How to write a sewing book in 5 easy steps

Step 1:  Have an idea. A book is best if it’s about something.

Step 2:  Write an outline. Just put your ideas on paper. You can fine-tune the order later.

Step 3:  Spin your wheels. This is most helpful paired with succumbing to crippling self-doubt. I recommend spending a minimum of 75 percent of your total creative time stewing and agonizing about the impossibility of the project, your inability to begin it, much less complete it, and thoughts regarding the absurdity that a single human will ever find value in it.  If you have the opportunity to work through this step during a global health crisis that plunges you in to sudden and complete unemployment, all the better.  You’ve got nothing but time, baby. There are different ways to spin your wheels.  You’ll find which way works best for you. I’ll just share what I do.  And it’s proven!  I am officially a published author.You are going to need a couch for most of this work.  Yeah, you could just get up and sew and write about it, but where is the misery in that? I prefer to first spend about two months laying on the couch, shades drawn, re-reading detective and courtroom drama fiction.  The titles are not important, but the fact that you’ve read them before and have completely forgotten the plots is imperative.  By doing this you can layer your self-torture with the creeping worry that you are losing your memory.  This is subtle, but effective. You can get up for exercise and meals (best consumed on the same couch) and of course to go to bed, but remember, this will take time away from your agonizing. Falling asleep on the same couch wearing the same pajamas you never changed out of during the day has proven to multiply desired results. Personal hygiene is absolutely optional. I will say, however, that not washing your face for days at a time will lead to the need for multiple applications of a serious hydrating mask.

Step 4:  Cry. Cry a lot. Cry about how you feel in your heart of hearts that even though you know your subject inside out, that you are incapable of transferring it into words.  After you finish a good cry, get back to the couch and resume reading that crime drama.  What?  You cried while reading?  Congratulations!  You’re catching on fast.

What are you waiting for?  Two months is a long, long time to spend on the couch.  The sooner you start suffering, the sooner you can be through this wheel-spinning step and start creating your masterpiece.

Step 5:  Write your book. It really is that easy. Who knew? If at any time you are having trouble, feeling a block, or need to research anything, repeat steps 3 and 4.  Steps 3 and 4 really are the system, so don’t feel bad if you need to get back there and do the work again.

Hugs & stitches,

Helen and Hazel

PS. This is not meant to minimize what we have all endured the past many months.  I tend to turn to humor to describe my experiences- in hindsight, but it’s been stranger times, for sure.  My sadness was and is real. Take good care, my friends.

Perfectly Positioned Sleeve Seams

I am often asked:  How do I adjust the shoulder seam on my sleeves for my narrow shoulders?  I’ve written a little picture tutorial to help.  Shoot me an email if you need more help.  Since the COVID-19 mess I’ve begun long-distance teaching.  I don’t want to call it virtual because it’s still teaching and you are learning with real feedback, and because everyone else is calling it virtual and I’m sick of the word.  So there.  Let’s set in that perfect sleeve with the seams sitting right at the position where YOU want them.  

  • Ease your sleeve cap on the seam line. Sew a line of stitching right on your seamline using a 2.5mm stitch length holding your pinky finger behind the pressure foot to gently ease the sleeve cap. The fabric will squinch ™ up behind your finger, easing the cap perfectly.
  • Pin BOTH sleeves into the armholes, right sides together, with pins inline with the seam.
  • Try on the shirt and see where the seam falls on your body.  Does it need to be moved in or out?  Mark on your bodice at the shoulder where you want the new seam with a pin.

~If no changes are needed, baste this sleeves with a long stitch.  Try on again.  Sew sleeves. 

~If the seam needs to move out, toward the arm (broad shoulders): sew your sleeve with a shallower seam in the bodice only.

