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I retired!!

Badass Sewing For Dirtbags

Yes, I retired.

October of this year I called it quits. That’s right…done..finito…no more. I not only wasn’t enjoying my work anymore, I was downright annoyed and irritated at things I shouldn’t be. It’s not your fault you do not know about zipper wear. My dear supportive husband finally said, “so quit”. So I did. It took about 6 weeks to close old orders and accounts but I can honestly say by Thanksgiving I was done.
The notes and comments have been amazing. It’s nice to feel appreciated.

What does the future hold? I don’t know yet. I’m creating joy sewing for myself, and mentoring sharing my knowledge with budding sewists, primarily through the Sew Inspired by Discovery Fabrics group on Facebook.

I have been making some little tips and tricks videos, posted on my YouTube Channel.

Thanks for all the great years and stay tuned for what’s next.

Van Shade Tutorial, tab mounted shades

As a lifelong sewist, of course I want to make my own van shades instead of paying someone else. I looked at a few different products both online and in person, and decided “why not?” I have access to materials, skills, and time so here goes…

This is what I came up with for the first iteration. These mount over recessed back door windows, taking advantage of the dead air space for insulation value and the steel to fasten magnets to. This tutorial is for what I will call a tab mount as pictured below. I will be experimenting with snap mounts and flush mount later. Update: new magnet videos added at the bottom of the tutorial.

Not too shabby for v1, eh? I am happy to walk you through what I did. I have lots of different windows in my van, and as I learn more and try things I will add to this tutorial. Why a tutorial? Read my blog post on Hoarding Information… this will explain a lot of where I come from.

About this tutorial and videos: I don’t have a sewing channel. I’m not about a slick set up to get followers. I just want to share what I know and help you to do it better. I jokingly call my videos “keeping it real” because I don’t have coordinated craft containers with a designer look and I don’t have VLOG set up. I have a busy workroom in my basement where I have many personal and work projects going at any given time. I’d rather make a video while I am working than take the time to make my workroom look picture perfect. I hope you find something useful here.

Let’s Get Started!!

First, equipment:

  • Sewing machine, walking foot recommended. New needles size 90.
  • Spray adhesive, repositionable type for fabric (quilt shop)
  • Craft clips
  • Straight edge
  • Pencil
  • Shears/snips
  • Blue tape
  • Flat surface for layout, marking etc.
  • High quality thread
  • Flat surface for cutting

Tips: A walking foot attachment, or a machine with a built in walking foot, will make working with layers much easier. Layers tend to shift when the feed dogs are only on the bottom. Most home machines have an attachment you can borrow or buy.

Materials – links at bottom of list

  • Inner/outer cover: 1.9 oz coated ripstop from OWF
  • Insulation: Warm Window from Joann or 200 wt. Thinsulate from OWF
  • 1” grosgrain ribbon, OWF
  • 1-1/2” grosgrain ribbon, OWF
  • 1-1/4 or 1-1/2 webbing OWF
  • 1” Velcro hook and loop OWF
  •  1” grid pellon for patterns, Joann
  • Magnets,  60 x 10 x 3 mm neodymium magnets for tabbed shades;  Applied Magnets


Note: I am not an engineer, so I didn’t spend a lot of time trying to puzzle out R value information. Warm Window is a tried-and-true window product. Joann regularly puts out 40% off coupons so I thought I would start with it. I was concerned it would be bulky but I think it is OK. I opted for ripstop covering instead of a cute print as I am very concerned about condensation.

One reason I started with tabs is that getting magnets that are small enough to insert into a binding (for a flush mount) that aren’t super expensive is a challenge. Wider ones that need tabs are easier to find. (.40 each vs $3.50 each!!)

1. Measure: Measure the window opening in the door, not the window itself. Add ½”  or more all the way around (total 1” or more additional in length and width). This will depend on how much you want the shade to overlap the steel around the window.  I find it helpful to use 1” grid Pellon for patterning as you can keep your pattern squared up accurately. Draw out your measurements on the Pellon.  Cut out pattern, mark where you think you want your magnets to go. There will be now seam allowance: this is the finished size of your shade.

2. Cut: Cut each layer of material out. Do not use pattern for cutting yet. Cut layers larger than you need. Example,  If your window is 24” x 24” cut pieces 30 x 30. Cut all pieces (inner, outer, insulation). This is insurance. You need a bit of a margin when working with layers.

