the pattern catalogs, collect your chosen pattern from the many drawers full, and read the "ingredients" list.  Then you browse for the perfect material, and swing by the notions section for matching thread, zippers, lace, and all the trimmings.  You take your pile to the counter, they measure out the amount of material stated on your pattern, give you a smidgen extra (although I saw less and less of this as time went on), and you're on your way!

Here, just to get off to a good start, there are no patterns.  Already you know it's going to be tough.  So, you start with some piece of clothing you have, but would like to change somewhat.  I chose a pair of shorts - I wear these almost constantly at home, and they're wearing out here and there.  I decided to make a pattern from the "sample" so I would have it for another time - I also think it is easier to modify and double-check measurements with a paper pattern.  I found that the paper the grocery store uses to wrap glass wine bottles works pretty well - especially if you've just opened that bottle, and have a glass of it handy.  I drew out my pattern, but forgot a seam allowance.  I discovered this in time, and so was able to tape an extension on :-).  I also discovered that I did *not* in fact have my french curve with me.  So I just winged it.

Next, I needed material!  I went to my neighborhood Yamuni - a department store that has a nice selection of material.  They had a large selection of curtain/drape material, some fleece and toweling, some suiting, and some basic blends.  It is very difficult to find cotton or silk, and wool is just not to be dreamt of.  Not that I *want* wool in the tropics, but these are things you need to be aware of.  Since I have no handy-dandy pattern telling me how much material to get, I'm back to winging it - I get a meter.  Turns out it was on sale, so that it cost me all of $1.25...

However!  Yamuni has no notions!  Here in Costa Rica, they have a type of store called a "pasamanería" - *this* is where you go for all your sewing notions!  Not knowing (yet!) where one of these is, and knowing that I have some basic notions in my kit, I feel like I'm in good shape.  Can you say "famous last words?" 

I got my material washed and straightened, lined up and cut out.  Remember those nice instructions included in a pattern? Sew this part first, line up these notches, start in the center, etc. Hah!  Fortunately, I remembered a lot.  I sewed a few seams, then pinned up the sides, and tried on my pseudo-shorts.  Looked good, but I want to adjust a thing or two.  In the end, they do the job, but there is an entire list of "oopses:"
- I wanted to use the selvage, but after adjusting the seam allowance, the selvage shows.
- When I clipped the excess material from the inseam, I snagged the leg.  Sigh. Now it's patched and zigzagged; doesn't show :-) but I know it's there.
- I added enough to the pockets to account for the waist, but not enough for the stitching - Pockets are now definitely just for looks, since my hand won't quite fit.
- I was careful to keep the embellishment on one side from flipping, but the other side... bent.
- When I measured the sample, the back curved up at the waist.  When I put the new shorts together, it didn't really work that way.  An easy adjustment to make :-)
- At the leg, the two halves *almost* line up at the hem.  Also easy to fix.
- I knew I didn't have enough blue thread for the whole project, so I went with the white thread I had.  I got to the final hem, and ran out!  Fortunately, I had enough bobbin thread, and I could work it so that it was what showed :-)

Not bad for a prototype...


Liz K said...

Thank you!!! I just moved to San Jose and brought my machine as well. We are still trying to get the basics settled, but I was wondering about fabric and notions:)

Julie said...

there are lots of fabric stores here, and at least one chain includes a pasamaneria as well. On the West end of the pedestrian walkway, there are about half a dozen! As soon as I find a good pasamaneria, I'll post about it.
You can get patterns online, but I haven't tried this yet.
For large amounts of notions, try PSJ:

Alison said...

I am totally impressed. Sewing my own clothes is not even on the list of things I should try. I have an aversion to machines. I somehow think hand sewn shorts is a bad idea.

Julie said...

LOL Alison! Just think of it as another medium for expression :-)

Pat and John said...

Another good place for fabric is at Llobets, directly across from the mercado central.

You can also buy and download patterns online here You just have to piece the pages together.

I plan to get back to sewing as soon as we get relocated in CR. My sewing machine is already packed for the container. I stocked up on some basic patterns for me and my husband that should keep me busy for awhile.

Julie said...

P&J - good for you! and thanks for the link. The only LLobet's I know about is in Alajuela, and they do have a large fabric section. Also in Alajuela is the Metrokilo chain, with one just a block or two North of the NW corner of the central park.
Just this evening, I was walking from the pedestrian boulevard in SJ, towards the Mercado Borbón, and I saw what looked like a very large pasamanería! I couldn't take the time to investigate, but I'll have to check it out some time.

Anonymous said...

Hi, I am moving to Costa Rica in a couple weeks and I was wondering how you brought your machine down with you? Would live to bring mine but worried it might be broken if I send it through luggage...

Julie said...

Hey Anon -
That's a good question, all right! I brought it in my luggage, but got one of those plastic footlockers (Walmart, for example) that is exactly the correct airline size. It was tall enough that my machine could sit in the "normal" position. Then I packed around it - a bit of padding above and below, and it worked great! Also, if you use the footlockers, drill an extra hole at the snaplocks and use zipties - the snaplocks snap right off...

Jen Rice said...

Thanks so much for this post (and to google who found it!). I happen to be in Alajuela right now and will look into your recommendations.

My BFF/business partner and I just moved to CR. We are starting a business to promote sustainable tourism and one way we are going to do that is to teach local Tica's how to sew and then make and sell beach/hand bags. Sourcing our supplies economically is critical.

If interested, our website is It's still a little early in the process but fun to keep in touch with expats who love to sew.

Do post again if you found a good pasamaneria :)
Pura Vida,