~ If you need to move the seam in, toward the neck (narrower shoulders):

  • Unpin the sleeves and lay bodice flat.  Keep the pin marking the new seam.
  • Measure a seam allowance distance away from the pin toward the raw edge of armhole.
  • Draw a line to trim away a bit of the armhole to move the seam.  Trim away fabric on your line.
  • Be sure to re-mark and snip your front and back notches.
  • Baste in your sleeve.
  • Try on again to make sure you love it.
  • Sew in your sleeve.
  • Complete shirt and wear it while indulging in what ever celebratory activity you find appropriate.  YOU DID IT!  Whoo-hoo!

Katie’s Dynamite Knits

I met Katie a couple of years ago when I was teaching from my garage.  Ugh.  Let’s not talk about that part.  Katie signed up for a couple of private lessons with the intent to sew with her two young daughters.  The girls, though freaking adorable, were not that into it.  Katie, however, took to it like fish to water and started sewing like a maniac from her neighbor’s hand-me-down stash.  The next thing I knew I got a text with a picture of a stack of little zip-top pouches and the announcement, “I accidentally made seven of these”.

For her next lesson she brought a slinky knit and wanted to make a dress for her daughter with no pattern.  LOVE the no-fear approach to sewing.  Cotton bags to knits and no stopping to think about it.  We went though a lightning knits lesson and she was off and running.

Next it was emails requesting serger recommendations.  Every once in a while I get a note with more pictures of her creations.  I’m sharing some of those here today.  I can’t take credit for teaching Katie to sew.  She taught herself to sew.  I just helped her thread her machine.

Hugs & stitches,


Rebecca’s Stunning Sweaters

I’m sick of talking about me.  Let’s talk about some of the truly gifted sewists I’ve had the extreme pleasure of meeting and working with.  Today I’m featuring a lovely woman that took both levels of my serger classes at Fabric Depot in Portland.  Rebecca took off flying with her up cycled sweater designs.  She carefully scours the second hand clothing stores for sweaters and fabrics to make into these fabulous sweater coats.  They are each a unique and creative work of art, pieced together using a 4-thread overlock stitch.  She uses patterns and inspiration by Katwise, adding her own design twist.

Students send me lots of photos of their makes and I’ve decided to start a little series featuring these.  I hope you enjoy them and find inspiration in their works and stories.

Hugs & Stitches,


How to Start a Sewing Biz and Quit Your Day Job in 10 (not so) Easy Years

Photo by Kaylee Kepple

Note:  Today is March 19, 2018.  I began writing this story on August 31, 2016-the day I ‘retired’ from my very comfortable, secure job with our local electric utility.  If it seems out of time sequence in places, it probably is. I decided to finally publish this as this month marks the 10 year anniversary of my sewing lounge.  Hope it amuses you.  xo, Helen

The short version Today I leave my day job to pursue a career in sewing education. The End.

The medium version Ummm, this didn’t happen overnight. It took over ten years of planning and juggling both jobs until I would make it work well enough to even take the jump.   You can check back and see how it’s going or even better click here to sign up for my email list and have my stories sent directly to you.

The long version 2005: Realize after 10 years at my job that I have no interest, much less passion, in the generation, transmission or distribution of electricity. This sucked, since I worked for the electric company. I did jobs that had elements of things I liked to do, but it became pretty obvious after a while that I wasn’t going to shine as brightly as or climb as far as I wanted to in this career path.

2006: Reach out to a life coach—Rachelle Disbennett-Lee. Spend 2 months literally crying during our weekly telephone appointments because – how could I follow a passion if I didn’t know what it was? I seriously can’t believe she didn’t refuse to work with me. Pathetic! I knew in my heart of hearts that I loved sewing more than anything, but I really didn’t like sewing for other people and oh how I loathe alterations.

Rachelle had me do a lot of exercises that helped me see my true values and how to direct my actions toward them. It was eye-opening. One item on my ‘100 things I want to do’ list (just a great big list of anything that I even remotely thought I might want to do) was play in a band…So, like any responsible adult, I got a guitar, learned to play and write songs and started a band. We called it Dye Hippie Dye and this, my friends, is another story for another day. As much fun as it was, it was never going to help pay my bills, though one night I made $67 for a solo gig, my highest earnings in music to date.  I’d have to keep working at a job that just didn’t make me dazzle.