Tip: Measure twice. Measure three times! No kidding – once you cut, you are stuck with it.

3. Layout and stacking: Using your flat space, lay out newspaper to protect from overspray.  Using blue tape, tape outside layer right side (RS) down to table, smoothing out wrinkles. Spray with fabric adhesive. Add your next layer, the insulation, with the side you want out facing down to the wrong side (WS) of bottom layer.  If you are using Warm Window, the Mylar should be down towards the outside; quilted side up. Make sure there are no wrinkles. Spray with fabric adhesive. Add top layer, the one for the inside of the shade, right side up. Make sure all layers are aligned straight and evenly.  Reposition anything if you need to. Make sure everything is smooth and press together with your hands. This technique is the same with any insulation you might use.

4. Cutting. Layout pattern centered on all three layers. Make sure there is excess in every direction. Make sure pattern is aligned to fabric grain. You may pin through all layers at the edge. Cut all layers at once with sharp shears. Use craft clips to secure the edges all the way around so you can baste them next.

5. Baste cut edges by stitching close to edge (1/4”) with long stitch on sewing machine. If you have a walking foot, use it as it will help feed the layers more efficiently without shifting.

6. Determine quilting pattern. If you are using Warm Window you can match the quilting for folding with the lines manufactured into the insulation. Quilt line spacing will depend on how you want to fold the shades. Mark quilting with a long straight edge. Do two parallel rows, 1/8” to ¼” inch apart for best folding. Quilt.

Tip: Don’t be in a hurry. Make the time to double check your work each step of the way. Did you miss a place? Is anything missing/backwards/upside down?

Make Tabs:

You need to determine magnet spacing for your tabs and make the tabs.  I used 60 x 10 x 3 mm neodymium magnets and made my tabs 3” wide. To make tabs:

Cut 1.5” grosgrain. You will need 6” per tab. Example: 10 tabs, 60” of grosgrain.

Cut 2 strips 30” long.

Stitch together by overlaying the long edges,

Cut into 3” strips.

Fold each piece in half and stitch the short ends closed.

Separate magnets and get them ready to insert into tabs.

 Clip tabs into position on outside of shade.

Sew tabs into place, inserting a magnet in each one as you go around. Make sure to tuck the magnet into the pocket and DO NOT SEW OVER MAGNET.

Next, get your straps ready. These are the ones that will hold the shade when it is accordion folded up. You will want a longer on on the outside, shorter one on the inside.

Getting ready to bind and binding:

By now you should have a finished shade! Check it for missed catching of Velcro, straps and binding. Everything oriented correctly? Clip all your threads, and go test it out!!! Does it fit? Pull it flat and make sure it’s squared up evenly around your window. What do you think?

As I do more research and develop my own ideas, I will be sure to add to this tutorial. Happy sewing! #vanlife

UPDATE: I’ve added two video about magnets and how to install in the edges. Note on magnets – I say a couple of different sources, but this is what is correct: 1″ x 1/4″ x 1/8″ is what fits in the binding. I have only found these at Applied Magnet. Amazon has all sorts of magnets, but not these. Here’s the link:

1″ x 1/4″ x 1/8″ Neodymium magnets

Base Layer Zip and Collar Finish

Hello all, I know it’s been ages since I posted anything new. Here is a tutorial from the archives. If you are looking for a smooth, foolproof way to insert a zipper into knits or baselayers, look no further.

I will show you how to do an enclosed inside finish,

Even and matching seams,


And a very tidy zipper insertion:


First, thanks to Jalie Patterns for the the zipper insertion technique.  Grey garment pictured is the Vuokatti baselayer pattern, offered free by Shelby Kaava Outfitters.

Let’s get started!!

Zipper Insertion

Part 1, preparation

(CF=Center Front, WS=Wrong Side, RS=Right Side)

Adjust, layout and cut your pattern as usual. Figure out how long you want the front zipper to be, and mark the CF. Keep in mind collar width added to the front panel for the length of the zipper. Mark CF with dots and a 2″ slash at CF.


Sew sleeves, back and collar on. Do not sew side seams; you want to work “flat”.


Check length of zipper against collar fold point and your marks.  I have the collar fold marked with a pin. This is the final width of the collar.


Now, noting the exact placement of bottom zipper stop, mark botton of the zipper with a pin


Turn zipper RS down and going the opposite way it should, on the RS front. Secure the zipper.