Then it happened. I saw a tiny article in Sew News Magazine about sewing lounges—places to go hang out and sew, or learn to sew, or use equipment you might not have or have the space for in your home. This was IT. I could do this. I could do this part time in my home. It was a real, tangible idea, but that didn’t make it quick or easy.

I drove to San Francisco and visited Stitch Lounge and took a couple of classes. I called Maggie Schneider of Sewing Lounge in St. Paul and picked her brain. I started buying and repairing used sewing machines from CraigsList. I read books about teaching sewing or running a sewing business. One such book is called The Business Of Teaching Sewing by Pati Palmer and Marcy Miller. What a great book! Tells you everything you need to do. Period. A google search told me that Pati Palmer lived right across the river in Portland and that Palmer/Pletsch held sewing workshops in Portland, too. Crazy! The first workshop I attended was Fit for Real People, taught by Pati and Marta Alto. It was awesome. I took the teacher training for that course and became a Certified Sewing Instructor (CSI). Now I had cred! Helen Bartley, CSI. Love.

The first incarnation of the lounge in my basement bonus room

The original lounge in my basement

2007: In November I moved house so I would have a space for my sewing lounge. Please don’t think I lived in a puddle of money. I was a single mom with two kids, working a full time job and making it okay, but definitely not raking it in. It was a reach and scary but I knew I had to do it. I had to do it to see if I could. This house had a basement family room with a utility room/half bath and a split entry so sewing customers wouldn’t need to walk through the house to get to the studio. I cobbled together a studio with my used sewing machines and IKEA tables and lamps. Karl with Diversity Design built me a website so I could advertise and sell my classes online. I loaded up the calendar and stared at it and thought…now what?

2008: In May I have my grand opening. My friends come over and we have a fun party. No customers. Then one day, I got an order. It came in my email. Seam Divas Sewing Lounge-You have a new customer order! Wow. Someone who didn’t even know me paid for a sewing class. Cool. I taught so many ‘classes’ with only one in attendance. Sometimes month-long series’ with only one person. But I looked at it like this: I only had to go downstairs and turn on the lights and I’d be in business. And it beat watching TV. I met some really great people and they got some really great private sewing lessons!

2009-2013: I can’t remember blow-by-blow what happened during these years. I could look it all up, but it isn’t important. What does seem important is that I kept my eye on the ball—kept working on the sewing business and kept planning how to make it into something sustainable.  I’d have to look up the date, but during these years I am hired by my sewing icon, Pati Palmer, to assist an eventually teach some of her phenomenal 2 & 4-day sewing workshops.  Beyond an honor and frankly the most important work I’ve done in my life, next to raising a couple of very cool kids.

The first incarnation of the lounge in my basement bonus room

The garage months…

2014: In February 2014 I closed the lounge down temporarily and turned the room into an apartment for my mom. She was 90 and still quite independent but with a couple of small health scares and the fact that she lived across town, we decided sharing the house was a good plan. The remodeling went as most do with elements of greatness and of great frustration. Now, where do I sew? I turned a portion of my garage into a formal sewing/utility room. It is long and narrow with no windows, but heated and has dedicated circuits for irons. I taught private lessons here for a little over a year but really missed the fun (and income!) of group lessons and started to look at the larger garage space.

2015: I uber cleaned and fashioned some climate control for the garage proper and created a classroom that could be set up and taken down in just a few minutes. I could still get two cars parked between classes. It could work.

2016: The first classes in the ‘garage’ collapsible sewing classroom were held in June. It worked. During the warm summer evenings it was really special to look out and see the sunset. I have a great view of the Portland lights. The warm breezes could be great for relaxing, not so great for the tossing about of pattern pieces! Ugh. It’s always something. The days grew hotter and I purchased a portable air conditioner for the space, but at 75 pounds it was just too heavy to lug onto the counter to reach the little basement window to vent. Curses! Next I got a window AC unit and…the weather cooled down and I never installed it. Double ugh.

AUGUST 31, 2016: Real live red-letter day! On this day I ‘retired’ from my day job to pursue my career in sewing education. This is one of the most exciting jumps I have ever taken. Also one of the scariest. Deets for those who are interested: I can do this because I 1) Got out of debt with the exception of my mortgage which is less than I’d pay for rent, so I kept it. 2) Have a teeny-tiny pension. 3) Have health insurance paid ‘til 65 4) Share expenses with my mom as housemate—folks, this is a big deal. Sometimes you have to MAKE your finances work. I know, DUH, but think about it—how bad to you want to pursue your dream/passion/art, whatever? How much do you loathe a M-F 9-5 gig? Whatever you hate the least, you’ll do, right? I lucked out here because my Mom is cool. 5) With 9 years of teaching in my home under my belt, I had a pretty good idea that I could make enough to survive. Thank goodness I have a huge fabric stash so I don’t have to feel too deprived! 6)I saved up hard so I could weather one or two financial storms okay. I’m sure the experts would say it’s not enough, but OH WELL. 7) If I fail, I’ll get a job. There. Done. I’m out and self-employed.

September 2016 to February 2017: I work sort of half-assed at marketing and sewing in general. I teach quite a bit. I develop and teach two new 2-day workshops for Palmer/Pletsch: Fit & Sew Pants and Serger intensive. I struggle some more with my website and learning WordPress. I conquer.

March 2017:  Can’t stand the garage life anymore, so I moved the sewing lounge up to my living room, and folks, here it resides to this day.  I use the bedrooms for an office/photography room and sitting area.  It’s an unconventional living arrangement, but I guess that’s me, too.  It’s a much more comfortable space and more inspiring as well.

So, that brings us back to today.  March 19, 2018.  I’m getting the room set up for an Open Sew day with some of my very favorite repeat offenders, as I call my return students.  We will laugh and sew and and later today I expect that I’ll put my feet up and think to myself, “That was a good day”.  It all boils down to the love of sewing, sharing, creating and spending time with others who feel the same way.  I love being a sewing teacher and being self-employed.  Happy 10th birthday, sewing Lounge.  You done me good.

Hugs & Stitches,


the Lounge in it’s third incarnation, Art Director, Hazel in the foreground

Why I Never Sew a Muslin

I never sew a muslin because I tissue fit my sewing patterns.  I talk a lot about tissue fitting because it takes the guesswork out of fitting for me.  I know, as I create the garment, that it will fit.  I don’t sew, sew, sew… and end up disappointed because the finished garment doesn’t fit.  I love the Palmer/Pletsch Tissue Fitting Method because…it works!  The tissue becomes my muslin.

I have never even liked making a ‘wearable muslin’ out of a less-than-fabulous fabric because I want to sew with only fabrics that rock my sewing world.  I want them to look, feel and sew beautifully.  I don’t want to spend hours making something that I’m not going to love and wear.  And quite frankly, after you’ve sewn up something that doesn’t fit, then what?  How do you get it to A) fit and B) translate into a usable pattern?

I had to do this in college and I hated it.  I ended up with a muslin something that needed deeper darts here, length there, more fabric here, less fabric there and by the time I was done making in “fit” (and I say that with sarcasm and a sneer, ‘cuz it looked like crap) I found it a major pain to then un-stitch it, flatten it out and make it work as a pattern. Let’s not even mention loss of grain. Even more difficult to translate what I had done to the paper pattern.  And yes, I did study pattern drafting.  I’d much rather spend my time sewing!