Where you have bottom of zipper marked with a pin, use a couple of pieces of clear tape on the WS. This will act as a stabilizer when you sew the bottom of the zipper. step5

Part 2, sewing

Now, stitching very carefully, stitch across the bottom of the zipper, RS of shirt up, zipper is RS down and pointing the wrong way. Take just a very few stitches, and backstitch. Even as pictured I took a few too many. You just want to secure the end of the zipper, no wider.step6

Then, you will carefully cut down the CF of your shirt from the slash at top CF, making a “>” at the end of the zipper. Clip EXACTLY to the edge of your stitching and make sure the legs of the  “>” are longer, not shorter.


For the next step of actually sewing the zipper tape to the fabric, a nifty notion called Wonder Tape is very helpful. It is washable, and really keeps knits from distorting during this step.

Apply the Wonder Tape to the RS of the zipper.

step9 step8

Turn  the long cut edge and press to secure, making sure there is no distortion. Stitch carefully, starting exactly at the apex of the “V” cut. Use the zipper foot to get close to the coil. Note that on the grey fabric, the edge of the fabric opening is placed only part way to the edge of the zipper tape.This is done deliberately, to keep the opening narrow and undistorted.


Finish both sides of the zipper. If you have been careful, you’ll have a nice, even, small  opening like pictured below.  When you are crossing the collar seams, make sure that they match up on either side Check this before you stitch. Fold the seam allowances towards the collar. This will also help with the collar treatment. Pick off any excess wonder tape you can see. The rest will wash out.

step12 step13-5

Collar Finish

If you’ve done the prior steps correctly, you’ll have a collar attached to your top The zipper should be about 1/2 way up the collar, with the top of the zipper at the desired height of the collar.  One some patterns you may want to trim the collar down. Reserge the cut edge.


Once the collar is trimmed,  finish the top of the zipper by folding it over twice. You can secure the folds with a pin, then fold the collar facing over the zipper tape, RS facing to RS collar. Make sure the top stop of the zipper is at the fold line for the collar, and that the serged edge of the facing is lined up with the collar/neckline seam. Then stitch carefully using zipper foot,  to secure the collar facing.



Do both sides. Check that collar seams and top corners/top stops are even by zipping the zipper closed and checking from the right side. Adjust as needed.


Now for the fun part. We are going to do a “Burrito Style” enclosed finish of the facing. Fold the facing to inside. Use a pin to secure it  about 3/8 from the edge of the zipper, and a chalk or other pencil to make visible marks for that point on both the collar and the facing. (pictured) You might also want to make a marks on the collar facing where it meets the shoulder seam .(not pictured)


Make sure that both the facing and the collar marked:


Matching the marks, fold the zipper tape down, and bring the collar facing to the collar seam, seams together, RS of collar facing to WS of shirt front body. Match your marks, and secure the two seams together. The zipper tape and the shirt front will be enclosed in the “burrito”. You should have something that looks like:

Note that the zipper is folded down under my fingers on the left side of the image.


Continue to pin, securing seams all the way from the zipper  to the where the shoulder seam intersects the collar, if not farther. Keep checking to make sure the shirt front and the zipper are not getting caught.

Close up view of the start:


Use a narrow to medium zig-zag, sew your burrito. Start at the chalk marks by the zipper, and the two seam allowances together. Catch only the seam allowances, not the body of the shirt. Go at least to the shoulder seams if not farther.


Go as far as you can before you get to so much bulk folded inside that you have to stop. On most fabrics, you can go at least to where the shoulder seam meets the collar, and on light fabrics, farther. So go as far as you can, then back tack. Carefully undo the burrito checking to make sure you haven’t made any pleats. If you have done it correctly, you will have a nice finished facing. After you have burritoed both sides, to finish the CB part of the facing, just lap the collar facing edge on top of the collar seam edge and stitch in the ditch to hold the facing down.


Bad Things That Happen To Good Gear

I suppose I should keep a tally but I don’t.