Enter tissue fitting.  Back in 2006, I was dreaming of having a sewing something and exploring all the ways I could fold sewing into my professional life without doing alterations (meh) or sewing commissioned garments.  I so admire the artists who do this.  They are genuinely gifted.  It just ain’t for me.  I stumbled upon the Palmer/Pletsch website and discovered the 4-day Fit workshops right next door to me in Portland, Oregon.  I took the course and it was life-changing, in many ways that I will share in another story, but for now-sewing life changing.  It validated my attitude about not caring to sew a muslin and it gave me a logical formula with which to perform my tissue alterations.  I absolutely love the method, it’s creators-Pati Palmer and Marta Alto (yep, I really love them!) and all of the adventures and successful sewing I’ve done since learning the art of fit.

By fitting the pattern tissue, altering it, cutting from fabric and pin-fitting the garment, then fitting as you sew-you never have a total fit disaster.  As you progress, what you see is what you get.  You have a chance to correct anything that doesn’t look right before you move on the the next part.  It’s magical.  It’s ingenious.  I heart it so hard.

Now, like anything worth doing and getting good at, there is some learning, practicing, reading, finding your way out of some confusion.  It’s a study.  It’s and art.  You must try, practice, etc., just like with any new skill.  I can help you out with my Pattern Fitting classes.  It is worth it?  Heck, yeah.  If you like sewing clothes that fit!

Hugs & stitches,


PS Friends!  The new Palmer/Pletsch Complete Guide to Pattern Fitting IS AT THE PRESSES now.  Get the latest news on it’s release here!

One of the reasons I have always found solace in sewing is because I’m an introvert with a mind that just will not stop jumping unless it has something creative to do.  Sewing was my meditation before meditation was a common practice.  Sewing takes concentration and care from every angle.  All the tools are sharp, electric and/or hot.  You must use care as you operate a machine, press with a steam iron, cut with sharp scissors, pierce with steel pins. Accuracy matters if you want all your parts to come together as designed.  The smallest item becomes important because you are making it and trying to make it right.

What a lovely place to be.  Right here.  With your head in the game.  The monkey mind swinging from another branch for the time being.

How I love to sew.  I created a place in home where I can share this love with others.  Come sew with me.

Hugs & stitches,


Let me clarify.  Pattern companies, and I mean all pattern companies, just want us to sew and make cool stuff.  I love and admire each and every one of them.  I avoid rating or criticizing them because art and instructions for art are subjective.  I think we just need two sets of difficulty ratings to be realistic: sewing difficulty and fitting difficulty. A very fitted top or sheath dress may be easy to sew with very few seams, but getting that close fit to match your very own real human body is a whole other thang.  An experienced sewer can be brought to her wit’s end with fitting issues and I know that beginners (who are seeing the big EASY printed on the pattern envelope) are just plain baffled.  They try so hard only to make a garment that just doesn’t fit.  A great beginner pattern combines ease of sewing with ease of fit.  These are some favorite patterns for beginners.

If you are a beginner, look for designs that are not close-fitting to begin with.  After you have a few seams under your belt, seek out some pattern fitting education.  I have dedicated my heart, soul and career to the Palmer/Pletsch Tissue Fitting Method because it works and I never have to sew a muslin!  This, combined with sewing in my undies, ‘cuz it’s quicker to fit as I sew, makes for great fit and much  sewing happiness.  Treat yourself to a pattern fitting class and get good.  Your sewing heart will thank you.  And don’t worry, I teach fully-clothed!

Hugs & stitches,


Just like junk stashed around that jabs at your subconscious from behind closet doors and underneath beds, unfinished objects (UFO’s) are one of the worst kinds of clutter.  They effect us negatively in a few ways:

  1.  Every time we physically or mentally come across them in our storage areas, a twinge of remorse says, “Ugh.  I really need to finish that.”  If we would grab it and do that, it would be over.  But instead it just sorts of lingers and the mantra repeats –‘I should. I should.  I should…”.  Sometimes for years.  Ask me how I know.
  2. They cast a shadow of guilt over new, fresh ideas and projects.  The UFO’s take some or all of the pleasure out of current projects because thoughts  loop around our brains about how it would really be best if we just finished the old one first. Even buying a new piece of fabric can start the guilt feelings.  Ask me how I know.
  3. The tendency or habit of not finishing sewing and craft items seems to bleed over into other areas of life, leaving bits and things undone.  Ask me how I know.