The Top 10 Bad Things That Happen To Gear, in no particular order. Outside of normal wear and tear, more or less…

1. Melting (backed into the stove, embers, dryers, heaters…)

2. Ultralight gear breaking from being ultralight.

3. Dog or other animal ate it.

4. Tore a hole in it. (tree branches #1 cause).

5. Saggy pants splitting at the crotch (wear a belt, dude)

6. Straps pulling out of seams (mostly poor construction, more on this later).

7. Zipper sliders getting squashed.

8. Zippers breaking from dirt and general wear.

9. Zippers breaking from not being threaded correctly at the bottom.

10. Lack of care: salt and dirt degradation of fabric

Now, for normal wear and tear –

  1. Worn down zipper sliders.
  2. Worn plastic on male pin at the bottom of a zipper.
  3. Worn out Velcro.
  4. Worn out elastic.
  5. Aged fabric – worn through, UV degraded, weakened
  6. PU  and other treatments/coatings flaking off

Zippers, Velcro and elastic are all fixable, more or less. The rest? Not so much.






Keeping Technical Clothing Clean

I’ve heard it many, many times:

“You are supposed to wash it?”

“I don’t want to ruin it by washing it.”

“My coat doesn’t keep me dry anymore but I have never washed it”.

Really? You think that sweat, grime, and dirt is GOOD for your clothing? Enough of my ranting. Keeping your investment clean a critical component to making it last. Salt, grime, sweat,  and body oils reduce the function of the properties that make your clothing special. Surface dirt affects the DWR (Durable Water Repellency), and the rest of it can clog moisture movement.

The days of Ivory Soap Flakes are long gone. Now there are excellent products out on the market that make keeping your clothing clean and functioning easy. The two main product lines are Nikwax and Granger’s. They both make a full line of environmentally friendly and easy to use laundry products specifically formulated for different types of fibers. You will want to read the label to be sure you are matching the right product for your particular item. There are down washes, soft shell washes, fleece washes and washes for hardshells and even ropes.

For hard shells, you will have the choice of a one-step or two step process. The steps are cleaning your item, and refreshing the DWR. The two-step process is washing first, then waterproofing.   I have not yet tried the newer one step products. If you opt for the two step process for your hardshell, I suggest using the spray-on for the #2 step, and not the wash-in. The reason to choose the spray on is that that you will not be coating the lining of your item with DWR, which, if coated, can make it feel funky and possibly reduce the effectiveness. Whether you go one-step or two, it is easy: just follow the directions on the bottle.

I wash all our shell clothing at the end of the ski season, and then again mid-way through. One additional thing you can do with your shells is to toss them in a low dryer for a few minutes without washing them. The heat reactivates the DWR, which is the treatment that makes moisture bead up on the outside.  WARNING: use a low dryer, not hot. Hot dryers are the enemy.  The DWR does lose effectiveness after time, due to environmental conditions, so you will want to renew it using the above instructions to wash and renew. You know if moisture is not beading up that it’s time.

You can do down items with down-specific products. There are two critical elements. The first is to only use a non-agitator washer like a front loader, and the second is drying your down. The drying is the critical element with down as it can take hours of air dry and breaking up clumps by hand to get your item fully dry.

A few other tips:

  • HOT dryers are the enemy. Avoid them at all costs. You can melt things and  cause seam seal tape to delaminate.
  • You can use “Shout” and similar laundry helpers to get grime and grease out. You can even use Simple Green or Dawn for things like chair lift grease.
  • Do not spend extra money for sportswear oriented laundry products. Just use your regular stuff with some OxiClean.
  • For handwashing, just use baby shampoo instead of Woolite. Milder, and cheaper.



Make Lycra Bike Shorts, Part 1

IMG_4632Making biking shorts can be a rewarding project. If you have a serger, a machine that does a zigzag stitch, and basic sewing skills, you should find these easy enough. If you do not have a serger, do not despair as long as your machine has some zigzag options. If you need a reference, the Singer books on active wear, sergers or stretch fabrics are all very good.  Unfortunately, many patterns for cycling gear have been discontinued. You may find them on eBay, Esty or other venues for older patterns. Jalie has made 2216, their multisize pattern for shorts and jerseys, available for download for a small fee. Other patterns to look for are Stretch & Sew 313 and 312, Kwik Sew 1727 and 1233, and Green Pepper 404 and 409. Sometimes retailers will have old stock for sale.

flowerjerseyLycra Notes: Different lycras have different amounts of stretch. Swim lycra is thinner, and is less supportive, plus the quality will  vary depending on where you buy it. Swim prints are fun for a panel insert. Supplex lycra has a lot of give, and is  cool to wear in the summer. 9 oz,  called Beefy or Cordura lycra, is excellent, but heavier/warmer. It is very supportive, and very durable. You may need to go up a size in your patterns if you use this lycra as it is more dense and less stretchy than other types of lycra. There are some two way only lycras out there (rashel knits) These only stretch lengthwise; DO NOT BUY this kind of knit. Be sure the lycra is 4-way stretch.  If your local store does not have a good selection of lycra, check the Sources page.

Sewing notes: For seams, a serger with wooly nylon is best. You can experiment with flat-lock seams if you want, but I have not had good success with the typical 2/3 thread flat lock options. If you have a cover stitch machine, you can play with seaming it from both the RS and WS to mimic a top loop cover stitch. If you only have a regular machine for your seams, look and see if your machine does this stitch: __//__// ; it is an excellent stitch for seaming lycra.

Chamois/Pads: I used to make them from scratch but forget that. AeroTech Designs has a fabulous selection of chamois to choose from to put into your shorts. The pads come with installation instructions.

Cut: Cut the pattern according to directions. You may want to add extra length to the legs, or some additional seam allowance if you think you might want to make adjustments to the fit. Mark the pieces carefully as it is easy to get the panels mixed up. Because of narrow seam allowances, use a pencil to mark instead of snips. If you want to put in a print accent, replace one of the side panels. Do not put on the elastic at the waist or legs, or put in the chamois yet.

Fit: Once you have the shell of the short made, you can tweak the fit. I have a really small waist, so I always take it in from the hips on up. You can also make the legs longer or shorter, or lower the waist. Do not forget that you will fold over the waist and the legs 1″ when you add the elastic.

Installation of waist and gripper elastics is  covered in Lycra bike shorts Part 2

Note: This is an updated version of an article that used to exist on the original website

Working With Silnylon

This is the first of several articles from the “old” site that I will be reissuing on the blog. I have some great info on tarps along with a file full of assorted schematics that I plan to put together in a tarps entry coming up.

Silnylon is silicon impregnated ripstop nylon. It is extremely waterproof, extremely lightweight (1.1 oz. per yard), and extremely durable. Ultralight backpackers love it for this reason. It’s a little tricky to work with, but making your own gear out of silnylon is very rewarding.  Tarps, tarptents, raingear and even re-usable shopping bags can be made with silnylon.

You can find it at, Outdoors Wilderness Fabrics. Check the Sources page for additional suppliers.


  • use “taut sewing”: apply tension to the fabric with your hands, in front of and in back of the needle. The object is to tension the fabric, not pull it through.
  • use a good quality polyester thread
  • a walking foot (even feed) is a very helpful accessory
  • Use a #80 or 90 needle and make sure it is new and sharp



  • glue stick
  • binder clips
  • pins in seam allowance


  • use SHARP shears.
  • try hot cutting two layers with a soldering iron, using a sheet of glass underneath. This will seal your cut edge so it won’t ravel, and if your two edges are going to be seamed anyway it will hold them together.
  • rotary cutter with mat

Seam ideas:

  • Plain Hem: fold 3/4″ twice and edgestitch.
  • Mock flat fell seam: illustrated here. To make a “mock” felled seam, use a 1″and 1/2″ seam allowances, and fold the longer one around, then top stitch
  • Seam illustrated at Ayce’s Workshop

Sealing silnylon: use McNett Silnet.

Welcome to the New Site and Blog

Welcome to the new Specialty Outdoors site and the new blog. I’m excited to bring this live!  The hand-coded 1997 version was overdue for a makeover.  It’s been a while in the works: after some futile attempts to update the site myself, I realized I was in over my head and went to plan B, hiring some pros to help me do it. So, first of all, big thanks to Nile Sprague of for the web help and Ted Moon of MoonVue Graphics for the graphics.

I love the new look, and hope you do too. My intent is to provide clear information about the business side of Specialty Outdoors, and to bring freshness to the “Tips” section. I may muse a little about my work.  Don’t freak if you can’t find some of the tips you may have had bookmarked: older material will be updated via blog entries, and I hope to introduce new material as I go along.

Where does “Badass Sewing for Dirtbags” come from? Not too long ago, I was introducing myself to one of the new ski patrollers at our home mountain, and that’s what he said: “I’ve heard about you! You do badass sewing for dirtbags!” That made my day, and it beats the heck out being The Zipper Lady.

You can follow me  on Facebook or right here.

Stay tuned and thanks!!