Not finishing a sewing project can happen for lots of reasons.  A new skill was required to do a step and it seemed too difficult.  Put it away ’til later.  You needed a:  finding, zipper, something and just never got around to sourcing it.  Ont to something else. Halfway through the project you just don’t like the fit, or the way it’s turning out or…you get the idea.

I have a few items that fall in this category.  Today I’m asking myself why I still have them around.  They really are just clutter.  Here are mine.  A pair of leggings that are huge and need a ton altering. I just cut out too big of a size and after lots of stitching (serging, pressing and coverstitching) I became overwhelmed with trying to fix them and just hung them in the closet.  A pair of pants that only needs the waistband attached. A really cute jacket that needs the sleeves hemmed.  Why?  The hard part is done.  Jeez.

Okay, enough bad self talk!  The point of my story is this:  finish them or get rid of them!  FO’ REAL!  They collect low-level energy and they bring you down.  Don’t feel too terrible about throwing them away.  If you think about it, they are already in the landfill. They’re not being used and the landfill is your closet.  If you want to finish something and need help or  just the time set aside, consider an Open Sew and Fit Review session at the Lounge.  Here’s our call to action, friends:  let’s either finish them or toss them and cut our losses, today.

Hugs & stitches,


The Quintessential Little Black Dress

I’ll start right up front by sharing my biggest take away from this project:  you can’t fit a round boob into a pointy dart.  Thank goodness my mom hung on to a vintage-style bra that brought my middle-aged bust firmly back into the 70’s!  Hardy, har, har, you say? I sewed this dress three times in three different fabrics before we (me, Pati Palmer and Marta Alto, co-authors of Fit for Real People) finally figured this out.  My round, moulded bra made me fall short of filling my darts, resulting in the most miserable little puckers.  Enter vintage bra and voila, bust darts filled.  It didn’t hurt that Marta had an exquisite Armani wool in her stash, aged to perfection, ready to be sewn into this dress.  Giddy from the fabric and fit, the dressed sewed together in a jiffy after the fitting was accomplished.

This is McCall’s 7279 the Palmer/Pletsch basic fitting pattern that we use in the flagship  PP 4-day FIT workshops.  Students use the pattern as a body map if they don’t need or want to sew a very fitted waist-seam sheath dress.  I did my expected pattern alterations:  lengthen the bodice, full bust adjustment, add width at the waist.  In fabric I tweaked for my high left hip and sloping right shoulder.  If all this is Greek to you, hold your horses (or breath or whatever) for the NEW Palmer/Pletsch fitting guide.  It’s nearly done and will be out this Spring and is so  beee-ooo-tee-fulll and full of photos, art and fitting magnificence that it will change your sewing life forever-for the better, my friends.  I can hardly stand the wait.

I lined the dress with Ambiance rayon lining, fitting the lining as a separate dress and making it just a tad (1/8″ everywhere) larger than the dress.  I used a nude colored lining because I’d already cut in out for dress #1. Meh. Because of this, I sewed the kick-pleat closed, so peaky lining things can’t happen.  I lengthened the facing in the back to lay more flatly.

If you want to learn the art of pattern fitting without the labor of drafting your own patterns, join me for a class.  You know it’s true: if it doesn’t fit, you won’t wear it.

I feel like a real grown-up lady in this dress and at 56 years old, it’s about time!  Now accepting invitations to extremely fancy places, private clubs, inaugurations, interviews for high-paying jobs and the like.  Gotta run…off to charm school.

Hugs & stitches,